Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Friday, August 28, 2015

LD26 State Sen. Ableser announced his resignation

Congratulations are in order for Ed Ableser, who has represented Tempe in the Arizona Legislature (both the House and the Senate) since the mid-2000s. Sen. Ableser today announced that he has accepted a new executive position in the Nevada Department of Education to head the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment. From the Arizona Republic,
In his role as director of the Office for a Safe and Respectful Learning Environment, Ableser will oversee efforts to educate school officials, from principals to coaches, on the effects of bullying and cyber-bullying on children.
The position is fueled, in part, by the GOP-controlled Nevada Legislature's decision to raise $1.3 billion in taxes to support education. The package, pushed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, freed up money to elevate the education department's anti-bullying efforts into a formal office.
Bully for Nevada, as Teddy Roosevelt might say. It's an exciting step for education in Nevada. Ed's vision and opportunity to set in motion a culture change in American public education is tremendous and mind boggling.

So, that's the big news of the day. My home legislative district, LD26, will have a vacancy in the legislature effective September 30, 2015.

My phone's been ringing with people wanting to discuss the possibilities for filling that seat in the Arizona Senate. Arizona Eagletarian readers, for the most part, probably know that situations like this come up from time to time.

It's not really all that unusual, as Ed was first appointed before he ran for election, Carlyle Begay the quasi Democrat from Gilbert... er, LD7 in NE Arizona, was appointed when Jack Jackson took a job in the Obama administration. Andrea D'Allessandro, Democrat from LD2/Tucson was serving in the Arizona House when appointed to fill the seat previously held by Linda Lopez.

So, what happens now? Well, Ed's resignation isn't effective for another month. Most likely in early October Democratic precinct committeemembers from LD26 will meet to select three names for a short list to be presented to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. As for speculation, the most likely and reasonable scenario would be for either one or both of the current state representatives from our district, Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood, to be on the short list and chosen to succeed Ableser.

In the senate, it's more important to have at least some legislative experience. Think of Mesa's Jerry Lewis who succeeded recalled/disgraced Sen. Russell Pearce. With all the good intentions Lewis had, there was extremely little that he could do other than go along with the Republican caucus, largely because he didn't have any legislative experience.

In such a scenario, that would then make an opening in the Arizona House. A number of names have been talked about for that possibility, including a couple of current members of the Tempe City Council and Tempe school district governing boards.

Of course, former Senate Minority Leader David Schapira has plenty of experience and currently sits on the Tempe City Council. But he now lives in LD18, so that leaves him out.

Perhaps I'll list more names in a post in the days and weeks to come, after people start expressing their interest in an appointment.

In the meantime, best wishes to Ed and Hillary Ableser for their upcoming move to Nevada and for the wonderful opportunity to make a difference in many lives.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

For ACC chair Bitter Smith, the plot thickens

As noted yesterday, local attorney Thomas Ryan apparently is still working on preparing his complaint to be filed with Attorney General Brnovich demanding that Susan Bitter Smith be ousted from office for violation of the strict conflict of interest statute governing Corporation Commissioners.

The only coverage on Wednesday (until Randazzo posted to azcentral at 11:41pm) was this blurb in the Yellow Sheet,
Commissioner Bitter Smith said attorney Tom Ryan’s forthcoming complaint and the conflict-of-interest allegations stemming from her work as a cable TV trade representative are part of “the intimidation strategy of Checks and Balances Project.” Ryan yesterday sent a litigation hold letter to Bitter Smith at her offices at the Corp Comm and Southwest Cable Communications Assn following a KJZZ report outlining Bitter Smith’s involvement as director of the cable group and a registered lobbyist for Cox.
But she told our reporter today she’s not going to succumb to Checks and Balances Project’s tactics: “Intimidation is not acceptable to elected officials, and I’m just going to continue to do my job.” She said she’s one of many commissioners both here and around the country under attack by the DC-based group. She also noted that the group is engaged in states that have active net metering discussions. “Every other commissioner here in Arizona has been an attackee of Checks and Balances. I was the last man standing, so to speak, so, apparently, it was my turn,” Bitter Smith said.
Ryan also sent a litigation hold letter to Technical Solutions, a government relations firm that lists Bitter Smith and her husband, Paul Smith, as principals. Bitter Smith said her firm is active with several employees, and it primarily does planning and zoning work at the city level. She said the firm has never done work with the Corp Comm. The secretary of state’s office lists Technical Solutions as inactive at the state level. The firm’s website says it “provides full service government affairs services including direct federal, state, and local lobbying activities with agencies ranging from the Federal Communications Commission, to the Arizona Corporation Commission, to the Arizona Legislature and Arizona municipalities.” The website also notes in Bitter Smith’s bio that she is a current commissioner.
It seems Bitter Smith is, for some odd reason, unfamiliar with the history of Ryan going after political corruption. Nobody in Arizona was publicly aware of the Checks and Balances Project until the watchdog group filed its public records request in March for Stump's clandestine communications with APS and others. How soon we (she) forget(s) that Ryan went after Tom Horne in 2014 when a whistleblower in the beleaguered former attorney general's office revealed illegal political campaign activity taking place on the taxpayers' dime.

That, of course, was not the first or only action Ryan has taken to dig out, for some sunlight disinfectant application, corruption in Arizona government. Who, besides politicians caught scurrying back to dark nooks and crannies when the light's switched on, cares where the sunlight's coming from anyway?

But I digress.

Isn't it quaint that Bitter Smith, who (in the audio with the KJZZ report linked in yesterday's blog post) admitted to, at minimum, recklessly and negligently violating A.R.S. § 40-101, just as dismissively claims she is not afraid of efforts to hold her accountable for her lawful duty to the citizens and ratepayers of Arizona?

Ryan told me he doesn't have a paying client for his work related to Bitter Smith's conflict of interest, and says he does not have any relationship with Checks and Balances Project. Randazzo reported,
Ryan said he is not associated with the solar industry and will file his complaint for the good of the state. The conflicts were brought to his attention by a KJZZ-FM reporter, he said.
The YS also said that Bitter Smith and fellow commissioner Bob Burns have added an item to today's Corp Comm staff meeting agenda about opening a docket item regarding regulated utilities spending on the 2016 election campaigns. Most intriguing about that report is the "railbird" who told YS that for the ACC to demand that APS and Tucson Electric Power (TEP) either disclose campaign spending or stay out of it altogether is,
One railbird said any effort by Bitter Smith and Burns will ensure that the only independent money in next year’s race will come from the solar industry, which is likely to use it to oust both of them. If the Corp Comm decides to formally tell the regulated utilities either to disclose their election spending or direct them not to spend, the source said the utilities are likely to stay out of the race altogether. And that also likely means the other business groups that they are involved in, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and its dark-money Arizona Business Coalition, would also be sidelined. “You’re going to pass something to screw yourself over when you’re that vulnerable? I cannot wrap my head around how politically stupid this is," the source said.
Now, reporting what "railbirds" say is dubious at best from the start. But to give YS customers -- the lobbying industry in Arizona for the most part -- this encouragement or discouragement, depending on the reader's viewpoint, seems especially cheesy. Or, put another way, nobody should count their chickens related to 2016 Dark Money spending before they hatch.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Did Arizona Corp Comm chair Bitter Smith forget to protect her flank?

In all her glorious smugness -- over Trash Burner Bob's beleaguered bumblings regarding likely ex-parte communications and improper campaign coordination with Arizona Public Service executives, Koch-money handler Sean Noble, and now APS-owned commissioners Tommy Forese and Doug Little -- it seems Corporation Commission chair Susan Bitter Smith left her flank open to attack.

Okay, well, really ACC executive director Jodi Jerich has been the face of the commission in trying to protect it from Stump's indiscretions. But did we ever hear Bitter Smith denounce Stump's secret dealings with any of those cronies? I didn't. But there have been grumblings about the costs that the big bad consumer watchdog Checks and Balances Project have been causing the ACC to incur for legal fees and an outside contractor after Jerich fired a longtime agency spokesperson.

This could be the wholly-owned crony capitalists' (take your pick, Koch, ALEC, APS... they're all involved to some degree in the slimy goings on at what's supposed to be an agency designed to protect Arizona citizens/ratepayers) worst nightmare.

The potential fallout from this new scandal may also become a harbinger of the change necessary to upend the predatory nature of government at all levels in our country since publication of the Powell Manifesto in 1971.

Local public radio station KJZZ, Arizona Capitol Times and Arizona Republic columnist EJ Montini have all jumped on this latest likely scandal involving Bitter Smith, a long-time registered lobbyist for the Cable Television industry and Cox Cable in our state. Cox also provides telephone services which are regulated by the ACC.

KJZZ's piece has an audio clip with brief interview segments from former commissioners Bill Mundell (Republican) and Renz Jennings (Democrat) and a good overview of the situation.

