Monday, March 22, 2004

Who Counts in Arizona, Kids or Cows?

I'll bet you didn't know that in Arizona, livestock vitamins are tax-exempt but vitamins for kids (or adults) are not. If you knew our legislature, you'd understand.

I spoke at the Soroptimist event Thursday night, where I had about as much time to talk about women, leadership, and politics as it took to read my introduction (the MC did thankfully omit the honors I had won in junior high school). And I got a column out of it, too. The highlight of the evening, at least for me, was Chuck Coughlin telling me that I was too nasty to politicians, that the debate really needed to be elevated. Yeah, he actually said that. Good old Chuck "Let's Play Nice" Coughlin. Give me a break.

Newspaper version available here.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 21, 2004

Five Arizona legislators (four House members and one senator) attended Soroptimist International of Phoenix’s annual legislative dinner last week. It’s such a tasteful group that nobody mentioned party affiliation, but I was impolite enough to count four Republicans and one Democrat.

Speaking to any group like Soroptimist, a politician eventually utters the usual clichés about the importance of voting and of contacting your legislators. But unlike actual clichés, one of usual “truisms” we heard is an actual lie.

A GOP House member said that it’s important to respect others’ views, even if you disagree, because everybody’s equal at the Legislature, you’re just one of 60, and everybody has the same one vote.

But that’s just not true at our Legislature this year. In all of their references to House members working on the budget, the Republicans neglected to mention that none of the groups, committees, and meetings includes any Democrats. The House GOP leadership decided that House Democrats don’t count, and can’t participate in any budget negotiations.

Maybe all political animals are equal, but in the Arizona Legislature, some animals -- those with an R -- are more equal than others.

Sure, politics is winner-take-all, and the majority rules. But if the majority is going to exclude the minority completely, then please stop using platitudes that have nothing to do today’s partisan reality.

Anyway, the Soroptimists asked the legislators questions (and yes, every legislator had to respond to every question, whether or not anything different got said; it’s apparently a job qualification). They asked about all-day kindergarten and the state’s military bases. It was quite interesting how these legislators answered the two questions so differently.

When asked about all-day kindergarten, the Democratic House member from Tucson of course supported it, but the Republicans didn’t talk about education, but rather about money. They talked about the cost, the overall budget, capital versus M&O funding, and especially about how unfair voters have been in approving initiatives without specifying dedicated and specific funding sources. (Imagine voters thinking that the general fund should fund programs generally. The nerve!)

I especially enjoyed Sen. Thayer Verschoor (R-very far right Gilbert), fretting that any move to all-day kindergarten would divert precious resources from giving state employees long-overdue raises, or improving Child Protective Services, or for the underfunded court system.

Of course, in this reality Verschoor would never actually support any additional money for those things, but they were handy diversions to distract the audience from his opposition to all-day kindergarten.

But when asked about the military bases, the legislators’ style suddenly changed. The Republicans didn’t talk about the budget or the structural imbalance between revenues and programs. They talked about the importance of Luke AFB to the state’s future, how we needed a coordinated effort involving money, land use legislation, and cooperation among all levels of government.

Republicans actually will talk about need and investments in the future and finding money somehow -- when the issue is something important enough to them. They know how to find the wallet, if they have the will. They just don’t think all-day kindergarten, or kids generally, are important enough.

They’ll find resources for the military bases preservation efforts, or for tax cuts for particular favored industries, but they’ll moan ceaselessly about how much education costs and never get around to funding what’s needed.

Ever wonder why, in Arizona, vitamins for livestock are tax-exempt, but vitamins for kids are taxable? It’s because to the ruling Republicans, cattle and military bases are needs. Children and education -- those are costs.

If only our legislators cared as much about kids as they care about cows.

No comments: