The Ghosts of Prop. 204

The ghosts of Prop 204 4

“And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more
people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
people writing songs that voices never share, and no one dared
disturb the sound of silence.” – Paul Simon

Last November, Tucson voters were asked to consider Proposition 204. Also known as “Strong Start Tucson,” Prop. 204 would have increased the Tucson city sales tax by one half-cent, and generated an estimated $50 million a year to pay for 8,000 children to attend high-quality preschool. The proposal was roundly condemned by a large, bi-partisan group that included Jim Click, the Koch brothers-backed Americans For Prosperity, the Mayor and almost ever City Council person, and a large portion of our Democratic state legislative caucus. When voters and activists asked the Democrats who opposed Prop. 204 why they were so dead-set against a liberal no-brainer like expanded early childhood education, the most common arguments were that Prop. 204 was sloppily written and didn’t go far enough in advancing the goal of educating more of our children. During the run-up to the November 7 election, social media resounded with guarantees from Democratic opponents that, if we voted “no,” our judiciousness would be rewarded with a much better early education proposal. Well, it is going on six months since Prop. 204 was defeated by a margin of 33% to 66%, and our reward so far has been bupkis.

There are some good souls out there; brave and honest elected officials who have at least tried to get something done. This legislative session, a group of Democratic state legislators introduced HB 2363, which would establish an early literacy grant program to improve reading skills for prekindergarten, kindergarten, and elementary school students. LD 10 Democratic State Representative Kirsten Engel introduced HB 2355, which would impose a 0.02% sales tax on soda and sweetened beverages, the entirety of which would be spent on early childhood education programming. Representative Engel’s proposal appears to be a popular one; out of 600 likely, rural 2018 general election voters polled, 59% supported the measure. And…both bills died in committee, after receiving no hearing and almost no attention or interest. (To add insult to injury, the Legislature did pass HB 2484, which essentially prohibits cities and towns from passing soda taxes like the one Representative Engel proposed.)

When it comes to our city government, which took the lead on opposing Prop. 204 among local Democrats, no one has dared disturb the postmortem silence. Tucson City Council minutes from November 8, 2017, through March 20, 2018, (11 regular meetings plus 10 study sessions) reveal not one single mention of early education has yet to darken City Hall. Nor does the Council seem to have any interest in advocating for early childhood education at the state capitol. On November 21, 2017, a mere two weeks after the demise of Prop. 204, the Council discussed Tucson’s 2018 state legislative agenda. The four priorities the Council approved by unanimous a 7-0 vote were:

1.) Defend against any and all cuts to State-shared revenues and other State funds
dedicated to local governments.
2.) Protect and enhance local authority and decision making.
3.) Support the ability of cities to utilize strong economic development tools and increase infrastructure investment and public safety.
4.) Support strong and sustainable water management policies and practices.

Interestingly, the twelfth sub-section of priority #3 is, “Support sufficient State of Arizona funding of K-12, Community College, and University level education without threatening SSR or other funding streams currently designated to support local governments.” Even here, the silence of the Council on new early education programs is deafening.

Finally, during his annual State of the City speech on March 9, the Mayor of Tucson added a cherry of dismissal to the sundae of early education disinterest our city leaders are serving to voters who took their “we promise we will do better than Prop. 204” assurances to heart. The speech was chock full of civic boosterism, which we cannot blame the Mayor for, as that is what such speeches are all about. However, the Mayor did not even bother to pay lip service to supporting an early childhood education program. He didn’t propose to create a study group or recommend a task force – he studiously maintained the silence that has dominated the issue since last November.

Two weeks before the election, I wrote on this blog,

Come 2018, if Prop. 204 fails then all local Democrats should look forward to our City Council and state legislative caucus telling us precisely what the right answer is. If they do not, if the sound of education reform in city hall and the state capitol is the deafening sound of silence…Well, at least we know the value our elected officials place on telling us the truth, and bettering our children’s futures.

Sometimes it really sucks to be right.

– Joel Feinman

The Dirty Heart of Clean Elections

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“The mind of man is capable of anything — because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.” – Joseph Conrad

Manufacturing fear of crime and criminals, and exploiting the boogeyman of the convicted felon is a hallowed American political tradition. As researcher Anthony M. Platt wrote in the journal Social Justice in 1994, “Every politician running for office in the November elections recognized that law and order demagoguery was the ticket to success.” This certainly applies to presidential contenders; see Bush 41’s execrable 1988 Willie Horton ad, Bill Clinton’s interruption of his 1992 presidential campaign to fly back to Arkansas to ensure the execution of a mentally ill black man, and Donald Trump’s seemingly endless invocations of Chicago, “American carnage,” and racialized sexual assault.

None of this fear-mongering and dog-whistling will come as any surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with American politics. What may be surprising is that, in Arizona, people convicted of felonies are forced by law to help pay for some of the very campaigns that demonize them to achieve victory.

