Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Phoenix VA Medical Center -- time to weigh in on the controversy UPDATED 10:00 pm MST 4-30-14

Today, three members of Arizona's Republican Congressional delegation sent letters to Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik Shinseki and Phoenix VA medical center director Sharon Helman calling for Helman's resignation.
"Under your leadership, a ‘secret list’ or second set of books was kept, holding the official number of days that veterans waited for service artificially low.  Because of you and your leadership team’s choices, over forty veterans have died due to lack of care," the letter reads.
"The mistakes made by the PVAHCS cannot be undone, and drastic changes need to be made to ensure that this never happens again.  In order to begin to restore faith in the veteran’s health care system, department executives who were aware of and presided over this unethical and alarming mismanagement must be held accountable," the letter continues. "It is for this reason we demand that you and the leadership team at PVAHCS resign from all leadership positions."
Of course, Helman has been interviewed by Arizona Republic reporters, on camera, denying the allegations. I cannot say to what degree the specifics in Schweikert's letter are complete and factual but I know that the Congressman has specific information from veterans [disclosure: including me, because I live in the district he represents and have required the assistance of his constituent services staff to resolve several problems at the Phoenix VAMC over the last 6 to 8 months and less frequently prior to that] that he is not at liberty to disclose publicly at this time.

Among the allegations detailed in the Arizona Republic's investigation, having appointments cancelled and not rescheduled -- with no notice given to the veteran -- has happened to me.
 Whistle-blowers allege a common practice of "scrubbing," or canceling patient appointments and not rescheduling, with wait times erased from databases.
Deering said "scrubbing" is an effective and approved administrative tool. He said providers contact patients several days before a planned appointment and ask about their needs. For example, if a prescription refill can be handled without a doctor visit, it saves the patient time and opens a spot for another vet.
"If there are things that can be handled by telephone care, we try to encourage that. ... I think multiple staff may be sharing what they perceive as us doing something inappropriate" even though it's a helpful practice, Deering said.
Dr. Deering's "response" to this allegation is subterfuge. The description of the practice he gave is unrelated to the allegation made by the whistleblowers. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the best that could be is incompetence on his part -- not knowing what his staff is doing. At worst, it's a deliberate act of deception to mislead reporters, veterans, Congress and the public about the scope of the problem.

Again, this happened to me. An annual cardiology appointment I had set in January 2013 for early January 2014 was cancelled at the beginning of April 2013. Because the VA has an electronic system for veterans to track their appointments (as well as request Rx refills and look at test results), I started asking, in September 2013 what had happened to my January 2014 appointment. After I asked several people at the Phoenix VAMC, including the Patient Advocate, to figure out what happened and to fix it, with NO response from any of them, I finally had to contact Schweikert's office. Only then did the VA reschedule the appointment.

It's not fair to Congressional staff nor for any veteran for the VA to require this intervention to resolve every issue.

A brother-in-arms and fellow Democratic activist has expressed deep concern about what looks to some like a partisan witchhunt. He commented (online, to one of the Republic's stories on the subject) a short time ago:

The Arizona Veterans Community deserves better than a group of never served, budget cutting ideologues who have done nothing but vote against Veterans every step of the way.
Arizona Veterans should be demanding a comprehensive examination of all the facts, a nonpartisan review, and transparent resolutions which improve the outcomes for all the VA stakeholders.
On these points, he is absolutely correct. However, that does not change the facts of the situation and that an immediate change in leadership at the Phoenix VAMC is required. In order to implement the necessary procedural changes, that comprehensive examination of all facts is of the utmost importance.

But allowing executive leadership -- which has personally profited (by way of pay bonuses) from the institutionalized deception -- is unconscionable and completely unacceptable.

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The Phoenix VAMC main campus sits in Arizona's Ninth Congressional District. Thus, it is most reasonable to expect the person who holds that seat to exercise leadership in getting to the bottom of this situation and fixing it.

That Congresswoman, Kyrsten Sinema, an attorney and social worker by profession prior to her election to represent the Ninth District, last week wrote the following (in pertinent part) to VA secretary Shinseki,
Did in fact, 40 veterans die as a result of delays in care?  Did the PVAHCS intentionally misrepresent wait times? Were there two lists as asserted by Dr. Foote and is this practice still in use? What is the actual wait time for care at the PVAHCS?  Arizona veterans and their families deserve answers to these questions, and the individuals responsible for misconduct must be held accountable.
Again, we request a response to these allegations and swift action to ensure that Arizona veterans have timely access to the best possible care.  Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your prompt response.

First, let me say that I certainly appreciate Sinema's request for swift action and response to her letter.

However, for an attorney and social worker who should have some clue as to how to ask probing questions that would elicit more than just a yes or no answer, the questions she asked are ANEMIC and seemingly impotent. That's not what I would characterize as leadership from an attorney who represents everyday Arizonans.

Here's the answers that Sinema can expect to her questions, without even so much as Helman having to tap dance around them. 1) No;  2) No; 3) No. In fact, I have no idea what Dr. Foote is talking about; 4) Two weeks, of course.

The question about wait time is negligently vague. Wait times for what kind of care? There is a wide range of situations, with a range of degrees of urgency, which will all have different wait times, if they actually keep track.

Can you think of any open ended question that might get Helman to spill the beans with more than a simple, one-word response of "no" regarding Dr. Foote's claims of fraudulent wait time lists?

I asked Sinema's staff about this. Mary answered the phone when I called right before the end of posted office hours. Mary said the first and last word on the subject could only come from Janey Pearl. Janey was not in the office today but MIGHT respond to email.

Here's what I got from Ms. Pearl:
Hi Steve, I'm driving and away from my computer right now. Our letter is also on our website, under the release section. Sinema.house.gov. Thank you!
Janey Pearl
Communications Director
Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema
Not only did Sinema get upstaged by three Republican Congressmen in Arizona, but also last week, Democratic Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who is competing in the CD7 primary with state Sen. Steve Gallardo and (Marine veteran and former state Rep.) Ruben Gallego succeeded in getting a little bit of earned media calling for hearings as did 2012 CD9 Republican primary candidate Martin Sepulveda.

I can say with a good bit of confidence that when Harry Mitchell represented me in Congress, he took a back seat to NO ONE in advocating for Arizona veterans and keeping an eye on the Phoenix VA Medical Center.

I seriously hope that Sinema steps up and gets with the program here and does so VERY soon.

Until then, Phoenix area veterans need an immediate change in executive leadership in the local medical center. Then, to fully identify all of the steps that must be taken to remedy the deep dysfunction locally, the comprehensive, nonpartisan investigation must take place on an expedited basis.

I don't know that either Schweikert, Franks or Salmon will have any serious opposition in this year's election, but I thank them for speaking up on this issue. I'd love to be able to press them further for adequate funding to implement all of the solutions necessary. In the meantime, they need to also denounce the horrendously disastrous budget cutting that their buddy Paul Ryan has been and is still all about.

UPDATE 4-30-14

Today Congresswoman Sinema joined with Republican Congressman Matt Salmon to offer an amendment to HR 4486 to transfer $1 million from VA administration funding to specify it will be for the VA Office of the Inspector General.

From Sinema's press release dated today:
"The recent allegations of secret lists and long wait times at the Phoenix VA, which may have caused some 40 veteran deaths, require answers and action. This is immoral, unconscionable, irresponsible and un-American. We need answers in Phoenix but this is not an isolated incident. Stories of health complications and deaths because of wait times have surfaced in other places around the country including South Carolina and Texas," said Congresswoman Sinema.
In introducing her amendment, Sinema gave the following remarks for the Congressional Record:

Redistricting - FINALLY, District Court decides Harris in favor of AIRC

Thirteen months after trial wrapped in the Harris lawsuit -- which challenged Arizona's legislative district map -- the three-judge federal District Court panel issued its ruling today. Bottom line, the current legislative district map stands and will not be subject to a do over. However, based on a number of factors, an appeal to the US Supreme Court is inevitable.

