The first day of any legislative session is always filled with feelings of renewal, goodwill, optimism, and hope.
Arizona’s Democrats and Republicans had it in abundance at the opening of the 2019/20 legislative session at the State Capital.
However, both sides offered contrasting competing visions for moving the Grand Canyon State.
The Republican vision, expressed by Speaker of the House Russell Bowers and Governor Doug Ducey emphasized small government, minute targeted investments, and more divisive politicking (unlike the more bipartisan sentiments from 2019) geared towards their fringe base.
The Democratic vision, articulated by the Democratic Leadership and Progressive and labor activists that attended the opening day activities, championed an agenda that was inclusive, fact and science-based, and moved the state forward.
Progressive and Democratic Activists Gather First in the Rose Garden
The beginning of the day saw Progressive and Democratic Activists like Red for Ed, Planned Parenthood, Asarco, Moms Demand Action, Champions for LGBTQ Equality, and Outlaw Dirty Money gathered in the Capital Rose Garden to outline their goals for 2020.
These goals included:
- A new Invest in Ed Initiative to raise education funding.
- Protecting workers (including union member rights) and making sure they have a living wage.
- Sensible gun control legislation.
- Protecting a women’s right to choose.
- Equity for the LGBTQ Community.
Democratic Legislators unveil The Blueprint for a Better Arizona 2020.
Democratic Legislators, led by House and Senate Democratic Leaders Charlene Fernandez and David Bradley followed the progressive activists an hour later and unveiled their vision for this legislative year called the Blueprint for a Better Arizona 2020.
The Democratic Leaders said Democrats were on “the verge of the majority and “stand ready to lead.” They then showed how their values differed from the Republican ones, emphasizing their economic and social justice beliefs in:
- Science and showing that climate change is real by promoting programs to improve infrastructure in a sustainable fashion and fight pollution in the land, water, and air.
- Equal Rights and protections for women and members of the LGBTQ Community.
- “The transformative power of Education” by fully investing in children and all levels of schooling.
- “A strong economy from the ground up” where people get fair wages, worker security, and paid family leave.
- “What is good for workers is good for business” including access to union membership and quality/affordable healthcare.
- Transparency and protecting people from the hidden hand of special interests and dirty money.
- Fairness and improving participation in the voting process
- Equal Opportunity where everyone (in urban, rural, and suburban communities) has the right to earn a living, obtain affordable housing, and “love the way you want.”
- “A secure future” with sensible gun protection legislation like background checks and red flag laws.
Speaker Bowers sets the Tone in the House.
Following a late morning luncheon, Speaker Russell Bowers convened the House into session.
After thanking the people that had spent the period between sessions renovating the House chamber, Mr. Bowers, after recounting his family’s experiences, relayed that it was his responsibility “to guard the institution as a conservative.” After saying the government should “only do what is necessary and leave us alone (and) let us raise our families,” the Speaker finished by stating “Let’s move ahead with a good heart and make good policy.”
Governor Ducey’s State of the State Address
Governor Ducey began his State of the State address by celebrating the continuing growth of Arizona’s population and maintained that the state of Arizona “was strong.”
Touting his administration and programs as partially a reason for the surge in the population and a model that red and blue states seek to imitate, the Governor said that:
- Crime rates were dropping.
- The state’s credit rating was high.
- Student test scores were rising.
- The debt was falling.
- Poverty was decreasing.
Showing optimism, the Governor said Arizona was “open for business” and “open for opportunity.”
The bulk of the remainder of the Governor’s speech consisted of outlining program and funding initiatives, saluting Arizona’s heroes, and, unfortunately, reinforcing his brand of conservatism.
Mr. Ducey spoke in favor of the following program and funding initiatives:
- More monies for K-12 schools.
- Targeted increases (trade and STEM programs) for community colleges.
- Increased funding for the Arizona Teacher’s Academy.
- More grants for counselors, school resource officers, and social workers.
- Permanent state tax credit relief.
- Providing more funding and access to mental health patients.
- Infrastructure projects like expanding the highway economic artery between Tucson and Phoenix.
- Increasing rural broadband.
- Renewing the gaming compact between the State and the Indian nations.
- Promoting the tourism industry.
- Doubling the stipend to aid grandparents and increasing the budget to help new adoptions.
- Strengthening security at the border and providing additional proceeds for more body cameras on state troopers.
- Leading in water innovation.
Admittingly, there is nothing that the Governor proposed above that most people would not support. It will be interesting to see if the numbers requested for these funding areas adequately meet the need that is required to address them.
The Governor also spent some time movingly saluting Arizonans who had distinguished themselves by displaying bravery, turning schools around, or overcoming serious obstacles. These included:
- Kara Kalkbrenner, the Phoenix Fire Chief who is fighting breast cancer.
- Adonis Watt, a blind high school student, who plays football at Brophy College Prep.
- School Superintendents Betsy Hargrove, Curtis Finch, and Howard Carlson for helping to improve achievement in the Avondale, Deer Valley, and Wickenburg Districts.
- State Trooper Hugh Grant for surviving a brutal assault in Tempe.
- Cindy McCain for helping lead in the fight against human trafficking.
Unfortunately for Arizona’s citizens, the Governor, unlike last year, chose his 2020 State of the State to reinforce his brand of conservatism. He did this by pandering to his base on the issues of:
- School Vouchers when he slammed the “heavy hand” of government for stopping families from using state dollars to pay for private school tuition in another state. What those families did was illegal.
- Sanctuary Cities when he indicated that somehow the existence of them is antithetical to the rule of law.
- Favoring rural communities over urban and suburban ones. He even jokingly referred to Maricopa County as the “the great state of Maricopa.”
