Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

George Hunt -- Champion of the Working Man and Woman

Let's talk about the legacy of George Hunt, his lasting impact on citizenship, politics and direct democracy in Arizona and why it matters in today's economic environment.

Here are some quotes (specifics are footnoted in the book) from David Berman's book, George Hunt:
[I]n a speech to celebrate the first anniversary of statehood, February 14, 1913... [Hunt] took pride in the fact that in Arizona, "every great question will and must be decided, not by a handful of dictators or special pleaders for privilege, but by the majority of voters..." the Arizona Constitution, Hunt said, "leaves the way clear for a government and a social order that will protect the rights of the wage earner without requiring him to plead in his own behalf for justice."  -- page 77  
Dealing with the legislature was a constant source of irritation to Hunt. He generally viewed it as hopelessly corrupted by the money powers or special interests. -- page 11
Hunt... made a harsh estimate of the legislature and several of his colleagues. He was upset not only with the failure of the bills he introduced [in the territorial legislature, prior to 1912] but with the way the process worked, which he regarded as rife with trickery and other immoral conduct. -- page 25
More broadly, Hunt's experience as a territorial legislator left him frustrated and disillusioned with representative democracy. It led to his enduring belief that, in the absence of intense public pressure, legislative bodies are likely to come under the control of greedy special interests.  At the time, however, he saw the initiative and referendum as ways around the corporate stranglehold, should they become part of the constitution that would come with statehood. -- page 34 
Hunt believed,
"The double legislative branch, with its large membership and many conflicting personal interests, its party prejudices, the low average intelligence in many members, is the most extravagant arrangement possible." Although it was not much of a selling point to those who happened to be serving in the legislature, Hunt's comments about the low intelligence of many legislators was something he frequently commented upon in his diaries, letters, and occasional public statements over the years, and no doubt sincerely believed. -- page 62
"While there are some good men, there are others that do nothing but serve their masters the Big Interests, and they are voted just like a lot of [h]ogs, it is a shame to think that a member of the legislature should come down here and be voted." He felt the willing servants of the big interests should be recalled. -- pages 85-86
In his letters home [while serving as Ambassador to Siam], Hunt often reflected on how bad the legislature had always been, with the exception of the first one. He also frequently wrote about the great damage done by labor spies and blacklisting in creating turmoil on the industrial front, how the miners had served as the backbone of the Democratic Party, and the power of the large corporate interests who ruled the state through a system of "invisible government." -- page 128 
As part of their war with the governor, legislators reduced appropriations for various executive offices. Hunt, in retaliation, vetoed the entire appropriations bill, hoping to teach the legislators a lesson, but there were more than enough votes to override his veto. The governor concluded that the legislature was under the control of "a few men of wealth and power" and "constituted a great menace to popular government." -- page 160 
Hunt dealt with problems regarding allocation of Colorado River water long before current multi-state agreements were negotiated.
Squabbles with legislators over money and over who should control the appointments to the proposed Colorado River Commission led Hunt to describe the legislature "as the most asinine body of men that ever met in Arizona." -- page 161
There are more references in the book, but you get the idea. This is why he championed Initiative, Referendum and Recall to be included in the original Arizona Constitution.

Has anything changed, as far as how power is exercised in Arizona government? Overall, I'd say no. The same problems that readily presented in 1912 and the first couple of decades of statehood, remain issues today. That exercise of power gave us AZSCAM and inspired efforts to reign in the abuse inherent in representative government.

Term limits, Clean Elections, Independent Redistricting and more. Issues and problems in government that the legislature and executive branch have been either unable or unwilling to address, the people have addressed, including measures on public school funding, indigent health care and medical marijuana. And minimum wage law.

Notably, minimum wage law (2006). Because arrogant bastards like, for example our current Senate President (Andy Biggshot) represent plutocratic interests at the expense of working class Arizona, the people continue to have to express their will and exercise their sovereign authority by way of direct democracy. And despite what Hunt declared (quoted above) on the first anniversary of statehood, working men and women must now again plead on their own behalf for justice.

Speaking of which, you may remember that in April the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court seeking to have Arizona Revised Statutes § 23-204 A. as added by HB 2280, passed by the legislature in 2013, declared unconstitutional. 23-204 A. states,
The regulation of employee benefits, including compensation, paid and unpaid leave and other absences, meal breaks and rest periods, is of statewide concern. The regulation of employee benefits pursuant to this chapter and federal law is not subject to further regulation by a city, town or other political subdivision of this state.
Having heard nothing in corporate media since announcement of the initial complaint, I've been checking the Maricopa County Superior Court case history docket from time to time to see if anything had transpired in the case known as CV2015-004240. The court entered stipulated orders (that both sides agree to ahead of time) on three occasions to extend the deadline for the Attorney General's office (defending the statute) to file a response to the complaint.

With nothing further to go on, one might think the State of Arizona is just trying to kick the can down the road. That is, far enough so it doesn't have to deal with the matter at all before it's too late for anyone to get a measure on the ballot for the next election.

When I checked the case history a few days ago, I learned that an amended complaint had been filed along with an updated affidavit supporting the complaint. I also spoke on Monday with FLWC counsel Mik Jordahl, who told me he believes negotiations are progressing and that the delays are likely due to the fact that the assistant attorney general assigned to defend the statute had to coordinate with several different elected officials.

Among the updated details, the amended complaint states that the Flagstaff City Council voted on June 2nd to take no affirmative action regarding the lawsuit. Also, a majority of members of the council have expressed opposition to raising the minimum wage by way of vote of the council. On June 3rd, members of FLWC picked up a packet with forms and guidelines from the Flagstaff city clerk to begin the process of crafting a citizen initiative to present the question to voters.

The amended complaint also says, "a recent study based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor ranked Flagstaff as having the lowest private-sector wages in the United States when adjusted for cost of living." Governing Magazine, on March 13, 2015, in the story, Where Wages are Lowest and Highest in America, states,
Inflation-adjusted wages for the typical American worker haven’t changed much over the past several decades. Just how much workers are feeling the pinch from low wages, though, depends in large part on where they live. [...]
Many areas with the lowest estimated wages are found along the coasts, particularly in economies tied to tourism
Of course, Flagstaff's economy depends heavily on tourism, being a main stop along I-40 for people traveling from the Eastern United States to Southern California, including the main road to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, having the Lowell Observatory (where astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930). Accompanying a map charting the data,
Governing compiled federal earnings data for private-sector workers, adjusting for the cost of living using an index published by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The adjusted wages varied greatly across the country, ranging from $14.31 in Flagstaff, Ariz., to $29.92 in Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., for 2014. The metro area average for all regions reviewed was $22.39 per hour.
So, you can see just how severe the problem is. The $14.31 represents the 2014 annual average private sector wages after adjusting for cost of living in Flagstaff.

George Hunt was, indeed, a champion of working Arizonans. David Berman provided a most invaluable service to us by researching and writing Hunt's political biography.

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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.

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