The State of Arizona Intervenes in Rio Nuevo Debacle

It is important to remember that the Rio Nuevo legislation is a partnership between the state of Arizona and the city of Tucson. Both entities have a vested interest in its success.

Tax-increment financing (TIF) legislation is a legal template used across the country to finance sports stadiums and similar projects for municipalities. In essence, the state trades some short-term tax money for long-term increased tax revenue, and the city gets a stadium, or another “primary multipurpose facility.”

Alas, in the long run, sports stadiums and the like tend to be big money-losers for municipalities. They are expensive to maintain, and the sports teams often leave because there’s always another market that will cut them a better deal.

In the case of Tucson, we skipped that whole building thing and went right to losing money.

From the beginning, the pre-2010 Rio Nuevo board and the city of Tucson ignored the intent of the legislation—and the recipe that would have made it work. No serious effort was made to improve and develop the “primary facility,” which, in the case of Tucson, was the Tucson Convention Center. The city of Tucson had oversight responsibility for the TIF district, but no one was overseeing the city of Tucson.

By early 2009, the state started to get a little unnerved. It had diverted a lot of sales-tax revenue into this partnership, and things did not look a whole lot different than they did in 2000. Around that time, Greg Shelko, the Rio Nuevo director, gave a presentation to the state Legislature. It was not well-received. Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, was quoted as saying, “My concern with Rio Nuevo has been that it’s very difficult to get a straight answer on anything,” and, “I think that the general-fund money should be returned.”

In 2010, the state stepped in. It replaced the existing board with a “reconstituted board” of state appointees. This year, the state Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into the activities of the pre-2010 Rio Nuevo board.

I am not aware of specific selection criteria regarding the selection process for the reconstituted board, but the members must have done something really bad in a former life. I am sure that if they knew what they were in for, they would have moved to another state and changed their names to avoid selection. They are tasked with trying to make sense out of 10 years of mismanagement, with record-keeping so poor that there is no accurate accounting of the money—but there are chunks of real estate to which the titles are in question. It took months for Wells Fargo to determine if the district really owned the money in the district’s account.

As if that’s not enough, it’s an election year. We have seen Republicans rub the noses of Democrats in Rio Nuevo, and Democrats try to blame it on Republicans. For example, Jeff Rogers, head of the Pima County Democrats, has tried to tag Republican mayoral candidate Rick Grinnell with the moniker “Rio Nuevo Rick,” because Rick is on the Rio Nuevo board. What Rogers doesn’t mention is that Rick is on the reconstituted board assigned by the state to clean it up.

Oddly, Republican Steve Kozachik is going to serious lengths to criticize the reconstituted board. He is angry that they have yet to fix up the primary facility, the TCC, even though that is the city’s responsibility, according to the lease agreement. He claims that the new board has money restricted to TCC expenditures—but what he does not say is that the money is restricted to capital improvements, not repair and maintenance. In any event, for a member of the City Council—which was responsible for this Rio Nuevo mess—to criticize the replacement team shows a level of chutzpah beyond my ability to describe, even if he was not involved in the Rio Nuevo debacle.

The state is justified in assigning a new board to protect its interests—and our interests as citizens of Arizona. We should also be grateful that the state will end up protecting us from the incompetents we elected.

Rio Nuevo – Why It Failed

In the beginning, there was the word, and the word was “stadium.”

Many moons ago, in the municipal-government firmament, someone figured out a way to build a stadium at no cost to the municipality. It was called “TIF,” and they saw that it was good.

TIF stands for tax-increment financing. In this type of legislation, state sales-tax revenue from a defined district is diverted into a fund that is used to develop business in that defined district—so that the tax revenues in the district incrementally increase over the life of the program. The increased revenues pay for the stadium. At the end of the program, the revenues, now larger, revert back to the state. This is called a “win-win.”

To get everyone on board for the Phoenix stadium TIF, the Legislature planned a bill for Tucson, too. Now, Tucson did not really want a new stadium, but the deal represented a big pile of money.

The first order of business for Tucson was to win voter approval. To entice voters, city planners made wild promises that they knew they could likely never keep—from affordable housing to sea aquariums to a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 10. The city assumed huge investment from the private sector—more than 90 ninety percent of the total cost of the central-planner’s wet dream. The city painted a picture of a downtown Disneyland, and the voters approved it.

