Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Arizona Democratic Party elected leadership; More new redistricting friends of the court

It was a long day at the Arizona Democratic Party's State Committee meeting in Phoenix, the highlight of which was election of a new executive board.

Election results:

Alexis Tameron -- Arizona Democratic Party Chair

Bill Roe -- First Vice Chair


Holly Lyon -- Senior Vice Chair


Emily Verdugo, Jordan Ashley Hibbs and Kristie O'Brien female Vice Chairs


Doug Ballard, Jeffrey J Rogers and Aaron J. Marquez male Vice Chairs


Anne Greenberg Secretary


Rick McGuire (re-elected) Treasurer


Janie Hydrick Education Coordinator


Adrian P. Fontes Affirmative Action Moderator

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There are several VERY exciting insights on and about this new leadership team. First, tremendous diversity with four Latinos, including the new chair. Second, a great mix of youth and experience, including young passionate Democrats Jordan Hibbs, Aaron Marquez, Kristie O'Brien and Adrian Fontes. The education and experience background of the elders is also quite impressive.

They all have ideas, energy and drive to make great things happen over the next two years.

Some people asked me whether there was any drama involved in or with these elections. There was not. The question was posed, one of them told me, because of what one of this year's candidates had said in a candidate speech two years ago. At that time, the candidate engaged in what some characterized as bomb throwing (verbal bomb throwing, that is). The candidate in question made some awkward missteps in how he approached committee members this time but when he gave his speech, he was professional and appropriate.

He's a young man with a lot of potential that, in my view, started out by aiming at too high an office. The good news, to me, is that he did come back this year to try again and that he sounded more mature this time. Of course, the only people who do not make mistakes are those who never do or even attempt anything with any risk at all. Mistakes form the basis for the wisdom that comes with age. Naturally, it's not that any of us have to wait decades to try again in order to be successful.

I believe the future of Arizona is bright because of what Democratic activists are doing and will be doing in the future. The same holds for this young man. His future will be very bright and he will make his mark.

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In my email inbox on Saturday, I also received two more amicus briefs supporting the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in the legislature's lawsuit which is now before SCOTUS. For your reading pleasure, here they are:
The list of state and local officials includes:
  • Michael Bloomberg (former Mayor of New York City)
  • Lincoln Chafee (former governor of and US Senator from Rhode Island)
  • Terry Goddard (AZ)
  • Christine Gregoire (former governor of Washington State)
  • Gary King (former AG of New Mexico)
  • Rob McKenna (former AG of Washington State)
  • Janet Napolitano (former AZ governor, as if she needs an introduction)
  • Martin O'Malley (former governor of Maryland)
  • Sam Reed (former Sec'y of State, WA)
  • Ed Rendell (former governor of Pennsylvania)
  • Jim Regnier (former Montana Supreme Court Justice)
  • Dennis Vacco (former AG, New York State)
  • Grant Woods (former AG, Arizona)
  • Kim Wyman (current Sec'y of State, WA)

There's a LOT of gravitas in that list, including three former Arizona Attorneys General.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for March 2, 2015. I will be attending to provide coverage and reporting. To that end, I have set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to help offset the expense of that trip. Several friends of the Arizona Eagletarian have already contributed. I appreciate your thoughtful consideration to doing likewise.

Please donate at GoFundMe.com.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

How many friends does the Independent Redistricting Commission have now?

The deadline has now passed for "friends of the court" to file briefs supporting either the legislature or the commission. In my previous post, I linked to the IRC final written brief as well as the first amicus brief filed supporting independent redistricting and the people of Arizona.

Since then, nine more (supporting independent redistricting) have shown up. In no particular order, for your reading enjoyment, and perhaps also for your hopeful encouragement, here are the nine new ones.

A total of roughly 400 pages. Obviously, I can't read them all tonight. But I will try to do some comparison and analysis over the next few days.

In the meantime, a few more candidates for Arizona Democratic Party executive board have declared their intent and sent out email messages, made phone calls (I got one from Phil Lopes), and Chris Campas sent out several postcards (to each person on his list). I received three of them. The election will be this afternoon. The AZGOP reorg takes place this morning at a church in Tempe.

