Tim Steller

Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller

While you were downing eggnog, watching football, opening presents and popping champagne, Rep. Mark Finchem was busy rooting out liberalism in Arizona.

Before the legislative session has even started, the recently re-elected Oro Valley Republican introduced seven different measures. That’s more than any other Southern Arizona legislator has. Most of them haven’t introduced any.

Mostly, Finchem’s six bills and one proposed House resolution target educational institutions and liberals wherever he sees them lurking. He’s also mounting a related campaign on the side, through a records request to the universities. In the world of Finchem, a retired cop from Kalamazoo and one-time affiliate of the conspiratorial Oath Keepers group, the fight against liberalism must take place on multiple fronts. He’s also on record worrying about Islamist terrorists making common cause with drug traffickers at the U.S.-Mexico border and spreading terrorism with the help of Muslim students and “La Raza” activists.

You may have read in the Star about the first bill of the 2019 session, HB 2001, introduced by Finchem Dec. 14. It would require counties to accept federal grants for law enforcement, a rather narrow idea that of course came in reaction to the Pima County Board of Supervisors rejecting a federal border-crime grant intended for the Sheriff’s Department. Local control is great as long as liberals don’t control the locality.

On Dec. 14, the prolific Finchem also introduced the session’s second bill, HB 2002, which you also may have read about in the Star. It would require K-12 education to be boring (that’s my reading of it) by threatening with termination any teacher who veers into “controversial” subject matter. Specifically it prohibits teachers from introducing into the classroom “any controversial issue that is not germane to the topic of the course or academic subject being taught.”

It also would prohibit teachers from advocating for or against candidates, legislation or judicial action. That’s fine by me, but a state law already prohibits teachers and other school-district officials from advocating for an outcome in elections.

What you may not have heard about are Finchem’s efforts to extend his campaign against the university system, perhaps the most prominent theme of his legislative career. The third bill introduced this session, HB 2003, would require tenured professors to retire at whatever the employee’s “normal retirement date” is, as established by the Arizona State Retirement System. It would also prevent a university employee from obtaining tenure once past that age.

Now, I tried to ask Finchem about this particular bill on Monday, New Year’s Eve day, but he didn’t answer my call or text, so I don’t have his explanation. One name that jumped to my mind, though, is Noam Chomsky, the famed 90-year-old leftist and linguist hired by the UA in 2017. If this bill were to pass, Chomsky would never have the chance to obtain tenure at the University of Arizona.

I don’t think tenure at the University of Arizona is the crowning career achievement Chomsky is seeking and don’t believe this would dash his hopes. But the bill could discourage established researchers from taking a position at Arizona’s universities, as UA Vice President Allison Vaillancourt explained to me.

“Some people have a very distinguished career and they want to move to another university,” she said. “If they’re not eligible for tenure, they might go somewhere else.”

A tenured employee’s “normal” retirement date could be defined different ways, Vaillancourt said. It could be age 55 with 30 years of service, age 60 with 20 years of service, or age 62 with 10 years of service. It could also simply be age 65. In any case, this bill, if it became law, would mean mandatorily stripping tenure from somebody who could have very productive years ahead.

That is not the only front in this year’s Finchem campaigns against the universities, campaigns that usually center on the idea that the campuses are Too Liberal. Finchem has also made a records request to the three universities, asking for a list of people who have come to the campuses as speakers from October 2017 to October 2018, the amount they were paid, if anything, and whether travel or other expenses were paid.

I think we can see where this is going — the universities are spending money to promote out-of-state liberal speakers!

Finchem is also fighting liberalism on the electoral front, pursuing a constitutional convention to address the problem — often seen as widespread and insidious in conservative circles, but rarely documented — of noncitizens voting. HCR 2001, the first House Continuing Resolution of the session, asks Congress to call a constitutional convention to consider an amendment that would “require persons to provide verifiable evidence of legal citizenship in or to be qualified as electors for federal office elections.”

Now, I’ll acknowledge here that Finchem slips occasionally in his campaign against liberalism. The last bill he filed, HB 2022, on Dec. 28, would let voters sign initiative petitions online. I don’t know how well the system would work, but this change would make it less expensive for initiative supporters to garner the required signatures, a good thing for everyone except the wealthy interests who prefer they alone dominate the initiative process.

But overall, Finchem has stood in the path of Arizona’s rampaging liberalism and declared “no further.” Now he just has to get the votes, which may be pretty hard in a chamber where Republicans have a narrow 31-29 advantage.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789.