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Lobbyists helped kill a popular science education bill

According to 2007 and 2013 Gallup polls, lobbying is the most despised profession. Lobbyists are ranked below lawyers, used car salesmen, and even politicians. While generally despised, lobbyists are perhaps still not loathed as much as they should be. The typical citizen probably thinks of lobbyists as somewhat shady characters lurking about the halls of government offering free lunches and campaign contributions. On occasion, a lobbyist will cross the line and attempt to buy an important vote directly. Then, there is a flurry of news stories about the scandal, after which lobbyists quietly go back to their dirty business. If citizens fully understood the current role of lobbyists in government, they would probably despise lobbyists even more than they do.

Lobbyists are not just promoting special interests around the edges of government. They are actually embedded in government. They participate in the functions of government in every way possible, from helping politicians get elected to advising and manipulating them once elected. Lobbyists actually participate in the legislative and administrative processes and sometimes even write bills.

The problem can become particularly acute in states, such as Arizona, that have term limits. Under those circumstances, the senators, representatives and governors come and go, but the lobbyists stay. There is no term limit on lobbying, and lobbyists can collectively become a shadow government that chooses candidates, gets them elected, and manipulates them once in office. Outnumbering legislatures by over 30 to 1, they can overwhelm the legislative process. Eventually, they can obstruct the will of the people as they choose.

In 2015, Arizona Senate Bill 1200 provided an unfortunate example. The budget neutral bill had broad public support because it would have restored a popular K-12 science education program at absolutely no additional cost to taxpayers. All it did was transfer existing resources from a state agency that was wasting them to one that was willing and able to use them productively. Citizens contacted their senators and representatives supporting the bill, and the Legislature responded to the will of the people. SB1200 received 83 yes votes out of a possible 90. There were only 5 no votes, and 2 absences. A senator not able to be present for the vote was a strong supporter, so there were only a maximum of six legislators out of 90 that opposed the bill. Concerned citizens also communicated with the Governor’s Office in support of the bill. There were 1,376 communications in support of the bill and only 5 against.

In spite of the obvious will of the people, SB1200 was vetoed. Lobbyists with access to the governor’s staff were able to kill the bill. They prefer an alternate use for the state resources involved. They want a reception center for lobbyists and politicians rather than a K-12 science education program.

SB1200 was very minor bill relative to the overall scope of state government. How many major bills do lobbyists kill as they override the will of the people and subvert the basic functions of democracy?

– Dick Zimmermann lives in Tempe.

7 comments

  1. The Mineral Museum closure has been a travesty from the start. And finally with a chance to be fixed, stopped by lobbyists, very sad!

  2. Zimmermanns letter should be a wake up call to the taxpayers of the State of Arizona. They are costing us money that we don’t have.
    This museum closing is a prime example. The Arizona Historical Society has destroyed a really unique museum that tells a great story about the history of Arizona. And to add insult to injury, my tax dollar is paying a museum curator over $65,000.00 a year to sit in an empty building.
    What should be made to happen is that the AHS should be made to return every item they took from that building and put it back in the building. Then let a knowledgeable curator, assisted by the many volunteers who so successfully operated the museum for so many years, re assemble the museum. The money needed should be taken from the AHS budget

  3. It is such a shame that our elected officials who are supposed to do the will of the people they represent look after themselves first and their constituents as an afterthought. Clearly, this was a bill that both houses supported (and how often does that happen?) and the people wanted the museum restored. I am glad that Governor Ducey is working on getting high tech business to move here and created higher paying jobs for the people of Arizona, but if there isn’t an educated workforce to apply for those jobs, it is just a waste of the taxpayers money.

  4. The unfortunate veto of SB1200 provides Arizona students with a teachable moment on civics and political reality. While we claim to have a representative democracy, what we have in reality is a government of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists, and for the lobbyists and the special interests for whom they are employed. The powers vested by the Constitution have simply become commodities to be bought and sold under the guise of free speech, while state statutes can simply be ignored if they are inconvenient for the lobbyist’s organization. The lobbyist, who made a mockery of the sunrise review process, now extends this contempt to the State Legislature and to Arizona citizens. The 83 yes votes of the possible 90 votes of the Legislature didn’t matter. The 1,376 communications in support of SB1200 versus only 5 against didn’t matter. What really mattered was at least $10,910 to $0 – the lobbyist and spouse directly contributed $9,680 to the Governor’s campaign along with $1,230 towards the Governor’s Chief of Staff’s unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress. Undoubtedly, the final tally was even more one sided against SB1200 since no politician would intervene for a such small drop in the vast ocean of dark money.

    The Governor has shown that he is all about business, and with politics, just like any other business, money talks and everything else can take a walk! A government run by lobbyists where the greater amount of cash trumps the greater good, however, is not particularly inspiring. So, students will continue to learn about the nice myth of a Republic with liberty and justice for all.

  5. H – But who are behind the lobbyist? Billionaires such as the Koch Bros. and Silverstein on the right. Though I know that there are some on the left that might participate (they are mostly millionaires and an’t compete anyway) there isn’t nearly as many. This isn’t a government of lobbyist it’s an oligarchy disguised as a democratic republic. And they drones follow by buying into the believe that they really have chance a that kind of wealth if they re-elect politicians that support the wealthy.

  6. “And they drones follow by buying into the believe” sorry about the typos passion and “fat fingers” 🙂

  7. True, hard scientists and engineers are fairly conservative folks. Political scientists are usually fairly liberal. There are exceptions, but not enough to overcome the generalities. The political science debate seems to be centered around the global warming research and teaching creationism instead of evolution. Most scientists agree that the earth is warming, because geologically, the earth has been warmer millions of times before, even at more rapid rates. But, politically neutral scientists rarely would sign off on any study purporting that this warming trend is caused by man. Political scientists believe otherwise….but it is not science, it is conclusory and decidedly anti-scientific. Believing in man-made global warming as science is akin to thwarting the theory of evolution because of the Bible (only akin because there is more evidence for God than man-made global warming). Creationism would be an excellent religious studies or political science class, just like any study for man-made global warming.

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