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Also, please support my GoFundMe campaign to offset expenses I will incur to travel to Washington, DC to attend, cover and report on the oral arguments before the Supreme Court. Thanks!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Redistricting Commission brief filed with SCOTUS; AZDEM reorg Saturday

Last week, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission filed a 117-page brief in Arizona Legislature v the AIRC detailing its final written argument defending the will of the people of our state to eliminate the inherent conflict of interest state lawmakers have enjoyed since the beginning of statehood in 1912 regarding redistricting.

As I just obtained this brief and the California Citizens' Redistricting Commission's amicus brief yesterday, I have not had the opportunity to read them yet but am confident the arguments will be persuasive and will prevail... even though the 27-page California brief states this as its conclusion.
Nothing in federal law precludes Arizona, or California from enacting, by initiative, an innovative system that provides for redistricting to be carried out by independent commissions, thus removing partisanship from that process yet still ensuring that districts satisfy federal law.
The problem with that conclusion is that partisanship is NOT removed from redistricting processes by instituting independent commissions. Rather, partisan elected officials, who have inherent conflicts of interest, ARE removed from the process, allowing the PEOPLE to assert their rightful sovereignty as intended by the Framers of the US Constitution.

Further, there have been some excellent analyses written up by law professors regarding this case recently, including this one by University of Chicago's Nicholas Stephanopolis, titled Arizona and Anti-Reform, the abstract of which states,
The Supreme Court is on the cusp of rejecting one of the best ideas for reforming American elections: independent commissions for congressional redistricting. According to the plaintiffs in a pending case, a commission is not “the Legislature” of a state. And under the Elections Clause, it is only “the Legislature” that may set congressional district boundaries.
There are good reasons, grounded in text and precedent, for the Court to rebuff this challenge. And these reasons are being aired effectively in the case’s briefing. In this symposium contribution, then, I develop three other kinds of arguments for redistricting commissions. Together, they illuminate the high theoretical, empirical, and policy stakes of this debate.
First, commissions are supported by the political process theory that underlies many Court decisions. Process theory contends that judicial intervention is most justified when the political process has broken down in some way. Gerrymandering, of course, is a quintessential case of democratic breakdown. The Court itself thus could (and should) begin policing gerrymanders. And the Court should welcome the transfer of redistricting authority from the elected branches to commissions. Then the risk of breakdown declines without the Court even needing to enter this particular thicket.
Second, commission usage leads to demonstrable improvements in key democratic values. The existing literature links commissions to greater partisan fairness, higher competitiveness, and better representation. And in a rigorous new study, spanning federal and state elections over the last forty years, I find that commissions, courts, and divided governments all increase partisan fairness relative to unified governments. At the federal level, in particular, commissions increase partisan fairness by up to fifty percent.
And third, the implications of the plaintiffs’ position are more sweeping than even they may realize. If only “the Legislature” may draw congressional district lines, then governors should not be able to veto plans, nor should state courts be able to assess their legality. And beyond redistricting, intrusions into any other aspect of federal elections by governors, courts, agencies, or voters should be invalid as well. In short, a victory for the plaintiffs could amount to an unnecessary election law revolution.
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And speaking of election revolutions, tomorrow (Saturday, January 24) the Arizona Democratic Party and perhaps the Arizona GOP also will conduct their once every two years reorganization.

Thus far, the list of candidates includes:

ADP Re-Org. Candidate Statements I've been told that Chris Campas also is running for ADP chair, but I've been unable to verify.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

When does 2 + 2 = $100 million/year?