Remember, this legislation was designed to build stadiums. In order for the plan to work, everything must be organized around the stadium, or, more generally speaking, the “primary component” of the district. In the case of Rio Nuevo, that would be the Tucson Convention Center.

In its performance audit of Rio Nuevo, Crowe Horwath explains the limitations of the legislation in plain language: The goal is to “use the funds for projects within that area to support a ‘primary component’ of the district, which is the TCC, and those other secondary projects that are ‘necessary or beneficial’ to the support of this primary component.”

Everything should have supported the TCC as a hub for an enlarged tax base. No mention is made of “strengthening neighborhoods, and restoration of the natural environment that is of central importance to the heart and soul of Tucson,” as was stated in the Rio Nuevo Master Plan “vision.”

The TCC is an acceptable “primary component,” but instead of improving the TCC and adding an adjacent hotel—which would’ve attracted more business and increased sales-tax revenue—the city treated Rio Nuevo as a general downtown-development fund. As Crowe Horwath explained, “By spending a significant portion of its funds on far-ranging planning and public-works-type projects—infrastructure, planning and feasibility projects—and not focusing on, and completing, the few key components that would leverage these dollars into major incremental tax revenue generation, most of the projects on which district funds were expended remain unfinished and/or incomplete.”

TIF legislation is like a recipe. If you get the ingredients, follow the steps in order and bake it according to the instructions, you can end up with a cake. On the other hand, if you allow people in the kitchen to scoop up the ingredients for their own projects, you can go through a lot of ingredients and end up without a cake.

The desperate attempts to save face—the extension of the life of the program to 2025, the issuing of bonds to make up for lost money, etc.—only made the failure worse.

It would be easy to try to pin the blame on an individual, or group of individuals, in the city or on the original Rio Nuevo board, but it would not be accurate or productive to do so. What ruined Rio Nuevo is the same lack of oversight and accountability that have led, for example, to the theft of an unknown amount of parking-meter revenue—unknown, because there was no tracking system in place. This sort of corrupt freelancing appears to be ingrained in the culture of our municipal government.

Tucson’s city government needs a leader, or team of leaders, who will pull the mess together into a single organization focused on the business of a municipal government. How that will be done is the $230 million question.

TUSD Ethnic Studies and Alinsky Tactics

Recently I heard a talk show host wonder aloud why president Obama spent much of a recent speech about the federal budget attacking Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Budget. It seemed counterproductive to attack a person with whom, presumably, you would be negotiating, and it was not very presidential. Later that same day, I heard another talk show host explain it! He said the president’s behavior was a technique right out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals – in order to win, ignore the issues, single out someone on the other side and attack him. Alinsky was the original “community organizer”, and Rules for Radicals is his manual.

The president’s peculiar behavior suddenly made sense. It then occurred to me, might some local peculiar political behavior also be explained by Alinsky? The circus surrounding Tucson Unified School District’s(TUSD) La Raza Ethnic Studies Program came to mind.

I started reading Rules for Radicals and it was not long before things began to fall into place.

According to Alinsky, a community organizer must first “rub raw the resentments of the people of the community.”# One Ethnic Studies student said that she “did not know” she was oppressed before taking the class. Nice!

The people will be ready for action when a particular issue becomes a focal point – like the proposed moving of the class from core to elective. The particular tactic will depend on a number of things, like the resources that are available. In our case study, the Ethnic Studies organizers did not have a big pile of money, or guns, or the like, but they had lots of children.

So, what can be done with a bunch of pissed-off kids? Well, Alinsky’s third rule is: Whenever possible go outside the experience of the enemy.# Now, school board members generally know how to control public meetings. They can screen speakers, limit speaking times, etc. They were not prepared, however, for a physical assault on the proceedings where the facility itself commandeered – and by children no less! No one knew what to do when the attack was launched, and there was no way anyone would take the responsibility for initiating the spectacle of a bunch of kids being handcuffed and hauled downtown. Very nice! This attack also complied with Alinsky’s rule number six: A good tactic is one that your people enjoy. Nothing appeals to kids more than telling them that they are smarter than adults, and the rules do not apply to them.

No one seriously thinks that the kids cooked this up themselves. In fact, according to board member Michael Hicks, TUSD board members Burns and Grijalva were communicating final arrangements to the kids with their phones during the study session that preceded the public meeting.

