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What the Devil won't tell you

Arizona's 54th Legislature: Smell the sanity (and/or fear)

What in the name of Russell Pearce is happening at the Arizona State Capitol complex in Phoenix?

Hemp is going legal, texting while driving may be banned, gay rights are on the agenda and Gov. Doug Ducey is vetoing tax cuts.

What about banning pets for welfare recipients? What about mandatory prison sentences for expired tags? What about allowing landlords to ban renters from practicing birth control? What about allowing holders of conceal and carry permits to demand ID of people they think are in the country illegally? What about IDs to buy cereal or any number of pieces of legislation meant to trigger libs.

I’m seriously about to go all Poltergeist girl and scream “What is happening!?

Arizona's 54th Legislature is acting someone put two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen in their drinking water. Could it be they’ve read my work? Or do they just know a thing or two about elections and consquences?

Republicans currently hold their most tenuous control over the Legislature since 1966. That was the year the state adopted representation based on population rather than by county and ended Democratic control with the rising of Maricopa County.

Republicans outnumber Democrats 31-29 in the House and 17-13 in the Senate. They came within 1,000 votes of losing the House outright, a chamber they have held since 1966. Switch 2,000 votes and the Republicans would be sitting in the minority for the first time in 28 years.

Now, Republicans are heading into a second round of elections with President Donald Trump on their backs. It’s too early to say for sure if he’ll be a jockey or a corpse.

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In the meantime, Arizona lawmakers appear to be on their best behavior, like Cartman in a suit.

In defense of revenues ... I'm sorry, what?

Let's start with the truly alien maneuver out of Phoenix.

Ducey vetoed a tax cut of sorts. A Republican governor vetoed a tax cut in Arizona. Talk about things we never thought we would see.

The Legislature passed new rules that would hold Arizonans harmless from changes caused by Trump's federal tax cut for the rich. That law also closed individual loopholes, which could result in higher state taxes for people here.

Ducey wants to use new revenue for teacher raises and to build a $1 billion rainy-day fund.

"I'm vetoing this bill because it's bad public policy. It was poorly conceived and was hastily passed, for no good reason," Ducey said on Twitter. "We've been here before: state leaders hastily passed fiscal policy without thinking through the consequences. We need a more thoughtful approach."

Yeah, he's drinking his water straight. A rainy-day fund is just a gimmick known otherwise as a "fund balance." God knows the schools could use a good chunk of that, but a $1 billion fund balance is pretty standard for a $10 billion general fund. It's good for the state's credit rating.

That being said, rainy-day funds never protect the state much from economic gullywashers. The state is far too reliant on sales taxes to weather that kind of fiscal storm. 

In just the first two years after the Great Recession, state leaders had to cut $2.2 billion from the budget. Tax cuts had cost the state revenue by $11 billion during the previous 17 years

If they were serious about keeping the state solvent during a downturn, they’d balance the revenue on the three-legged stool of sales, property and income taxes and not just rely so much on sales taxes.

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On the third hand ...  not rejecting money coming in is a step in the un-wrong direction.

Brophy preps

State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee is ready for another tough race and is becoming a one-woman wrecking crew of temperance and moderation. She won by less than 300 votes in the fall.

She’s a Republican proposing the texting while driving ban, and the LGBTQ protections in Arizona — both of which have gone down before.

Take texting while driving. TWD legislation has come up before and gone nowhere. Tucson’s Steve Farley tried multiple times to get the ban through because distracted drivers – turns out – are every bit as dangerous as drunk drivers. Arizona has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, but you can drive 80 on the highway while Snapchatting away.

Perhaps Farley thought similar threats to public safety would warrant similar precautions in state law. Did he not remember Republicans believed photo radar was the jack boot of government?

No one would soberly decide to drive drunk. Sober Republicans fully intend to speed and text while they do. To that crowd, law and order is about policing other neighborhoods. When they are policed, it's radical government overreach.

But this time, maybe, McGee’s legislation may have a chance. Salt River police officer Clayton Townshend officer was just killed by a driver who was allegedly texting. (Hint: call it Clayton’s Law). To be sure, the bill raises questions because it includes banning hands-free cell calls. How does a patrol officer know the driver is using hands free and not a) talking to himself or b) rapping gangsta style?

