Monday, November 27, 2006

The Annual Ask (The Now-Traditional Tax Credit Column)

It's my Thanksgiving weekend special "evergreen" column, urging Arizona taxpayers to take advantage of our unusual brew of state income tax credits that allow you to make donations and receive the same amount back in a tax credit. It's philanthropy on the cheap, and I keep urging people to practice in hopes that it creates the learned behavior of philanthropy even when it isn't free.

The newspaper version of the column is available, for the next two weeks, here. And just so you know, not only will we be writing our usual checks to Devereux, the Family School, and the Clean Elections Fund, but I've got my appointment to give blood on Thursday. Cookies without guilt, too.

Holiday Greetings from State Tax Code
East Valley Tribune, Nov. 26, 2006

Each year around this time, this column reminds readers of Arizona’s surprisingly numerous ways to be generous for free. It’s a strange "generosity" that costs nothing, and like much recent legislation, you first must have money to benefit.

In addition to having cash to spare for a few months, you also must itemize deductions, and sometimes the Alternative Minimum Tax affects your results. But if you qualify and make contributions, you get dollar-for-dollar credits against your state income taxes, with your federal taxes unaffected by swapping a state tax deduction for charitable ones. And for 2006, the credit amounts for married taxpayers have increased again.

There’s a "reverse Robin Hood" aspect to income tax credits, because better-off taxpayers can take advantage, while those just getting by can’t. But that’s the way it is, so if you can, whoosh yourself through several Arizona tax loopholes before Dec. 31.


First, contribute to a "private school tuition organization" this year, and become eligible for an Arizona income tax credit in April. The credit limit is now $500 for individuals and $1,000 for married couples.

There are dozens of PSTOs in Arizona, but please consider writing your check to Schools With Heart, 1131 E. Highland, Phoenix, AZ 85014; designate your check for the Family School, a unique, progressive school serving children from diverse backgrounds.

Second, taxpayers also can donate to public schools -- although this being Arizona, of course it’s smaller than the private school credit. Single taxpayers can give and get back up to $200, while the limit for married taxpayers is now $400. You must write the check directly to the school, not to a PTO or foundation.

So contribute to the schools in the Isaac School District, 3348 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ 85009, or click here, or call (602) 455-6700. Inner-city Isaac gets only a fraction of the donations given to wealthier suburban districts while facing far greater challenges, with more than 90 percent of its students at or below poverty level and about two-thirds in non-English-speaking homes. Please make Arizona school finance slightly less perverse by contributing to Isaac’s schools, at no net cost to you.

Third, donations to charities assisting low-income residents can get another tax credit, if your gift is above your "baseline" charitable giving (what you gave to charity in 1996, or the first year you itemized). This credit amounts to $200 for single taxpayers and $400 for couples.

As a board trustee, I strongly urge you to make a free contribution to Devereux Arizona, part of the nation’s largest nonprofit behavioral health service provider. Devereux serves children in Arizona in foster care and residential programs, many of whom come from abusive or neglectful homes; that’s why they need foster care. Devereux’s "My Little Stocking" fund pays for holiday gifts for children who otherwise won’t get any. Send your check to Devereux at 11000 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 260, Scottsdale, AZ 85254, click here, or call (480) 998-2920 ext. 1023.

Fourth, you can help fund Arizona’s system of publicly-financed elections and take the place of lobbyists and political fundraisers, at no cost to you. These limits are surprisingly high; $550 for individuals and $1,100 for couples, or up to 20% of your total state tax liability, whichever is more. Send your check to the Citizens Clean Election Fund at 1616 W. Adams, Suite 110, Phoenix, AZ 85007.


Finally, I always close by urging donations of something else that won’t cost anything -- blood. The holidays always seem to stretch blood supplies, so it’s a perfect time to schedule a donation. You can call United Blood Services at (602) 431-9500, or make an appointment online.

Don’t let December 31 come without having taken as much advantage as you can of Arizona’s unusually broad menu of loopholes and credits. Use misguided public policy to help make our community a slightly better place, at no cost to you. And maybe you’ll get into the habit of giving even when you don’t get a tax credit.