Paying for the privilege of the hangman’s noose

On November 3, 1998, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, the “Clean Elections Act.” According to the Commission which oversees it, the Act provides “clean funding” to statewide and state legislative candidates, who want to campaign with public funds instead of private donations as a way of avoiding the influence of private donors. Essentially, candidates who choose to “run clean” must demonstrate they have community support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions. The Clean Elections Commission then gives these candidates public funds to run their campaigns. These public funds come from three places: 1) the $5 qualifying donations gathered by clean candidates, 2) civil penalties levied against candidates who violate the clean elections law, and 3) a 10% surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines. It is this third funding source that deserves special scrutiny.

Under Arizona law, any time a court imposes a fine on a defendant for a civil violation (parking ticket) or a criminal violation (robbery), the court must also impose a 10% surcharge on that fine, which goes into the clean elections fund. In October 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law in the case of May v. McNally, and ruled that the surcharge was a “tax” that did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.

Requiring people convicted of crimes to help fund the campaigns of law & order candidates who will, if elected, make their lives even worse would startle Kafka himself –  unless he was born in Arizona. Lest we think this does not actually occur, we need only examine some of the positions taken by the following “clean” elected officials:

  • State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Tucson), who has been endorsed by Joe Arpaio and the Arizona Citizen’s Defense League.
  • State Representative Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff), who likes to tweet about how the liberal media underreports black-on-white crime, and how former Attorney General Eric Holder is “soft on crime” because he doesn’t like how many black men are in prison.
  • State Representative Becky Nutt (R-Clifton), who supports private prisons and thinks “drug and human smuggling are out of control.”
  • State Representative Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa), who voted to lengthen the prison sentences of undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes.
  • State Representative Anthony Kern (R-Glendale), who believes in “mandatory sentencing laws with stiff penalties to prevent violent criminals and predators from being released back onto our streets.”

“A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

What could be more cruelly ironic than forcing people convicted of criminal offenses – whose newly depressed job prospects already increase the difficulty of making ends meet – to fund their further political demonization? How about forcing them to pay for an electoral system they cannot participate in.

Arizona law holds that, once a person is convicted of a felony, they automatically lose a host of civil and political rights, including the right to bear arms, the right to serve on a jury and hold public office, and the right to vote. One may think this is appropriate for people convicted of murder, rape, and armed robbery. However, before we clamber up a soap box and preach about not doing the crime if you can’t do the time, we might want to pause and reflect on just how many acts qualify as felonies in Arizona these days. Here are 29 pages of them, an incomplete list that includes such horrors as branding an animal that belongs to another person, pandering, and filing a false bingo report.

Such over-criminalization extracts a heavy toll on our democracy; as of 2016, Arizona had the 8th highest percentage of disenfranchised voters in the nation; 221,170 people, or 4.25% of the State’s population, was ineligible to vote in the last election due to a criminal record. Elections are won and lost by far smaller numbers than this. In 2016 Representative Finchem beat his Democrat opponent by 9,998 votes – 4.5% of Arizona’s disenfranchised voters. Representative Thorpe won his race by 4,770 votes – 2.1% of disenfranchised voters. Representative Kern’s victory over his Democratic opponent was the thinest of all clean elections candidates; he won by 4,001 votes, a mere 1.8% of the Arizonans disenfranchised by a criminal conviction.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.” ― Joseph Heller

The Clean Elections Act’s final insult to injury occurs when people with criminal convictions attempt to get their voting rights restored. The law automatically restores most first offenders’ civil rights once they complete probation or are discharged from prison, but only as long as they pay off all of the fines and restitution imposed as part of their sentence.

To see how the momentous injustice of this can play out, let’s assume for the sake argument that our neighbor, John Yossarian, pleads guilty to selling real estate without a proper license, which in Arizona is a felony offense. After his plea the court automatically revokes Yossarian’s right to vote, and orders him to pay a $10,000 fine. This means Yossarian must also pay a $1,000 surcharge to the state clean elections fund on top of that fine. He can no longer sell real estate, so Yossarian cannot get a good job and earn a significant income. After eighteen months he successfully completes probation and doesn’t get into trouble again, but working for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant means he has no extra money to pay either the fine or the surcharge. Consequently Yossarian’s right to vote is not restored, and he cannot vote against his state representative and their tough on crime platform in the 2018 election. Even if Yossarian does scrape together the $11,000 it will take to get his voting rights back, a percentage of that money will help fund his representative’s re-election campaign against a more progressive opponent who, unlike Yossarian’s representative, wants to end mass incarceration and over-criminalization.

