Three proposals to amend the Arizona Constitution will be heading to the 2010 ballot for voter consideration after gaining final approval from Republican lawmakers during a session dominated by the state’s financial crisis.
This session, lawmakers filed just short of 60 proposed referendums covering a wide variety of issues, including property tax evaluations, state spending limits and giving the state Senate the power to confirm or deny the appointment of judges.
Ultimately, only three measures – a proposal to ban affirmative action, another to ensure Arizonans the right to choose their own health care plans, and a proposal mandating the right to vote in secret on labor-union issues – endured the legislative process to a successful conclusion.
All three measures passed floor votes in the House and Senate without the help of a single Democrat, while two of the three proposals stemmed from failed ballot initiative efforts in 2008.
Affirmative action ban
On June 22, the Senate passed SCR1031 in a party-line vote that offers Arizona voters the ability to ban all government use of affirmative action. Last year, an identical ballot proposal dubbed the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative failed to secure enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
But the steward of the effort, former California Board of Regents Ward Connerly, appeared with supporters of this year’s referendum at a hastily convened press conference earlier this year that quickly resurrected last year’s bitter fight over affirmative action.
Connerly’s legislative efforts were led by Rep. Steve Montenegro, a freshman lawmaker from Litchfield Park, and Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa. Both introduced identical measures, although Pearce’s version was substituted in place of Montenegro’s on the Senate floor.
Montenegro, the only Hispanic Republican in the Legislature, said he objects to the use of racial- and gender-preference programs, declaring, “I’m appalled that my government thinks of me as a subclass.”
Other minority lawmakers were less enthusiastic. District 16 Democrat Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr., son of the state’s first black senator, vowed to oppose the measure and enlisted the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Greater Phoenix Black Chamber of Commerce.
Campbell said he believes that racial preference programs are necessary to counter the fact that blacks were “held back for 400 years” in the United States, while they have only been allotted “40 years to catch up.”
“Overall, it’s still not time to do it,” Campbell said, regarding a ban on affirmative action. “I don’t think the playing field has been leveled.”
The referendum frees Connerly from the expense of signature-collection efforts for a citizens’ ballot initiative and allows more money to be devoted to a campaign to pass the referendum.
“I don’t want to win by a squeaker,” said Connerly, who is seeking similar reforms in Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado, where opponents of preferential programs narrowly lost at the ballot in 2008.
Choice in Health Care
Senators voted on June 22 to put a referendum on the 2010 ballot that would change the state Constitution to allow Arizonans the freedom to purchase and provide health care services of their choice without penalty.
The referendum, carried by Republican Rep. Nancy Barto of Phoenix, comes in the wake the Medical Choice for Arizona ballot initiative, which was rejected by voters last year.
The measure, Prop. 101, was defeated by a razor-thin margin of less than 1 percent after facing opposition from Gov. Janet Napolitano, who said she was concerned the proposition would interfere with public health care programs.
In 2010, the outcome will be different, said Eric Novak, a Valley physician who spearheaded the initiative and supports the referendum.
Novak said previous concerns that the effort could hamper public health care services such as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System have been addressed.
“When people looked at it, they were looking for ground rules for health care reform to protect patients,” he said. “At the end of the day, Republicans in the Legislature felt that protecting basic rights of putting patients and their families in charge of health care decisions ahead of government and special interests was important enough to put in front of the people.”
But, Novak anticipates opposition to organize between now and the November 2010 election. He pointed out that all Democrats opposed the referendum.
In the final hours of the 2009 regular legislative session, House Republican lawmakers passed SCR1026, a referendum designed to thwart a federal proposal to implement what is known as “card-check” elections used to unionize business workforces.
The federal proposal, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, would do away with workforce organizing elections where workers cast their ballots in secrecy. The act mandates that a union would be formed if labor organizers secure the written approval of a majority of a business’ workers.
The state proposal, presented by Tucson Republican Sen. Jonathan Paton, would undercut the federal legislation by extending Arizonans’ right to secret-ballot elections to apply to organized labor.
The referendum supersedes an effort headed by Sidney Hay to gather signatures for a citizens’ initiative. Hay, the president of the Arizona Mining Association and a former candidate for Congress, said the referendum effort was kick-started by the federal legislation.
Legislators, she said, felt threatened enough by the Employee Free Choice Act to break an ‘unwritten rule’ against passing referendums in non-election years.
“The timing wasn’t set by us,” she said. “It was set by the Obama administration.”
Hay said the constitutional amendment is necessary to prevent the likelihood that card-check elections will invite the harassment or intimidation of employees by union officials and business owners seeking to influence elections.
Rebekah Friend, president of the Arizona AFL-CIO, said she viewed the legislative route as a sign that state residents were turned off by Hay’s Save Our Secret ballot initiative.
Friend said her union will mobilize voters to defeat the state proposal, and that she believed a federal law change would simply trump any state constitutional amendments.
“It’s really more of a statement against unions and collective bargaining rights and against the rights of workers,” she said, adding that passing the referendum was a misplaced priority during the state’s financial crisis.