Friday, January 10, 2014

Is Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough's approach the only thing corrupt in the Arizona Legislature?

We've known for a couple of years that Steve Yarbrough, Republican state senator from Chandler, was helping himself to taxpayer funds by way of his STO. That would be School Tuition Organization. His is called the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization.

So, when KPHO Channel 5 investigator Morgan Loew reported again a couple of days ago about it, a couple of people grumbed about it being old news. This time, it should be different. I don't seem to be able to embed the video from Loew's report, but strongly recommend you check it out.

Key points in or related to Loew's investigation:
  • Steve Yarbrough directly benefited from legislation he sponsored, in this case, SB 1047 in 2012. 
  • Yarbrough's STO paid him and/or corporations he owned or controlled more than $700,000 just for one year.
  • Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation intended to eliminate or minimize abuse of the STO system, including Sen. David Schapira's HB 2775 and 2776 in 2010 and SB 1067 and 1068 in 2011. Those bills died sitting in committees without a vote and likely without even a hearing.
  • Democratic lawmakers offered amendments to Yarbrough's bill in 2012 but those amendments did not pass.
  • Republican lawmakers, not only those who directly benefited from SB1047, voted in favor of the bill, in what can fairly be characterized as CRONYISM. John Kavanagh was one of those who voted in favor of SB1047. In fact, only one Republican voted against Yarbrough's self-serving legislation, and he (Russ Jones) is no longer a member.
  • Yarbrough's scheme may, indeed, be lawful. In which case, there may be no remedies in court. But there ARE political remedies. Just this week, Democratic challenger Kristie O'Brien filed papers with the Secretary of State to challenge him. Because Yarbrough's abuse is so blatant, a Democrat CAN beat him even in a district with a majority of Republican voters.


A few days ago, I blogged about Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh (R-LD23) and his sour grapes from the Medicaid restoration debate on the House floor last June.

Regular Arizona Eagletarian reader Phoenix Justice then wrote a comment, mistaking Kavanagh with Sen. Yarbrough. "Isn't State Representative Kavanagh a direct beneficiary of the expansion of the "Tuition Tax Credit"?

I replied to that comment and Phoenix Justice then agreed that he had been thinking of Yarbrough. He then said, "You are right. Thank you for the correction. It is so difficult to tell the difference between one corrupt Republican and another."

Kavanagh apparently took offense to the word "corrupt" and we began an exchange of comments that continued through Thursday evening (so far). You may find those comments intriguing.

For me, one of the most notable revelations in that discussion thread was just how sensitive John is to accusations of corruption. Apparently hoping that I would chastise the first commenter or at least denounce suggestions that Arizona Republican state lawmakers are corrupt, he seemed even more discomfited when I explained that, actually, corruption IS a fair characterization of what goes on in our legislature.

Amid his bluster, John apparently attempted to make a point about viewing the world in terms only of "black and white." I think he was trying to say that it's important to recognize that many of the issues of public policy we discuss and that the legislature deals with have a good bit of ambiguity involved. If that's what he was getting at, I agree wholeheartedly.

To that point, I feel compelled again to thank John for engaging in banter with me on the blog. It takes a degree of willingness to be vulnerable to so engage when you're not in control of the forum. So, thank you, John.

However, back to the issue of corruption.

Seemingly frustrated, John said:
Meaningful and productive communication can only occur when both parties speak a common language with agreed upon definitions. That is why dictionaries are so important. Your bending of language as witnessed by your outlandish race-tinged definition of "chicago politics" and belief that the definition of the word corrupt is "subjective" is corrosive to meaningful debate and brings into question the legitimacy and worth of your blog. It is really disturbing and pathetic.
To which I replied,
I don't recall you offering any definition of what YOU meant by "Chicago politics" or "Chicago-style politics." Given the context of the debate in question (floor debate on the Medicaid restoration bill), just what exactly do you think people understood you to mean? Did you mean something other than the generally understood epithet that was used so freely against President Obama by those with whom you identify? And then you linked the term, in the context you used it, to Obamacare, did you not?
As to the dictionary definition of "corrupt," how about we use this one, unless you have one you prefer more.
Let's consider the first listed meaning at that link: "Marked by immorality and perversion; depraved."
You may not like it any more than you did before suggesting we use a dictionary definition, but the fact that you have taken money from the private prison industry and have -- at minimum -- been complicit in promoting that industry is increasingly being considered immoral. In fact, in the science of economics, the private prison industry is rife with and specifically demands writing "perverse incentives" into contracts with governments. You've heard of that, haven't you? When GEO Group or CCA succeeds in getting a minimum occupancy written into a contract, right?
Of course, it's a matter of opinion, right John? Should I bring in a dictionary definition of "subjective?"
By the way, John, isn't it a logical fallacy to attack the messenger? You know, "your outlandish race-tinged definition of "chicago politics..." ??? You cited the importance of dictionaries, right? Did I overlook where you may have shown where any dictionary definition of either the word "corrupt" or the expression "Chicago politics" as I used them were incorrect or even simply misleading?
Then, since he had been trying to get me to denounce the other commenter, I told him,
Oh, and John... if you'd like me to side with you about corruption, I certainly would be willing to do so if you were to publicly endorse and promote the American Anti-Corruption Act.
But then again, John, where do you stand on the issue of the Lobbyist Shakedown Bill (2013's HB2593)?
The Lobbyist Shakedown Bill clearly seeks to legitimize corruption in and for the Arizona Legislature.
Don't say I didn't tell you so when I first suggested you were taking the comment by Phoenix Justice too personal.
Rather than offer his own choice of dictionary reference or respond to the actual issue of corruption, he simply replied:
So you think I am perverse, immoral and depraved?
I don't claim to know what is in John Kavanagh's heart or much about his values. From exchanges we've had on this blog, I've learned a little bit about him. I believe he takes his job seriously, and like most of his colleagues, he tries to make the world a better place.