This is the realty of the Clean Elections Act, and its injustice plays out hundreds of times a day in courtrooms all over our state. The intention behind the Act – ameliorating the effect of money on elections – may have been noble, but as is so often the case in our history, it is the poorest and most helpless among us who must pay the price for our noble efforts. That price isn’t cheap, and can be measured by the 221,170 Arizonans who could not vote in the last election for a better and more equitable society.

– Joel Feinman

 

Oyez, Oyez, Oy Vey! The AZ Legislature Is Now In Session!

AZ SB1016 1

The 2018 legislative session is upon us, and like children lining up for Spongebob Squarepants on Ice tickets, our knees tremble with anticipation to see what zany antics and logic-defying feats of special interest derring-do our elected officials will get up to this year.

SB1016 – Making the Stasi Proud

Thus far it looks like the dumpster fire that has long been the Arizona Republican legislative agenda will not slacken in the slightest. State Senator John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) has introduced SB1016, which requires people to report to police or rescue personnel “a life-threatening emergency,” if they can do so without endangering themselves or others. Failure to report would be a class 1 criminal misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 6 months in jail.

The problems with this bill are legion. Never mind that it further over-criminalizes life in the “land of the free,” where one lawyer and researcher has estimated the average resident now commits three felonies every day. The bill also makes no effort to define what a “life-threatening emergency” is.

Presumably Mr. Kavanagh and his Republican colleagues consider planning an abortion a life-threatening emergency. If so, everyone from the clinic nurse to the receptionist to the supportive partner will find themselves indicted for a criminal offense if they do not immediately call 911 when they hear a woman utter the word “abortion” to a health care provider. And what about when I was 16, and my best friend Adam jumped off his roof into his pool? Clearly a life-threatening emergency if he’d slipped, or even misjudged the wind a tad. In Senator Kavanagh’s Arizona of small government and maximal individual rights, I should have narced on Adam the moment he clambered up the wall. Likewise the Senator would have you call the police on your squabbling cousins who had too many beers at the family BBQ (shove George too hard and he could fall and hit his head and die), and his bill would mandate you immediately dial 911 when you see another person driving too fast (speeding being a leading cause of deadly traffic accidents).

The AZ Legislature doesn’t want to abolish government; it simply wants to enlarge to the size of a bathtub it can bludgeon us to death with.

SB1016 is not Senator Kavanagh’s first foray into the field of blatantly unconstitutional laws criminalizing innocent behaviour. In 2016 he introduced SB1054, a bill that would have made it illegal for people to shoot video within twenty feet of any law enforcement activity without an officer’s permission. A first offense would have carried a $300 fine, and subsequent violations could have sent people to jail for up to six months. Thankfully the bill went nowhere, but Senator Kavanagh’s past and current legislative efforts expose the intellectual bankruptcy at the core of our state’s legislative majority; they are small government and pro-freedom only as long as people do exactly what they think they should do. The moment their beliefs conflict with the beliefs of others – we shouldn’t be government-mandated narcs, cities should limit the use of polluting plastic bags, schools should teach local history and culture –  our legislative majority seeks to expand the power of the government to arrest, convict, fine and imprison whomever they disagree with. This is big government at its biggest, and the coercive power of the state in it purest form. Senator Kavanagh and his ilk seem hell-bent on proving Reagan right; government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. At least their government, anyway.

– Joel Feinman

4 criminal justice reform bills headed to AZ Legislature

legislative bill

A bipartisan coalition of groups, including The Goldwater Institute, The American Friends Service Committee and The American Civil Liberties Union have worked together to create a policy package intended to save taxpayer money, reduce recidivism, and make Arizona criminal laws more just.

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee will hear these four bills this Thursday, February 2, at 9am. The following AZ Senators sit on that Committee – contact them over the legislature’s request to speak (RTS) system, or email or call them to make your voice heard about the pressing need for criminal justice reform in Arizona.

Nancy Barto (R) – nbarto@azleg.gov; 602-926-5766
Judy Burges (R) – jburges@azleg.gov; 602-926-5861
Lupe Contreras (D)- lcontreras@azleg.gov; 602-926-5284
Andrea Dalessandro (D) – adalessandro@azleg.gov; 602-926-5342
Frank Pratt (R) – fpratt@azleg.gov; 602-926-5761
Martin Quezada (D) – mquezada@azleg.gov; 602-926-5911
Bob Worsley (R) – bworsley@azleg.gov; 602-926-5760

SB1069 / HB2291
This bill allows people to petition courts to expunge their conviction 5 years after they have been released, as long as they have not had any additional violations. This allows ex-offenders greater access to jobs, increasing the probability they will remain productive members of society.

SB1071 / HB2290
This bill allows qualified non-violent ex-offenders to obtain a temporary, provisional license to work in specialized fields and increase their probability of obtaining stable employment. It provides the person the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and commitment without increasing risks for the employer.