Expecting the Dark Money sources and forces to accept defeat before getting the Supreme Court to rule on the matter is, in itself, a silly notion. But given the fact that a number of questions were considered and answered with different judges on the panel deciding different ways (not the same 2-1 majority on all questions), it's even more reasonable to expect the matter to be kicked up to the nation's highest court as soon as possible.

This footnote from the Order sets the tone:
1 This per curiam opinion speaks for a majority of the court in all but one respect. On the issue of the burden of proof that plaintiffs must bear, there is not a majority opinion. See the specific discussion on that subject below, at 42–43 n. 10. 
Judge Silver concurs in the result and joins this opinion in all but three respects. One is the burden of proof requirement just mentioned. There is no majority conclusion on that subject. Her second difference is with the factual finding that partisanship played some part in the drafting of the legislative district maps, primarily discussed below in section II.I, at 23–28, and to some extent in section IV.C, at 53–54. She finds that partisanship did not play a role. The finding on that subject expressed in this opinion represents a majority consisting of Judge Clifton and Judge Wake. The third disagreement, previously announced, was from the majority’s denial prior to trial of defendants’ motion for abstention under Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941), discussed below in section III.B, at 33–36. That motion was denied by a majority consisting of Judge Clifton and Judge Wake. Judge Silver’s separate views are expressed in a separate opinion, concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment, filed together with this per curiam opinion. 
Judge Wake dissents from the result reached in this opinion, though he joins portions of it. In addition to the finding that partisanship played some role, identified in the preceding paragraph, he specifically joins in section III of this opinion, at 28–40, discussing our resolution of pretrial motions. His views are expressed in his separate opinion, concurring in part, dissenting in part, and dissenting from the judgment, also filed together with this opinion.
The 55-page Order concludes thus:
We have concluded that compliance with the Voting Rights Act is a legitimate state policy that can justify minor population deviations, that the deviations in the map in large part resulted from this goal, and that plaintiffs have failed to show that other, illegitimate motivations predominated over the preclearance motivation. Therefore, plaintiffs’ challenge to the map under the one-person, one-vote principle fails.
V. Conclusion
We find in favor of the Commission on plaintiffs’ claim that the Commission’s legislative redistricting plan violated the one-person, one-vote principle of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We order the entry of judgment for the Commission.
Judge Wake, on the other hand, concludes his strongly worded 29-page dissent thus:
Numeric equality yields to some other worthy goals, within limits. Arizona voters left little to weigh against equality, and none of what they did allow is invoked here except homage to the Supremacy Clause. With that wedge the Commission pries pervasive party malapportionment back into Arizona, in the name of Congress and federal statute. It is a misplaced sense of federalism that stands aside while officers of a state that repudiated partisan malapportionment return to it on federal command that Congress never gave.
VII. CONCLUSION
Based on these findings of fact and conclusions of law, I would enter judgment for the Plaintiffs declaring that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s legislative redistricting plan violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. I would enjoin the Commission to promptly prepare and promulgate a plan that is free of that error.
Given the degree of disagreement between the three judges, not only will appeal be inevitable, but it's also likely to take SCOTUS a painstaking amount of time and effort to sort through and issue a final opinion. Clearly, the legislative district map will not be changed for the 2014 election, but I might suggest it reasonable to expect that if there are ultimately changes, it could take until the 2018 election before we see those hypothetical changes enacted. That is, depending on whether SCOTUS has any constraints on time lines for issuing rulings and opinions.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Redistricting -- Legislature files brief in US Supreme Court; DOJ doc on Heslop -- Second 4-30-14 UPDATE

As we've known for more than three years, the GOP dominated Arizona House and Senate have been trying everything they can think of to undermine the will of the voters (Prop 106) ever since preparations began in earnest to draw the new maps required every ten years after the US Census. In February, the US District Court three-judge panel hearing the Arizona Legislature's challenge to the existence of the Independent Redistricting Commission ruled against state lawmakers.

Soon after learning of the district court ruling against them, the legislature filed a notice of appeal. Today, counsel for the lawmakers filed an Arizona Jurisdictional Statement with the Supreme Court of the United States. That document represents the legislature's briefing of its appeal.

The 121 page PDF is mostly appendices, providing background on the case. The AIRC now has until May 28 to file its response. 

A taste of what the legislature's brief contains:
The use of independent commissions, often in conjunction with the state legislatures, has become a popular tool to aid in the politically sensitive and often contentious process of redistricting.1 As it relates to redistricting of congressional boundaries, however, exclusive commission drawing authority is a relatively modern phenomenon. Only the voters of Arizona, and more recently, California, have fully divested their elected legislatures of congressional districting authority, despite the Elections Clause’s clear reference to the “legislature” of each state.2 It is only this limited issue—complete removal of the Legislature from congressional redistricting—that Appellant challenges.
The authority to prescribe the time, place, and manner of federal elections is conveyed to the state legislature by the Constitution. It cannot be displaced through state action. The District Court’s Order suggests that the authority is alienable through unilateral action of the states. Such a result is inconsistent with the Elections Clause. The Court should hold full plenary review of the District Court’s decision in order to enforce the constitutional delegation of authority to the Legislature.
1 At least twenty-four (24) states currently use redistricting commissions, primarily in drawing state legislative district lines. Other states use commissions as a backup in case of deadlock, or in an advisory role.
2 Arizona (Ariz. Const. art. IV, pt. 2 § 1), California (Cal. Const. art. XXI, § 2). Other states that perform congressional redistricting by commission amended their constitutions by constitutional convention (Hawaii) or by legislatively-referred amendments (Idaho, New Jersey, Washington).
At a glance, this appears to be a marked departure from what the legislature advocated in briefs and in oral argument before the district court. Notably, this appears to hedge somewhat, in hopes that SCOTUS will buy their "woe is us" victimization claim on the basis that they only wanted to be on an even footing with the AIRC. Because Andys Biggshot and Tobin have NOT been making that claim (at any point in the litigation heretofore), the justices should not buy that claim.

Without rehashing the whole thing all over again, both before and during the litigation, the legislature has taken the position that the PEOPLE of Arizona had NO rights in this matter and that ONLY the 90 lawmakers, majority of whom are Republicans, have any rights to determine which voters have particular representation in Congress, whether those Representatives must run for election in districts with a competitive balance of voters or in safe districts with overwhelming majorities in either major political party.

We know from how they conducted themselves (particularly Biggs and Tobin) during the redistricting process, that they have no intention of safeguarding the rights of the PEOPLE of Arizona to fair and competitive representation.

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Pursuant to recent disclosures about the conviction of former National Demographics Corporation principal David Alan Heslop for conspiracy to commit bribery, I have obtained the 20-page factual basis for Heslop's plea agreement. The events for which Heslop was investigated date back at least to 2006.

The factual basis document contains quite a few "the government represents and defendant does not dispute, that it can prove..." statements. Recall that NDC president Doug Johnson, former (VERY CLOSE) business associate of Heslop has characterized the entire situation,
Johnson described the lawsuits and indictment as merely a contract dispute problem. He said the federal government is prosecuting the case because it involves a sovereign Indian tribe.
"It's essentially a contract dispute the U.S. attorneys are involved in," Johnson said.
According to the indictment, the tribe received federal funds at the time of some of the alleged crimes.
Johnson said Kovall was involved in a number of Rose Institute projects over the years due to his expertise in tribal and environmental issues, and had worked as an environmental lawyer for Arco.
Heslop was the director of the Rose Institute for 30 years, Johnson said.
More to come on this situation.