Back in the 1990s, a commission employee blew the whistle on Tony West, who had recently gotten elected to the commission while holding a license to sell securities. From KJZZ,
Anyone who has flipped a light switch, cooked over a gas stove, drank tap water or picked up a phone call from a land line has been personally affected by the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The commission’s role is so important that, in order to protect its powers and independence, it is established by the Arizona Constitution, rather than state statute, and its five commissioners are elected, rather than appointed.
Former Commissioner Bill Mundell said that combination has led legal scholars to describe it as one of the most powerful utility regulators in the United States, and with that comes high ethical standards.
“Because the commissioners are so powerful, the conflict of interest statute that governs them is much stricter than the general conflict of interest statute for other elected officials,” he said.
Mundell, a Republican, was appointed in 1999 to replace Tony West, who was removed from office after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled he was illegally elected under a conflict of interest-type law that’s specific to the commission.
Arizona Revised Statutes § 40-101 states,
A person in the employ of, or holding an official relation to a corporation or person subject to regulation by the commission, or a person owning stocks or bonds of a corporation subject to regulation, or a person who is pecuniarily interested therein, shall not be elected, appointed to, or hold the office of commissioner or be appointed or employed by the commission. If a commissioner, or appointee or employee of the commission becomes the owner of such stocks or bonds, or becomes pecuniarily interested in such a corporation involuntarily, he shall within a reasonable time divest himself of such stocks, bonds or interest. If he fails to do so, he thereby vacates his office or employment.
Bitter Smith admits to the conflict in the audio from KJZZ but minimizes her votes on items dealing with her pecuniary interests as saying they were "accidental."

On Tuesday, local attorney Thomas Ryan filed "Litigation Hold" letters with the Corporation Commission, Bitter Smith herself, and a trade association Bitter Smith works and lobbies for, as well as a government relations (lobbying) company Bitter Smith and her husband operate called Technical Solutions. Again, according to KJZZ,
Ryan said he’s considering filing a complaint with the attorney general’s office calling for the removal of Commission Chair Susan Bitter Smith.
“This will not go quietly in the night and whoever she retains will no doubt fight it tooth and nail,” Ryan said. “But the state of Arizona deserves a Corporation Commission that is not bought and paid for by the very people it’s supposed to regulate, the very industries it’s supposed to regulate.”
Ryan told the Arizona Eagletarian, in an email, that he may, as soon as Wednesday morning, file with Attorney General Mark Brnovich a verified complaint seeking to have Bitter Smith removed from office.

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Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped outLe Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

Friday, August 14, 2015

Does the Arizona Legislature DARE to attempt limiting Public Records access?

Once looked to for sound reasoning in the ongoing saga of Trash Burner Bob Stump and his dubious (and clandestine) communications with Koch-addict Sean Noble, Arizona Public Service president Don Brandt and Brandt's newest wholly-owned corporation commissioners Little and Forese -- Bob Burns now says it's time to shut down public records access for pains in the government bee-hind like the Checks and Balances Project.
After three months of fighting with the Washington DC-based Checks and Balances Project over records of an Arizona Corporation Commission member’s text messages, emails and call logs, a fellow commissioner was fed up.
“When does too much become too much?” Commissioner Bob Burns wrote in an email to Jodi Jerich, executive director of the Corporation Commission.
Burns proposed the commission compile a report on the man-hours spent and labor costs of complying with public records requests – and then take the matter up with the Governor’s Office and legislative leadership in the hopes of changing the law to restrict public records access.
He suggested a good starting point for changing the public records law would be to model the law “after the method used to acquire a search warrant.” Obtaining a search warrant requires a judge’s approval.
Guffaw!

Hey Burnsie, have you at all considered that the expense incurred as a result of the Stump records request skyrocketed discretionarily, based SOLELY on the fact that Trash Burner Bob has illegally refused to disclose the content of the requested records?

Wouldn't you LOVE to see TWO expenditure reports on this situation? One with ONLY the costs related to initial compliance; the other including and clearly identifying those expenditures incurred to prevent disclosure of what rightfully belongs to Arizona citizens.

How many legitimate journalists would drool over the possibility of a public debate over the cost of government agencies spending heavily to HIDE their ongoing illegal activities? 

Of course, if it was all illegal, we'd be having other discussions. Think Paine's Common Sense, wherein he emphatically makes the point that government is a necessary evil. Why would there be so much controversy over government whistleblowers if this was NOT a problem?

The lead blurb in the August 13 Yellow Sheet cites Burns and the ever bombastic state senator from Fountain Hills, John Kavanagh,
Burns’ suggestion yesterday that lawmakers consider narrowing access to Arizona’s public records laws got Kavanagh’s wheels spinning. He said he is mulling legislation to allow public officials some semblance of privacy when dealing with electronic communications, even if they are exchanged between public officials discussing public business. “I think we have to draw a reasonable line between when a public official, even discussing public things, can say something off the record to somebody, as opposed to having every utterance in every venue be a public record. It’s becoming concerning,” Kavanagh told our reporter yesterday.
It appears both Burns and Kavanagh have too soon forgotten the 2013 drama over the Voter Suppression Act -- HB2305.

