"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"
We all know the first line of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens's 1859 epic novel on the rise of the French Revolution. The last couple of weeks in Arizona politics could perfectly be described by his entire opening paragraph, no matter where we stand on the political spectrum:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
In the best news for months, Gabby is talking to us again with that unique Giffords combination of beauty and toughness, letting us know that she wants to come back to represent us. In case you missed it, here is a taped message for us from Gabby:http://azstarnet.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/audio-gabrielle-giffords-addresses-constituents/article_2239504a-0f4a-11e1-8416-001cc4c002e0.html
Thank you Gabby and Mark for sharing your story last night on ABC with so many and continuing to nurture hope in us all. We Tucsonans are all so blessed to be part of your family. We want you back!
The worst of these two weeks began on the day after Halloween. Governor Jan Brewer and the legislative majority decided it was time to subvert the public will and remove the head of the Independent Redistricting Committee (IRC) for supposed crimes against the State.
What were these alleged criminal acts? They all boiled down to one: Rolling out a draft congressional map that a couple of the incumbent Republicans didn't like. This map (which, again, is only a draft currently out for public comment) proposes four Republican safe seats, two Democratic safe seats, and three competitive districts.
That's right -- the draft map is pretty much like the current map, with one additional competitive district. Pretty inoffensive stuff, except to the Republican incumbent congressmen who felt they aren't safe enough. They feel this draft map is worthy of carrying out the political death penalty on Colleen Mathis, the truly independent chair of the Citizen's Independent Redistricting Committee. So they convinced Gov. Brewer and legislative leaders to call a Special Session to do the dirty deed, throwing the next decade of Arizona's elections into utter chaos.
You can read more about the secret machinations by Republican legislative leaders and members of Congress to subvert the IRC in this excellent investigative report by the Arizona Capitol Times:
Strangely enough, the legislative draft map -- also created in part by Ms Mathis -- also favors Republicans, guaranteeing them at least half the seats for the next ten years. Democrats and independents are not pleased at all with that artificial Republican advantage, but instead of illegally attacking the citizen volunteers of the IRC, they did what every other Arizonan has the right to do -- they made their concerns known at one of the scores of public forums held by the IRC all over the state in recent weeks.
How did the coup-planners justify their actions? They cited a clause in the voter-approved language that created the IRC stating that the Governor and two-thirds of the Senate may vote to remove a member for "gross misconduct."
Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) defined gross misconduct to the media this way: "Gross misconduct is essentially what the Legislature says gross misconduct is." Sounds a lot to me like Louis XIV, king of France, when he declared, "I am the State."
What gross misconduct did they uncover in this case? Perhaps domestic violence against someone in the median of a Phoenix freeway? Taking tens of thousands of dollars in free trips and tickets from the Fiesta Bowl?
Nope. They accused Ms Mathis of violating open meetings laws by calling individual IRC members last spring to find out how they felt about an upcoming decision to hire a consultant. Even if this charge was true, the penalty in statute is not removal of the public official, it is the requirement that the resulting decision be declared null and void, then made again in public.
Interestingly, Senator Biggs and other legislative leaders spent most of Halloween doing exactly what they accused Ms Mathis of doing -- violating open meetings laws by calling individual Senators and asking them how they felt about voting to remove Ms Mathis.
What evidence did Brewer and her legislative Jacobins offer? It seems they were operating under the same rules of evidence as the Salem Witch Trials. In 1692, Massachusetts Judge William Stoughton decided that "spectral evidence" would be admissible -- evidence based on dreams and visions. That's all legislative leaders have against Ms Mathis.
On the November 4 Alan Colmes radio show (hardly "Hardball"), Governor Brewer struggled to explain her "spectral evidence" as to why she decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner of an independent citizen volunteer:
COLMES: What did Colleen do that was inappropriate, Colleen Mathis?
BREWER: Well she acted, uh, inappropriately. Well it was very, pretty much obvious that she in communications, and doing things, uh, not in the public, and the people of Arizona deserve that –
COLMES: You mean she was doing things secretly? Like what?
BREWER: They just simply need to operate in a lawful and open fashion…
COLMES: I’m trying to understand what she did. What are you accusing her of having done?
BREWER: Well she wasn’t operating in the proper manner.
If you can stomach it, you can listen to the entire rather astonishing interview here:
A few Republican Senators held out against the removal for most of November 1st, but they finally gave in to the rest of their caucus and the call for the special session was issued at 4:45pm, 20 minutes before the session was called to order.
The call was actually issued by Secretary of State Ken Bennett because Governor Brewer was in New York selling her new book and didn't want to take the time to preside over the execution. Bennett actually apologized to Senate Minority Leader David Schapira when he told him of the special session, saying, "when I am Governor, I won't do things this way."
The actual special session took only 75 minutes from start to finish. No evidence was presented, and Ms Mathis was not allowed to speak on her own behalf. No due process was followed, just a naked power grab. The ax fell swiftly, and then it was over. The Governor and the partisan Legislative majority had once again made clear to the Arizona public that we just don't matter.
I guess when the legislators from the majority party claimed that "jobs are job #1", they meant they would do whatever it took to protect their own jobs against the wrath of voters in fair, competitive districts.
So what happens now? We don't really know, but here are some possibilities.
On November 17, the Arizona Supreme Court will hear oral arguments as to whether Ms Mathis was illegally removed. If that is their finding, the redistricting process will proceed where it left off, and we should have maps by mid December. One would hope that justice will prevail in this case.
If they let the removal stand, then chaos continues its reign. A new IRC chair would be chosen from a dwindling list of people willing to put up with such horrible treatment. If the Governor can drag it out until January, she will have the list of candidates chosen by a committee consisting predominately of members she personally has chosen, guaranteeing a chair who is independent in name only.
The map process would in that case likely have to start over, and if the maps are not ready by spring, then federal judges could take over the whole process and draw maps without public comment. Ironically, this whole nightmare could end up producing maps that are worse for the Republicans who orchestrated this whole thing. And anyone running for election or re-election would have no idea what districts they represent or where they are running for months and months.
The coup-planners didn't put a whole lot of thought into what would happen after they removed the chair. So let's all cross our fingers that the good people of the Arizona Supreme Court put a stop to this whole sordid mess and reinstate Colleen Mathis this Thursday.
Enough of the worst -- back to the best of times.
Senate President Russell Pearce is no longer a senator, thanks to the citizens of his conservative Mesa district who voted to recall him last Tuesday. It is clear that voters have had enough of what Mr Pearce represented -- rigid partisan ideology, demagoguery filled with fear and anger, ethical lapses, and a belief that he was better that the rest of us.
Replacing these voices of the past are practical visionaries of the future, people committed to working together for all of us. People like new Republican Mesa Senator Jerry Lewis, Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton, Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild, and my dear friend and former campaign manager Daniel Hernandez who won a seat on the Sunnyside School Board. All of these folks deserve hearty congratulations for helping to usher in a new era of working for -- not against -- the people.
These joyful results from last week's election bode well for next year's politics as well. They prove that we can leave behind the partisan bickering and ideological sideshows, and elect a legislature that can help move us forward as a state We can finally turn our attention to the most important work of creating jobs, educating our kids, and getting our economy back on track.
We Arizonans are not our media image from the past few years. We are a great people with leaders who have failed us, and we can change that in November 2012.
Please contribute what you can to my re-election campaign as I carry out my leadership duties to recruit, support, and elect a new generation of Arizona leaders. I can't do this alone. I need your support right now.
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Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
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Ways & Means Committee
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