For years, Arizona’s Legislature has built budgets by negotiating behind closed doors, building a majority coalition with paper clips and chewing gum, then rushing to pass them in overnight sessions before the support collapses.
Usually this has been a negotiation only among the GOP members, but Democrats also were implicated in former Gov. Jan Brewer’s years, when she got a Medicaid expansion passed against the will of some Republicans.
The problems with this closed process are many and evident, but became clear again in the session that ended last week. As Patty Machelor reported in Sunday’s Star, in their hurry, the Legislature failed to give the Arizona Department of Economic Security permission to spend $56 million in federal subsidies for child care for working-poor families.
Until the Legislature passes that authority, the money just sits unused, even as thousands of Arizona families struggle to balance work and caring for children.
It’s one of those inexplicable things, against common sense, that happens when the process is rushed and strictly partisan.
It is true that this money became available just in March. The governor’s proposed budget came out in January.
But how hard is it to simply accept money to address an obvious need among Arizona’s population? Sometimes in Arizona, it is hard, as we’ve learned. In 2016, it practically took an act of Congress to get the GOP and Gov. Doug Ducey to accept $78 million in federal money (our tax money being returned to us, in essence) for health care for children of the working poor.
This problem isn’t as bad as that because Arizona could spend the childcare money next year if the Legislature never approves it this year. But a Department of Economic Security representative told the appropriations committee that this money would help them cut wait lists for child care for the working poor. And two Tucson-area representatives, Democrats Randy Friese and Pamela Powers Hannley, questioned why the money wasn’t naturally being incorporated into the spending bill where it belonged.
Powers Hannley even introduced an amendment to have the money authorized for spending. She did it on the House floor in the early morning of May 2, when legislators were so tired they were slurring their words. The Republican chair of the appropriations committee, Rep. David Livingston, told members of his caucus that the GOP was opposed, and the amendment was rejected on a voice vote.
Even common-sense changes don’t have a chance in Arizona’s Legislature if they might upset delicate deals negotiated in back rooms and passed in the middle of the night.
Miller challenger exploring
Back in 2016, some of the local Republican powers supported Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller’s re-election campaign, thinking maybe the GOP could win control of the board.
That was a little surprising because Miller, ever the firebrand, has at times criticized business-oriented Republicans like auto dealer and fundraiser Jim Click.
Those days of business Republicans supporting Miller appear to be over. More than two years before she’s up for re-election, some are already looking for a challenger.
“Enough’s enough,” said Edmund Marquez, a member of the Rio Nuevo board and longtime ally of Click and similarly inclined Republicans. “We need some better representation, someone who’s going to get things done.”
Marquez, the brother of Congressional District 2 candidate Lea Marquez Peterson, isn’t sure who will end up running. Miller herself considered running for the CD 2 nomination. I confirmed Thursday that former state representative Ethan Orr is considering challenging Miller.
“Some people who supported Ally in 2016 talked to me about running,” Orr told me. “People within the district are sick of the lack of leadership and the lack of results. I for one am sick of the roads that are crumbling in front of my house.”
Miller has made road repair her top priority, but she has indicated she’s unwilling to provide the necessary fifth vote to raise a sales tax for road repairs. She argues the county is overspending on other, less essential services.
Ousting her will be difficult, though. She beat primary challenger John Winchester, a first-time candidate, by 57 percent to 43 percent in 2016.
Dem ‘civil war’ breaks out
For months, Arizona Democrats have been saying there’s a “Republican civil war” over the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake. Now, Tucson Democrats have given Arizona Republicans a chance to turn the tables.
Tucson Democrat Joel Feinman, who is the Pima County public defender, brought a resolution to the county Democratic Party meeting Monday that would have condemned U.S. Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema and U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran for “their willingness to compromise on core Democratic Party values.”
During a two-hour debate, Democrats in the room conceded that both O’Halleran and Sinema were too comfortable siding with Republicans on key votes since Trump was elected. But they were far more concerned about the optics of the resolution to pass it and the likelihood that Republicans would make hay of it.
One of the only full-throated defenses of the two Democrats came from former state representative Tom Prezelski — who was in the Legislature with the pair, although O’Halleran was a Republican at the time. He chastised his fellow Democrats for even considering such a litmus test, noting it was this kind of infighting that helped to push a moderate like O’Halleran out of the Republican Party in favor of a more right-wing candidate.
The Republican Party was not dissuaded by the rejection of the measure. They put out a press release Tuesday pointing to Star reporter Joe Ferguson’s tweets from the meeting and saying there is a “Democratic civil war.”
Brewer endorses McSally
U.S. Rep. Martha McSally scored a potentially significant win when former Gov. Jan Brewer endorsed her for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate this week. McSally’s opponents, Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio, have painted themselves as stronger allies to President Trump than McSally, who was cool to him until she began her run for Senate.
But Brewer is a Trump die-hard and, she revealed this week, also a McSally supporter. She told The Arizona Republic, “A lot of Trump supporters, they have gotten behind Martha McSally. She’s got a broad spectrum of supporters. ... I think they will consider her, I truly believe that.”
Steyer to Tucson
The man behind this year’s clean energy initiative, California billionaire Tom Steyer, will be in Tucson next week to speak to the annual Udall dinner. Steyer will deliver the keynote speech Saturday, May 19 at the Desert Diamond Casino. General admission tickets are sold out.
Republicans and allies of Arizona Public Service are attacking Steyer for his effort to put an initiative on the ballot that would force Arizona utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Steyer has also launched an effort to impeach Trump.