At this point, I am sure that some of you are wondering why I am not expressing concern over the fostering of hate and resentment, the exploitation of children, and the general flouting of any morals and ethics. It is because Alinsky and his followers themselves are not bothered by morals and ethics. This is about what they do and why, not about what they ignore. The following oft-quoted passage from the chapter on means and ends, in which he justifies using low blows, says it all, “What was my alternative? To draw myself up in righteous ‘moral’ indignation saying, ‘I would rather loose than corrupt my principles,’ and then go home with my ethical hymen intact?”#

The ends justify the means.

Alinsky’s misanthropic approach to hope and change is paradox that continues today. He was a brilliant and highly educated man. Rules for Radicals is both captivating and sad. It is captivating in that it expresses the pure, unconstrained pursuit of an end. It is sad in that one realizes that the reader is not exempt from his lying manipulations to further his end.

Perhaps the fact that Alinsky and his followers see everyone as a pawn is an aspect of American history that ought to be taught to the Ethnic Studies students.

November’s Mail Ballot Election – Is Voter Fraud the Motivation?

Voting has always been considered a cornerstone of our democratic processes. It is how we keep our government officials in line, hiring or firing them as we see fit.

As voters, we must always look closely at government officials who endeavor to change the process by which we hire and fire them.

Democratic Tucson City Councilman Richard Fimbres brought up the idea of making November’s city election a vote-by-mail affair at a City Council meeting in March. The public hearing was held at the council meeting on April 5, and the council voted 5-2 to make November’s election vote by mail.

The city charter does allow for the designation of any election to be a “mail ballot election.” However, the questions that immediately come to mind are, “Why?” and, “Why now?”

Councilmembers Fimbres and Regina Romero spoke of saving money and increasing voter participation as compelling reasons for mail ballots, and they point out a national trend toward mail ballots; Oregon has been using mail-only balloting since voters approved a citizens’ initiative in 1998. I don’t argue that there is a trend; I am happy to stipulate that the rise of mail ballots is a national problem. Regarding voter participation and supposed cost savings, they are more wishful thinking than fact.

Research performed in California, and sponsored by the Pew Center on the States, shows that the introduction of mail-ballot-only systems actually reduces participation by 13.2 percent overall, while reducing participation of urban, Asian and Hispanic voters 50, 30.3 and 27.3 percent, respectively. It also shows a 5.99 percent participation advantage for Democrats over Republicans.

Research done at the University of Oregon contradicts these findings, but the data were derived from survey responses, not by tracking individual voters through four cycles, as the California study did.

Anyway, I am not the only one who believes that the act of voting should not be equivalent to the act of paying your sewer bill. Voting is something for which you should take time. It is serious. Right now, “early” or “absentee” ballots may be requested from the city clerk by people who may not be able to go to polling places. The change to all-mail ballots seems to make a difference only for those who are not serious about elections.

This is better?

There are some good arguments for cost savings, though much of what is saved on poll workers is spent on additional printing and postage. Though this November’s election will be a mail-ballot vote in Tucson, by law, the city must still provide at least one polling place per ward, and the city will also provide drop-off facilities for those who prefer hand-delivery to mailing the ballot. The duty of ensuring accurate elections is probably not the first place to turn for cutting fiscal corners.

So, what’s the real story? If the Democrats believe in mail ballots, why don’t they go for a charter change instead of this one-time deal? Well? Republican Steve Kozachik, with a second from Democrat Paul Cunningham, made a motion to put the idea on the November ballot so the people could decide whether or not to change the way we hire officials. It was voted down by the rest of the officials.

The answers to, “Why” and, “Why now?” may be one and the same. In the last City Council election, the Democrats lost Ward 6 to Republican Kozachik, and came within a couple of hundred votes of losing Ward 3 to Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia. Those results, and current national trends, must have Democrats squirming in their chairs. Something must be done to influence the outcome of the election this go-round, and what better way to do that than with mail-in ballots? We all learned in grade school about “chain of custody” of ballots, whether they were machine ballots or paper cards, which prevent any hanky-panky. There is no chain of custody with mail ballots.

I’m not accusing Democrats of conspiring to commit voter fraud. I’m just trying to come up with a believable explanation for this one-shot mail-in deal, and the rejection of the more reasonable referendum suggestion. Any ideas?

Gun Control Folks Exploit Giffords Shooting

We knew it would happen sooner or later. Now the murderous attack on Gabrielle Giffords and others by a deranged man is being used to launch a new attack on the right to keep an bear arms. This new campaign was predictable right down to the recommendations.