That includes apparently caring about whether the legislature actually puts Arizona's children in harm's way (his words). This week, he pre-filed HB2023 which will address one of the problems our discussion of last year's HB2317 raised last month. 
The seventh bill passed in the 2013 regular session, HB2317 provides a "work around" to people with an expired fingerprint clearance card to get a new one so they can get (or keep) a job working in schools. A fingerprint clearance card is intended to provide employers (and the people they are supposed to keep safe) assurance that the cardholder has not been convicted of certain crimes.
I suggested (and still believe) the legislature was laying down a bet that those who were working with children (and vulnerable adults) on an expired fingerprint clearance card would not subsequently be determined to have committed such crimes. John contended that the procedures in place at the Department of Public Safety precluded any gap in keeping track of those people and arrest status.

His reply, however, was less than satisfying to me and I explained why.  John's new bill, HB2023, changes statutory language to require the Department of Public Safety to run the daily crosscheck between arrest reports and the fingerprint clearance card database. The bill, as introduced will change language in statute thus:
The fingerprinting division may SHALL conduct periodic state criminal history records checks for the purpose of updating the clearance status of current level I fingerprint clearance cardholders pursuant to this section and may notify the board of fingerprinting and the agency of the results of the records check.
Of course, if DPS truthfully claimed that the cross check is being done daily, then it should have no problem having the word "periodic" changed to reflect the more specific period as currently carried out.


John Kavanagh may not be corrupt in the sense of being the kind of self-serving state lawmaker Steve Yarbrough is. But he DID support (and vote in favor of) the Lobbyist Shakedown and he DID support and vote in favor of the bill that enables Yarbrough to make a killing by skimming money off the top of donations made by people thinking they were paying for private school tuition scholarships.

And John's most recent campaign finance report shows that he accepted PAC donations in excess of $1,000 from each of Pinnacle West (owner of Arizona Public Service), Salt River Project and the Arizona Dental Association, and plenty of other campaign contribution money from lobbyists and PACs.

I don't need to pronounce judgment on whether John Kavanagh is corrupt. Take the word of Jack Abramoff. Jack KNOWS political corruption. He did time in prison because of his role in government corruption. These videos specifically address Congress. But the concepts are very much the same on the state level.


  1. By expanding the definitions of accusatory words beyond their normal usage, you strip them of both their meaning and power. In the process, you diminish your own credibility.

    P.S. By your definition, only pretty far-left Democrats who run on Clean Elections funding are not corrupt and President Obama is the king of corrupt politicians because of all the special interest money he has received as campaign donations. Doesn't look so good from that perspective. Right Steve?

  2. John, do you realize that your comment is classic psychological projection?

    You've had AMPLE opportunity, and specific invitation to present definitions of the words and expressions at issue. You seem to persistently refuse to present any alternative definitions or to explain how I may have used those terms in ways that they don't normally mean.

    You do know that I'm not the producer of ANY of the myriad of sources or references to definitions of corruption or "Chicago politics" from which I've chosen samples to present in the blog, don't you? I think that means, by definition, that I'm not expanding the meaning at all.

    Beside the obvious projection you employed above, isn't your attempt to make this about someone outside of the Arizona Legislature a classic "straw man?" Whether it's a straw man or not, it's obviously a logical fallacy of some sort, right John?

    Do you remember your previous comment about viewing policy discussions in linear, "black and white" terms? It sure seems like you might be doing some of that by saying that the only people who "run on Clean Elections funding" are "pretty far-left Democrats."

    I'm pretty sure that one is easily debunked. Here's where you can find the current list of 2014 Clean Elections participating candidates. So far, there are 59 candidates. Several prominent names of conservative Republicans are on the list.

    By the way, how many times have you written in these comments that I'm diminishing my own credibility? Given that my readers disagree with you, that appears to be you pointing three fingers back at yourself when you point one at me, right John?

  3. Republicans have been the master's of word manipulation for the last 30+ years, thanks to wordsmiths such as Frank Luntz. Why does one think that the term "Chicago style politics" has taken a forefront since the election of President Obama? It gets thrown around on an almost daily basis in regards to Democratic governance and yet, State Senator Kavanagh chooses to take umbrage at my use of the word "corrupt" in describing Republicans?

    1. I mistakenly promoted State Representative Kavanagh to State Senator.