Monday, November 20, 2006

It's All Over Including The Shouting

The Maricopa County Recorder finished with the last ballots on Sunday afternoon, and while the percentages between Mitchell and Hayworth narrowed (by 0.2 percent), the number of votes separating them increased to over 8,000. But because Hayworth refused to concede for so long, his congressional office in Washington wasn't made available in the office lottery -- and Harry inherits it. So as a freshman, he gets a Rayburn office with a view of the Capitol dome, and assuming reelection in 2008, he has to move to a much less nice office; but for now, he has quite the DC spread.

Of course, now that the last vote's been counted, Harry will have to declare victory, and the gloating season officially ends. Darn. I was really enjoying gloating.

In the state legislature, the D's picked up one seat in the Senate and 6 in the House--and the 1 in the Senate is a big one, because we also swapped a squishy D for a strong one, and in the seat we picked up, we traded a squishy R who usually voted the right way, but it was always a pain-in-the-butt struggle, for a strong D as well. It's only a one-vote swing but it's a LOT less work for the good guys. And in the House, the D's have enough numbers now to have some fun if there aren't enough R's on the floor. Onward and upward.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 19, 2006

Sometimes free advice is worth even less than what you paid for it, especially when it comes from people with a strong interest in your failure. So lots of conservatives are racing to explain to Democrats why we won and what we need to do now that we’ve won -- and we’d be nuts to listen.

These same people told us that after losing the popular vote in 2000, George Bush would have to govern from the center and find bipartisan cooperation if he hoped to succeed, and we know how that worked out. These folks also said after 2004 that Democrats were doomed by gerrymandered districts, the GOP’s fundraising edge, and the Republicans’ top secret early voting and get-out-the-vote efforts, the tactics that led to Harry Mitchell actually increasing his lead over J.D. Hayworth. They also predicted that the Republicans would win a veto-proof margin in the Arizona Legislature so they’d finally be able to show Janet "63 percent" Napolitano exactly who was boss.

There’s a bit of irony in people who have been so spectacularly wrong in the past getting to make such fresh, new predictions that, when reduced to their essence, translate into "I was right all along" -- despite what the scoreboard says. Apparently, as a pundit, you spin the failure of your predictions as confirmation of your wisdom.

So we have the effort to pretend that the incoming Congress is somehow more conservative than this one, because both moderate and conservative Democrats won and supposedly only moderate Republicans lost. This fallacious argument is a tougher sell in Arizona than elsewhere, because it takes world-class spinning to pretend that new District 8 Rep.-elect Gabrielle Giffords is more conservative than Randy Graf and that Mitchell is more conservative than Hayworth. (If you define "conservative" as "less obnoxious," then maybe, but otherwise forget it.)

It also requires ignoring that a lot of what happens in Washington isn’t ideological, but rather personal and institutional. Lots of people outside the House Democratic caucus were hyperventilating over the contest for majority leader between Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., as a battle for the Democratic Party’s soul between moderates and fire-breathing liberals. Murtha was the great liberal champion, yet he’s a decorated Marine Corps vet, a committed hawk, and a pro-life Catholic. Never mind "litmus tests," what are the odds that Republicans would seriously entertain making a pro-choice politician one of their key legislative leaders?

Even more absurd are the explanations of Republican defeat that manage to mention all sorts of issues, missteps, and scandals that plagued the GOP, except one itty-bitty problem: Iraq. Isn’t it remarkable how the "central front in the War on Terror" is suddenly no longer worth talking about? Before the election, the war was supposedly the most important part of the supposedly most important issue, but now it’s not worth even a mention in the post-election post-mortems.

I realize we’re patiently waiting for the wise men on the Baker-Hamilton Commission to come up with a bipartisan fog of plausible deniability for everyone with any responsibility for the war, but the unwillingness of Republicans to mention Iraq at all is deafening. They’re already excited about the next war against Iran, apparently -- with their plan for Iran resembling the planning for post-war Iraq, where we went in with the first two soundbites and thought we’d wing it from there.