Predictability is a result of repeating patterns. One pattern is the exploitation of a horrific, senseless, multiple murders. The shootings of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and now Gabrielle Giffords were all followed by calls for increased restrictions on the right.

The latest is the current proposal from Mayors Against Illegal Guns entitled “Fix Gun Checks” (fixgunchecks.org). We’ll see what it has in common with the Gun Control act of 1968, and the Brady Bill, both of which were referenced in the Mayors’ plan.

The assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were the events that led to the Gun Control act of 1968. The law requires that anyone purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer complete a form which asks specific questions, to which a “yes” answer would prohibit the sale. The completed forms are stored at the licensed dealer. They are not forwarded to the government lest the establishment of a central database of firearm purchasers occur. It applied to dealers only, not private citizens.

If you were to say that this law is rather silly, and would do little to prevent murders, you would be correct. This is by design, it will be “fixed” in the next round.

The 1981 attempted assassination of president Reagan, and the grave injury to his press secretary, James Brady, led to the Brady Bill, finally passed in 1994. The idea was to take the admittedly silly Gun Control Act of 1968 and make it work by requiring, in addition to the form, an actual background check at the point of sale. By 1998, the dealer would simply call the National Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and get an approval, or denial, from an agent who would check a database of prohibited possessors. The law prohibits establishment of a central database of firearm purchasers, but the FBI (which operates NICS) does anyway. Since the beginning of NICS, the fight over retaining records of purchases has raged on even though it is specifically prohibited by the law.

If you were to say that this law is rather silly, and would do little to prevent murders, you would be correct. This is by design, it will be “fixed” in the next round.

Now the Mayors want to take the admittedly silly Brady Bill and make it work by greatly expanding the definitions of prohibited possessors, and expanding the regulation beyond dealers to include all transactions, including those of private citizens. In their document, the Mayors chastise Pima Community College, and the U.S. Army for not reporting the Tucson shooter to NICS as a crazy person. The Tucson shooter was never reported because he was never adjudicated insane, or committed to a mental health facility, as the law requires for reporting purposes. Do the Mayors just want to make the database bigger by extra-legal means?

So what is the common denominator here? Is it increasing the penalties for crimes of murder? Is it to make it easier to commit crazy people? Is it a moving the culture toward condemning the perpetrator instead of blaming “a lack of civility”? No. At each stage, the push was for wider and deeper record keeping.

I will leave you to speculate as to the “end game” of such record keeping. However, if you were to say that the notion that an extensive federal database of gun buyers will save lives is rather silly, you would be correct.

The people of Tucson are right to honor, and to be proud of the people on the scene of that murderous attack on January 8, 2011. They acted quickly and bravely to help the victims and many sacrificed themselves for others. Alas, there is reason to feel shame too. Of all the people present at that fateful event, there was no one, not one person, who was equipped to respond to the attack. Gunfights are generally over in three to five seconds, only massacres last over twenty.

A citizen with a handgun at the scene could have stopped the carnage. Having that citizen in a database in Washington, D.C. would have helped no one, it’s a silly notion.

The Arizona Legislature will make the Tough Choices

It is no consolation that virtually every other state in the nation is facing heap big budget deficits, nor is it that California is in worse shape than we are. It is the fact that, unlike California, there is hope for Arizona.

Both California and Arizona are in dire budgetary straits as a result of Democrat wild overspending. Hold it! I know what you’re thinking, “but the Republicans have controlled the state house for over forty years, how is it the fault of the Democrats?” Well, it is true that the Republicans have held a majority for decades, but that is not the same as control. During the Administration of Governor Napolitano, the Democrats were able to lure a number of squishy Republicans in to their camp, creating a virtual Democrat majority. Here’s an AZcentral.com blurb from from 2008 that includes Steve Gallardo’s famous quotation:

“I like being in the majority.” – House Minority Whip Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.
For the second year in a row, a budget backed by the minority Democrats and Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano passed, with the help of a handful of Republicans.

So here we are.

What has changed in the Arizona legislature since the last election cycle is the nature of the Republicans. The squishes are pretty much gone. The Republicans are in firm control of both houses. Republicans now in the legislature will not be seduced, cajoled, or intimidated by the Democrats, the Arizona Republic, or the Arizona Daily Star from cutting spending back to levels commensurate with revenues. The sweeping of funds, accounting tricks, property sales, even Governor Brewer’s sales tax increase were not enough to close the huge deficit gap.

