Friday, June 23, 2006

Baseball and Politics Both Bravely Face the Past

It's not quite fish-wrapping time, but I'm now nearly 3 weeks behind in getting out my Tribune columns with family vacations and other obligations. The June 11 column was written the week that Gov. Napolitano broke Bruce Babbitt's record for legislative vetoes. I thought it should be headlined "115*" like the Roger Maris movie, but the editor wanted a more traditional (translation: less obscure) headline. The newspaper version is available here.

East Valley Tribune, June 11, 2006

I’m a traditionalist, so I think Gov. Janet Napolitano’s new record for vetoes should go into the books with an asterisk.

If former Gov. Bruce Babbitt must lose his title, there’s got to be some consistency in evaluating different performances in different eras. Just as much as baseball, politics is all about numbers. And people in politics obsess about the past (and pay as little attention to the future) as do baseball fans.

So before we retire the old record by Babbitt, the Babe Ruth of Arizona legislative vetoes, I’m going to make a plea for a modern-day Ford Frick to insist that Napolitano’s new record carry an asterisk.

Just as Frick insisted that Roger Maris would be recognized only for the most home runs during a 162-game season, leaving Ruth as the record-holder for a 154-game season, I think Napolitano’s record is tainted by the changes in the game since the 1980’s. (For non-baseball fans, there actually never was an "asterisk"; instead, Frick insisted on a separate category based on number of games, but only for home runs and not any other baseball records.)


Today’s Arizona Legislature bears even less relationship to the one Babbitt faced than baseball today resembles the sport before night games, relief pitchers, integration, and expansion. Today’s GOP legislative leadership is more like batting-practice pitchers than the game-worthy hurlers Babbitt faced. These guys today keep sending Napolitano the same bill time and again that she gets to veto repeatedly, fattening up her statistics.

The latest veto, on the so-called illegal immigration bill, combined three separate bills that she’d previously vetoed and that the Legislature couldn’t override. According to statistics kept by the Governor’s office, of her 115 vetoes, 26 involved the same bills passed multiple times. The Legislature has sent her the same appropriation-of-federal-funds bill that every other governor, both Republican and Democrat, has vetoed for the past 40 years -- but they’ve sent it to her five separate times.

It’s just not fair. Babbitt had to earn his record by vetoing different bills, one at a time; Napolitano breaks his record by getting to veto the same bill multiple times. The Legislature is just grooving the pitch here, so of course she can hit it out of the park. Why bother stealing signs or working the count when the pitcher has only one pitch -- and always in the same location, way off the right side of the plate?

No wonder she uses a veto stamp. With the Legislature just photocopying previously-vetoed bills and passing them again, nobody would waste time developing original ways to crush the same pitch.


Actually, the current legislature isn’t a bunch of batting practice pitchers; they’re more like pitching machines, with about the same creativity and pitch selection abilities.

The GOP legislative leadership is confusing what’s popular in their little circle of like-minded ideologues with what’s popular in the state as a whole. All the polling data show Napolitano’s approval ratings as way higher than the Legislature’s. So naturally the Legislature keeps doing what they’ve been doing while their numbers fall and Napolitano’s rise, in hopes that this time -- or the next time, or the time after that -- when they try this maneuver yet again, the results will somehow be different.

The GOP message on the most recent veto is a bit muddled, too. The prime argument legislators make is that while immigration is a federal responsibility, we can’t wait for the federal government to get its act together. This is a potentially powerful argument, because voters are beginning to recognize that depending on people like George W. Bush or Sen. Jon Kyl to make government work effectively is a pretty crummy bet. But do Arizona Republicans really want their rallying cry to be based on the belief that Republicans in DC are incompetent and corrupt?

If so, can we Democrats agree?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Illegal Immigration: Facts? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Facts!

I put off "the center hasn't vanished; it's just stretched all out of recognition" column for a week to deal with the Arizona legislature's immigration bill.

East Valley Tribune, June 4, 2006

The Arizona Legislature’s illegal immigration bill is a big, fat fake, way beyond the usual veto bait. It’s dishonest malarkey -- and with legislation, that’s saying something.

The Arizona Republicans talking loudest on illegal immigration used bad data to create a stinking morass of blame-shifting bad policy. They pretended to take the tactic that most observers, on both left and right, think would reduce incentives for illegal immigration -- employer sanctions -- and made them more cumbersome, less effective, and more expensive. Instead of employer sanctions, they’ve offered employer amnesty.


If you wanted to pretend to solve a problem while keeping it alive to rally your political base (for this fall’s election, anyway; good luck, guys, once demographic trends creep past your narrow little world), you couldn’t do better than HB 2577.

There’s a wonderfully bizarre quality to the immigration debate in Arizona, where the people most upset have been here less than the migrants. Also, much of the anger depends on urban legends.

Like the magic "50,000" statistic, the illegal immigration debate recycles factoids that just aren’t true. The 50,000 number is "magic" because nobody can kill it; it keeps reappearing. In the 1980’s, it was claimed that 50,000 kids were abducted by strangers every year. But research a decade later showed that the real number no more than 300, and maybe as low as 2.

As NPR’s "On the Media" reported last month, both NBC’s "Dateline" and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that there were "50,000 predators prowling for children online," but nobody can find a source for the number, either. Somebody’s off-the-cuff inflated estimate appears in the media, then gets quoted by politicians, and becomes accepted through repetition.

Much of what anti-immigrant leader Russell Pearce says -- that 80 percent of violent crime involves illegals, or that they represent one-third of federal prisoners, or that 90 percent of all outstanding homicide arrest warrants in Los Angeles involve aliens -- is similarly bogus. Nobody involved can find a study that backs them up, other than media reports that simply repeat the claims credulously. It’s today’s version of the "50,000 people sacrificed annually by satanic cults" or the "$20 billion child porn industry."

But accuracy isn’t a problem for Arizona’s GOP Legislature. Sure, they say, Pearce’s numbers may be wrong, but we don’t need correct ones. We know there’s a problem. This is somewhat ironic coming from people who reject evolution and the scientific consensus on global warming with calls for better data. But with immigration, it’s politically convenient to fire first, then aim.


And best example of no aim, no gain in HB 2577 is the so-called "employer sanctions" provisions. Even conservative pundits agree that employer sanctions are the most effective way to reduce the incentives for illegal immigration. One went so far as to call the proposal by state Attorney General Terry Goddard and Democratic Sen. Bill Brotherton as the "litmus test of getting serious about illegal immigration." Everything else, he said, is "political eyewash" -- which includes the GOP bill’s claims of increasing employer penalties.

Instead, the Arizona GOP bill gives employers hiring illegal aliens a free ride, with no employer responsibility. So long as nobody accepts a dreaded consular card as ID, the employer can hire away, then wait around for the attorney general to get a court order. The employer then can fire the illegal and get off scot-free. There’s no downside to hiring illegals. Only habitual, knowing offenders face those superficially tough penalties. And the AG is given the grand total of $2 million -- that’s less than 1 cent per Arizona private-sector employee -- to uncover employed illegals.

Worse, the GOP gives employers three separate promises of indemnification, including attorneys’ fees, even if the employers violated the law. It’s better than amnesty; it’s amnesty with a free lawyer, too (an estimated annual value of $96 million -- such a deal!)

It’s fake enforcement and sound-bite legislation, designed by people who want incompetent government, and it’ll make matters worse. And it’s all to get these guys through a GOP primary. The bill doesn’t make any sense otherwise.