Then there’s the "conservatism hasn’t lost, conservatism hasn’t been tried" trope. I look forward to Republicans going to the American people for support for "real" right-wing ideas, like Social Security privatization, rolling back environmental protections, and convincing people who haven’t gotten tax cuts that we need to give renewed tax cuts to those that got them already. These people think Republicans lost because what Americans really wanted was, yes, "uncompassionate conservatism."

On behalf of those Democrats elected this month, here’s my worth-less-than-its-cost advice for Republicans: Please, please, please be even more conservative -- and thank you for your support.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

AZ GOP Kremlinology

What on earth does this paragraph in Billy House's story in Saturday's Arizona Republic mean?
Shadegg would not say so Friday, but his efforts to defeat Blunt may have been hindered by fellow Arizona GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is steamed over his defeat last week by Democrat Harry Mitchell.

In angry comments to fellow House Republicans this week in Washington, Hayworth has been pointing to what he views as involvement by Shadegg and fellow Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake in negative pre-election depictions of him and other Republicans in some media.

Hayworth was not available for comment for this story.

"Involvement" in "negative pre-election depictions"? Are we still arguing about the Republic's endorsement of Mitchell editorial, or does Hayworth see any talk of "reform" or "principles" by Republicans as implicit criticism of him? No wonder the House Republicans reacted to talk about change by electing the same old guys. UPDATE: It wasn't the editorial, but rather The Wall Street Journal front-page article published on Nov. 3. Here's the Shadegg source-greaser that ran in today's paper.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

That Even The Blind Shall See

After the ballots counted today, Harry Mitchell has a larger lead than he did on election night. His margin has increased by 544 votes, to over 6,000 votes--6,499 to be precise. There are probably 20,000 ballots left to count in CD 5, but they are (as were today's count) apparently ballots cast closer to election day, after independents and marginal R's had started breaking for Mitchell. He's doing better than Hayworth did among those voters than Hayworth did with the earlier uncounted early ballots that couldn't be processed before counting stopped election night.

This result was pretty obvious to people who understand this stuff last week, but with these new numbers, maybe even the willfully obstinate will have to wake up and smell the coffee.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Fall of America's Most Obnoxious Congressman

You can hum the lede to this week's column, if you want, or listen through the links below. Plus, a special bonus Pennypacker Hall reference, for those of you who knew me when.

Updates on my service as co-chair of Rep.-elect Mitchell's transition team are available here, here, and here. The streaming video of election night analysis on Horizon is available through this page; the transcript isn't available yet, but you can watch us discuss developing a new measurement unit for political vitriol, the Hayworth Standard Unit (as in, "That mailer was so negative, it was 8.3 Hayworths.")

They've counted about half of the outstanding ballots in Maricopa County, only about 22% of which are from District 5 (updates here), and it's affected the 6,000 vote election-day margin by all of 500 votes. So it's all over but the very tail end of the counting, but Hayworth (despite his bluster in 1996--apparently that only applies to other people, not to him) won't concede until the last vote is counted. Hopefully by then, he's very, very, very old news.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 12, 2006

How was your Election Day? As Cole Porter might have written, mine was J.D.-lightful, J.D.-licious, and J.D.-lovely.

I'm enjoying watching Republicans spend maybe 30 seconds in introspection before blaming everybody else for last Tuesday's historic loss. Moderates say the GOP needs to be more moderate, while conservatives blame insufficient conservatism. Neo-conservatives call intervening in the Terry Schiavo case was a huge liability, while theo-cons say they didn't invent the neo-cons' Iraq quagmire.

Nobody likes Dennis Hastert anymore, and if Bill Frist hadn't retired, he'd be even less popular than Trent Lott. And if Karl Rove is such a genius, why were resources sent into Senate races in Michigan, New Jersey, and Maryland that might have made the difference in Montana or Virginia?

Candidates fault the Bush administration for a deeply unpopular and failed war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration anonymously blames the candidates for not going negative enough -- like you really needed to see more negative ads -- and for not sticking up for the administration's deeply unpopular and failed war in Iraq.