Be prepared for much hysteria, name calling, and condemnations from the affected parties. Every agency will claim that any cuts will result in apocalyptic future disasters from short sighted cutting of “investment”.

University of Arizona president Robert N. Shelton is an example. In his recent State of the University address, he used phrases like “When malevolent people talk about wanting to dismantle and destroy great universities,” and “When you listen to those guys, it’s like “Groundhog Day” meets “A Nightmare on Elm Street”! – Bill Murray meets Freddie Krueger. (And please understand, I’m playing the Bill Murray character – I keep repeating myself, and they keep slashing people with knives!)”. Bear in mind that this is the language of a fancy pants $550,000 a year university president at an official function.

Shelton’s miffed because his state general fund appropriation has been cut by about $100 million over the last few years. He adds, “yet we have key legislators who have stated publicly – with straight faces, I might add – that we have been untouched and spared any significant cuts…”

I suspect that you may be wondering how the “untouched and spared any significant cuts” can be made? Or maybe you just think that Shelton is right and the legislators are lying morons. Well, we can always check the facts. The Fiscal Year Reports from the Arizona Legislature web site show the state general fund cuts in appropriations to the University of Arizona as Shelton stated, but the more relevant figures are those showing total revenue; FY 2007 – $1.211 billion, FY 2008 – $1.266 billion, FY 2009 $1.305 billion, FY 2010 – $1.333 billion. Yes, it’s true, though the state appropriations make up a smaller percentage of total revenues, the total revenues of the University of Arizona have increased annually over the last few years. You might even say that it has been “untouched and spared significant cuts”.

So, if you are a legislator, and you can cut an appropriation to an agency without reducing its total revenue, might that agency be a good candidate such cuts?

The real beauty here is that the legislators stated the facts, did the right thing, and are not intimidated by deceitful university presidents or anyone else. This is what Arizona needs if we are to fix the budget, recover and prosper.

And what of California? Well, the people of the Golden State elected the same people who precipitated its financial crisis. The Democrats still have a lock on the legislature, and with the election, yet again, of Governor Jerry Brown, there appears to be no adults in authority.

So be grateful that there is hope and change in Arizona, and pray for California.

The Weekend of the Attack

I learned that Representative Giffords was shot shortly before leaving home on Saturday morning. I was preparing to co-host the Inside Track radio show with its owner, Emil Franzi.

We opened the show with what little we knew of the attack, and took a call. The caller wasted no time in blaming our show in particular, and talk radio in general, for inspiring the attack. He had no evidence, of course, nor did he have much in the way of reasoned thought, just the meme.

Good News Communications, which owns a number of radio stations including KVOI on which Inside Track is heard, organized a non-denominational prayer vigil for the victims of the Laughner attack. It was scheduled for 12:00 PM, on Sunday. My wife and I attended.

We arrived around noon, and stood quietly with others waiting for the event to begin. I noticed an acquaintance of mine talking to someone, a bit too loudly. I was not close by, but I caught phrases like “…Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, that’s why these things happen…..that bumper sticker, Voice of Freedom, that’s a right wing code word….” I thought of saying something, but checked myself and we moved farther away from her.

The head organizer addressed the crowd. He explained that the purpose of the event was to bring the community together in prayer, and that it was held in front of the old courthouse instead of a church to be inclusive of all faiths. I noticed that my acquaintance had disappeared – I guess she figured out that it was not a political rally. The speaker proceeded to deliver a tone-down-the-rhetoric speech. I cringed. Though it was a somewhat eloquent speech, it assumed that political rhetoric had something to do with the attack.

A new speaker stepped up to lead the gathering in prayer and a period of silent meditation. Finally, the speaker offered anyone an opportunity to recite a prayer aloud. I had a bad feeling about this. After a half a dozen or so prayers, an old guy with a ponytail was given the nod. It was not long before his“prayer” slipped into a rant with phrases like, “where were you when the haters passed SB1070!?”, and more subtle condemnations like, “and now they’re attacking the school children,” a reference, I assume, to the controversial TUSD La Raza Studies program. The speaker slowly walked over to where the pony-tailed guy was standing and whispered something. The pony-tailed guy got a few more licks in as the speaker walked away.

Sunday evening, I reluctantly took a look at Facebook. To my relief, most of my friends, regardless of their politics, were not engaged in finger-pointing or political opportunism. It was comforting.