Perhaps the folks at the YS were thinking of more than just whether they would be able to maintain their (financial lifeline) access to the legislature when they reported on this extensively yesterday.
Prior to the controversy surrounding Checks and Balances Project and its efforts to obtain Stump’s text messages, Kavanagh had already been thinking about a way to crack down on a Yuma man long known to legislators for his excessive records requests to his city. Jack Kretzer is the bane of Yuma City Hall, and the two-time target of lawmakers. Kretzer files hundreds of records requests per year, and city officials contend he does it just for the sport of harassing elected officials. For the past two years, lawmakers have sought to crack down on “burdensome requests.” Stevens first introduced legislation aimed at Kretzer in 2014
YS says HB2419 was (state Rep. David) Stevens' his first attempt, but Kavanagh offered a strike-all amendment to HB2414, which got through the House but died a quiet death on Third Reading in the Senate.

Of course, Kretzer hadn't stirred up corporate media and government accountability activists in our state nearly as much as C&BP director Scott Peterson has over the last few months. So, Kretzer's situation and Stevens' legislation didn't capture the imagination of the Arizona public.

But Michele Reagan's Voter Suppression Act DID capture the imagination of the public.

Apparently, Scrooge McDucey is open to the idea of CLOSING public records. Again, from YS,
Ducey is keeping an open mind on whether he’ll support legislation that would impose stricter requirements on public records requests. Ducey declined to comment about what Burns said yesterday, saying he just learned about Burns’ idea this morning and hasn’t had a chance to speak with the commissioner about it, but he wouldn’t rule out supporting a bill that would make public records laws less permissive... Ducey told reporters today.
For his part, Scott Peterson noted, in response to questions from this blogger, that he hasn't even requested any records from Burns, but maybe he should.

Peterson also indicated:
Consider this about Burn's comments about needing to curtain Arizona's freedom of information act [Public Records Law]:
  • In our original March 11 records request, along with the text messages, we asked for Commissioner Stump's public meetings calendar, and the calendar belonging to his Policy Advisor Amanda Ho. In return, we received his calendar in which 28% of his meetings had been blacked out. 32% were redacted from Ms. Ho's public meetings calendar.
  • On August 5, we sent a letter to Commissioner Stump asking for an explanation. We're still waiting. By law, there needs to be an explanation for each and every redaction. (Did they break the law? Well, he deleted his text messages in which he may have been conducting public business, so he wouldn't have to delete his photos, or so he said. Just what are so special about those photos?)
  • Why does this matter? The July 2014 period is when Checks and Balances Project has uncovered powerful, circumstantial evidence that Stump could have been coordinating the election of winning, pro-APS GOP candidates.
The Yellow Sheet quote of the day for August 13,
“We’re slowly approaching the point where whispers are going to be conceivably public records.”
- Kavanagh on what he views as a troubling evolution of public records laws to include more communications by government officials.
Does Kavanagh have the cajones to try to push through a measure to mollify Bob Burns' bee in his bee-hind? PLEASE, John, I SOOOOO hope you do. It would be SUCH a lovely gift to voter registration activists.


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By the way, LD26 state Rep. Andrew Sherwood penned an op-ed published on the Arizona Capitol Times website this week calling attention to the cheesiness of AZ GOP chair Robert Graham commissioning a video ad that tries to convince people that Bob Stump is a... oh, wait, that's not what the ad did. Instead, the ad villifies local attorney Dan Barr, for representing C&BP in the ongoing (unfulfilled) public records situation with the Arizona Corporation Commission.

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So, Scrooge McDucey, Andy Biggshot, John Kavanagh, David Gowan -- Go ahead, MAKE MY DAY!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

AZGOP celebrates gaining 255 voters between April and June 2015; but lost 7,138 in prior quarter

The Arizona Republican Party is feeling its oats.