Just a few days ago, the Arizona Eagletarian reported on two conspicuous tax break bills  (HB2152/2153) new House Appropriations Chair Justin Olson (R-LD25/Mesa) filed. Those bills have the potential to enormously expand the Steve Yarbrough Memorial School Tuition Tax Credit.
Olson's STO bills will deplete the general fund by expanding the STO (private/religious school voucher donation tax credit)...
Last evening, the Arizona Republic posted a story about local for-profit Grand Canyon University's campus renovations and then some.
But the biggest overhaul is quietly underway in talks with lawyers, bankers and prospective benefactors who could help convert the publicly traded company into a non-profit organization more like traditional colleges.
Reporter Ronald J. Hansen explains that GCU executives expect the conversion to dramatically enrich THEMSELVES.
From a business standpoint, there are millions of reasons to shift to a non-profit. 
The company presumably no longer would pay many of the taxes that currently cut into its bottom line, from federal and state income taxes to property and sales taxes. The company has sought a property tax rate cut from the Legislature that could lock in a permanently lower rate but could keep it paying those taxes even as a non-profit. It also could qualify for tax-exempt financing and lower postal rates.
GCU reported paying $56 million in taxes in 2013, according to its financial records. The company has lowered its tax bills by making tax-deductible contributions to Arizona private-school tuition organizations. But Mueller said the current growth rates mean the company will hit $100 million in taxes in a few years. (emphasis added) [...]
Mueller would stand to collect at least $31.7 million from the shares he already has at current valuation. Four other senior executives with the company would collectively take in at least $34 million from a deal at that price.
So, to recap:
  • GCU CEO Mueller would stand to collect at least $31.7 million.
  • Four other senior executives would also collect at least $34 million (aggregate).
  • GCU, in 2014, unsuccessfully sought special interest tax breaks from the state legislature.
  • GCU, according to Hansen's story, has lowered its tax bills by contributing to Yarbrough's slush fund (and/or others just like it).
  • House Approps chair Olson wants to give GCU (and EVERY other corporation owing income tax to Arizona) cart blanche to eliminate that tax burden by diverting general fund moneys -- preemptively -- to religious/private K-12 schools. 
Think of the possibilities. Grand Canyon contributes to Cathi Herrod's favorite schools. Those schools then provide a steady stream of new college students to GCU in perpetuity.

Folks, I don't have GCU's tax returns to analyze and I don't have tax analysis/data to use in order to make any kind of accurate estimate of the tax impact of these bills (HB2152/2153) but there's no limits placed on ANY of this activity. And this new effort to grant GCU and other corporations mega tax breaks will UNDERMINE our state's general fund and public K-12 school system if passed.

Last week, I heard reports that teachers and school boards contacted state lawmakers to raise hell about the civics bill, an unfunded mandate that still makes no sense to have opposed. That bill was minuscule compared to this situation.

Teachers, school boards and Democratic and sane Republican (I expect there are at least a few of them) lawmakers, here's the battle you need to engage.

The Alt-Fuels Debacle in 2000 could have been prevented if the press had been paying attention. 

THIS debacle can be prevented. 

Rise UP!

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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 out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's unfunded mandate season at the Arizona Capitol!

Yesterday, the Arizona Legislature passed, and Scrooge McDucey signed, the American Civics Act, HB2064 over the misguided protestation of Democratic members in both chambers.

The new law mandates for public schools to:
Beginning in the 2016‑2017 school year, the [High School graduation] competency requirements for social studies shall include a requirement that, in order to graduate from high school or obtain a high school equivalency diploma, a pupil must correctly answer at least sixty of the one hundred questions listed on a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services. A district school or charter school shall document on the pupil's transcript that the pupil has passed a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services as required by this section.
And to test each student for the newly required competency thus:
The school district governing board or charter school governing body may determine the method and manner in which to administer a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services. A pupil who does not obtain a passing score on the test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test may retake the test until the pupil obtains a passing score.
Chatter from current and former (Democratic) lawmakers and their friends has included:

  • But it's an unfunded mandate (true)
  • Isn't it ironic that the Tea Party backed GOP lawmakers, most of whom complain vociferously about Common Core because they don't want the federal government interfering with what we do in this state, passed a bill to require students to pass a federal government administered test? (It is)
  • It won't do any good because it's just forced rote memorization. Students will only forget it before long. (Not a good reason to oppose the bill. Great reason to negotiate a better bill)
  • It's an odd way to begin a session in which the legislature is expected to slash 1/8th of the state budget this session. (Sure it is, but what good did complaining do?)
  • There's nothing in the material students will be required to learn about Arizona government. (It's STILL a start in a good direction.)
One wise Arizona Democrat commented that she graduated from HS in 1954 and was required to pass a civics test; she also mentioned Sandra Day O'Connor's civics initiative; and (rightfully) said this bill might be the only sane piece of legislation Republicans have passed in our state in a long time. She later suggested that Democrats now run legislation to fund the mandate.

