After Rusty Bowers busted out a tune as the lone “singing senator” and a roast-and-toast by lobbyists Russ Smolden and Marty Shultz, I was under the impression that nothing about this year’s Legislative Wrap-Up would be serious.
But just when I began thinking Tuesday morning would be all comedy, Rep. Jack Brown gave a short farewell speech that sobered me right up – if not the entire crowd at the annual Greater Phoenix Chamber event.
Brown, a Democrat who will step down at the end of this year, told everyone that his main goal during 36 years in the Legislature was to show, by example, that Democrats and Republicans can work together for the good of the state. He said he always tried to steer down the “middle of the stream,” for which he was criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike.
To Democrats, Brown was far too conservative. To Republicans, he was still a Democrat.
To Brown, though, both sides are too entrenched. And the Legislature, he said, did a poor job of working together during the final stage of his long political career.
Then Brown made a truly insightful statement, though it might have sounded like blather to those who fail to recognize profundity when it’s disguised by simple terminology.
“We can all work together, if we work together,” Brown said.
Now, I grew up around plain-speaking ranchers and farmers who chose to shield their philosophical genius behind common language, but I’ll admit it took a few seconds for the meaning of Brown’s statement to sink in.
Brown, if he was long-winded instead of concise, may have explained it this way: The only thing keeping both parties from working together is the fact that they choose to work against each other. There is no impenetrable Great Divide that keeps them apart; it’s simply a choice.
The acrimony level is high in the political world these days, particularly in Arizona where Republicans and Democrats run screaming from each other every time someone mentions illegal immigration or health care. They say there’s no common ground on these issues, arguing that bipartisan consensus is impossible because the ideological gap has grown too wide.
The result of that kind of thinking, though, is a belief that one side – your side – is ultimately right about everything, while the other side is completely misinformed, fiendishly deceptive or plotting to destroy the very world we live in.
The political atmosphere has become so polluted that disagreement on any issue can be greeted with disgust, total animosity and wild accusations – there’s almost this “Why do you hate America?” mentality.
Fomenting that kind of divisiveness is good for political parties, bad for Arizona and the U.S.
The American Democracy was set up so that intelligent people with different ideas would be forced to work together. Instead, we’ve been electing dozens of lawmakers every year who wind up being useless, either through their own refusal to compromise or the majority’s refusal to validate any proposal outside of its agenda.
The growth of independent voters should be a wake-up call to lawmakers who live and breathe the party line. If the partisan disillusionment of nearly one in four Arizona voters doesn’t spell things out clearly enough, then the splits and factions within the parties should serve as a warning to lawmakers that their narrow definitions of good public policy might not be shared by those who do the electing around here.
I suppose the message voters are sending is so simple that, like Brown’s eloquence, it will be lost on the politicians who act as though cooperation is an idea concocted by simpletons who don’t understand the complexities of the state’s problems.