UPDATE -- 4-29-14

I have more investigating to do but have learned that National Demographics Corporation was apparently OWNED by Heslop and Florence Adams when NDC first was granted the contract to draw Arizona's maps in 2001. NDC remained under contract to the AIRC until 2009. At some point, I do not yet know the date, Doug Johnson bought out both Heslop and Adams.

Therefore, it is clear that NDC was contractually connected with the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission at the time of the events detailed in the document referenced above that served as the basis for Heslop's agreement to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. What is not clear yet is whether Heslop was still an owner of NDC at the time he committed the conspiracy to commit bribery concerning the Twenty-nine Palms casino project.

UPDATE -- 4-30-14

I spoke with Doug Johnson this afternoon. He was understandably reluctant to answer my questions initially. However, he did indicate that some time in 2006 he did, in fact, purchase NDC from Heslop and Adams. He would not disclose the terms of the transfer or the specific date (or even the month). He did say, however, that the transfer was completed BEFORE any of the events about which Heslop was accused and agreed to plead guilty for conspiracy to commit bribery.

Johnson also indicated that Heslop's role at NDC during any time prior to that transfer, going back to when NDC was first awarded the contract with the AIRC at the beginning of the first AIRC cycle, was limited to "retired partner."

Johnson took exception to my post which indicated the 2011 AIRC decision to not contract with NDC was vindicated by Heslop's conviction or the findings of the US Attorney in the factual basis for the plea agreement.

It is my opinion still that the association of NDC with Heslop tainted the situation, though the specific degree to which cannot be measured.

That situation does not change the fact that Johnson's/NDC's proposal to conduct the 2011 mapping for the AIRC Congressional and legislative districts was deficient in concrete tangible ways including numerous errors that reflected a hurried and careless preparation AND that his proposal did NOT include any financial information. In other words, Johnson did not say how much he planned to charge the AIRC for NDC's services in the event they selected him to conduct this cycle's mapping. Omission of proposed cost for services is, most definitely, a material deficiency in the proposal.

SECOND 4-30-14 UPDATE

I spoke again with Doug Johnson (twice) who told me that whoever told me that NDC's proposal did not include pricing information was lying to me.

I then reviewed the proposal documents, which are posted on the AIRC website. There are two separate "attachment 3" documents for Johnson's proposal. One has a listing of deliverables and pricing schedule, the other does not. Neither has a date stamp for when they were received by SPO or the AIRC. The two do each have dates noted on the bottom left side of each page with a date in July 2011. The selection process had been completed (at the end of June 2011) by the time these printouts were made and posted.

Johnson insisted that the problem with the attachment 3 with no deliverables or pricing was a printing error on the part of the State Procurement Office and said that the two documents were printed out within hours and maybe even within minutes of each other.

My concern with his version is that if it was true that it was only a printing error on the part of SPO, how would he be able to claim that reprinting within minutes had fixed the problem? And if it was only a printing error, then why would the blank version have been posted to the AIRC website?

UPDATE 5-1-14

My post dated May 1, 2014 updates this post.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

ProgressNow Arizona reflects on 2014 legislative session

Robbie Sherwood, executive director of ProgressNow Arizona sent out this press release today. I think it fairly characterizes and sums up what we've seen at the state capitol over the last three and a half months.

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April 24, 2014
For Immediate Release
Media contact: Robbie Sherwood, 480.246.7944


Arizona Progressives Stood Tall in 2014 Legislative Session

It’s over! While progressives, working families and supporters of public education, voting rights and equality were under constant attack during this legislative session, we should be very pleased with the results.

The 2014 Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die early this morning with minimal damage done. Working and standing together, Arizona’s growing progressive community stood up and – with a few exceptions – thwarted the extremist agendas of Cathi Herrod and the Center for Arizona Policy, the Goldwater Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“Cathi Herrod, ALEC and the Goldwater Institute have treated the Arizona Legislature like their personal playground for far too long,” said Robbie Sherwood, executive director for ProgressNow Arizona. “Arizonans are sick and tired of ideological Tea Party legislators serving corporate masters and not constituents, and making Arizona a national laughingstock. We stood up and stopped their agenda cold in 2014. Voters will hold accountable those dividing our state and who refuse to work on solutions to restore education funding, stop discrimination, protect workplace rights, equal rights and women’s healthcare.”

High points of the 2014 session included:
  • Senate Bill 1062 vetoed. Cathi Herrod’s legislation to condone discrimination against the LGBTQ community based on religious objections inspired thousands of young Arizonans to protest and become politically active, many for the first time. The deafening community outcry and embarrassing national spotlight forced Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the bill.
  • Public education protected from “Alt-Schools Fiasco.” Led – astoundingly – by our own Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, ideologues on the right sought to serve a knock-out punch to public schools by massively expanding tax-payer funded private-school vouchers. Though one smaller expansion snuck through, the bills sought by Goldwater and the Alliance for School Choice to steer hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into private schools failed in the face of bi-partisan opposition in both the House and Senate.
  • Big wins for public servants and working families. ALEC and Goldwater’s anti-labor bills on “paycheck deception,” release time and to destroy retirement security (HB2058) for public employees were bottled up and killed.
  • A bad year for ALEC all around. ProgressNow Arizona helped expose ALEC’s back-room wining and dining of Arizona Republican lawmakers with a hidden-camera investigation by KPHO-TV 5 News. In addition to its anti-labor and anti-public-school agenda going down, controversial ALEC bills also went down, including an “ag-gag” measure to protect farmers from animal cruelty investigations (HB2587), a single-source contract for online education company Imagine Learning (HB2485), and a student-privacy/anti-Common core measure (HB2316).
  • Voters are off the menu. After the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee successfully referred last year’s heinous voter suppression bill HB2305 to the 2014 ballot, frightened legislators came back this session and repealed their bill. Bottom line, efforts to get tough on voters in 2014 were stopped.
However, there’s still more work to do. The National Rifle Association pushed over-the-top legislation to allow guns in public buildings and to supersede local government efforts to pass common-sense firearm ordinances. Fortunately Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed these bills, but a future governor might not. And Brewer disappointingly signed HB2284 allowing unannounced inspections of abortion and women’s health clinics, one of few victories for Cathi Herrod this year. In the last hours of the session, the Legislature also passed a bill that erodes the authority of the Clean Elections Commission to investigate and enforce campaign violations by privately funded candidates (SB1344).

"There is still time for Gov. Brewer to do the right thing with her veto stamp," Sherwood said.
###

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I agree with Robbie, there is MUCH more work to do. But the 2014 session demonstrated that Progressive voices and Progressive activists in Arizona are far from impotent, despite how the corporate media has portrayed us in recent years.

There is a very real entrepreneurial opportunity before us to change the tone of politics and direction of public policy development and lawmaking at the Arizona Capitol in this election year. Key candidates are already pounding the pavement to reach voters door to door to let them know the cause of democracy in our state is not lost in the din and cacophony resulting from the 2010 Citizens United ruling or the 2014 McCutcheon decision set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Granted, reforming Congress and the federal government is a far greater problem and project, but we have seen and will see even more, that reestablishing our voice at the Arizona Capitol is doable and very much within our grasp.

