Is it possible that Russell Pearce has a (gasp!) latent liberal side?
A man known for his unswerving devotion to individual freedoms, the Arizona Senate president is showing that he can, under certain circumstances, embrace a bit of the nanny state and adopt a little of the collective-bargaining mentality.
Why, he is even sympathizing with the biggest Democrat of them all, Thomas Jefferson.
Pearce did all of the above with his recent decree that a journalist may interview a senator on the floor of the Senate only if that senator invites the journalist to do so. The reason for the policy, Pearce said, is to avoid having senators “ambushed” by reporters.
Of course, the policy is silly, although the Senate’s security staff has devised a system that allows reporters to pass senators notes asking for post-session interviews. Note-passing is a noble tradition carried on in elementary school classrooms across the country, so I don’t object to it, although as the interim editor of the Arizona Capitol Times, I am required to deplore any restriction on the press.
My ardent hope is that, by the time this column is published, Pearce will rethink and revise the restriction.
But before I get into full-deplore mode, I want to thank Senator Pearce for the compliment he is paying our reporters. His fear that senators will be ambushed by reporters is a clear concession that reporters are smarter than senators.
After all, most interviews start with a reporter’s asking: “Senator, can you explain further the argument you were making in the debate? I’m not sure I followed it.”
Such a profoundly probing question apparently can flummox an Arizona state senator into thinking he or she had been “ambushed.”
It is refreshing to hear Pearce acknowledge that journalists have such intellectual power over the cream of the state’s elected officials.
Refreshing, too, is that Pearce has defined the apparently acceptable Republican version of the nanny state: He is protecting his people, who clearly cannot be trusted to answer questions in their best interest.
And then there’s the collective-bargaining thing. Many conservative politicians resent that leaders of labor unions are allowed to make political decisions that may not coincide with the wishes of the entire membership of a union. Such leaders, some critics say, are abusing their authority.
But Pearce, obviously, feels some kinship with those union leaders. His policy apparently covers all senators, even those who do not agree with Pearce about being “ambushed.”
And speaking of ambushes, Jefferson, when he served as secretary of state under President George Washington, had to endure constant sniping from the newspapers allied with the federalists (small “f,” as the federalists of the day and their republican rivals were not members of formal political parties).
(Historical note: Back in the early days of the nation, Jefferson was a small “r” republican, but many decades ago, the opportunistic Democratic Party painted him blue and propped him up as a liberal deity.)
At one point, an exasperated Jefferson declared, “Were I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers, it would be more than all my own time, and that of twenty aid(e)s could effect.”
Translation: He was tired of being ambushed.
To counter all those “calumnies,” Jefferson and some of his republican pals started their own newspaper, a move Pearce has stopped short of proposing.
Apparently, he first wants to try insulating his colleagues.
Pearce’s restriction will require the extremely dedicated journalists of the Arizona Capitol Times to work harder, but hey, reporters are accustomed to challenges.
However, I invite every senator, including Pearce, to issue to our reporters a blanket invitation to step forward and ask questions at any time.
What baffles me about the restriction is that Pearce himself is a sterling example of a senator who has nothing at all to fear from any reporter. He answers questions directly, even when he knows his candor will inflame the emotions of those who disagree with him. Certainly, his words and his actions sometimes prompt reporters to ask aggressive questions, but nearly 100 percent of the time, he has answers that he proudly stands behind.
He just can’t trust the other senators to give answers that he proudly stands behind.
— Jim Stasiowski, the writing coach for The Dolan Company, is the interim editor of the Arizona Capitol Times.