Thursday, June 30, 2005

The "Party of Lincoln" Becomes the Party of Pearce

I missed a week because I originally wrote this column in response to a letter to the editor that somebody submitted to the Tribune with a copy to me. I was out of town and thought for sure it was the type of letter that the Tribune would print--but it turns out that my certainly was misplaced but due to the fact that the letter was from one of the paper's regular letter-writers who already had had his second-quarter letter published back in April. So I had to revise the column, but too late for June 19th, and fortunately, had a response from Russell Pearce to add to the mix for this past Sunday.

I actually did research this time, and called the DES press office about the General Assistance documentation issue. They were very responsive and researched the issue--and changed the policy in response when they realized that despite Prop. 200, they didn't have to be quite so extreme. DES can provide a check and apply to another state for a certified copy of a birth certificate, and have the document sent directly to the eligibility reviewer for a disabled person entitled to the $173 GA monthly benefit. It's not as big an issue with beneficiaries born in Arizona, because DES can work directly with Vital Records, but DES has no control over how quickly another state will process its request for the proper document. Prior to Prop. 200, when paperwork was delayed, DES could provisionally approve a person for benefits for 30 days, then ratify the decision if the paperwork arrived, or reclaim the benefits paid (yes, all of $173) if the proper documentation couldn't be produced. However, after Prop. 200, DES believed that they no longer could provisionally approve anyone, even if it's clearly a paperwork issue, so if the certified copy of the birth certificate didn't arrive within the 60-day window, they believed that under Prop. 200 they had to reject the application.

The change, in response to asking about this obscure issue that affects only people at the very bottom of life's ladder, not the types who usually can get their legislators to care about them, is that (as noted in the column) DES will not reject those applications anymore, but instead will defer any action on them until the paperwork arrives from the other state--and then pay retroactive benefits until SSI kicks in. That will still be a hardship--the only way you can qualify for GA is to be disabled and to have no other resources, so it's not like the applicants can draw down a bank account or get a second mortgage until their GA is approved retroactively--but at least some of the worst collateral damage of Prop. 200 can be fixed, sort of.

How do these people go to church on Sunday, then legislate this stuff on Monday?

In further news, I just got a call this morning from a Democratic activist in Sedona who was outraged that I was going to run against Gov. Napolitano on such a sexist platform. I made her re-read my June 5 column, beginning with the "tongue in cheek" paragraph, and asked that she try not to be quite so humor-impaired next time.

East Valley Tribune, June 26, 2005

Noticing the incredible ineffectiveness of Proposition 200 provokes some incredibly weak defenses by Rep. Russell Pearce and friends, who believe their favorite government program doesn’t need to produce actual results.

One proponent admitted that Proposition 200 may be “not perfect” (meaning “accomplishing nothing”) but that’s only because we had no idea of how many illegal aliens applied for state benefits or voting.

Thus, by not knowing anything and studiously avoiding learning anything new, Proposition 200 supporters claim victory through ignorance. Actual data might interfere with patting themselves on the back.

One enchanting theory why Proposition 200 hasn’t actually caught anyone was that all the publicity convinced illegal aliens not to vote or apply for benefits. Thus, Prop. 200 works -- just by existing! If this were true, however, then Rep. Pearce shouldn’t be continually complaining that those darn liberals are stopping his government program from working as intended.

But the most pernicious claim in support of Proposition 200 is that it prevented something really worse from happening, like putting security bars on house windows. No crime, therefore, it must have worked!

This is particularly lame justification for a new government program. There haven’t been any major earthquakes in Arizona since passage of Proposition 200 , either.

But the bars-on-windows analogy is especially lame because Proposition 200 isn’t putting the bars on supporters’ windows. Instead, Proposition 200 changes the locks on neighbor’s homes, with any “protection” coming solely at the new neighbors’ expense.

This burdensome government program not only hasn’t caught any illegal voters, it’s done so by burdening folks who can’t fight back yet because they’ve been prevented from voting. So far, according to the county recorders (who, unlike Rep. Pearce, actually reviewed these registrations), over 5,000 honest-to-goodness, perfectly valid U.S. citizens have been rejected. Proposition 200 delays, if not denies, these citizens their rights. They bear Proposition 200’s unique and poorly-explained documentary burdens, which have stopped exactly zero actual vote fraud. It’s no skin off Pearce’s nose, but he presumably doesn’t care because only other people -- even though U.S. citizens -- get inconvenienced.