How many defeated Republicans watched Bush fire Rumsfeld the day after, wondering why that didn't happen months ago, when it might have helped? Contributors to soon-to-be-ex-Representative Hayworth, watching him affect an air of reasonableness and humility while waiting for all of the votes to be counted, must wonder why he didn't try that particular act during the campaign.

Some Republicans blame the other daily newspaper's endorsement of Harry Mitchell with Hayworth's historic loss. They're outraged! Hayworth, a bully? Who ever could think that?

Who? The Tribune for starters, which called Hayworth "bombastic," "boorish," and "an affront to his colleagues, an embarrassment for Arizona." (That was in 1996, before the editorial page went to libertarian re-education camp and joined the crusade to eliminate taxes on inherited wealth faced by, for example, the current owners of this newspaper.)

The National Republican Campaign Committee doesn't blame editorials; they've called Hayworth's defeat "self-inflicted." The NRCC isn't waiting for the counting of the last vote -- and ten years ago, neither did Hayworth.

In 1996, Hayworth's margin the morning after the election was only 590 votes. Hayworth declared victory anyway, not waiting for his opponent's concession, and spent the days needed to finish counting absentee and provisional ballots complaining loudly about any delay in confirming his victory.

While Hayworth admitted it was "theoretically not impossible" for his opponent to make up the difference, he said it was "so highly unlikely as to be akin to saying that the sun will not rise tomorrow morning." Mitchell's margin may shrink some in the final count, but he starts out with ten times the spread Hayworth had when he vociferously demanded that Steve Owens, his 1996 opponent, concede immediately.

Patiently counting every last vote wasn't important in 1996, because it wouldn't benefit Hayworth. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, so J.D. insists we wait until no possible combination of sunspots, Ouija boards, and incense could reverse the voters' judgment that after 12 years of Hayworth's ABC's (Abramoff, Bombast, and Corruption), enough was enough.

Residents of District 5 are lucky, however, because Harry Mitchell is now the most popular Democrat in Washington. In abject gratitude, the new Democratic majority will let Harry write his own ticket -- committee assignments, leadership opportunities -- as his reward for defeating America's Most Obnoxious Congressman.

There's a historic precedent, too. In 1980, GOP Rep. John LeBoutillier (not merely a college classmate, we lived in the same freshman dorm) got elected to the House, and decided to be as insufferable as possible to then-Speaker Tip O'Neill (calling him "big, fat, and out of control" -- like the federal government.) Two years later, Democrat Bob Mrazek defeated LeBoutillier, and O'Neill's gratitude made Mrazek not just a faceless backbencher, but a member of the Appropriations Committee as a freshman.

Harry Mitchell is 66, and he's already done more for his community than a dozen other people. But as long as he still wants to serve, he'll have some very grateful friends in Washington -- in the majority, too -- to help him do a very good job.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Here In Arizona, We Are J-D-Lighted

Because you can't check the results page too often in the CD-5 race, it's here. Best reaction quote? "Oh, how I'll miss the red face, the hair slicked back with sweat, the epic gasbaggery."

Harry Mitchell is now the most popular Democrat in DC.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Running and Spinning

It's quiet out there. Too quiet. And watch it take days until final votes are tallied in several key races. But no matter, I need to be ready to spin like a pro by 8:30 pm MST on Tuesday evening, when I'm part of the Horizon (Channel 8, PBS in Phoenix/Tempe) 4-person election panel. It was going to be me and two Republicans, one a lobbyist and the other a columnist, but I said forget about that. Eventually, the producer relented and we have a less conservative columnist joining the panel now. A small victory for balance. And that's PBS! Sheesh.

For those in Phoenix, Michael J. Fox is appearing at a get-out-the-vote rally at 4:30 pm this afternoon to support Jim Pederson and Harry Mitchell. It's at the Fiesta Inn at 2100 S. Priest Drive, the southwest corner of Broadway and Priest, in Tempe. Let me know if you want a copy of the flyer for the event but that's basically all it says.