A press release issued yesterday:
Republican Presidential Nomination Contest Helps Drive Increase in Voters Registering as Republicans
Statewide Quarterly Report Shows GOP Registration Increase of 255, Democrats Decrease of 1,163
PHOENIX - This afternoon Chairman Robert Graham of the Arizona Republican Party announced progress is being made in increasing Republican voter registration over the Democrat counterparts. The party is capitalizing on the public’s increased interest in the Republican Party in anticipation of Arizona’s presidential primary election in March 22, 2016.
As of July 30 [sic], the state has 1,107,108 registered Republicans, up 255 voters from the 1,106,853 as of the end of April. Democrats had July 30 [sic] registration of 922,120 versus April’s 923,283, a loss of 1,163 voters.
This is probably the best place to point out that in three months prior to that 255 person gain, the Greedy Old Pricks Party lost 7,138 voters. And this statement was released AFTER the August 6th debate debacle. (check here, here and here for starters) Oh, yeah... they've got the Big Mo (momentum) as they say in athletic contests. The release continues...
“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm statewide about the Republican nomination for president, and now that the debates have begun we’re going to be seeing the trend continue with a great response from new voters getting excited about the Republican Party, taking action, and registering to vote with us,” said Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham. “The numbers also show the Democrats, meanwhile, putting on a shameful performance as they’re apparently omitting voters from the primary process in favor of Hillary Clinton being handed Barack Obama’s third term.”
The full report is available from the Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan here.
Beside the fact that the AZGOP completely misleads everyone with that nonsense release, it also misstates the dates by a full month. Oh, and the number of Independent (Other) registered voters rose by 17,707 between April and the end of June compared to Graham's ebullient joy over an increase of 255.

Why does the AZGOP think its registration increase is a big enough deal to proclaim (and for the Yellow Sheet to dutifully republish without analysis) while forgetting to mention that it lost more than SEVEN THOUSAND voters in the previous three months while Independent voters INCREASED by nearly EIGHTEEN thousand in the period in which the GOP gained a mere 255?

Yet, I'm also very concerned about the lackadaisical performance by the Arizona Democratic Party. I'm not going to sugar-coat the problem and pretend all is well with ADP. However, in spite of that slump, the number of registered Democrats in Maricopa County increased by 1,631 from April to June.

There are several reasons for the malaise. The bottom line is that AZDEM (the state party) has been rudderless for the first seven months of the year and election cycle. I don't think that was a wise course of action at all. We won't get those months back, but if the new leadership recognizes the serious groundswell for Sanders sweeping the state and country, we can more than make up for it.

A new executive director, Sheila Healy, has been hired. Unfortunately, she missed perhaps the most important opportunity available by not showing up at the LD26 (Tempe/West Mesa/Salt River Community) Democrats meeting on Tuesday night. I've pointed out several key missed opportunities to AZDEM staff over the last year. They better wake up now.

To illustrate, this week's LD26 Dem meeting had maybe 50 people attend. But just by posting meetup information at BernieSanders.com for the July 29 House Party held just a few blocks away (from the community center where this Tuesday's Dem meeting was held), 129 people showed up.

Is it fair to say the contrast between the two meetings reflects a palpable reluctance (not just in corporate media) by local and state organization Democrats to acknowledge and embrace the growing wave of enthusiasm for Democrat Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign?

It's a HUGE mistake for state and local Democratic organizations to refuse to recognize a genuine phenomenon and to not embrace it. Get over holding back in favor of the zombie Clinton campaign. Bernie Sanders is NOW. Bernie Sanders is generating authentic enthusiasm. Get on board. I don't give a shit where the big money to run the party apparatus might come from. Even more importantly, Democratic activists waiting to be activated care even less.

Without lighting a fire of enthusiasm under Democratic activists now, the Party risks losing ground for at least another two years.

Take NOTE Arizona Democrats. It is easily within your grasp to overwhelm the GOP in this state before the registration deadline (in February 2016) for the Presidential Preference Election (in March 2016).

Embrace the wave. #FeelTheBern

Friday, August 7, 2015

Is the AZ Chamber of Commerce AFRAID of Bernie Sanders already?

Even though the GOP presidential clown car/bus performance Thursday night provided next to ZERO insight on how any of those bozos could reasonably preside over the federal government of the United States -- and NONE of the clowns mentioned the real elephant in the room (Bernie Sanders) -- might Bernie already be scaring the bejeezus out of Arizona plutocrats? Consider...

The Yellow Sheet Report, that bastion of unbiased and highly objective hard news (NOT even close!), highlighted in its August 7, 2015 edition, gossip about GOP state treasurer Jeff DeWit, and fear-mongering by Arizona Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer.

DeWit crossed Scrooge McDucey by exposing the governor's plan to put the state land trust fund at long-term risk. Readers may remember that the state treasurer blasted McDucey's plan to raid the state land trust fund to reduce principal upon which the fund earns interest and dividend income. McDucey of course acts as if he doesn't have to account for his bodacious and outrageous actions to the people who put him in office. Now, as if made up by Yellow Sheet reporters, they claim the vindictive consequences aimed at DeWit were nothing of the sort.
A[n UNNAMED] source close to Ducey took issue with a comment in yesterday’s report that the Ninth Floor told DeWit to “pound sand” after he asked for a seat at the table on the governor’s land trust plan. The source said that seat was, indeed, offered by the administration. “They tried to work with him. They tried to work around his opposition. He was invited at the table,” the source said. “They wanted to work with his concerns or, you know, have him be a part of it.” The Ninth Floor even offered DeWit a fairly prominent role in stumping for the land trust plan, the source said, but in the end, that wasn’t enough. The source believes DeWit’s opposition was borne out of his “disappointment that the treasurer’s role isn’t in the spotlight that often. I think maybe he was a little bit surprised by that.” Another source familiar with the conversations between DeWit and the Ninth Floor told our reporter last month, shortly after the treasurer publicly came out against the plan, that the Ducey administration briefed DeWit about it several times before it was announced, and that the governor even invited the treasurer to the June press conference where the proposal was unveiled. “It appeared that most of the opposition was that... he views this as the treasurer’s fund to manage. There weren’t a lot of specifics about elements about the plan that he didn’t like,” the source said of the meetings between the Treasurer’s Office and Governor’s Office.
Who is going to believe this tripe, as reported by the Yellow Sheet? Nobody in their right mind. If McDucey's people want anyone to believe them -- and if the Yellow Sheet wants anyone to trust its "journalism," they should both go on the record with names. Names of official spokespeople, or whoever is actually authorized to speak for the McDucey administration. Short of that, even YS customers should take that poorly written report with huge grains of salt.

Does McDucey REALLY think he can get intelligent people to believe that 1) he authentically wanted the elected treasurer to have a genuine say in how the plan was written; and 2) that DeWit shouldn't be believed just because he's jealous of the governor? Good effing grief.

Now, the other big idea the YS set forth today is that the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry (not to be confused with anyone who has the interests of small business in our state at heart), is starting to freak out at the idea of a $15/hour minimum wage.
AZ Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Glenn Hamer today swung at the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15, and predicted an economic Armageddon that could force businesses to resort to, among other things, [God forbid] robots. “Businesses could cut the hours of existing employees, raise prices, institute hiring freezes, invest in automation like robots that will make employees unnecessary, or even close up shop. Small businesses in the Bay Area and Seattle have already faced that fate,” Hamer wrote on his blog (LINK). The bad news won’t stop there, Hamer said. Those who are looking to join the workforce, such as teenagers, would be worse off, he said, citing a Wall Street Journal article, which predicted that for every 10 percent hike in the minimum wage, youth employment will drop by one to two percent. “Even the most altruistic employers have a hard time justifying paying a high school kid with few skills the full time equivalent of over $30,000 annually,” Hamer said. Not content with explaining his policy disagreement, Hamer also questioned the motivation of those who are pushing for the $15 minimum wage. “Most disturbing in the minimum wage debate, however, has been the undercurrent of disdain for honest work,” he said, adding, “Entitled activists who claim to be champions of the poor use rhetoric that demeans entry-level work and portrays employers as villains.” The problem, he said, is that big companies won’t be the only ones who would be negatively affected. Mom and pop shops would, too. “They depict positions that pay the minimum wage as lifelong slogs, not the first step on the road to upward mobility and maybe even a career,” he said. Hamer cited his experience as an example: “I started out my work life as the assistant bun guy at Burger King. I earned a hair above minimum wage. I did not get rich,” he said. “But I learned valuable life skills like the importance of showing up on time, getting a job done right, treating supervisors and my fellow employees with respect, and how to interact with customers.”
Hamer, in his referenced blog post cites a specious argument posed by a failing pizza shop owner in Seattle.

Again, give me a f***ing break. Arizona is ALL about tourism. Are you telling me that raising the minimum wage is going to put a damper on people visiting our state? And since they will continue to come to Arizona in droves, is Hamer (and the YS) suggesting somehow that all the jobs necessary to provide a memorable tourist visit to the Grand Canyon, or Sedona, or Tucson's annual Gem Show, or any number of other exquisite destinations can be done by robot?

That's just bullshit. I smelled it. I'm saying something about it. Thank you Jon Stewart (notably starting at 33:30 into the clip).

Anyway, Hamer's screed can only be fairly characterized as irrational fear-mongering. How making it so that full-time employees can earn a living wage has ANY connection -- to disincentivizing development of a good work ethic and the associated life skills -- I neither know nor find in Hamer's unsound and grossly invalid argument.

Now, I am aware that potentially doubling (by the way, not all at once, but over the course of a couple of years) labor costs for small businesses can sound daunting. But examination of the entire business model adjustments blows Hamer's propaganda completely out of the water.

Therefore, before ANYONE buys Hamer's bullshit fear-mongering, if they have any critical thinking (or sound journalistic) skills at all, they will demand he demonstrate, with legitimate business model analysis, just how much of an impact such changes in minimum wage would actually have on the small businesses that support Arizona's economy.