This land is OUR land. I DO have a hammer. And we SHALL overcome.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Could the Cap Times/Yellow Sheet be more brazen in its pro-plutocracy bias? UPDATED 2:45pm 4-24-14



The following blurb ran in the Yellow Sheet on Monday.
A TENUOUS CONNECTION The Los Angeles Times last week ran an article seeking to tie the Koch brothers and their vast network of politically engaged nonprofits to the solar fights that have emerged in Arizona and elsewhere in the country. The article, however, offered little to no evidence that the Kochs network was involved in the net metering fight in Arizona last year, save to note that consultant Sean Noble, a key member of that network, waded into the campaign against the rooftop solar industry on behalf of APS. In Arizona, a major utility and a tangle of secret donors and operatives with ties to ALEC and the Kochs invested millions to persuade state regulators to impose a monthly fee of $50 to $100 on net-metering customers, the Times Evan Halper wrote.
Two pro-business groups, at least one of which had previously reported receiving millions of dollars from the Koch brothers, formed the campaign's public face. Their activities were coordinated by GOP consultant Sean Noble and former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, two early architects of the Koch network of nonprofits. As the Republic earlier reported, APS had sent money to two nonprofits 60 Plus and Prosper through Noble and his firm, DC London (LINK). Later, APS acknowledged spending $3.7 million in its fight against net metering (LINK). In a roundabout way, what the Times article suggests, however, is that Noble didn t need to be persuaded to do APS's bidding in the net metering fight. According to the paper, the Kochs, Grover Norquist and some of the country s largest power companies are backing efforts targeting green energy, notably in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona. 


Halper's story in the LA Times notes early on,
Solar, once almost universally regarded as a virtuous, if perhaps over-hyped, energy alternative, has now grown big enough to have enemies.
That's a fair claim. The evidence is all over the internet, in news stories, in blogs and in comments made by instigators and propagandists (trolls) posted to those news and blog posts.
The Koch brothers, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and some of the nation's largest power companies have backed efforts in recent months to roll back state policies that favor green energy. The conservative luminaries have pushed campaigns in Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona, with the battle rapidly spreading to other states.
Alarmed environmentalists and their allies in the solar industry have fought back, battling the other side to a draw so far. Both sides say the fight is growing more intense as new states, including Ohio, South Carolina and Washington, enter the fray.
At the nub of the dispute are two policies found in dozens of states. One requires utilities to get a certain share of power from renewable sources. The other, known as net metering, guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates.
Net metering forms the linchpin of the solar-energy business model. Without it, firms say, solar power would be prohibitively expensive.


The connection is not at all tenuous despite claims by the lobbyist sycophants at the Cap Times/Yellow Sheet. Halper simply was writing a column, not a long form investigative piece designed to expose something that's been hidden all along. Because it has NOT been hidden.

The Arizona Eagletarian has reported on APS/SRP and its delusional misdirection before. In this case, the lobbyist propaganda is designed to keep those electric utilities from having to adapt to the disruptive innovations they inevitably MUST face or die. 

Halper goes on,
The [Edison Electric] institute has warned power companies that profits could erode catastrophically if current policies and market trends continue. If electricity companies delay in taking political action, the group warned in a report, "it may be too late to repair the utility business model."
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a membership group for conservative state lawmakers, recently drafted model legislation that targeted net metering. The group also helped launch efforts by conservative lawmakers in more than half a dozen states to repeal green energy mandates.
"State governments are starting to wake up," Christine Harbin Hanson, a spokeswoman for Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, said in an email. The organization has led the effort to overturn the mandate in Kansas, which requires that 20% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources.
An alternative way to look at the problem facing public power utilities is that if APS and SRP fail to adapt, and fight long enough in the political arena, then technological innovations will most certainly build up behind the dam, so to speak, and eventually breach it. When that happens, everybody and their brother will be able to install distributed generation (like rooftop solar, but by then there will be other options) and APS and SRP will fail anyway because they will have refused to adapt when they had the chance.

In the meantime, the Arizona Capitol Times and its Yellow Sheet Report will likely continue to pander to its funding source/market by telling its readers what they want to hear, instead of what they NEED to force themselves to become aware.

And in the meantime, the Arizona House may have to vote, before ending the session, on SB1301 which makes various changes to the tax code. One such change involves a property tax increase for rooftop solar for homeowners (Section 12 of the bill). The change, to A.R.S. 42-11054, means that the rooftop solar -- which right now exempts those rooftop solar units from adding to the taxable property value -- makes a change that will mean if the homeowner provides any of that solar generated electricity to the grid (instead of using it all themselves at their home), their property taxes will increase.

This is unconscionable.  

More recent (today) than the story about which the YS was yammering, LA Times cartoonist David Horsey (see the cartoon at the top of this blog post) wrote an op-ed on the subject, including:

The Koch brothers have a new ploy to protect the traditional energy business that helped make them the planet’s fifth- and sixth-richest humans. They are funding a campaign to shackle solar energy consumers who have escaped the grip of big electric utilities. [...]
They already have their first victory. On Monday, Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature that authorizes electric utilities to tack a surcharge on the bills of private citizens who have installed solar panels or wind turbines on their homes. That’s right, Oklahomans who have spent money to generate their own clean and green power now must pay compensation to the power companies.
This sounds a bit like government trampling on the independence of the citizenry. You’d think the tea party would be protesting and militia groups would be riding in with guns drawn. But since it is Republicans and big business doing the trampling, there is, as yet, no outcry from the libertarian crowd.
So, what is driving this crusade against clean energy? As Halper reports, “At the nub of the dispute are two policies found in dozens of states. One requires utilities to get a certain share of power from renewable sources. The other, known as net metering, guarantees homeowners or businesses with solar panels on their roofs the right to sell any excess electricity back into the power grid at attractive rates.”
Are we going to let Steve Yarbrough (author of SB1301) get away with this crap?

At this writing, SB1301 is on a House calendar for a third read vote. If 1301 passes, that's one more reason to replace Yarbrough with Kristie O'Brien.

UPDATE                           UPDATE                         UPDATE

Not long after I posted this story, the Arizona House sat as in the Committee of the Whole to further amend SB1301.

I have not seen the amendment and it has not yet been posted, but the description given (orally) by JD Mesnard was that the provision whereby rooftop solar would cause a homeowner's property taxes to be raised was stricken from the bill.

I received a couple of replies to inquiries I posted on Twitter seeking clarification of what the new amendment accomplished.

State Rep. Victoria Steele replied that section 12 of SB1301 was indeed removed from the bill. Moments later, the House voted 55-0 to pass SB1301 as further amended, sending the bill back to the Senate. We will be able to determine later this evening whether the Senate accepts the additional change. All indications are that it will.

It also appears likely the 2014 regular session of the Arizona Legislature will adjourn Sine Die this evening (sometime before dawn). Hopefully, there will be no more mischief between now and then.

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Additional insight on current Arizona Department of Revenue practice that SB1301 was expected to codify in statute (before tonight's amendment) included in this report from the Rose Law Group.


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The 2nd regular session of the 51st Arizona Legislature adjourned Sine Die at 1:42am this morning.

While the Republican dominated legislature did get away with a couple of things, several very bad bills were defeated. From day one, when Yarbrough introduced SB1062, to the budget process when Kavanagh tried to slip a $900,000 wet kiss to private prison operator GEO Group; from shutting down major efforts to undermine K-12 public education to Gov Brewer vetoing a couple of very crazy gun bills. The voice of Arizona's people was heard much more loudly than it had been in many other recent years.

I will write more in reflecting on the 2014 legislative session soon.

We have much work to do. A change in the balance of power for 2015 is ours for the reclaiming.

This land is OUR land. I DO have a hammer. And we SHALL overcome.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Did JD Mesnard THREATEN to revive #HB2305?

State Rep. Jevan D. Mesnard has threatened to declare war on the 146,000 voters who signed the referendum petition in 2013 to freeze #HB2305.

