News from the States of the Union: ARIZONA!

For my News from the States of the Union project, each week I’m reading local newspapers from one state. Previous posts covered Alabama, Alaska, and Arkansas.

arizonamap

While this map is kinda obviously not accurate, the cities are at least in all their correct counties!

Nearly every paper I read this week reported the failure of Arizona’s child welfare system. After news broke in November that Child Protective Services did not investigate more than 6,500 reports of abuse or neglect, Governor Jan Brewer formed an investigative team to determine what the hell happened. They found that thousands of people who called the abuse hotline hung up because no one answered, and even if someone actually picked up the phone, there was little chance that anyone would be able to help. Gov. Brewer’s team recommended that the understaffed and underfunded CPS needed a new a mission and new leadership. The State Legislature has responded, and one of its first actions was to authorize the hiring of more than 1,000 new caseworkers.

And that’s nice. Except the same state legislature has slashed funding for in-home programs to boost parenting skills, cut child care subsidies for the working poor, and just basically made giant holes in the safety net that helps families in need. They’ve also frozen Medicaid enrollment for parents who lost custody of their children, which can create a barrier to recovery and reunification. The number of Arizona children in foster care has risen 40% since 2010. YOU GUYS, even the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) has called for increased funding for programs that aid families so that kids don’t ever end up in foster care.

While the news that Arizona will expand Medicaid would seem like it could, potentially, help this terrible situation, Republicans in the state’s House of Representative are looking to put restrictions on who can get care. One bill, sponsored by House Speaker Andy Tobin of Pauldin, would only allow people to be on Medicaid for five years, “even if the person actually is working but is simply in a job which pays so little as to make him or her eligible for Medicaid.” Which brings us, in this flow chart of sadness, to the great news that the state raised its minimum wage in 2014, from $7.80 to $7.90.

Let’s take a happy break for a second. I was thrilled to see STEAM, STEM with ARTS!, in the paper. At the Mosaic Arts Center in Avondale, kids use technology to compose music and design new superheroes, whose powers must be explained by science. For instance, “if the hero shoots lasers from his or her eyes, the student must research how lasers work.” Most of the kids who attend the center’s after school and weekend programs are on reduced or free lunch, which is key, as the lack of these kinds of out-of-school learning opportunities often sends kids over the cliff of the achievement gap. The popularity of STEAM is growing, and the center’s Arts Education Partnership is working with four school districts to infuse arts into their math and science courses.

Image from The Arizona Independent

Image from The Arizona Independent

Holy cow, I had not heard that the Arizona state GOP censured U.S. Senator John McCain for supporting democrat-authored legislation. The Maricopa County Republican Committee voted 1,150 to 351 to formally chastise the senator, because of his “criticism of the Party’s stand on the debt ceiling, gun rights, judicial nominees, as well as his defense of the Democrat’s position on amnesty and Obamacare.”

In letters to the editor by the dozens, I learned what Arizonans thought of the censure. Leon Ceniceros of Mesa approved, and suggested that it should be a warning to Sen. Jeff Flake, for his support of “pro-illegal alien ‘Obama’ amnesty programs,” which, to Mr. Ceniceros “sounds like R.I.N.O politics, and not the ‘real’ Republican politics that he was elected to represent.” Gordon Elder, of Dewey, wrote: “I am fed up with the GOP… Its censure of Sen. John McCain was the final straw.” He announced that he has resigned as a precinct committeeman, although he’s not leaving party, because he wants to be able to vote for Republican candidates with new ideas. Another wrote, “After the birthers, the tea party, and now the censure of McCain, I am not sure to which party I will be taking my open-minded, non-biased party affiliation.” The Havasu News pondered: “The real question may not revolve around whether McCain is too liberal, but whether the Republican Party in Arizona is becoming too conservative;” they noted that more and more voters are registering as Independents, and that in McCain’s last election, he defeated “archconservative J.D. Hayworth in the primary.”

One Arizonan joked (I think?) in Tempe’s East Valley Tribune that his/her conservative neighbor, said that there was “No need to try and get in touch with Senator McCain at the Republican Headquarters since … they are forwarding his calls to the Democrats. After hours, try the George & Dragon Pub, where he’s often seen wearing a Union Jack and tweeting with the hashtag #ILOVBENEDICTARNOLD.”

In related news, “the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) finds that Arizona ranks third overall in Tea Party membership.”

Photo from The Valley Times.

Photo from The Valley Times.