- Not wanting to invest more of the state surplus in vital social justice areas. The Governor, instead, wants to pursue more unneeded tax cuts.
- Repeating the disproven notion that Arizona performs better than blue states like California, Washington State, and Massachusetts. The Governor has always spoken out against California and that state has always surpassed Arizona in most categories. The Governor also included New York and Illinois in his comments and he is more correct there.
The Governor did close his address on a bipartisan note by stating that he would listen to both the Democratic and Republican Legislative leaders.
For the full text of the Governor’s State of the State speech, please click here.
Reactions to the State of the State Address
Joe Thomas of the Arizona Educator’s Association said the speech was full of “red meat” and policy “trial balloons.” He also questioned Ducey’s education funding promises, saying “The devil is in the details” when the official budget comes out.
David Lujan of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress commented that
“There were some bright spots in his speech, like his promise to accelerate the funding for public school classroom supplies which was cut back in 2014 and they have been slowly restoring. But overall, the speech contained very little to help Arizonans who are not seeing the benefits of the strong economy the Governor talked about. There was no mention of how he wants to deal with our growing affordable housing crisis, or how we will make childcare more affordable for low-income Arizonans. And instead of giving a real plan on how to move Arizona’s public schools out of 49th place in the nation in funding, he referred to doing more tax cuts. That is why today’s filing of the Invest in Education ballot initiative is so important. If lawmakers will not provide the funding our public schools desperately need, then the voters will get it done.”
Siman Qaasim, the President of The Arizona Children’s Action Alliance, released a statement which read:
“The governor highlighted some bright spots for Arizona’s children. Among them, we commend him for calling on the community to help foster children aging out of the system to have better supports. One of CAA’s legislative priorities is to enable former foster youth aging out of the system to stay on their health plan.”
“We strongly support his plan to double the stipend for kinship caregivers. It’s time Arizona leaders recognize the hardship grandparents and other kinship caregivers assume when they take on the financial responsibility of raising these children when their own parents cannot.”
“When the governor releases his budget, we hope to see funding for child care services so low-income working families don’t have to choose between moving up the economic ladder and a safe, high-quality child care environment.”
“We agree with Governor Ducey that ‘Arizona can only be strong with strong public schools’ and we are interested in hearing more about his plan to provide new support to schools that continue to face a teacher shortage. We are encouraged to hear that critical district additional assistance dollars are on track for accelerated restoration, but Arizona still lags far behind in teacher pay. Arizona still has the worst school counselor-to-student ratios in the country and 1,800 classrooms are still without a permanent teacher.”
“The Governor cautioned against the ‘spending lobby’; we firmly believe that children are not an expense, they are an investment. We encourage lawmakers to put the priorities of children and families first this year.”
Legislative District Nine Representative Pamela Powers Hanley (who was gracious to invite me to today’s events) stated on Facebook:
“…… Governor Doug Ducey’s state of the state address was a string of red-meat applause lines that focused on deregulation, tax cuts, elimination if boards and commissions, and small government. The games begin early tomorrow with Senator Sylvia Allen’s anti-LGBT bill on the Education Committee agenda. You should be able to comment on this bill on RTS.”
Representative Powers Hanley also composed a more in-depth accounting of the day’s events. Please click here to access it.
Dawn Penich-Thacker, the Communication Director for Save Our Schools Arizona, released a statement which read:
“Save Our Schools Arizona was disappointed to hear Gov. Doug Ducey champion sending Arizona tax dollars to out-of-state private schools given that Arizona education funding remains one of the lowest in the nation.”
“When Arizona residents pay their taxes, they don’t want those tax dollars being sent out of state, especially not to out of state private schools, when every day we see Arizona’s own classroom crisis in the news and feel that lack of funding in both rural and urban communities,”
“Despite modest gains in education funding over the last two years, Arizona remains 49th in teacher pay nationally, bottom five in the nation for per-student investment, has the second-most crowded classrooms in the U.S. and is worst in the nation for counselor-to-student ratio, according to recent surveys by the Arizona School Personnel Association, Expect More Arizona, and others.”
“While the Governor’s address included good news about new funding for some of the state’s poorest schools, accelerated District Additional Assistance payouts, and expanding the Arizona Teacher’s Academy, SOSAZ believes signaling that out-of-state ESA voucher expansion is as much of a priority as 1.1 million Arizona students is a missed opportunity to improve and support Arizona schools.”
“Thankfully, Arizona’s House and Senate representatives from both sides know their constituents don’t want their tax dollars being sent out of state. If arms get twisted like they were in 2017 and lawmakers are persuaded to vote against their own communities, SOSAZ’s bigger and better statewide network is ready to hit the streets with clipboards again this summer to protect Arizona taxpayers and students.”
“Save Our Schools Arizona is hopeful the Governor and Legislature share in the conviction that “The Arizona Way” means prioritizing Arizona communities first and foremost. Save Our Schools Arizona is committed to working with all stakeholders who want strong Arizona schools to build a strong future for Arizona families.”
Joe Thomas is right.
The devil will be in the details with the release of the budget and the final spending figures that are negotiated at the end of the last session.
The devil will also be in the details on how much the Governor listens to the concerns of the Democratic leaders. It is one thing to listen. It is another thing to act on what he has heard.
Arizona does not need, as the Governor seems to propose, a plan that divides regions, moves the people apart and fails to adequately meet the challenges of all the state’s citizens and needs.
Arizona needs a fiscal blueprint that moves the state forward and raises everyone up.
It needs schools that are funded at 2020 levels, a modern green infrastructure, and an inclusive society where everyone is treated equally and all vulnerable people are properly cared for.
The people will be well served if Democrats and Republicans can agree on an economic and social justice course that accomplishes these goals.