On Monday, he issued the following email message, sent to every member and staffer in the Arizona House:
From: "J.D. Mesnard" <JMesnard@azleg.gov>
Date: April 14, 2014 at 7:30:16 PM MST
To: ".All House Users" <AllHouseUsers@azleg.gov>, ".ALLSUSER" <ALLSUSER@azleg.gov>
Subject: RE: HB 2665 - two-committees issue / emergency clause
Dear Colleagues,
As you know HB 2593 from last session was interpreted to require separate committees for the Primary and General elections. While that was never the intent of the bill (a point that is not really in dispute), we have nevertheless been dealing with that hassle ever since. Subsequently many of you have come to me, from both chambers and both sides of the political aisle, asking me to move a clarification/fix bill through this body as quickly as possible. I have done my best to oblige. After soliciting input from many of you and incorporating feedback from earlier drafts of the bill from anyone who wished to provide it, I introduced HB 2665.
The bill resolves the two-committee issue moving forward while addressing the various scenarios that different people face because of the two-committee requirement we've had since last September. At the same time, I have done my best to keep the “politics” out of the bill. My goal was to have a clean bill that was bi-partisan or, really, non-partisan in nature. After all, we all benefit from having this issue resolved as quickly as possible. To that end, I included an emergency clause in the bill so that we would not have to continue dealing with two committees once the bill is (presumably) signed. As you are probably well aware, there were not enough votes to preserve the emergency clause during the House vote. Sadly, the bill passed largely along party line for reasons that I still don’t understand to this day. It subsequently moved over to the Senate where an emergency clause was added back on in committee. I am hopeful that the emergency clause stays on there as I would very much like to put this hassle behind us. This is a sentiment that many of you have shared and expressed for the last several months (and I am certainly looking forward to the end of some of your pestering…er, I mean, pushing for this fix!). If the emergency clause gets on the bill then we will have immediate closure. If it does not, then we will continue to deal with this hassle for a few more months. I do not see why we would choose the second option for ourselves. The bill is good policy; it should not be controversial. It is about one issue and one issue only: one committee or two. The emergency clause is about whether we all want to continue dealing with the two-committee headache for months longer or to end it now. I prefer the latter. But it’s up to you.
I am sending this email because there have been a variety of rumors floating around about what is or isn’t happening with my bill. Some even seem to think I have some sort of “nefarious” motives. I find this perplexing given my openness and best efforts to be as fair as possible with what should be a non-controversial bill that we all want to see pass. In addition, some outside entities have encouraged some of you to try to leverage the bill for something else. As I have said from the beginning that I want this bill to be clean, and have tried to keep partisan issues out of it, I will, likewise, not allow it to be leveraged for something else. HB 2665 will stand on its own merits. I simply want to resolve the two-committee issue as quickly as possible, as I know you all do.
So it comes down to this: If the emergency clause gets on in the Senate, and I have enough commitments on the House side to preserve it, you have my word that I will not allow anything else to be included/attached to the bill. This has been my promise from the beginning and has not changed but I am reiterating it now so that it is crystal clear. If, however, the bill moves forward as a “partisan” bill, with insufficient support in the Senate/House to preserve the emergency, then I will, regrettably, be forced to treat it as a partisan bill. As such, I will no longer be concerned about keeping it clean of other partisan policies that some may be interested in adding to the bill. The choice is yours.
Thank you for your time and consideration! Please let me know if you have any questions…
Sincerely,
Representative J.D. Mesnard
Arizona House of Representatives, District 17
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Rep. JD Mesnard is playing hardball, and we believe he's threatening to pass partisan anti-voter laws if his colleagues don't vote for House Bill 2665. As he explains below [above], HB2665 will help candidates like presumed gubernatorial front-runner Doug Ducey avoid getting into trouble with election officials for not keeping separate campaign committees for the primary and general election. Mesnard needs an emergency clause in order to get Ducey and other impacted off the hook. If Mesnard doesn't get his way, he will "regrettably, be forced to treat it as a partisan bill. As such, I will no longer be concerned about keeping it clean of other partisan policies that some may be interested in adding to the bill. The choice is yours." Mesnard issued the threat in an email on Monday sent to all legislative members and staff (see entire email above).

Democratic members we have talked to believe Mesnard is referring to elements of the now-repealed House Bill 2305, the multi-pronged attack on voting rights that Republican legislators passed last session, and then repealed this year after our successful Protect Your Right to Vote Committee referendum put it on ice and qualified it for the November ballot. Several members -- including HB2305 sponsor Senator Michelle Reagan and Rep. Ethan Orr -- have pledged not to pull an end-run on voters by trying to piece-meal HB2305 into law. However Mesnard, House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Andy Biggs have made no such pledge. All Rep. Eddie Farnsworth said when the repeal of HB2305 was debated was a highly parsed statement indicating that he did not know of any efforts to pass the get-tough-on-voters measures individually. But that was several weeks ago.

I'm sharing this with you in hopes that you will publish Mesnard's threat for your readers and viewers, but also endeavor to ask him what "partisan" measures he and his colleagues intend to tack onto HB2665 if he does not get his way. If he was -- as we must presume -- talking about the elements of HB2305, that would obviously be hugely controversial and a cynical and partisan declaration of war on the 146,000 Arizona voters who signed the Protect Your Right to Vote petitions.

Thank you for any consideration and attention to this important issue,

Robbie Sherwood
ProgressNow Arizona and Protect Your Right To Vote Committee
480-246-7944

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Please CALL J.D. Mesnard at (602) 926-4481 AND email him at JMesnard@azleg.gov to ask him to clarify his intentions and let him know what you believe the limits of his action on this matter should be.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Redistricting -- Vindication, three years later -- Second UPDATE 4-30-14

The initial spark that led to firestorms a plenty in the 2011 cycle revolved around refusal of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to hire Republican mapping consultant National Demographics Corporation. NDC is headed up by Rose Institute of State and Local Government fellow Doug Johnson, who submitted a grossly deficient proposal in response to the AIRC RFP that spring.

Now we learn that Rose Institute founding director David Alan Heslop has been convicted in a scheme involving bribery and money laundering in California.
The founding director of Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government, per a plea agreement, has pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery.
David Alan Heslop, of Templeton, entered his plea in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, court records show. He will next appear before Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald on June 30 for sentencing, according to online court records.
Per his plea agreement, the remaining eight felony counts against Heslop were dismissed.
Heslop’s attorney, David W. Shapiro, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Heslop faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or gross loss resulting from his offense, whichever is greatest.
Heslop and three others were indicted in May 2012 in connection with allegations of an elaborate bribery and money laundering scheme involving construction projects for the Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians, including an ill-fated casino the tribe was trying to build on its land.
 Former AIRC Commissioner Andi Minkoff wrote letters to the current AIRC and to the California redistricting commission describing the experience the first AIRC had dealing with NDC. Heslop was a principal in NDC when the first AIRC contracted the firm.

Granted, I don't know the extent of Heslop's involvement with NDC in 2011, but the relationship between Heslop and Johnson was longstanding and the record still reflects that NDC's 2011 proposal was grossly deficient.

This should provide complete vindication for the current AIRC and especially its chair, Colleen Mathis for having voted with Democrats McNulty and Herrera to select Strategic Telemetry to consult on the map drawing process nearly three years ago now.

-----

By the way, the mapping consultant selection was one of the issues in the Leach lawsuit. The case still has seen no action since last fall and is stuck in Maricopa County Superior Court with no trial date. I wonder when Judge Brain will ask counsel for the plaintiffs (Liburdi and Hauser) if Freeman was correct in his speculation, that the suit has been abandoned. If so, the suit should probably just be dismissed.

As an aside, Lisa Hauser's name showed up last week in a notice for the public to submit comments about people being considered for appointment to the Maricopa County Superior Court bench.