In totally not related but you might need a break news, Sarabelle, the tooth fairy, helps teach children about the importance of dental care. She visits schools and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and performs at private parties; with her are her puppet friends Bitesize Bucky and his neighbors in The Lower Mouth Cave, Nigel the Sharp Incisor, Barbie Bicuspid and Old Sage the Wisdom Tooth, who go on adventures to find the Tooth Wizard aka the Dentist.

After that lovely brief respite, its time to dig back in. You might remember hearing about Arizona’s refusal to issue drivers’ licenses to “Dreamers,” or young undocumented immigrants, who have been allowed, by the federal government, to live and work in the country. More than 16,000 DREAMers in Arizona have received deferred action, meaning they won’t be deported, although none of them can get a license in the state, which has decided to also deny licenses to anyone granted deferred action, even victims of domestic-violence. Not surprisingly, the ACLU and other civil rights organizations have sued the state.

We’ve been hearing a lot about an immigration deal in Congress, although as I’m posting this, I’m reading that there’s no chance of this happening, but we don’t hear stories like this often: An Arizona Republic investigation found that Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers have killed at least 42 people, including at least 13 Americans since 2005. Their extensive study found that there have been “no publicly disclosed repercussions — even when, as has happened at least three times, agents shot unarmed teenagers in the back.” Eight people in the last four years have been killed after throwing rocks, and while the authors note that some of the deaths have been legally justified, in nine of the last 24 deaths since 2010, “agents’ accounts were contradicted by other witnesses or by other law-enforcement officers. In three cases, widely distributed videos conflicted with agents’ reports of what happened.”

Last week, I discovered that Arkansas has a state program that awards grants to high-performing schools. Not schools that improve, but schools that are doing great. Arizona has a similar plan, the “A for Arizona” initiative, and former legislator Marion Pickens who lives in Tucson, wrote in to register his concern. “Let me see if I understand this. Business wants the state to reward the ‘A’ schools, already located in mostly high-income school districts, with more selective state funds.” He added, “It looks like another attempt to find easy answers to very complex problems.”

On January 29th, Linda Ray wrote in The Tucson Weekly, “Until yesterday, I must confess, the appropriateness of sports teams’ using “Redskins” or “Indians” as mascots was way, way far down the long list of humans rights issues that make me want to cry, and fight; to sign petitions and to post insinuating memes to Facebook.” And then, she watched “Proud to Be,” an ad by the National Congress of American Indians, as part of their Change the Mascot campaign. And then, she tagged the post “Yup, we’re racists” and “Fix this now.”

Michael Ingerson’s letter to the editor in the Prescott Valley Tribune lamented that yet another “brilliant, gifted” local teacher was quitting “because she can’t afford to live on the salary she receives.” Arizona has one of the lowest starting-teaching salaries in the country, although if Sierra Vista’s State Representative David Stevens passes his bill, they will at least be allowed to bring their guns to school. Chris Porter shared his reaction to the bill in the Prescott Valley Tribune: “This is once again where I feel some of our lawmakers…have lost all of their basic common sense when attempting to pass purely emotion-driven, ‘hold my beer and watch THIS’-type of legislation.”

Early last month, the Desert Foothills Chapter of the Arizona Archaeology Society invited Cave Creek residents to learn about the Hopi and their tradition of oral storytelling. The guest speakers, Eric Polingyoum, “the last of the highly respected Blue Bird Clan,” and Lance Polingyouma, a member of the Hopi Sun Clan, talked about their commitment to recording and translating Hopi oral histories. The Hopi Tribe is a sovereign nation in northeast Arizona and one of the “oldest living cultures in documented history.” There’s a documentary, Hopi: Songs of the Fourth World, which explores the tribe’s beliefs and mythologies that I wanted to share. Although it’s from the 80s, and its scope is purposefully limited, some reviewers called it “the best film ever made about the Hopi.”

The Camp Verde Journal reported that the city council would be debating whether or not to recognize civil unions. Councilman Bruce George proposed the vote, noting that it would not just benefit same-sex couples, but older, unmarried couples as well. The issue was set for a vote on January 15th, though it was delayed until February 5th. In the intervening weeks, Ann Werner at Liberals United noted that two local papers, The Verde Independent and the Camp Verde Bugle ran identical editorials that asked the question, “Is this the necessary time to bring up this discussion?” They answered:

“With no unwed couple pounding on the doors of Town Hall demanding recognition, the proposal appears to be a matter of going with the crowd … If advocates for civil unions truly want to win hearts here … asking only the opinion of seven individuals is not the way to do it. That is a path to bad blood, anger and hate.”