But the most shameful unintended consequence of Proposition 200 was borne by the weak, meek, and lame -- disabled citizens eligible for General Assistance, or GA. GA is a stopgap state program which gives disabled citizens all of $173 monthly to keep them alive while waiting to qualify for federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. GA is not only a last-gasp, temporary safety net program for the disabled, but the state usually recovers any GA benefits paid once the beneficiary qualifies for SSI.

Under Proposition 200, the disabled now must present an original birth certificate to get temporary benefits. The birth certificate requirement can be a deal-stopper for someone disabled and destitute who was born in another state. The Department of Economic Security does try to assist them with obtaining the required documents, but it takes time to process a check, and DES can’t control how long other states may take to provide certified copies. Far too often, GA applicants couldn’t get the documents in time, and Proposition 200 required rejecting their applications.

In other words, to stop two -- count ‘em, two -- illegal aliens from getting utility assistance, Proposition 200 delays or denies thousands of U.S. citizens their right to vote, and stopped disabled U.S. citizens from getting temporary GA help while awaiting SSI benefits. Those folks are, by definition, nonvoters and the poor and disabled. They lack the clout to protest Russell Peace scoring political points at their expense.

Thankfully, DES just announced changes their procedures to prevent unnecessary denials. When required documents don’t arrive during the 60-day application window, instead of denying the application, DES instead will defer any decision, and can pay retroactive benefits once the proper paperwork comes through.

But it wasn’t Rep. Pearce trying to make sure innocent citizens didn’t suffer from his ineffective law. The facts show that Proposition 200 does little good while hurting the most vulnerable and least politically active U.S. citizens.

Proposition 200 makes wonderful soundbites, but it’s what happens when the “Party of Lincoln” becomes the Party of Pearce: Government of the bullies, for the bullies, and by the bullies.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The World's Most Ineffective Government Program (brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Arizona Republican legislator)

This week's column is more Arizona political fun and games. I think based on the emails letters to the editor, I'll get another column out of it next week, too. The 'wingers love this stuff; if only there were gay marriages by illegal aliens, they'd be ecstatic.

I may ask people to join me in monitoring the polls in Rep. Pearce's home precinct for the 2006 election, so we can reject voters there who show up without the now-required forms of proof of citizenship and identity--and explain to them that their own state representative wanted to take away their right to cast a provisional ballot if their ID was challenged. It would serve them, and him, right.

The opening line wasn't in the column originally, but instead was a joke for my editor, who thought it was a better lede.

East Valley Tribune, June 12, 2005

If Prop. 200 were a government program--wait, Prop. 200 IS a government program!

State Rep. Russell Pearce is the proud author of a government program that works as promised between zero and 0.04 percent of the time. He’s so proud of that result that he’s considering running for higher office.

Apparently, failure is not merely an option; in certain East Valley ‘winger circles, it’s a prerequisite.

The government program with the astounding record of failure is Pearce’s Proposition 200. Pearce claimed that he had co-written a law that would stop vote fraud. And since Prop. 200’s voter registration mandates took effect, one-third of voter registration in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties have indeed been rejected for lacking the now-required documentation (an Arizona driver’s license issued after 1996, U.S. naturalization number, copy of a U.S. passport, birth certificate, or tribal card number.)

All that paperwork must be worth the hassle, right? Maybe you heard on the radio, or read on the Internet, that hordes of non-citizens were attempting to vote, so it must be true!

Wrong, photocopy breath. Of the more than 5,000 registrations rejected, the county recorders believe all are from U.S. citizens here legally. Not one was from an illegal alien. Zilch. Zippo. That’s zero percent, or in decimal terms, 0.00. When Russell Pearce dreams up a government program, “success” means catching no bad guys while hassling thousands of actual citizens.

To Pearce’s credit, Prop. 200 has resulted in the discovery of illegal aliens who applied for state-sponsored utility-bill assistance. Both of them were reported to the federal authorities. Yes, both -- a grand total of two.

Pearce and GOP National Committeeman Randy Pullen wrote this misbegotten law, but you’d never know they had any responsibility for it. Instead, all the problems are because Gov. Napolitano or Attorney General Goddard aren’t “interpreting” it correctly or “implementing” it sufficiently.

Of course, if their law needs “interpretation” and “implementation” or anything other than “strict construction,” then Pearce and Pullen needed better lawyers. If Pearce now complains about law enforcement wriggling out of enforcing his grand plan, then maybe he shouldn’t have written such a sodden legal mess with so much room to wriggle in the first place.

Normally, if you take credit as an author, then you take blame when what you wrote doesn’t work as you promised. But not Russell Pearce; he blames everybody else when the law he wrote doesn’t work. Pearce’s sense of responsibility is exactly as accurate as Prop. 200’s voter registration requirements. That is, it functions accurately zero percent of the time.