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The AP package of redistricting stories apparently will be released piece by piece, from time to time. The latest story reports that some states have tried to remove politics from the process but Arizona's effort fell short. At least Loyola Law professor Justin Leavitt was interviewed for the latest story.
Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington state also have set up commissions to redraw district boundaries after the new census every 10 years. A handful of others have formed panels to redraw only state legislature seats.
States set up their panels with different outcomes in mind, said Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, the creator of a website that tracks state redistricting efforts, http://redistricting.lls.edu/index.php. [...]
Arizona residents voted to give the job of redrawing legislative and congressional district lines to an independent bipartisan commission in 2000, but getting politics out of the process has proved elusive. The commission’s first effort produced a decade long court battle after Democrats argued that the five-member panel did not create enough competitive districts. That court challenge ultimately failed, but new maps drawn in 2012 are back in court. 
From where I sit, corporate media (of which the AP sits squarely in the heart thereof) wrongly suggests that you can take the politics out of an inherently political and adversarial process.

Regardless, Heslop was among the first of "experts" to opine that because competitiveness is last on the list of criteria Arizona's voters approved for guiding the map making process, it was the lowest priority. Based on what we now understand Heslop's values to be, it's no wonder he told the first AIRC "communities of interest" as a factor was more important than competitiveness. He also cleverly recognized that communities of interest apparently equated to "likeminded voting blocs," the antithesis to competitiveness.

Heslop's prioritization in that regard illuminates the motivation of AIRC Commissioners Freeman and Stertz having advocated for selection of National Demographics. It's also fair to speculate about the connection between Sean Noble/Koch brothers' Dark Money having been invested in creation of faux outrage targeting the AIRC in general and Mathis, McNulty and Herrera in particular in 2011.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

NDC president Doug Johnson talked to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in 2012, claiming it was all just a contract dispute.
Johnson described the lawsuits and indictment as merely a contract dispute problem. He said the federal government is prosecuting the case because it involves a sovereign Indian tribe.
"It's essentially a contract dispute the U.S. attorneys are involved in," Johnson said.
According to the indictment, the tribe received federal funds at the time of some of the alleged crimes.
Johnson said Kovall was involved in a number of Rose Institute projects over the years due to his expertise in tribal and environmental issues, and had worked as an environmental lawyer for Arco.
Heslop was the director of the Rose Institute for 30 years, Johnson said.
Interesting to note that Doug Johnson, the guy who drew the maps that ended up giving the Arizona GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature thought a scheme involving allegations of substantial fraudulent activity was a simple contract dispute.
The indictment and lawsuits allege the defendants persuaded the tribe to spend tens of millions of dollars it didn't need to so the defendants could benefit.
Allegations
The 48-count indictment alleges a sophisticated scheme in which Bardos would pay Heslop kickbacks from construction contracts he was awarded by the tribe, based on Heslop's and Kovall's recommendation. Heslop would then dole out portions of his alleged kickbacks to Kovall and Shambaugh.
Over the span of three years, Bardos is said to have earned millions of dollars from the tribe for allegedly substandard work. Between May 2007 and June 2008, Bardos allegedly paid Heslop a $683,000 kickback for Heslop's recommending that the tribe hire him to oversee construction projects, according to the Riverside County lawsuit. [...]
Heslop's attorney, Robert Sandler, said his client will be completely vindicated in court.
"He's absolutely innocent," Sandler said. "I've been doing this for a long time, and it's really a remarkable, wonderful thing when you have a client who is innocent."
If Heslop was innocent, why did he plead guilty to conspiracy? It's not like he couldn't afford to pay his defense attorney.

UPDATE 4-16-14

https://slo.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?nid=132242

http://www.pe.com/business/business-headlines/20140408-indian-gaming-third-defendant-pleads-guilty-in-2.8-million-bribery-scheme.ece

The stories linked above reference a 20-page DOJ statement of findings document signed by Heslop. I will try to obtain a copy of that document and will post it when I do.

UPDATE 4-30-14

I spoke with Doug Johnson this afternoon. He was understandably reluctant to answer my questions initially. However, he did indicate that some time in 2006 he did, in fact, purchase NDC from Heslop and Florence P. Adams. He would not disclose the terms of the transfer or the specific date (or even the month). He did say, however, that the transfer was completed BEFORE any of the events about which Heslop was accused and agreed to plead guilty for conspiracy to commit bribery.

Johnson also indicated that Heslop's role at NDC during any time prior to that transfer, going back to when NDC was first awarded the contract with the AIRC at the beginning of the first AIRC cycle, was limited to "retired partner."

Johnson took exception to my post which indicated the 2011 AIRC decision to not contract with NDC was vindicated by Heslop's conviction or the findings of the US Attorney in the factual basis for the plea agreement.

It is my opinion still that the association of NDC with Heslop tainted the situation, though the specific degree to which cannot be measured.

That situation does not change the fact that Johnson's/NDC's proposal to conduct the 2011 mapping for the AIRC Congressional and legislative districts was deficient in concrete, tangible ways including numerous errors that reflected a hurried and careless preparation AND that his proposal did NOT include any financial information. In other words, Johnson did not say how much he planned to charge the AIRC for NDC's services in the event they selected him to conduct this cycle's mapping. Omission of proposed cost for services is, most definitely, a material deficiency in the proposal.

SECOND 4-30-14 UPDATE

I spoke again with Doug Johnson (twice) who told me that whoever told me that NDC's proposal did not include pricing information was lying to me.

I then reviewed the proposal documents, which are posted on the AIRC website. There are two separate "attachment 3" documents for Johnson's proposal. One has a listing of deliverables and pricing schedule, the other does not. Neither has a date stamp for when they were received by SPO or the AIRC. The two do each have dates noted on the bottom left side of each page with a date in July 2011. The selection process had been completed (at the end of June 2011) by the time these printouts were made and posted.

Johnson insisted that the problem with the attachment 3 with no deliverables or pricing was a printing error on the part of the State Procurement Office and said that the two documents were printed out within hours and maybe even within minutes of each other.

My concern with his version is that if it was true that it was only a printing error on the part of SPO, how would he be able to claim that reprinting within minutes had fixed the problem? And if it was only a printing error, then why would the blank version have been posted to the AIRC website?

UPDATE 5-1-14

My blog post dated May 1, 2014 updates this post.

Monday, April 7, 2014

For what does Yarbrough's "Values Action Team" really stand?

On the first day of the 2014 legislative session, state Sen. Steven Yarbrough (R-LD17/Chandler) introduced SB1062.
Sen. Yarbrough leads a bipartisan group of legislators and citizen group leaders known as the Arizona Values Action Team which supports public policy that is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-school choice and pro-religious liberty.
First, the "bipartisan" claim is dubious at best. If there actually is tangible team membership, any Democrats would likely only be token and needed solely to blunt the reality of Dominionism being exclusively a Republican political sect.

Second, the Arizona Eagletarian has already made the connection between Yarbrough's VAT and Christian Nationalism or Dominionism.

Terms like Dominionism and Value Action Team might sound innocuous, or possibly even noble (Sean Noble? Nah...) but the SB1062 controversy showed clearly that what this "team" really pushes is government control over personal conduct. Personal conduct that causes NO tangible harm to anyone. Or, as Mike Huckabee put it,
"Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women," Huckabee told his audience at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in downtown Washington. "That's not a war on them. It's a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it." (emphasis mine)
Why is Mike Huckabee, or Steve Yarbrough, or Eddie Farnsworth (who sponsored, in the House, a bill identical to SB1062) so concerned with what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom? Granted, that wasn't the direct subject of SB1062, but Dominionist Republicans have not been shy about that aspect of their legislative agenda for Arizona or America.

So, imagine my surprise when last evening on 60 Minutes, Morley Safer reported on Billion Dollar Art Battle Steeped in WWII History.