Why opposition was an awkward miscalculation, at best:
  • Opposing a bill to require HS grads to know something about government just plain looks dumb.
  • Because the Cure for Apathy is Empowerment, the fact that this mandate is, thus far, unfunded is not nearly as relevant as it is for all-day Kindergarten. 
  • Democrats in Arizona statewide races and in CD-2 (Barber) suffered a diminution of political power because of low voter turnout last November. Low voter turnout essentially equals apathy. If people aren't voting because they believe it doesn't matter, that's because they don't understand government. The CURE for that apathy is to EMPOWER all children by requiring the taxpayer funded schools to teach them about government. Knowledge is power.
  • Therefore, requiring HS grads to have some knowledge EMPOWERS them... begins to anyway.
The House vote was 42 Aye, 17 Nay, 1 Not Voting. All 17 Nay votes were by Democrats. Several Democrats voted Aye.  

The Senate vote was 19 Aye, 10 Nay, 1 Not voting. All Republicans voted Aye; all 10 Nay votes were cast by Democrats. 

I'm disappointed that all three of my district's lawmakers voted Nay. It's not, however, the end of the world.

The caucus leaders have a great opportunity to figure out how this happened and avoid a repeat.

This was a pick your battles wisely situation. While Arizona's legislative Democrats did not choose wisely this time, I'm ready to celebrate this misstep as a wonderful opportunity. Of course, opposing the bill was still a misstep mainly because they have absolutely ZERO moral high ground on which to justify a Nay vote. But they can use this as a springboard for effective team building.

The only people who don't make mistakes are people who do nothing. I'm glad they did something. I hope each caucus determines to make itself a Learning Organization and takes important lessons and insight from this episode. 

I also hope they take Diane Von Blume's advice and now run a bill to fund the civics mandate. And I hope wise HS social studies teachers turn all Arizona high school students on to the interactive learning on iCivics.

Democrats in the Arizona Legislature CAN regain the moral high ground on this issue.

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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 out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What is Arizona's GOP Legislature up to so far?

While there was no SB1062 on the first day of this year's legislative session, there are already at least two House bills (H2152 and H2153) filed (by new Approps chair Justin Olson) to further enrich Yarbrough.

You may recall that last year, brazen self-servative Sen. Steve Yarbrough introduced the Cathi Herrod Dominionist legislation on the first day.

Olson's STO bills will deplete the general fund by expanding the STO (private/religious school voucher donation tax credit), in this case allowing a credit for ALL (no ceiling, or upper limit) of the luxury tax liability (H2152) for liquor producers and state corporate income tax for all corporations (H2153). Key language from H2152:
A.  A credit is allowed against the luxury tax liability incurred pursuant to this chapter and payable by a wholesaler pursuant to section 42‑3353 or 42-3354 or by a farm winery, manufacturer, microbrewery or craft distiller pursuant to section 42-3355 for contributions to a school tuition organization for the purposes of scholarships for low-income students as provided by sections 43-1183 and 43-1504.
B.  The amount of the credit is the total amount of the taxpayer's voluntary cash contributions.
Key language from H2153:
A.  A credit is allowed against the taxes imposed by this title for the pro rata amount of contributions made by a business pursuant to section 43‑1183, subsection F or section 43-1184, subsection F, or both.  To qualify for the credit:1.  The aggregate contribution by the business to the school tuition organization in the taxable year must be at least five thousand dollars.

