Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, August 6, 2012

Arizona UPRISING -- Legislative Primary Races That Count

The Arizona Eagletarian detailed a historical record of 2011 Arizona Independent Redistricting because the tone of politics and lawmaking in our state is heavily influenced -- before any legislative session begins -- by where district lines are drawn. That record (the one I wrote) began in December 2010.

For the same reason, the August 2012 primary election for state lawmakers and Congressional representatives this month will flavor public policy decisions until the end of 2014. Therefore, primary races that provide a clear contrast between candidates in the same political party matter tremendously.

On the Republican side, the state senate race in Mesa's LD25 (Russell Pearce vs Bob Worsley) and for state House of Representatives seats in Scottsdale's LD23 (John Kavanagh, Jennifer Peterson and Michelle Ugenti) are intriguing. The Pearce/Worsley race has gotten a good bit of ink in local corporate media so I do not feel compelled to dig into it. 

Kavanagh and Ugenti, of course, are incumbents. Jennifer Peterson, however, is an elected school board member and education advocate. That presents a significant contrast between her and the incumbents.

Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb this week suggests that there will be little change in the ideological extremism of state GOP lawmakers. Robb does, however, think the possibility of Andy Tobin being edged out in the three incumbent lawmaker House race in LD1 would mean a new House Speaker more inclined to "pick gratuitous fights" over policy issues, rather than suppress them.

Instead, the divide is between conservatives who want to pick gratuitous fights and conservatives who don't see the point. And a rough entente has been reached. The gratuitous-fight conservatives get to kick up their heels in the Legislature. And the don't-see-the-point conservatives arrange for most of their bills to get lost on the way to passage.
If there's a big surprise coming out of the primary election, it might be the failure of House Speaker Andy Tobin to make it back. Tobin faces a primary with three current Republican legislators vying for two House seats.
But if Tobin is defeated, it will be for being insufficiently conservative, not for being too conservative. Tobin held up some anti-union bills, which agitated some conservative groups. And he would be replaced as speaker by someone less likely to ride herd on the gratuitous-fight crowd.
Tobin's current House seat mate is Karen Fann. Fann is on the ballot this month along with Tobin and current Anthem Senator Lori Klein (R-Pink Gun). Personally, I think defeating Tobin in that district would be a long shot, but not impossible.

If there was any possibility that any of the GOP races held the potential to make the legislature more rational and moderate, I'd be more interested in covering those races. I'm not very optimistic about that, however.

On the other hand, there are a few key Democratic primary races with the potential to influence the direction of public policy in 2013 and 2014.

This time, let's consider Legislative District 30, a Voting Rights Act district, designed to enable Hispanic voters the opportunity to elect lawmakers of their choosing.  According to the best data available to the Independent Redistricting Commission, when the maps were approved 57 percent of the district population was Hispanic. Of the registered voters, 24 percent were Republican, 38.6 percent Democrats and 37.4 percent not affiliated with either major political party.

The state senate race is between incumbent Democrat Robert Meza and challenger Raquel Terán, also a Democrat. Both candidates are Hispanic. However, that may be where the similarity ends.

Local activists have been complaining about Meza's representation for a long time.

Terán is criticizing Meza's level of engagement at the Legislature, charging Meza is frequently absent and has missed votes, to the detriment of his constituents.
"I believe we need to be there for the whole process," Terán said of lawmakers being present for daily sessions. "When we're not there, who is representing the District 30 constituents?"
Meza acknowledged he doesn't spend a lot of time on the Senate floor during daily debate sessions, and said he believes his time is better spent dealing directly with constituent concerns. (emphasis mine)

And from the Arizona Republic's Political Insider:

Supporters of challenger Raquel Terán say incumbent Sen. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, is threatening Dream Act kids with legal action for campaigning for Terán.
Ann Wallack, executive director of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, said Meza should save the heavy hitting for the adults, such as her, who are used to tough politickin'.
"You should lay off the students," she said.
Meza said he hasn't threatened anyone with a lawsuit, but he did advise a young man working for Terán that he should stop spreading untruths about Meza. He said several of his campaign supporters have told him the young man in question has portrayed Meza as "a mean person who doesn't like undocumenteds."
Meza said he advised the young campaigner that such derogatory comments over time can land people in court, but denies he ever rattled a lawsuit threat in the kid's face. The characterization is insulting, Meza said, since he's helped several "dreamers" himself.
The back-and-forth is the public face of a dispute between Meza and fellow Phoenix Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo. Gallardo is backing Terán because, he said, the Senate needs a legislator who will sponsor bills and speak up at the statehouse, something Meza is not noted for. (emphasis mine)