But if Pearce’s Prop. 200 has set the standard for effectiveness, I have an even better plan. Pearce proves that being “tough” only means sounding tough; the actual remedies can be completely ineffective as long as your soundbites work. So if Pearce’s program is zero percent effective, I guarantee my ideas can meet, or beat, Prop 200 -- with much less inconvenience to actual U.S. citizens.

First, let’s create a state Department of Illegal Alien Rhetoric. We’ll have an entire bureaucracy dreaming up tough-sounding slogans. Putting these slogans on billboards, or just asking people to concentrate about them while wearing tinfoil hats, will prove every bit as effective as Prop. 200’s new voter registration requirements. If zero’s the new standard, we can meet it.

Then the Department can give every Arizona voter a bumper sticker with an anti-illegal-immigration slogan. Every taxpayer gets a choice of irked, angry, furious, nuclear, and Limbaugh, just like ordering chicken wings. If bumper stickers on cars stops just 2 illegals, that’s just as effective as Prop. 200 -- and much less expensive.

The Legislature also can provide televisions with optional foreign-language blockers, which skip over the Spanish-language stations so you’ll never even know they’re there (unless some ‘winger’s dental fillings start receiving broadcasts). Having a state where people can English-only channel-surf will be every bit as effective as Prop. 200, without disenfranchising American citizens moving here from Illinois or California.

If Russell Pearce’s Prop. 200 sets the grading curve, I guarantee my plan gets an “A.” Zero percent: It’s not just a goal, it’s a platform.

Monday, June 06, 2005

An Immodest Proposal

If I wrote the headlines, that's what I would have called this column. However, my editor at The Tribune, knowing far better than I how poorly any literary allusion would go over with the usual readership, thought better. I was worried that irony hasn't quite made it off the DL, but felt better when the Governor herself called to say she got a good laugh over the column. That's better.

East Valley Tribune, June 5, 2005

Why let Fife Symington and J.D. Hayworth have all the fun being “potential candidates”? Having a column means I don’t need to float my name to a reporter, I just talk to myself. So with tongue firmly in cheek, here’s my trial balloon.

Yes, I’m “seriously considering” running against Janet Napolitano for the 2006 Democratic nomination for governor. We need “a choice, not an echo” -- and I’m no echo.

Democrats should recognize Napolitano’s two handicaps. First, she suffers from an Arizona political double standard. Symington wouldn’t let anyone get away with breaking a promise to have a 5-year sunset on a tax credit. In both politics and business, if there was double-crossing involved, Fife went first. He always cut it as close as possible to the line -- that is, if he wasn’t busy crossing it. Symington wouldn’t bother with a mere veto when he could commit fraud. Whatever, the GOP echo chamber called it “leadership”!

But when Napolitano stands her ground, the Republicans squeal like colicky infants. They’re used to hardball from guys, but when a woman does it, the whining reaches fighter-jet decibels. Do Democrats dare have a woman lead our state when it makes GOP legislators act so irrational and emotional?

Why else would people who blithely swallowed the fictions Symington concocted start complaining about Napolitano’s word? They just can’t handle a woman who knows more than they do, and until we elect a guy, they’ll just keep complaining. I’m the right gender for dealing with GOP legislators, and Janet isn’t.

Second, Napolitano is burdened by her lack of partisanship. She had a Republican co-chairing her transition team and has Republicans in her cabinet, including a former candidate for governor who heads the Department of Administration.

Whoever the Republicans get to run against Janet won’t bother with such niceties. Their candidate won’t have any Democrats in the campaign, or in the administration. A GOP governor wouldn’t keep any of Napolitano’s appointees, like she did with several of Gov. Jane Hull’s. Whomever the Republicans nominate won’t have to deal with anybody who doesn’t think exactly the same, and that’s so much easier.

Sure, people claim they don’t like partisanship, but that’s just not how the game is played anymore. It’s certainly not how it works at the Legislature, where Republicans won’t even let committees meet because Democrats sit on them. Yet Napolitano still thinks she can find common ground with people of goodwill, regardless of party registration. Not me. I’m incapable of a suspension of disbelief that huge, absolutely required when dealing with the GOP legislative leadership.

Finally, Democrats should nominate someone less moderate and mainstream than Napolitano. She’s let her experience in law enforcement and in seeking practical solutions keep her from what really matters in today’s politics -- ideology.

For too long, the Arizona GOP has kept moving farther and farther to the right, with even more extreme ideas, like privatizing Social Security, eliminating public schools, and policies that would make even more Americans lack health insurance. While Napolitano keeps focused on making progress on fixing Child Protective Services or providing all-day kindergarten, things which make a difference in some actual lives, she’s missing the real war, where ideologues battle by yelling soundbites past each other.