Starting at about 3:28 into the video,
Art thought to be worth over a billion dollars. Art piled on shelves. Much of it art the Nazis declared to be degenerate. It was art taken from the walls of museums and from Jewish-owned galleries and collectors. All of it acquired by Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius's father. He was a leading art dealer chosen by Hitler to sell the art to customers abroad for hard currency. Much of it featured in a 1937 degenerate art show in which Hitler wanted to show Germans what he regarded as the decadence and depravity of modern avant-garde art.
Last year, when I posted a quote attributed to a WWII German propaganda minister, there was a little bit of push back. After all, what about Godwin's Law, which applies when Hitler is invoked in an online discussion?
Godwin's law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one's opponent) with Nazis – often referred to as "playing the Hitler card". The law and its corollaries would not apply to discussions covering known mainstays of Nazi Germany such as genocide, eugenics, or racial superiority, nor, more debatably, to a discussion of other totalitarian regimes or ideologies, if that was the explicit topic of conversation, since a Nazi comparison in those circumstances may be appropriate...
About totalitarian regimes...
Totalitarianism or totalitarian state is a term used by some political scientists to describe a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever possible.
Can there be any doubt about the natural end result of what Cathi Herrod advocates for and what Yarbrough does his best to implement (when he's not busy skimming taxpayer funding from his School Tuition Organization) by legislation?

If you doubt, consider one of the biggest hot button issues in contemporary America, women's right to make their own health, reproduction and even abortion choices. I have no problem with anti-choice advocates believing that abortion is an abomination. I know NOBODY who think terminating a pregnancy is something to celebrate. But for the STATE (legislatures in Congress and 50 states) to make that decision and mandate that a woman cannot make the decision for herself, IS totalitarian.

Again, I ask you, can there be any doubt that the natural end result of allowing Cathi Herrod and her lackeys, like Steve Yarbrough, to triumph will be a totalitarian state?

Should we be concerned? Not unless we are complacent and ready to abdicate our responsibility as citizens.




If we Rise UP! We WILL overcome.




We will overcome Dominionism. Overcome Citizens United. Overcome McCutcheon.

Friday, April 4, 2014

AP Redistricting story -- timing suspect; tone misleading? UPDATED 4-7-14

On Sunday, March 30, an AP story with Bob Christie's byline, about Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission started showing up on various news websites including local radio station KTAR.com, midwest newspaper Kansas City Star and the news site for the Mohave Daily News (Bullhead City, AZ).

This is all well and good, right? People need to understand and be made aware of the significance of independent redistricting, don't they?

Well generally, AP stories are written for and published about newsworthy events. Remember, news stories are supposed to answer certain questions like WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and less often but still important, HOW and WHY.

So, what newsworthy event did Bob Christie tell people this time? I can't find anything in any of the places I saw (I have a google alert for Arizona Redistricting) that reveal any new issue, event or other happening. Therefore, I am left to guess about why this story was published. The only related items I am aware of is the fact that a full year has transpired since the trial wrapped up in Harris v AIRC.

Oh, and there's that pesky Arizona Legislature and the fact that recent history demonstrates a tendency to, once they pass the budget bills, to attack the most controversial issues. Last year, it was HB2305. The voter suppression provisions lumped together into HB2305 were first introduced very early in the session, but HB2305 was the last bill passed before ending the session in June 2013.

There is no shortage of controversial issues on tap this year, most notably the wholesale undermining of public education by expanding programs to fund wholly unaccountable private schools with taxpayer funds.

The GOP leadership in the legislature may think that we have forgotten about SCR 1003, Periodic Reauthorization of citizen initiatives. This resolution was a clandestine strategy to abolish the Independent Redistricting Commission. Of course, that's not the only thing citizens have enacted that the legislature doesn't like, but they REALLY hate that they don't get to choose their own voters. This fact is fully documented in more than 400 of the 700+ posts on the Arizona Eagletarian.

So, WATCH them like hawks because no bill or resolution is truly dead until they adjourn the legislative session Sine Die.

But there's more...

Christie's story on Sunday included cheap shots made by the first chairman of the AIRC, Steven Lynn. Notably,
Steve Lynn, the commission's chairman during its first 10 years, said the latest commission appeared much more politicized that the one he chaired.
"The integrity of the process was night and day between this time and last time," Lynn said. "Clearly, we did a better job of it than the current commission. The integrity of the process was night and day between this time and last time.
He points to the commission's split decisions on consultants, lawyers and the final maps themselves.
"All of those decisions that were made this time around were made 3-2 with the chair siding with the Democrats on the commission," Lynn said. "All of those decisions when I was chair were made 5-0, all inclusive, and they were not political."
Not only is the statement made by Lynn categorically false, the fact that Christie reported Lynn's words as fact is a clear demonstration of journalistic malpractice.

It is no secret to anyone who has paid any attention to Arizona politics over the last four years that the current redistricting cycle entailed a high level of controversy. There is, however, documented record, in the official transcripts and audio/video recordings of the proceedings of the AIRC as well as detailed coverage provided on an ongoing basis, by this blog. The archives to both are neither hidden nor difficult to access. I recommend to Mr. Christie that he familiarize himself with Google search functions. Additionally, other archival resources are no doubt available to the AP of which he might avail himself.

Nevertheless, Lynn's cheap shots, according to the Arizona Capitol Times and it's Yellow Sheet Report, caused AIRC Commissioner Scott Freeman to unleash "Geyser-sized Steam of Frustration."

Here's what Freeman posted on Facebook:
Arizona’s 2001 commission had unanimity on major staffing decisions and approved the final state and congressional maps 5-0 and 4-1. Contrast the 2011, “sham” commission, where all significant votes were 3-2 party-line affairs. The state Democratic party essentially drew the 2011 maps. In fact, that’s something I said when the commission voted on them in January 2012. Instead of maps drawn [insert dramatic music] “in the smoke-filled rooms or down in the basement of the state Capitol,” Arizona got maps that were the product of work by a state Democratic party official and (maybe) a commissioner. During critical mapping periods, this official communicated extensively with one commissioner by phone and met at the home of another. That official even had a direct tie-in to the server of the Commission’s D.C.-based mapping consultant. (I didn’t even have that – and I’m on the Commission!) These commissioners didn’t cop to this behavior during the mapping process. Instead, this information finally came to light after the 2012 election and also during on-going litigation concerning the 2011 maps. It gets worse, but this is FB.
Now, my good friend Mr. Freeman is a fierce litigator (as I understand it) and as such should (and I can reasonably assume DOES) know that a comparison of the 2001 and 2011 commissions based on "unanimity on major staffing decisions" and near unanimity on the final maps is NOT a logical or rational measure of -- as Mr. Lynn said,
"The integrity of the process was night and day between this time and last time," Lynn said. "Clearly, we did a better job of it than the current commission. The integrity of the process was night and day between this time and last time. 
It is, however, an indication that Mr. Freeman was lashing out with verbal fury at a situation over which he did not have as much control as he wanted. Every last aspect of his comment is dripping with that fury and frustration. He may have every right to be frustrated. And he certainly has the right of free speech to say what he wants, right? Maybe. Remember, he is not just any Joe Blow. He's a government official, an Independent Redistricting Commissioner.

Remember the brouhaha over the highly partisan Espresso Pundit blogger Greg Patterson's nomination to serve on the Arizona Board of Regents? Last year, Phoenix New Times reporter Ray Stern noted about Patterson,
Patterson let his popular news-and-opinion blog go dark for a year after he was appointed to the eight-year term as Regent by Governor Jan Brewer, implying in his last blog post of 2012 that writing about university and Board of Regents issues could be perceived as a conflict of interest.
Scott Freeman would do well to reflect on his political compadre Patterson's admission. Then again, Patterson was the focus of a potential firestorm of his own making. Freeman is well past his screening, appointment or confirmation.