While the language in the two editorials was exactly the same, the stock photographs used were not. Look at the photograph of the two men and their joined hands, which ran in The Bugle. One is wearing a surgical glove.

twohandsarizonaAt the meeting, the vote was 3-3, a defeat. Around 40 community members attended, some suggesting that the matter should up to the people and the entire state; others called the vote a “waste of time” because “marriage is between a man and a woman” and said the ordinance was “a threat to marriage itself.” After the vote, one community member implored her neighbors to not discriminate, “For those who would insist upon bringing religion into this civil issue, all that can be asked is that they take some time to quietly reflect upon the life of Christ. He walked a path of compassion, forgiveness and unconditional love for all of mankind.”

To stick with the topic of the religion for a moment, Linda Turley-Hansen rejoiced in The Ahwatukee Foothill News that the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board had reversed its 2008 decision to replace an opening prayer with an opening moment of silence. She wrote:

The admirable trend to acknowledge minority groups in our great nation has long passed its tipping point. When the minority overturns the majority regarding time honored, major issues, we need to reconsider. I’m good with courtesy, respect of other’s beliefs, but still, when they tread in sacred territory (pun intended), I’m happy to show them the door.”

Anita Christy, who supported the board’s decision and attended the vote, remarked that: ““I know this sounds a little dramatic, but honestly, it almost seemed like God was present.”

Okay, one more ditty about religion. It looks like the state legislature is going to pass a bill “beefing up protections for businesses that assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays and others.” Republican State Representative Eddie Farnsworth, from Gilbert, explained why the “protections” are needed: pointing to ” a New Mexico case where a gay couple was allowed to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding,” he said, “Trust me. It’s coming. This isn’t one isolated case.”

I promise, last one. When it was his turn to do the invocation to begin the lege’s work for the day, Rep. Ruben Gallego, of Phoenix, offered a moment of silence, saying people should pray or not pray, whatever worked for them. Yes, I read this in the newspaper. (As I also have where I live, in Texas, thanks to wonderful Rep. Donna Howard.) At least he wasn’t scolded, unlike Rep. Juan Mendez, of Tempe, who after offering the same moment of silence last year, was told to pray by Maricopa Republican Rep. Steve Smith, “who took a timeout so he could lead everyone in a Christian prayer in ‘repentance’ for what Mendez had done.”

hashknifeNon-partisan twenty-second timeout: Check out the Hashknife Posse! This January, members of the Hashknife Pony Express delivered mail from Holbrook to Scottsdale, the 56th ride since the event began in 1959. Members of the posse rode over 200 miles, in what is the “oldest officially sanctioned Pony Express in the world,”

Game on: The Republican Women of Prescott hosted a debate between six gubernatorial candidates a week ago. The moderator prefaced a question on voter-id laws with this statement: It is a well-known fact that President Obama did not win states that had voter ID laws enforced. Read into that what you will, and keep in mind that Arizona passed a law that required proof of citizenship to vote, though it’s tied up in the courts. The Arizona Republic looked at voter fraud in Maricopa County, and found that since 2004, 34 people were charged: two people were undocumented immigrants and most of the rest were people who had been convicted of a felony and didn’t realize they weren’t allowed to vote. In common sense/let’s treat people like human beings /bring the voter fraud down to almost zero news, Rep. Martín J. Quezada, a democrat from Phoenix, has sponsored a bill that would re-enfranchise more people who have been convicted of felonies.

To wind down, Lora Neu, editor of The Eloy Times, wrote about the paper’s 68th birthday, and summed up exactly why I took on this project, because “the community newspaper has an important role to play.” She noted that the staff of three covers “the good news, when Eloy residents show their generous spirit and commitment to community,” but that they also “do not shy from covering city government when they make decisions that may not be popular.” This week, I did my best to balance bigger state news with community news, though I definitely covered more of the former. I’ll try to do better with California next week.

Side note: I’m obviously cherry-picking what I present to you each week, in the hopes of providing an overview with glimpses of what’s happening in local communities. However,  I read hundreds of features, letters to the editor, reviews, and articles that I don’t mention; if there is an issue that you’re interested in, that you want me to look out for, please let me know, either in the comments or at jessicalstoner at gmail. I love doing this. And if covering some specific concern makes you love it too, well then I’m happy to to do that, for every state (and that one district of ours) from now on.