Oh, about that Bernie Sanders connection. The "brain trust" at the Yellow Sheet chose this as the August 7th quote of the day:
“This is a freezing economic idea. This is Bernie Sanders economics. This is Bernie-nomics.”
- AZ Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Glenn Hamer on the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Clearly Glenn's so scared he probably left huge skid marks in his drawers.

When Hamer makes HIS case for negative impact on the Arizona economy, I'll gladly provide analysis to rebut his claims. What impact will we REALLY see when we reduce economic stress for working families and give hundreds of millions more people in America generous amounts of discretionary/disposable income? Would not that BOOST the fortunes of small businesses in every inch of Arizona?

Clearly, Glenn Hamer is not familiar with Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Has a Redistricting Commissioner been taking Iron(y) Supplements

As previously reported, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission met on Tuesday to select additional counsel for the Harris lawsuit for SCOTUS representation, with briefings to be filed and oral arguments held this fall or winter.

Despite Vice-Chair Scott Freeman's claim to the contrary, and despite the unanimous 5-0 vote to accept the pro bono proposal of Jenner & Block's Paul Smith to represent the AIRC, there were sparks flying during the meeting.

Freeman explained his AYE vote, ironically declaring his intention to "spare everyone the drama" from last time when he voted NAY on the decision to work with Seth Waxman in the Arizona Legislature case.
I would have done the same here, with the same provisos but not knowing whether there would be three votes to retain the Jenner Block firm, I voted yes to spare everyone the drama and the trouble and I'd like to add that I'm kinda disappointed, but perhaps not surprised that one of the commissioners [Colleen Mathis] participated in deliberations on retention of Supreme Court counsel despite the fact that the commissioner had a relationship with one of the lawyers being considered. That may not be a true pecuniary conflict of interest under state law, but certainly under the provision of the Arizona Constitution that established this commission, commissioners are supposed to conduct themselves in ways that build confidence in the redistricting process, and to be open and honest and make full disclosures and perhaps it violated the spirit of that constitutional provision. 
That he made the statement itself is ironic on more than one level, which I'll get into in a moment. IF, Freeman wanted to vote NAY on Jenner & Block, since there was nobody calling roll, all Scott had to do was wait until the other four commissioners had vocalized their AYE votes and then cast his opposing vote last. Scott's a bright guy. Not only was Freeman apparently unaware of the irony in his statement, but it seems quite obviously disingenuous.

The Yellow Sheet (July 29) reported the incident with additional comments by Freeman after the meeting.
After the meeting, Freeman registered his disappointment that Mathis had participated in the discussion. “I’m kind of disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, that one of the commissioners participated in the deliberations on retention of Supreme Court counsel, despite the fact that the commissioner had a relationship with one of the lawyers being considered,” he said, adding that commissioners should conduct themselves in a way that builds confidence in the redistricting process.
The vote to retain Jenner & Block was unanimous, but Freeman quickly expressed regret that he’d voted in favor, saying he only did so because he wasn’t sure there would be three votes against Smith’s firm. “I voted yes to spare everyone drama and the trouble,” he said. Freeman told our reporter today that he was concerned that, if he and Stertz both lodged protest votes against the outside counsel, as they did last year when the IRC voted to retain former US Solicitor General Seth Waxman (he said he didn’t want a ‘yes’ vote to be interpreted as support for the IRC’s actions), Mathis might have voted against Jenner & Block, throwing the process into chaos and perhaps leading to the retention of Elwood.
Freeman noted that Elwood and Mathis are lifelong friends, pointing to a July 9 article in the Peoria (Ill.) Star Journal about the two of them and their trip to the US Supreme Court for the redistricting arguments in March. Freeman suggested that Mathis should have recused herself, or at least asked IRC counsel and her fellow commissioners to weigh in on the issue. “Sure, she’s not getting a kickback from the guy. But, gee, it’s a high-profile case,” he said. Mathis, who attended Tuesday’s meeting via teleconference, did not return a call from our reporter.
Yellow Sheet readers may want to note that the report's quotes from Freeman, IF they were indeed from after the meeting, were verbatim the same as what he said on the record, during the meeting. It may or may not be a substantive error by the Yellow Sheet, but if that publication wants to consistently validate its bona fides, it may want to be concerned about accuracy. It sometimes seems like just a careless blog (wink, wink). But they sure do make a lot of money on it.