The ban makes sense but there are questions to be asked.

Fabulous '10s

Protecting the rights of people of the rainbow is something I need to see signed before I truly believe it'll happen. And it’s far from a done deal. The “Center for Arizona Policy” is in staunch opposition to the idea; maybe they're afraid the state will go fabulous.

“These bills undermine constitutional guaranteed freedoms of speech and religion, threaten women’s equality and privacy, and harm small businesses.”

The Center (Pitchforks for Arizona Theocracy is too spot-on) carried enough clout to prevent a similar bill from getting a hearing last year.

Gay-hating isn’t the winner that it once was, when it made up a third of the GOP trinity of “Guns, God and Gays.” Swing voters don’t swing that way anymore.

So we’ll see. McGee says she has gotten the nod of leadership. The business community is apparently on board but just how much we’ll have to wait and see. Gay-bashing has fallen out of favor as race-baiting has made a comeback. What’s the point in being white, male, straight and in charge if you can’t bag on people who are none of those things?

It’s a far cry from just five years ago when the Legislature drew national fangs and claws after approving a bill that would allow businesses to turn away gay customers. National outrage ensued and even Jan Brewer knew enough to veto it.

A hemp rush

Legalizing hemp is a great idea for Arizona and it’s coming soon because of federal legislation legalizing non-psychotropic cannabinoids.

State Sen. Sonny Borelli wants to speed up Arizona’s ability to cash in on the crop.

Right now, Arizona farmers grow cotton — which is ridiculously destructive and sucks up a ton of water during a time of drought. Hemp, on the other hand, uses much less water, produces a far higher yield and commands far more money right now on the open market.

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The Legislature’s typical move in the face of a perceived surrender in the war on drugs is to actively undermine legalization. Hemp isn’t pot (not that facts tend to matter in this debate) but that hasn’t stopped policymakers from banning the crop on account of it’s stoner sibling.

Good work, Sonny. The feds are responding to money to be made, no doubt. But if grubbing for cash can weed out the ignorance, then whatever it takes, right?

Not only that but Ducey’s got my free-market angels singing with his idea to establish reciprocity with other states relating to professional licensing. Licensing requirements are great ways to protect existing businesses from competition. They are often guised as “consumer protection,” and some of that’s valid. Much is not. Believe me, as a journalist I can see the upside because just anyone can compete with TucsonSentinel.com.

"See, we need to protect people from journalists who don’t understand public policy or the political process so that we can all enjoy the blessings of liberty. We’re just taking a common-sense approach. That it’s more money in my pocket is neither here nor there." And so on....

Let's not get nuts

The 54th Legislature is shaping up to be the least crazy in a generation. Common sense has gotten loose in the ventilation of the Capitol complex and no wing-nut is safe.

Let’s not inhale completely, because we’ve been here before. In 2008, Democrats really thought they had a chance of picking up the House heading into a horrible election year for Republicans, and they lost ground. In 1992, Democrats had control of the state Senate and as the party celebrated Bill Clinton’s election nationally, the GOP took back the upper chamber here.

This state may well go purple. That doesn't mean the party breakdown in the Legislature will change any time soon. Southern states like Tennessee and Louisiana became red states in just every way a good while back. But their legislatures didn't flip Republican until 2010.

On the other hand, partisan fortunes do change. The day Pearl Harbor was bombed, had the whole of the Arizona Legislature gathered on the Capitol steps to sing "God Bless America," it wouldn't have been a bipartisan rendition. It couldn't have been. No Republicans were sitting in the Arizona Legislature in 1941. Zero. Nada. Nil. Vapor. They had gone 0 for 71 in the 1940 elections. And during the previous three sessions, there had been one, uno, (III - II = I) GOP member in either house. So between 1934 and 1942, Republicans' record in Arizona legislative races was 3-212.

Whatever it takes, right? The Leg is acting sane and that can change in a heartbeat. Just when we’re least expecting it, some yahoo can wake up and command: “Every Latino must own a ferret!” And we’re off to the races.

Until that happens – likely eight minutes before the session adjourns – Arizonans should go outside and smell the sanity.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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Paul ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Gov. Doug Ducey is so far (ssshshshsh!) leading the Legislature in a temporary bout of sanity.