Even though the Legislature is not in session, I've been pretty busy since the last Farley Report. I'd like to share with you some signs of policy progress, and some other news you might find useful. Sorry -- it's bit lengthy this time!
First off, a brief Farley Report pledge break:
If you'd like me to continue serving you in the Senate, I need to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected, I need to raise money and sign up volunteers. I won't be asking you to help me with your feet until next spring, but I could use your help now to contribute funds to my campaign.
My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner, but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting today. Thank you!
On to the news…
--> You may have heard that the Senate Democratic Caucus voted to make some changes in our leadership team to position ourselves better for next year's elections and what looks to be a challenging upcoming session. I'm very pleased that our new leader will be Anna Tovar (D-Tolleson), the new assistant Lynne Pancrazi (D-Yuma), and the new whip Steve Gallardo (D-Phoenix). These three Senators are committed to aggressively pushing forward a positive vision for a better future for all Arizonans and they are leveraging the leadership skills of each Democratic member so that we can carry out that vision as a unified caucus.
With a leadership change always come some hurt feelings, and this was no exception. However, it's clear to me that none of these feelings will affect the ability of our caucus to stand strong on the Senate floor for what is right. Last session, there were similar intra-caucus tensions, but they made no difference. We manifested our values in unity, making history as we stood together to expand health care to 350,000 people in poverty and pass a moderate bipartisan budget that invests in Arizona. Together, there is nothing we can't do.
--> That same day, as I headed back from the caucus meeting, I participated in an event that put the political events of that morning into perspective. Driving eastbound on I-10 just north of Picacho Peak, a fast-moving dust storm swept over the roadway from the west, quickly bringing visibility to near zero. Along with the cars next to me, I slowed down and stopped in my lane.
I took this photo after I had stopped, looking across the median at the westbound lanes. A few seconds later, an SUV crashed into those cars and came at me on its side, airborne, landing fifty feet away. A bit later, an 18-wheeler crashed full speed through the dust causing more carnage in the westbound lanes. After what seemed like 45 minutes -- but in reality was only nine -- the dust began to clear, revealing the horror a few feet away. Three people died, and 19 had been injured as I watched, helpless to stop the nightmare.
This experience got me focused on how to stop nightmares like this from happening again. I called ADOT soon afterward to see what I could do to help end these all-too frequent tragedies. They told me a task force had been meeting for two years, and I asked them to send me a list of solutions and pricetags so we can take action as soon as possible.
The Arizona Daily Star published an excellent Sunday cover article on November 10. Since then, many experts in the fields of meteorology, engineering, agriculture, and transportation have contacted me with good ideas, many fairly inexpensive, for calming the dust and reducing the risk. I will be bringing them all to the table to push for the right solution, once we have achieved consensus on the best option.
--> One immediate way to reduce the risk of dust-storm crashes is to reduce distracted driving. I cannot imagine any other reason besides distraction to explain why truckers would have driven 75mph into zero visibility. Iin this policy area, we Arizonans have a HUGE victory to celebrate.
As I reported to you in mid-September, I sent a letter to the Arizona Director of Public Safety, urging him to implement immediately three steps that can save lives on our roadways by reducing distracted driving. None of them require legislative action. One of these steps is, in the words of my letter, "Aggressively enforce our 'speed not reasonable or prudent' law to pull over and cite texting drivers. Regardless of speed, it is never reasonable or prudent to text while driving."
On November 4, the DPS announced -- more than seven years after I introduced the nation's first bill to ban texting while driving -- that they will act on my suggestion. Starting in January if you text or email or use the internet while driving, you WILL be pulled over and cited. Statewide. Widespread education efforts will also be rolled out in the coming months.
Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts wrote an excellent column announcing this move. She has been doing a great job getting the word out to the public, especially in the wake of the police report and shocking in-cab video uncovered by Becky Pallack of the Arizona Daily Star that shows a trucker in Yuma using Facebook on his mobile phone while smashing into and killing a DPS officer in May. Be warned, the video is horrifying, and shows graphically how distracted drivers may be even more dangerous than drunk drivers.
Thanks to DPS for no longer waiting for the Legislature, but going ahead and acting to reduce roadway tragedies right away.