Anyway, Mathis DID disclose her relationship, on the record, during that meeting. The attorney she knows, John Elwood, apparently graduated from the same high school as both Colleen and her husband Chris in Peoria, Illinois. On July 9, 2015, the Peoria Journal Star reported on the relationship.
PEORIA — It’s a place that Colleen Coyle Mathis never thought she’d be. But a few months ago, she was front and center when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments why the Arizona redistricting commission she heads should remain in place.
Mathis, 47, chairs the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission which was party to a lawsuit brought by state lawmakers there. The question before the high court: Is it legal for a commission to draw voting districts or is that only the power of state lawmakers? [...]
The experience was made even more special by having a close friend, fellow Central graduate, John Elwood, write a friend of the court brief.
“In a way, having John involved and writing an amicus brief, I was comforted by that. I know him pretty well and he’s an excellent lawyer and a Supreme Court specialist,” Mathis said. “I was honored that he was willing to write an important amicus brief for us.”
Elwood, who graduated a year later than his friend, also was enthused about the experience. While he’s argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and written some 30 briefs in support of various cases, it was different this time.
“When you have known someone that long, you don’t say no,” he said recently, while drinking a cup of coffee at a Downtown java joint. They have kept in touch since high school as Elwood’s buddy back in school, Christopher Mathis, married her.
 From Elwood's law firm (Vinson & Elkins) bio,
John, a partner in the firm’s Appellate practice group, has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, and argued before most federal courts of appeals. He has briefed and argued cases in “a broad cross-section of areas” (Chambers USA, 2013), and has particular experience in the areas of environmental law, the False Claims Act, administrative law, government contracting, and federal criminal law.
John’s work has earned him recognition as one of Washington’s top Supreme Court lawyers (Washingtonian, 2013), as one of “a small group of lawyers” with an “outsized influence at the U.S. Supreme Court” (Reuters, 2014), and as one of the country’s most innovative lawyers (Financial Times, 2014). Chambers USA reports that “[t]he much-admired John Elwood is praised for his advocacy skills” (2013), and describes John as “phenomenal” (2014), “incredibly talented” (2012), and “a much-loved and widely respected lawyer who is quick on his feet” (2010). 
By the way, Paul Smith, who was selected this week to represent the AIRC pro bono, also wrote an amicus brief in Arizona Legislature.

The bigger irony appears to be in Freeman's declared intent (quoted above, about how commissioners conduct themselves). On June 30, immediately after his commission won a long and hard fought victory from SCOTUS in Arizona Legislature, the Arizona Republic published an op-ed under Freeman's byline. That column represents Freeman's shameless effort (conduct) to UNDERMINE the public confidence in the AIRC.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Arizona's scheme through which an independent redistricting commission conducts congressional redistricting.
The Arizona Legislature had challenged the commission's authority, arguing that the framers assigned the task of congressional redistricting to "the legislature" of each state in the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution. But five justices have now construed the term "the legislature" to mean something unknown to the framers: an unelected, unaccountable, "independent" commission created by voter initiative.
The SCOTUS opinion penned by Justice Ginsberg directly contradicts Freeman's outrageous claims about what the Framers did or did not know. An excerpt from the Ginsberg's opinion,
There were obvious precursors or analogues to the direct lawmaking operative today in several States, notably, New England’s town hall meetings and the submission of early state constitutions to the people for ratification. 
And the barbs Freeman tossed out later in his op-ed were no more credible than being simply statements of his bitter viewpoint. His characterizations of litigation outcomes are just wrong.
Proponents argue that commission-based redistricting schemes like the one Arizona created in 2000 take the politics out of redistricting, eliminate partisanship and self-interest, and add transparency and competitiveness. Arizona's initiative created a five-member commission with safeguards designed to keep it politically balanced, independent and open, and with clear instructions on how to draw the maps.
The new system seemed to work in 2001, with the commission approving bipartisan maps. But the 2011 redistricting was a fiasco. What went wrong? Plenty.
Every vote of significance was the same 3-2 partisan split.
Commissioners secretly discussed hiring a Democratic data-mining company as the commission's mapping consultant, rendering the procurement process a sham.
Subsequent litigation revealed that a commissioner custom-designed districts outside of public meetings with the "assistance" of an Arizona Democratic Party representative who had a direct link to the mapping consultant's server.
Besides the fact that Freeman misrepresents the "spirit and intent" of the decisions in the "subsequent litigation," his characterizations are based on his long known intent to undermine the legitimacy of the commission. By the way, I have stated on more than one occasion that the intent of independent redistricting is NOT to eliminate partisanship but rather to eliminate the blatant conflicts of interest elected legislatures, by definition, have when they draw district lines for their own chambers or for Congress.

In his screed (for the record, transcribed above, and in his remarks to the Yellow Sheet reporter), it seems he's oblivious to the irony with which he spoke this week, as shown by his conduct over the last couple of years as a commissioner who took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of both the United States AND Arizona.

I'd love to also get into the conflict of interest laws and rules that apply here, as Freeman so shamelessly tried to implicate Mathis for violating the spirit thereof, but will save it for another day.