Finally, a new PR at Sunday's Phoenix YMCA Half Marathon, 1:50:59. Couldn't manage to break 1:50 on a course with a 2-mile uphill grade at the finish, but that's over a minute and a half better than my previous best, an 8:29 pace, and a nice waystation for my Rock-n-Roll Marathon training. The vendor has posted two photos here; of course, as a guy, I'm busy playing with my watch, which I don't really understand how to operate and which I can't really read anymore without reading glasses, as soon as I crossed the finish line.
John Steinbeck Predicts Immigration As Campaign Issue

This week's column is a bit coded for those not following the races closely, but the Sunday before the election it's bad form to mention a candidate by name because he/she doesn't have a chance to respond. So the GOP incumbent recently cut loose by the otherwise-GOP-friendly Arizona Republic was J.D. Hayworth. If he loses, it's a wonderful day in Arizona and America, and Harry Mitchell becomes the most popular man in the House Democratic caucus. I thought "bluster" was a solid tip-off to those who needed to know the names involved. My suggested title, admittedly weak, is above but the editor didn't do all that much better. The Richard Rodriguez column I credit is well worth reading.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 5, 2006

One of the biggest surprises this election season was the other daily newspaper abandoning a long-time GOP incumbent after five consecutive endorsements and instead endorsing his opponent. The paper claimed it hadn’t changed, but the incumbent had.

Surprisingly, there’s actually something to that claim. In 2004, basically the entire Arizona GOP congressional delegation opposed Proposition 200, the so-called “Protect Arizona Now” initiative that does nothing about absentee voting fraud but makes going to the polls a painstaking exercise in document reconstruction.

This was back when Republicans thought they could compete for the Hispanic vote, which lasted until the polls closed on November 2, 2004, and Prop. 200 passed. Seeing a roiling wave of anger over immigration building on talk radio and in the usual ‘winger hangouts, Republicans soon abandoned their Hispanic outreach program to jump in front of that particular parade. You never hear about all those incumbents having opposed Prop. 200 back in 2004; it’s been drowned out by their latest bluster over immigration.

We’ll see Tuesday who and what really has changed, so instead of the political implications, let’s discuss the cultural ones.

Much of today’s immigration debate is totally anti-historical, part of a natural inclination to think that we and our problems are completely unique. But despite all we say about our openness to new ideas and people, Americans have never been completely at ease with change while it’s occurring.

Benjamin Franklin complained in the 1750’s about those German immigrants with their languages and complexions different than “real” Americans. And the CATO Institute’s Richard Rodriguez pointed out that we demonize even other Americans when sufficiently threatened, recalling the moral outrage against folks from other states in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and of the soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man must do before he fights. They said, These goddamned Okies are dirty and ignorant. They’re degenerate, sexual maniacs. These goddamned Okies are thieves. They’ll steal anything. They’ve got no sense of property rights.

And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership? And the defending people said, They bring disease, they’re filthy. We can’t have them in the schools. They’re strangers. How’d you like to have your sister go out with one of ‘em?

The local people whipped themselves into a mold of cruelty. Then they formed units, squads, and armed them -- armed them with clubs, with gas, with guns. We own the country. We can’t let these Okies get out of hand. And the men who were armed did not own the land, but they thought they did. And the clerks who drilled at night owned nothing, and the little storekeepers possessed only a drawerful of debts. But even a debt is something, even a job is something. The clerk thought, I get fifteen dollars a week. S’pose a goddamn Okie would work for twelve? And the little storekeeper thought, How could I compete with a debtless man?

Rodriguez points out one (of many) little contradictions inherent in our vision of ourselves as Americans. We live in the New World, far from “Old Europe” and we constantly denigrate all ideas not invented here. We don’t want French healthcare, Swedish socialism, or German labor unions. But children and grandchildren of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Russia are now outraged that America isn’t like some distant colony of England.

Even England isn’t like that mythical England -- and America never was. That would be the ultimate tragedy of all this misplaced anger, if Americans become more nostalgic than the British for a romanticized version of a past that never actually existed. Now that would be un-American.