Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Getting It Wrong Isn't "Dissent"

I got tired and took three days off from politics, so you're getting Sunday's column late on Wednesday. But my zest for battle has been refreshed by Gov. Arnold ("It was my accent--you heard 'cut spending' but what I meant was 'borrow $15 billion'") Schwarzenegger, the energy bill, and Rural/Metro deciding to pull a "Lisa Graham Keegan" on Scottsdale--win the election, then quit. So I'm back.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 16, 2003

Instead of actually addressing any of my arguments about church-state separation and the Alabama judge with the Ten Commandment fixation, both Carol Nichols Turoff and state Rep. Karen Johnson wrote letters to the editor replete with the usual epithets -- Liberal! Democrat! Liberal Democrat! -- and went all relativistic, claiming that it’s all a difference of opinion.

But it’s not. The law is clear. Turoff and Johnson could say they think the law’s mistaken and should be changed. But instead they pretend there’s doubt about what the Constitution requires, and that’s just wrong.

I treated Turoff with more respect than she gives judicial applicants with differing political views, but she defends her lack of legal and historical knowledge as “dissent.” Johnson then wrote that Turoff’s “opinion” should be respected because “[t]wo of our previous governors thought so well of her that she was appointed to represent the voters of this state in the judicial selection process.” And also because the Constitution only says Congress, not a state, can’t establish a religion.

Take Johnson’s substantive claim first. Sure, the Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit states from establishing religions, but that’s not what it means today -- and anybody familiar with American history, not just law, knows it. The applicability of the Bill of Rights to the states through incorporation via the Fourteenth Amendment has been the law since the 1930’s.

That’s the kind of rhetorical gymnastics needed for any claim that the Alabama Ten Commandments monument was legal, the very week that the U.S. Supreme Court finally settled the case. If conservatives want to make everything relative and a matter of “opinion” regarding church-state separation or global warming, then don’t be surprised that “good science” takes a beating when it comes to forest health or tort reform.

But what I found most interesting in Johnson’s letter was the unusual phrasing: appointed by two previous, and nameless, governors. What might account for the curious lack of detail -- some sort of right-wing love that dare not speak their names?

Well, maybe the luster of the names of former governors Fife Symington and Jane Hull, the two governors who appointed Turoff, isn’t quite so bright these days. Symington’s fall is well known, with his bank fraud convictions overturned by that ultra-liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, followed by one of those notorious last-minute Clinton presidential pardons so otherwise reviled by the GOP. But Jane Hull’s legacy isn’t so lustrous either, as more people realize that her major achievement while governor was essentially to retire while still in office.

It’s been quite a change on the Ninth Floor. The Napolitano administration has logged in more constituent service calls in nine months than Hull’s did in four years. When Gov. Napolitano’s constituent services team visited their offices for the first time, they learned that their predecessor’s voice mail system could hold only 10 messages. After the tenth person (in a state of 5 million people!) called, that was it.

It sure sounds easy being a Republican. People expect so little, you can essentially phone it in from Pinetop; just don’t try leaving a message. If anyone calls you on your false statements, just call them a liberal Democrat. And if you’re wrong, well, it’s all a matter of opinion, isn’t it?