Two words come to mind when I think of the centennial legislative session: lost opportunity.
The lack of true leadership demonstrated by the Arizona Legislature under a Republican supermajority and a Republican governor will hurt Arizona for years. In our centennial year, the Arizona Legislature had the opportunity to lay out a foundation for the future. Lawmakers could have put aside an extreme ideological agenda, left philosophical debates for another day and rolled up their sleeves to work in a bipartisan manner to move Arizona forward. But they didn’t.
What made Arizona great and a destination for hundreds of thousands of families was bold leadership from their elected officials, Democrats and Republicans working together. They had a vision of a stronger Arizona. Together they invested in public education, a strong university system, partnered with the federal government to build the Roosevelt Dam and the Central Arizona Project and worked together to protect our natural resources.
The Arizona Legislature was a source of pride and leadership where pragmatic leaders like Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rose to leadership roles within the Arizona Republican Party to reform the Arizona courts and the appointment of judges. The bipartisan solutions that created the state’s Medicaid system, efforts led by Democratic State Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez and Republican Burton Barr are now pipedreams given the current acrimonious climate.
Drunk with power, Republican legislators and Gov. Jan Brewer led an attack on women’s health, public employees, public education and Arizona’s middle class.
Republicans robbed $50 million from a fund for struggling Arizona families facing foreclosure to pay for private prisons beds. The gutting of
KidsCare is another example of this short-sighted arrogance. In a budget of billions of dollars, the Legislature refused to provide the $7 million needed to offer health care coverage for thousands of children. This would have been a tiny percentage of the overall budget. Republicans pushed narrowly crafted legislation that would have allowed guns on school campuses, employers to deny access to birth control and even introduced another “birther bill.” This is not leadership and it was not becoming of an Arizona centennial Legislature.
Democrats presented a common sense legislative package that reflects the real issues of Arizona’s families such as the economy, education and the well-being of our seniors and children. True leadership means putting Arizonans back to work and helping grow our economy. For starters, that can be accomplished by giving priority to local family-run businesses when awarding contracts and by lessening the tax burden of the middle class.
Finally, we must put an end to the practice of balancing the budget at the expense of public education. Too often, our children’s education has been jeopardized by overcrowded classrooms and out-of-date textbooks and computers. We need to stand firm and invest in education and workforce training so there are educated and well-trained workers to fill the new 21st century jobs.
Arizona Democrats presented a return to basics: invest in education, innovation, job creation, and the rebuilding of Arizona’s middle class.
The Washington Post recently described Arizona as having “the appearance of a banana republic that’s come unhinged under the influence of partisan fever.” The antidote to partisan fever is co-operation — something that requires strong leadership. We must stop having dead-end legislative sessions. Arizona Democrats will continue to present courageous ideas and solutions to move Arizona forward.
— Bill Roe is chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.