Freeman's entire rant, while lacking solid legal and factual foundation (he DID have his chance to have his say during the Harris trial more than a year ago), is entirely partisan political raving. He's entitled to such ranting and raving... technically, as a citizen. So, why did Patterson acknowledge the conflict of interest while Freeman -- with a lazy and complicit corporate media -- lets the current redistricting official get away with it unchallenged?

He's only expressing opinions about the impropriety of the actions of his colleagues, right? Isn't he a whistleblower? That might wash except for the FACT that litigation on the issue of allegations of impropriety demonstrated NO violations of law; NO violations of the public trust; NO violations that would allow the slanderous claims made by Steven Lynn and Scott Freeman to find one iota of legitimacy.

Now, what does Freeman conveniently fail to address in his partisan rants?

First and foremost, the role of Koch brothers' funded UNfair Trust and the persistent and insidious role of GOP hacks David Cantelme and Mike Liburdi. While Freeman rants about speculated connections between Democratic redistricting commissioners and others who may have had influence on mapping decisions, did Freeman disclose the number, length, frequency or subject of phone calls he had with Cantelme, Liburdi or convicted felon John Mills?

Oh, sure, Mills wasn't convicted yet when he was communicating with Freeman, his Republican colleague Rick Stertz or with Cantelme or Liburdi. But Mills WAS on the taxpayer-funded payroll of the Arizona House of Representatives ALL the while.

If AP reporter Christie was exercising due diligence on the matter, he likely would have been able to find incumbent (from 2001) moderate GOP state lawmakers who are just as sure about Mills' influence in lumping them in new districts with more extreme right-wing incumbents during that first redistricting cycle. Those moderate GOP incumbents lost their primary elections in 2002 just like Ben Quayle lost his Congressional primary with David Schweikert in 2012. But you don't hear Freeman complaining about Mills.

Anyway, Freeman responded to a comment on his Facebook post:
The public has limited remedies. You can’t vote out those that you did not vote in. The Governor tried to toss the Commission’s chair, but the Arizona Supreme Court essentially countermanded her. (If three words had been added to her removal letter, the court would have had a tougher time restoring the Chair.) Citizens (Republicans) filed two lawsuits, which are in process. In one, a trial was conducted a year ago before a 3-judge panel in federal court. No ruling yet. The other suit has seen no activity since the summer, which could mean many things, including that the suit has been abandoned. Both lawsuits are long shots given the legal standards the plaintiffs must surmount. I’m not sure, however, why the federal court has taken more so long to rule on the case that was tried last year.
and
Former Commissioner Herrera has fled the scene. In litigation, he shamelessly denied exchanging anything other than idle pleasantries with the Dem official. He was then confronted with the phone records showing numerous calls, some very lengthy and late at night during critical mapping periods. These calls were on more than one of his phones, including his mobile. He stammered through the testimony. I'm sure he was viewed as quite a liability and jettisoned. And actually, I don't think they cared about anything too much beyond implementing their designer districts and seeing how far they could go with eliminating incumbents, including one of their own (Rep Patterson). One line move was based upon the location of a commissioner's residence, which was a moment more shocking and unseemly than the Chair's serial phone calls and quid pro quo offer on the mapping consultant.
Now, about those conflicts of interest. Who, in the corporate media dares to call Freeman on what are obviously unseemly and unprofessional remarks?

In fact, the Capitol Times just fanned the flames.

Now, about Steven Lynn's compunction to lie outright (or did he just have a memory lapse, forgetting that his chairmanship wasn't as perfect as he wanted it to be?), a key case in point is found in the 160-page transcript of the AIRC meeting on June 25, 2002. Pertinent to this situation are remarks by then Democratic Commissioner Andi Minkoff, on pages 127-140. Excerpts that illuminate the truth about this situation include (emphases are mine):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, my fellow Commissioners. I ask you to bear with me, because I have a lot to say. It may take a few minutes. 
For the first time, I've written out some remarks. I want to make sure I didn't forget anything. There has been a lot that has happened that has caused me concern. I want to take the opportunity to express some of it to you. [...]
As I said earlier, I intend to vote against the proposed Legislative District map. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain my negative vote.
When Proposition 106 was passed by the voters in the 2000 General Election, I really believed it would result in a significant change in the makeup in Arizona's Legislative and Congressional Districts. I believed the people of Arizona were sending a message that not only were they unhappy with districts drawn by and for incumbent legislators, but they wanted districts in which their votes mattered and in which they had a say in who would represent them in the Legislature. In short, they wanted a choice. I believe that it was our mandate to draw districts that gave them that choice. I do not believe the plan before us is responsive to that mandate. [...]
I believe that the decision by the Commission to preclude further testing and the possibility of creating Competitive District Number 6 in Maricopa County was not only a serious error but violated our mandate under the Arizona Constitution. 
Initially, there was a three-two vote in favor of testing Competitive 6. Then, suddenly, after a break, there was an unexplained reversal of the vote and a four-one vote against any further testing or consideration of the proposed competitive district, an action that may very well have caused those observing our process to look at the trend of events with doubt and confusion.
Perhaps Commissioner Freeman can be forgiven for not having read all of the transcripts from meetings of the 2001 IRC. 

But Steven Lynn's claim that under his chairmanship, everything was conducted out in the open, and that there were no lapses in integrity, are patently false. Record of the proceedings of the 2001 AIRC appears to contain evidence -- or at least probable cause to believe -- that open meeting law was violated in decision processes under Lynn's leadership

Freeman's chosen method of expressing his concern is poignantly contrasted with how Commissioner Minkoff expressed hers. She did so thoughtfully, carefully and on-the-record.

I wish Freeman would have demonstrated the same professionalism in carrying out his duties as a commissioner as Minkoff did. Alas, as another person commented on Freeman's Facebook post, "Politics gets nasty, doesn't it? Doesn't matter where we live."

Democratic Party officials and activists did not throw hissy fits in the form of faux controversies during the first redistricting cycle. They did plan ahead, however, for the next cycle. Evidence abounds showing that the Arizona Republican Party dropped the ball, thinking they had everything already "fixed." With Koch (and other Dark) money, they've been playing catch-up ever since.

The fact of the matter is that because of Cantelme and Mills, the current redistricting commission did not fulfill the voter mandate to provide nearly as many competitive districts as they could or should have. 

One need look no farther than record of the conduct of current GOP state lawmakers (like Senate Pres Andy Biggs) who arrogantly disregard the need to work for the common good and to consider anything other than right-wing excess to see that there is too little electoral competitiveness.

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Bob Christie owes ALL of the people who read his publication of Steven Lynn's lies an apology and a correction.

Scott Freeman owes the people of Arizona the service he swore an oath to provide and to do so without undermining it with partisan innuendo in conflict with said oath.

Perhaps somebody morally owes Arizona taxpayers reimbursement for the brazenly partisan activities carried out by convicted felon John Mills as he served the Arizona Republican Party since the start of the 2001 redistricting cycle.

David Cantelme and Mike Liburdi owe Arizona voters an accounting for where 100 percent of the funding originated for their effort to undermine independent redistricting from the planning stages in 2010 (or earlier) until now.

Last but by no means least, corporate media, including but not necessarily limited to the Arizona Capitol Times (whose parent company is now in bankruptcy because of its involvement in potentially fraudulent mortgage foreclosure processing schemes), KTAR, the Kansas City Star, Mohave Daily News, the Arizona Republic and any other enterprise that may cover the current situation with the AIRC owe their readers, listeners and viewers due diligence when publishing stories purporting to be news.

UPDATE     UPDATE    UPDATE     UPDATE     UPDATE

Apparently, Christie's story was part of a national package on redistricting, the central focus of which was the GOP has built-in advantage in fight for US House. I don't know how many outlets published the main story along with Christie's. That seems to explain the timing but still doesn't account for lazy reporting former AIRC chairman Lynn's claims as fact.