The Republicans keep pushing each other to greater extremes, and without somebody just as extreme and loud on the left, all a moderate, mainstream leader like Napolitano has is the truth. Anybody seeing how “junk science” is convincing people to doubt evolution, global warming, and stem-cell research merely through really loud misinformation knows that these days, truth just isn’t enough.

Maybe Arizona is better off with a moderate, mainstream governor who can work across party lines. But in an age of ideology, scandal, and irresponsibility, we simply can’t afford someone as reasonable and practical as Janet Napolitano

We need a loud, aggressive ideologue, who won’t let facts or truth hinder either volume or vehemence -- and that shouldn’t always mean a Republican.

So I’m considering becoming a candidate. I’m certainly not serious, but I’m considering. You heard it here first.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Welcome to the Responsibility Era

I'd bet less than 2% of the Republicans complaining about Gov. Napolitano not fixing illegal immigration could even name the guy who heads the U.S. Border Patrol. Notice the subtle Princess Bride reference?

East Valley Tribune, May 29, 2005

Is Arizona supposed to have its own foreign policy?

Maybe that’s what Republicans want. Apparently convinced that they won’t get anywhere in 2006 complaining about education, public safety, taxes, transportation, or other issues in which the state actually is involved, the GOP echo chamber instead complains that Gov. Janet Napolitano isn’t solving the illegal alien problem.

This whining is more uneducated than usual, because the law that makes aliens illegal is a federal one. The U.S. government, not the states, is responsible for the nation’s borders.

The U.S. Border Patrol, which is responsible for combating illegal entries and alien smuggling, is now part of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, headed by Commissioner Robert Bonner. CBP is part of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, led by Acting Deputy Secretary Randy Beardsworth. He in turn reports to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.

These guys have at least one thing in common; they were appointed by, and report to, the current President of the United States, George W. Bush. We need to remind Republicans of that fact, because they never recall it when discussing how well, or how poorly, the federal government performs.

If the border is out of control, or if illegal aliens are a huge problem, don’t look for solutions with 50 state governments. It’s a federal responsibility. Nobody should want border policy determined on a state-by-state basis, with Arizona doing one thing and New Mexico or California another.

Maybe Republicans (and Venters) find it tough enough to know how to spell “Napolitano,” but when it comes to the border, the names you actually need to know are Bonner, Beardsworth, Chertoff, and Bush.

If the executive branch isn’t getting the job done, then it should fall to Congress to provide oversight and resources. That would mean the GOP leadership in the House and Senate, and the Arizona congressional delegation. For those in Maricopa County burdened by illegal immigration, you wouldn’t want to address complaints to Napolitano until well after you’ve first tried to hold Sens. McCain and Kyl and Reps. Flake, Franks, Shadegg, Hayworth, and Pastor responsible.

Blaming Napolitano is a complement, however. All you ‘wingers are implicitly admitting that the Gov is intelligent, capable, and responsible, and someone voters would expect to solve a problem that is, and has been, well beyond the capacity of the Bush administration and our overwhelmingly Republican elected representatives in Washington.

The other way to put this is that nobody seriously expects George W. Bush to solve any serious problems, much less anything as difficult and controversial as immigration. Nice speeches, sure, but solving an actual problem? Inconceivable!

But perhaps there might be a way for Gov. Napolitano to get the border under control. The numbers keep changing, but as of six months ago, nearly 3,000 members of the Arizona Army National Guard and Arizona Air National Guard have been mobilized for duty in Iraq, deployments that can last up to 545 days.

Instead of sending them to Iraq, our GOP congressional delegation could pressure the Bush administration to let the Governor deploy those Arizona troops on the Arizona border. If the border’s in crisis and it’s the Governor’s job to fix it, then give her some troops to do the job. Bring our state’s National Guard back from Iraq so they can be deployed in Douglas, Nogales, Ajo, and Yuma!

Life (and governmental budgeting) is choices. The Bush administration and the GOP Congress must consider Iraq more important than security and immigration reform. When it comes to getting judges confirmed, or tax cuts for the rich, or blowing off the Kyoto accords, these guys know how to get things done. But when it comes to the border, they’re just not doing the job.

It’s not our state governor’s job to make up for the Bush administration’s failures. And if her critics were serious about border issues, they’d be pushing for employer sanctions and criticizing the federal officials actually responsible -- even if they’re also Republicans.

Talk is cheap. Blaming the governor for the federal government's failures is even cheaper.