From the Phoenix New Times, reported by Monica Alonzo just a few days ago,

As for Meza's frequent absences during daily roll call at the Legislature, he explains that instead of wasting time on opening ceremonies, he is working with constituents. He says he nearly always shows up when it's time for a floor vote, when the entire body votes on a measure.
And yet in 2008, while he was serving in the House of Representatives, Meza ranked in the top 10 for missed votes. In 2010, he was criticized for taking a vacation at the beginning of the session. In 2011, records show he was present for 36 sessions, excused for missing 12 sessions, and showed up late to 10 others.
In 2012, he's had seven excused absences.
"When you're absent — regardless of what comes up — you're missing an opportunity to share the stories of your community," Terán says.

I'm reminded of a comment Democratic Congressional candidate Kyrsten Sinema made during a debate recently:

Kyrsten Sinema responded by saying she had been told... that it is better to listen than to be heard and to develop meaningful relationships with members on both sides. Though not identifying her source, she later described how that enabled her work with Tucson Republican state Sen. Frank Antenori to get a bill passed which makes all veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately eligible for in-state tuition at any of the state universities. (again, emphasis mine)
So, what Robert Meza characterizes as wasting time, a former colleague describes as time that could be key to cultivating relationships that could have been used to advance legislation to actually benefit the citizens in his district.

Further, Meza's domestic partner, Mike Snitz is running for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. Since they live together, they are running in the same district. Snitz also has a whole bunch of issues that should be explored. I hope to do that in a blog post in a day or two. However, I want to point out that Meza was also named as having received free trips and sporting event tickets* from lobbyists. The picture below, provided by Snitz' primary election opponent Jonathan Larkin, gives a pretty good feel for how Meza does (and Snitz will) approach the job of representation as a lawmaker.

Larkin's (a U.S. Marine veteran) caption for the photo: 
While I was in Iraq, Mr. Snitz (right) was traveling with state Senator Robert Meza (left) courtesy of high-powered lobbyists. In this photo, the pair are attending a Notre Dame football game with all expenses paid for by Fiesta Bowl lobbyists.

Additionally, there are apparent irregularities in how Senator Meza has handled his campaign finances over the last couple of years.

Local activist Esther Durán Lumm filed a complaint just last month with the Secretary of State and Attorney General's Offices detailing a number of apparent violations of Arizona Revised Statutes based on Meza's campaign finance reports.

Ms. Lumm's complaint says Meza may have converted thousands of dollars of campaign contributions (most of which he obtained from lobbyists who expect a return on their investment in state lawmakers, for more insight, see: Influence By Cialdini, Robert B.), falsely reporting the source of some contributions, violation of a ban on receiving contributions from lobbyists while the legislature was in session, failure to disclose his position as officer of a corporation (in his personal financial disclosure), and receipt of campaign contributions from corporations (which is prohibited).

At minimum, Meza will have to claim he inadvertently made mistakes in his reporting. In which case, one would reasonably question his competency for handling complex legislative matters. Even if Meza skates (escapes criminal or civil liability) on these allegations, the connection between his campaign finances and weak representation of the community that elected him seems clear.


Without question, however, Meza is indeed campaigning for re-election to the Arizona Senate. In doing so, he has muddied his hands quite a bit. By that, I mean he has made harsh and false or misleading allegations against his opponent, Raquel Terán.

In a mailer to voters in the district, Meza accused Terán of being arrested for disorderly conduct. As Alonzo reported in the New Times,

In 2008, Arpaio's deputies delivered a citation to her home accusing her of disorderly conduct in connection with her criticism of Arpaio during a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting.
And Terán has sat in a Maricopa County Superior Courtroom, birth certificate in hand, to defend herself against allegations that she is undocumented and ineligible to run for public office. (The lawsuit, filed by Douglas border watcher Alice Novoa, was tossed out by a judge.)
If Meza was confident that he had done such a good job that he could run for re-election on his record, why does he feel compelled to confuse and obscure the issues, his record and the truth about his opponent?

The bottom line in the senate race in LD30 is that there is a real and dramatic contrast between the candidates and it is NOT just on positions on issues.


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