--> I am also acting to reduce road-related carnage of pedestrians and bicyclists. Already, 20 people on foot or bike have been killed in Tucson this year, a record. Rep. Ethan Orr (R-Tucson) and I hosted our first in a series of stakeholder meetings with the bike and ped community from across the state this afternoon to explore legislative and administrative options for making our streets safer for vulnerable users -- those not protected by a couple thousand pounds of steel. Since all of us are pedestrians at many points of time during our daily routines, these solutions will help us all. If you have ideas, please email me and I will include them in the mix.
--> I have good news on the Healthcare Exchanges as well. We all know that Healthcare.gov website had some major issues out of the gate. [You might recall I urged you to wait a while before trying to sign up!] Luckily, the site is working much better already. More and more people are finding success using the website to get a great deal on health insurance, and many others are calling 1-800-318-2596 to sign up the old-fashioned way -- 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
The latest figures from Arizona as of November 2, show 17,220 completed applications covering 32,897 individuals, and the pace is increasing. So if you have had trouble in the past, try again on the website, and if that is still not working for you, call that 800 number. I have spoken with several very happy Arizonans who have been delighted to sign up for plans that save them money, offer better coverage, or both.
--> On to good news about the Arts in Arizona. Above is a photo I took of my daughter GiGi's favorite teacher, Tucson High's treasure Art Almquist, leader of their theater program, receiving his award from People Magazine as the National Teacher of the Year. As I told him in my talk at the ceremony, we Tucsonans always knew how great he is. Now the whole country knows.
His work, and that of his colleagues, will make the difference between our community simply surviving and positively thriving in this challenging century. The fact that he teaches the arts makes his efforts even more important, since right-brain thinking creates the foundation for creative scientific breakthroughs, better leadership, and the our strong entrepreneurial spirit driving our economy.
Which is why the Arizona Arts Commission's new arts granting program is so important. Funded by part of the $1 million allocation I was able to help pass in this year's state budget, and modeled after the hit TV show "Shark Tank", Arizona Art Tank is seeking arts organizations and artists to pitch their most innovative and entrepreneurial ideas for arts programming in front of a panel of business leaders, legislators, arts professionals, a live audience, and a TV audience. The most persuasive pitches will get funded. And the audience -- both live and at home -- can vote and contribute funding of their own to people they like, too.
I am particularly excited about the possibilities for this idea, generated by Arts Commission Director Bob Booker and his staff. They will take place in five different locations around the state, including at the El Casino Ballroom in Tucson on Monday, February 3, and you are all invited. They are working on getting KUAT to televise them, too. These will be the most entertaining grantmaking events ever, and you won't want to miss a moment -- Think Arizona Idol with home-grown arts talent. What better showcase for the creative entrepreneurial spirit of the arts!
To find out more, and to apply to take part as a grantseeker, you can go the the Arts Commission Special Initiatives page. Application deadline is December 10.
--> Our Modern Streetcar continues to power our economy, even before we take on paid riders, and recently was featured prominently in a USA Today article on successful streetcars across the country. I'm helping to create a new organization called Friends of the Tucson Streetcar, and you are invited to sign on as a Friend on our Facebook page, or our growing website which will soon have links to special deals for merchants on the route, articles about our streetcar from around the country, facts to counter naysayers, and (starting in January) a rollout of a series of monthly festivals we will sponsor in the vicinity of streetcar stations.
I never like to end on a sad note, but I want to share that my friend and transportation activist comrade Tim Ahrens passed October 24 at the all-too-young age of 60. Tim was one of the hardest working people I ever met, and was absolutely committed to public service, starting with his stint in the Peace Corps, and continuing by leading the community outreach for the Regional Transportation Authority. He and I worked side by side, blanketing Pima County night after night making the case for multimodal transportation investment, a case that was endorsed by voters in May 2006.
Without Tim, there would be no modern streetcar -- and no RTA with the thousands of jobs that have been and will be created. On top of all that, Tim was just a flat-out great human being, with a transcendent spirit and an irrepressible sense of humor.
We are working on naming the streetcar station nearest the new RTA/PAG headquarters "Ahrens Station" and I will work up a tile portrait of Tim for public display. While I will miss him terribly, here's the happy thought -- Tim will live on for all of us in the legacy he provided in transportation and public service.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley