Howdy, Friends O'Farley,
Last Monday the Legislature wrapped up our third Special Session without doing anything but hammer home the message that, after 46 years of uninterrupted rule, the Republican majority is simply not on our side.
By "our", I mean all of us -- no matter what party we belong to. As most of us out here in the trenches know, our economy is still deep in the grasp of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Unemployment knows no party labels. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, Greens, and everyone else -- we are all suffering. Many of our fellow Arizonans have been out of work for nearly two years.
The jobs are not there. In the last month, Basha's saw 2,600 people apply for 400 low-end jobs. McDonalds advertised 1300 job openings in Arizona, and fielded applications from more than 14,000 people. The hurt is powerful and widespread.
I have received scores of emails and letters and calls from suffering Arizona families. During the special session, I read on the floor a letter to the editor of the conservative-leaning Ahwatukee Foothills News sent the day before by a Boy Scout named Steven Hubbard.
Steven said, "I am the senior patrol leader of Boy Scout Troop 475 (in Ahwatukee). One of my merit badges is communications and one of the requirements is to write a letter to the editor about an issue in the world today. The issue I want to write about is unemployment. My dad is unemployed and my mom works part time. Since I am 13, I don't have a job. The reason why this is such an important problem in my family is that we are not getting enough money to pay a bunch of our bills. My mom said that we may lose our house."
Thanks to Unemployment Insurance (UI), people who are unemployed can earn just over $200 a week (after taxes) to keep them and their families off the streets while they continue the job search. Unfortunately, thanks to a drafting error in a two-year-old Arizona law, those folks who have been unemployed for 79 weeks are not eligible -- starting last Monday -- for the additional 20 weeks of extended benefits appropriated by Congress.
Good hardworking citizens who have paid their taxes for decades to help create a safety net are seeing that net pulled away just when they finally need it.
How could we have fixed this? With a one-word change in the law. We Democrats recognized this problem in the spring. We offered an amendment to the budget bill to change the one word, but the amendment was struck down. We devoted our weekly press conference to the topic on April 18, pointing out a germane bill that could have been amended in conference committee to make the fix before the regular session ended, but the majority was too busy trying to adjourn in a self-imposed 100-day deadline, so they turned us down. They did have time to legislate a State Gun and create a state-administered official Tea Party License Plate.
On Wednesday, June 8, Governor Brewer awoke to the problem and called a special session for the next Friday, June 10, so that the fix could be made. I'm not sure it was out of the goodness of her heart -- her chief political adviser Chuck Coughlin gave an interview to the Arizona Guardian on the day she called the Special Session in which he stated that not fixing the UI problem, "would be like handing Democrats a Louisville Slugger to beat us over the head with."
He went on to point out that the Republican representative and senator from Yuma would be in particular danger -- Yuma's unemployment rate is currently higher than the worst rate recorded during the Great Depression. One in every four adults able to work there cannot find a job.
Unfortunately, the Republican legislators couldn't seem to do the right thing, even when their political advisers were warning of the dangers to their political futures.
The aforementioned Republican senator from Yuma, proud Tea Party leader Don Shooter, set the tone by showing up on the first day of special session dressed in an oversized sombrero and draped in a serape, clutching a half-empty bottle of tequila and clenching a cigar in his teeth. Dressed this way, he told the media his opinion of the UI fix: "Intellectually, my head is against this. This kind of thing is what has gotten us into debt."
That day, the session opened and nothing else happened. Behind the scenes, most Republicans were refusing to go along with the Governor and Arizona families in need.
All of us Democrats were present, and ready to vote as one with the Governor to help our constituents. We were begging our colleagues in the majority to join us in doing the right thing -- vote to keep 45,000 Arizona families off the streets and accept the $3.5 million a week ($75 million by the end of the year) in federal money that would otherwise go to states like California and New York.
The Governor wrote a press release that same day expressing her disgust with the inaction by the majority. It sounded as if it were written by Democrats: "You don't balance the federal budget by turning your back on Arizonans in their time of need. That's not principled fiscal conservatism. It's just cruel--get to work. The people of Arizona, your constituents, are counting on it.
We went home for the weekend, hoping that the majority would come around. When we returned Monday, their positions had hardened. Republicans were not satisfied with the $538 million in annual giveaways to big-out-of-state corporations that they had passed earlier in the year -- they wanted more business tax cuts if they were going to vote to accept 20 weeks of additional UI benefits from DC. Senate President Russell Pearce announced that his unemployed constituents were not his first priority: "We want to see immediate relief for businesses."
Floor was called to order at 1:30, and despite the fact that we Democrats had introduced the Governor's bill (Republicans refused to), no action was taken, and we adjourned the session for good -- cutting off 15,000 unemployed Arizona families immediately.
We did have a 50-minute debate on the topic in the form of Points of Personal Privilege before we gaveled to a close. That debate was one of the most instructive I have ever seen. It revealed clearly the strong and persistent differences between legislative Republicans and the rest of us, and the power that ideological belief holds over them.