The War for Education

These are some pretty heady times for primary education. The Obama administration rolled out its “Race to the Top” program to improve primary education, while, along with Congress, he virtually terminated a promising voucher program in Washington D.C. The citizens of Arizona voted to keep the “First Things First” program. The state legislature has outlawed the controversial “Ethnic Studies” program in the Tucson Unified School District, to which some teachers have responded with a lawsuit.

As I look at the battles, I am saddened to see that many of the participants do not simply disagree on policy, they seem to live in different worlds. In one world, “Ethnic Studies” promotes inclusion of Latino students while increasing their academic success, while in the other, Latino students are cut out of the rest of the students and taught separatism, and anti-Americanism. In one world, “First Things First” as a valuable preparation for kindergarten and beyond, while in the other it is a way to warehouse children of middle-class mom’s who prefer to go to Yoga class at the expense of the economically disadvantaged.

No progress toward some kind of resolution can be made without some common ground.

I decided, therefore, to avoid the fracas and try to gather some inside information from someone in the field. In these days of networking, I decided to check my address book and found a Democrat friend of near thirty years who runs an “Excelling” charter school in Tucson. His name is Gurumeet Khalsa and he is a director of the Khalsa Montessori Charter School. I’d like to reiterate that I’m presenting one educator’s ideas, not arguing for or against charter schools here.

Mr. Khalsa describes himself as an “education radical”, much of his thinking is indeed outside the traditional box.

The Montessori method itself, as he described it to me, is a departure from the traditional methods which “came out of the industrial age of the 1800’s when it was convenient to do that for political reasons and for reasons of scale”, referring to everybody doing the sme thing at the same time. The Montessori method focuses on the individual child who progresses at his own rate, with his own study plan. The teaching “follows the child.”

Mr. Kalsa is not a big fan of standardized testing, including AIMS. “Good test results doesn’t mean that they are getting educated. It means that they are able to regurgitate facts and take the silly little bubble tests.” He also mentioned that, “US News called University High School the best high school in the world, and the state of Arizona said it was a failing school – all in the same year.” He added, “They don’t judge character, they don’t judge artistic values, they don’t judge critical thinking, it’s quite a poor test they give the kids.”

I asked if there could be any valid measurement devices for kids or schools. He said that parents really must be involved with the school. He put the issue in perspective this way, “Everybody wants insurance in our society, everybody wants Social Security, everybody wants insurance, everybody wants to be taken care of, nobody wants to have any faults, and that’s what we’re stuck with. No risk.” He added that touring professionals would be helpful in rating schools, “but they would have their own biases about what they think a school should look like.” He said that parental participation is very high in his school, and the school encourages it. Some parents actually withdraw their children from the school because they ask them to participate too much.

Mr. Kalsa is big on school choice. “We have hundreds of millions of people in our country and I don’t think that they are all going to go in one direction. I think sometimes that the people who really squawk about it perhaps have a monetary stake in it, they don’t want to see parents have a choice. I think it’s important that families have a choice in what they want to do.”

Now, I disagree with my friend on many of his points, on some I agree. I was a bit surprised at some of common ground we shared, and that some of his perspectives were new to me.

We really should openly discuss ideas more before we draw the battle lines in the war for education.

At one point I asked Gurumeet, “So how’s your football program coming?” We both had a laugh.

Arizona Ballot Prop 109 – Hunting as a Right

It is a certainty that any government agency changes over time. The mission expands, changes, and sometimes is commandeered by a different constituency – often at odds with the original mission.

These ideas were probably in the minds of the authors of Prop 109 – the measure that, is passed by the people, would establish hunting as a constitutional right in the State of Arizona. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish was formed in 1929 to, well, manage game and fish. It was funded by the sale of licenses. Today, it manages “wildlife”, and in addition to license fees receives Heritage Fund money (until recently) from the state lottery.

A few years ago, Arizona Game and Fish was caught flatfooted when anti-hunting groups, through a ballot prop, banned trapping on public land – effectively ending trapping in Arizona. Whether or not one approves of trapping is irrelevant in regards to the point at hand. Hunting in Arizona now faced the subtle threat of Game and Fish receiving funding outside the hunting community, and the overt threat of the initiative process.