"This title" in H2153 refers to the Arizona Income Tax Code.

Translated into English, House Appropriations chair Justin Olson (R-LD25/Mesa) wants to put as much taxpayer money into private/religious schools. By the way, so does Scrooge McDucey. So much so that any and all luxury tax amounts that liquor farmers, manufacturers, microbreweries or craft distillers are liable for collecting and paying may -- when this bill is passed into law -- divert EVERY last one of those tax dollars AWAY from the general fund (away from PUBLIC schools) so that they can enrich Steve Yarbrough (R-LD17/Chandler) and private/religious schools... and if corporations (not limited to the liquor industry) donate at least $5,000.00 to the private school schemes, the owners of the corporations get to split the credit based on percentage of ownership of the corporation.

I dare anyone to provide ANALYSIS that contradicts my reading of either HB2152/2153, Scrooge McDucey or Justin Olson. That includes the Arizona Republic's resident irrational editorial writer Doug MacEachern.

Fact: the two House bills expand the School Tuition Organization (STO) tax credits.

Fact: every dollar, according to the language in the bills, that wineries, manufacturers of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, spirits/hard liquors) in Arizona wish to donate to STOs can be used to offset luxury tax liability. EVERY DOLLAR.

Fact: Arizona corporations, currently subject to among the lowest corporate income tax rates in the country, if they donate at least $5,000.00 to STOs, can reduce the amount of tax they must pay Arizona by that amount.

Fact: these taxes normally go into the general fund. The general fund provides most of the funding for our state's public schools, state government, and a portion is paid to cities and counties to fund their functions and services. Authorizing taxpayers to NOT pay those taxes puts further burden on every other taxpayer to pick up the slack.

Just how much are you willing to let the GOP-led Arizona government get away with?

The phone number for the governor's office is 602-542-4331. In Tucson, 520-628-6580. His office email is by way of a contact form on his website.

Justin Olson's office phone number is 602-926-5288. His office email is jolson@azleg.gov

Let them know what you think about this harebrained scheme.

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I don't have a nifty segue, but either US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been meeting regularly with Scrooge McDucey or both of them are using brand new Koch-tainted talking points about "economic opportunity for all."

Rubio was Jon Stewart's guest last night on The Daily Show. He has a new book out (trying to see if he can run for President?) titled American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for All.

McDucey's website has a page for his priorities. At the top of his list is "Opportunity for All."

This new meme is probably the GOP talking point response to Robert Reich's 2013 movie Inequality for All. Except, of course, that McDucey's claim is all show, no go. He has promised austerity.

I'm going to keep saying it whether anyone in the "center" or "right" listens or not. You cannot kickstart the economy with austerity. The GOP knows what Keynsian economics is. They are reluctant to admit their own addiction to it. Yet the massive US federal government budget deficits didn't really become overwhelming until the 1980s when Reagan took office. In the 1990s, Clinton oversaw elimination of budget deficits and then there was GW Bush and his unfunded wars of choice.

Anyway, if you want to hear Rubio trying to explain the concept to Stewart, you can view it here.

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Many thanks to Arizona Eagletarian readers and the Phoenix New Times

In its Best of Phoenix edition in September, the Phoenix New Times honored the Arizona Eagletarian designating it the Best Left-wing Blog for 2014.
Arizona Democrat Steve Muratore doesn't suffer fools gladly, whether he's wondering whether Attorney General Tom Horne is a "psychopath," accusing a spokeswoman for schools Superintendent John Huppenthal of polishing a piece of merde, or calling out the Capitol Times for kissing up to pro-plutocrat legislators. What makes him different from some online blowhard on a blog like, say, the Daily Kos is that he does a lot of his own reporting and research and offers unique analysis, not just fighting words. He's also fiercely local, focusing on issues such as redistricting that in these days of strained newspaper budgets, do not receive the attention they deserve. Cantankerous and principled, Muratore is a fighter whose motto "The KEYBOARD is mightier than the sword" is especially true when he's typing his latest entry.
In the mail this weekend, I received this plaque from the New Times.