While listening to these defensive speeches, I had an epiphany: The Republicans in the Legislature, and possibly those in Congress as well, are the party of ideas, while the Democrats are the party of the people.
In fact, I believe that if you asked some of these folks about that assessment, they would be proud that they routinely stand on ideological principle, even while riding roughshod over the well-being of the people they are sworn to serve.
This is the same mindset of many revolutionary movements through history -- ideas are more important than people, and the broader society must sacrifice so that the noble new ideas can triumph and usher us into a utopian future. These very same revolutionary movements did not often end up well for the people they purported to serve.
This explains the passionate explanations from Legislative Republicans on why they were insisting, against their own interests, on chucking 45,000 Arizona families onto the streets.
If you want to see the entire debate, you can view video here:
In the interests of accuracy, I have gone back through to transcribe the key moments for you. I have organized them in categories based on the ideological principle they demonstrate.
1) People who take government assistance are morally bankrupt. (Although there are not jobs available out there right now.)
Rep. Chester Crandell (R-Heber) advised several people as a minister in his church to not take unemployment because taking government assistance is tantamount to a sin. "In my personal opinion if we go ahead and extend the 20 weeks, the only ones that are going to benefit are those that want to abuse the system or are in the process of abusing the system right now."
Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) told us that an unidentified business owner in his district told him "he's tried to keep people on his payroll, but simply people are telling him: 'Why am I gonna to keep a job with you if I can just go on unemployment and not have to work?' When he is trying to get people to work, that happens as well. So there is fraud that we have to look at as well."
2) Taking this money is out of control spending that grows the deficit, and any suffering caused to others by not taking this money is noble. (Although this money has already been appropriated by Congress and will be spent in other states if we don't take it. I don't believe that anyone asked the people losing their benefits if they want to make a political statement by impoverishing themselves.)
Rep. Justin Olson (R-Mesa): "This is why I ran for office. I am concerned. I am concerned about the future that my children face. I am concerned that we are going to pass on a country that we will not recognize because of the out of control government spending in Washington DC. And now we are sending the message to Washington DC that this cannot go on. For that reason I am proud of what we are doing today. I take no pleasure in the fact that people will lose unemployment benefits. My heart goes out to them. And I wish them the best."
House Majority Leader Steve Court (R-Mesa): "Somebody somewhere has to say 'No' "
3) We don't have the money. (Although we apparently had the $538 million in state money to give away in corporate welfare earlier this year as the majority was slashing education, healthcare, and public safety.)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti (R-Scottsdale): "You know, it's infuriating to me that those before us both on the state and local level have recklessly overspent and borrowed money with no provision to pay it back, and put this legislative body in the position to do the tough job that comes with fiscal responsibility. I have long believed that this union would be saved one state at a time. This country is the sum of its parts. We are $14.3 billion in debt because nobody could say no. The Federal Government spends $125 billion a month because nobody can say no. The math has spoken. We are out of money."
The only Republican with the guts to take a stand against her colleagues in favor of her constituents was Rep. Nancy McLain (R-Bullhead City): "There are no jobs to be had in Mohave County. I'm a conservative Republican and I don't think we can go on forever. But at this point, in this recession, which is not over, I just feel we have to help those folks who are truly in need by extending these benefits. I'm sorry we are not going to do that today."
The majority did not listen to Rep. McLain or the Democrats. The benefits expired last Monday.
So this week, 15,000 Arizona families who have been looking for work in vain for almost two years will have to choose between paying their electric bill or putting food on the table as our temperatures climb past 110 degrees.
As I told Mary Jo Pitzl, reporter for the Arizona Republic, the Republican majority stood up and boasted to all who would listen that they are willing to crucify their constituents on the cross of ideology.
What words of comfort did Rep. Vic Williams (R-Oro Valley) offer in his opinion piece on this topic in the Arizona Daily Star last Wednesday?
He said he was proud to have shipped Arizona taxpayers' money to California instead of bringing it back home to help hundreds of families seeking work in his district. He went on to compare his constituents to six-year-olds. In explaining the supposed corrosive power of unemployment insurance, he said, "Its effect is similar to giving 6-year-olds candy before bedtime. It winds them up for a quick burst of activity, but the crash comes as soon as the rush wears off."
I would ask that you remember what this legislative majority has done to all of us this year, and how sharply they have demonstrated that they are not on our side. Tell your friends from all parties that it is time to elect a different legislative majority, and start work on doing that right now.
Toward that goal, I would like to ask you today if you can help me do this vital work all over our state to elect great legislators in 2012. Please contribute what you can to my campaign as I carry out my leadership duties to recruit and support a new generation of Arizona leaders. I can't do this alone. I need your support right now.
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Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Representative.
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
Ranking Member, Transportation Committee
Ways & Means Committee
Capitol office: 602-926-3022
Tucson office: 520-398-6000
Official email: sfarley at azleg.gov
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