It should then be no surprise that people who wish to preserve hunting are responding in kind to the ballot prop threat – specifically, Prop 109. This, of course, has sent the anti-hunting crowd into a hissy fit. They are about to seen their weapon rendered much weaker, unless they defeat Prop 109.

The defeat of 109 is a problem. Most people are not all that concerned with hunting, nor do they have an aversion to it. They are certainly not going to get excited over defeating a referendum that will have no affect on them. The hunters, on the other hand, who feel under the gun (so to speak) will come out in droves to pass it. What to do?

Well, as luck would have it, there is a standard approach to getting disinterested people to go along. First, change the issue. Make it about “your voting rights”, a “power grab by politicians”, the “voting rights of citizens” – anything broad, scary, and different than the actual issue. the NOon109.com crowd these phrases in a pamphlet – I picked one up at a local vegetarian restaurant. By changing the subject to one with a broader appeal, they have a chance at defeating the measure.

Having broken the bonds of facts and truth regarding the nature of the measure, it is now easy to lie about the specifics. It has been said that “the best lie is the half-lie”. Here’s an example, “Management of wildlife practices would no longer be based on scientific expertise, but on partisan politics.” The implication is that Game and Fish will be subject to oversight by the legislature – which is true, and that this is a fundamental change – which is false, the legislature always exercised oversight of Game and Fish.

Anyway, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are two:

Don’t Forget the Ballot Props!

On election day, we Arizonans will not only be choosing among the many candidates for office, but voting up or down on as many as ten ballot measures. While some may be as boring as determining for whom to vote for Mining Inspector, many are profoundly important and will affect our lives directly for years to come.

Here are my picks for most important. Vote “YES” on these.

Prop 106, Arizona Health Insurance Reform Amendment. A “yes” vote would bar any Arizonan from being forced into any healthcare plan, and it would secure the right of any Arizonan to purchase medical care on a fee for service basis. The addition of this amendment to the Arizona Constitution will present a challenge to recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which would force people to purchase approved insurance products – the “individual mandate”. So, now the “commerce clause” not only allows the federal government to control everything we do, but it will control us absolutely – whether we are doing anything or not. Even if you like the federal legislation, a vote for this ballot prop will allow the legal issues to be resolved in court.

Prop 107, Arizona Civil Rights Amendment. A “yes” vote would end discrimination based on race, sex, and ethnicity in government at all levels. It is important to understand that “affirmative action” programs, which will be eliminated under the law, are not “equal opportunity programs”. In fact, they are quite contradictory. The ugly underlying assumption is that some people, by virtue of their race, are inferior to others and are not capable of competing on an equal footing. If you believe that to be true, go ahead and create all the programs you want – just do not ask the government to be involved.

Prop 113, Arizona Save Our Secret Ballot Amendment. A “yes” vote would require secret ballots for public offices and referenda, and designations of employee representation. This is a nationwide movement inspired by the looming federal legislation known as “card check” which would allow employees to fill out a card to be collected, instead of a secret ballot. The purpose of “card check” is to make it easier for unions to organize workers. I am certain that it will make it easier – particularly with employees who do not want their representation. Clearly, the idea is to enable intimidation and cheating by labor unions. Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute makes the point: “‘We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.’ So wrote Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and 15 colleagues in a 2001 letter to the Mexican government. Why then is Miller sponsoring legislation, now the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act, that would eliminate the secret ballot for authorizing union representation in this country?” Even George McGovern (no right-winger here) is against this assault on the will of employees.

Prop 203, Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. A “yes” vote would allow Arizonans suffering from certain diseases to use small amount of marijuana medicinally without fear of arrest and prosecution. It is ironic that the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule One drug (morphine, cocaine, and methamphetamine are Schedule Two), virtually preventing medical research, then justifies the classification by saying that there is no medical application. So, we are left with measures such as Prop 203 to allow medical use in the raw form. The bottom line, of course, is whether your mind and body belongs to you or to the government.

Prop 302, Arizona First Things First Program Repeal. A “yes” vote would repeal the First Things First program, which is an early childhood services program, and put it’s $324 million into the general fund. The money would then be used for “health and human services for children”. I will not bother with the argument that parents, not the government, should be raising children. This program did pass as a referendum, so the people do not agree with me. It is strange, however, that this middle class benefit is funded primarily by taxing lower income working people through a tobacco tax. This is part two of the plan to balance the budget, the first being the one cent sales tax increase. If Prop 302 fails, the legislature will cut other child services, some of which might actually help poor children.