SB1067 / HB2154
This bill provides appropriate penalties for technical parole violations that do not interrupt the reentry and reintegration process. Keeping people with technical parole violations out of prison allows them to maintain employment and sustain contact with their families and communities. This increases the probability that they will remain productive members of society.

SB1068
This bill reduces the mandatory 85% time offenders must serve for less serious, non-violent offenses. If a person is determined rehabilitated prior to that 85% mark, they would be released to community supervision so that they may obtain employment and become productive taxpayers.

As birthday gift to self, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. swoops down from heaven to kill racist “social justice” bill named after him

MLK Throwing Shade

Tired of his legacy being perverted into a justification for racism, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. returned to this earthly plane yesterday to stop Representative Bob Thorpe’s (R-Flagstaff) HB 2120 from progressing through the Arizona state legislature. Representative Paul Boyer, chairman of the House Education Committee, said on Tuesday that he would not hear Thorpe’s bill, effectively killing it for the year.

HB 2120 would have required all of Arizona’s publicly funded schools, community colleges and universities to give up 10% of their public funding if they promoted “division, resentment, or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class, or other class of people.” The bill was ludicrously dubbed the “Martin Luther King, Jr. bill” by Rep. Thorpe himself.

Thorpe made clear he drafted his so-called “Martin Luther King, Jr. bill” in order to lower the decibel level of conversations which questioned white privilege. Indeed, Rep. Thorpe would prefer that those conversations not take place at all.

Since it was publicized last Thursday, letter writers and commentators called HB2120 extortion, and “a disgusting slap in the face to justice, culture, pursuit of a higher level of thinking and improvement of society as a whole“, not least due to its moral boorishness and financial intimidation tactics in the service of racist denialism. Lest any reader be confused by Rep. Thorpe’s intent to appropriate the memory and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in service to a bill that violated everything that the Reverend lived and was murdered for, Rep. Thorpe included the following “statement of intent:”

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Commence over-the-top eye roll

Perhaps it was the timing of HB2120’s introduction, on the heels of mounting stress in black communities (Flint, Michigan; officer-involved shootings; disproportionate black unemployment; a half-century of mass incarceration and the racially disparate effects of the drug war) that encouraged Dr. King to descend from heaven and kill HB2120. Or perhaps it was the ongoing exploitation of his legacy by white supremacists that sent Dr. King over the celestial edge and caused him to plummet back to Earth to right this terrible wrong. Either way, it is clear that Dr. King wasn’t about to put up with Rep. Thorpe’s particular brand of grandstanding – and on his freakin’ birthday, of all days!

Understandably, Dr. King did not deign to explain to Rep. Thorpe in person why HB2120 was so mind-bogglingly offensive and ill-conceived. Instead, the good Reverend referred the legislature and the people of Arizona back to his earlier words, and hoped for better a second time around.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate […] who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

– Tara Taylor

 

Rep. Thorpe quotes Rodney King to explain why AZ schools shouldn’t teach social justice

Rodney King mug shot 2

As The Pima Liberator wrote on Saturday, Arizona state representatives Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) and Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) have introduced a new bill, HB2120, that would require Arizona’s publicly funded schools, community colleges and universities to give up 10% of their public funding if they “promote division, resentment, or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class, or other class of people.”

One of Representative Thorpe’s constituents since wrote him about HB2120, asking the Representative to explain more about the bill and his reasons for introducing it. In his emailed response, Rep. Thorpe saw fit to quote Rodney King as offering an example of the kind of sentiment that Arizona schools should promote in place of social justice.

From: Bob Thorpe [mailto:bthorpe@azleg.gov]
Sent: Sunday, January 15, 2017 3:23 PM
Subject: RE: HB2120

Thank you for writing to me regarding HB2120.

HB2120 does not prohibit or stop any class or activity from occurring within Arizona, it simply stops taxpayers from having to fund classes that discriminate. The people who are against HB2120 are spreading lies and misinformation about the bill. They are also the ones who WANT classes that promote resentment towards others… they want to foster discrimination.

I love the quote from Rodney King (the 1992 Los Angeles riots) who said “Can we all just get along.” Well, we can’t all just get along when college and university professors are driving wedges of resentment between our students and our citizens. (emphasis added)

Rodney King was an African-American taxi driver who was severely beaten and tasered by Los Angeles Police Officers following a high-speed chase in the early morning hours of March 3, 1991. After his arrest Mr. King was taken to the hospital where he was found to have suffered a fractured facial bone, a broken right ankle, and multiple bruises and lacerations. In a negligence claim filed with Los Angeles, Mr. King alleged he suffered 11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken bones and teeth, kidney failure and emotional and physical trauma. The Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, led by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, published a comprehensive report on the incident and its aftermath.

The irony of Rep. Thorpe’s email is staggering. The Rodney King beating and the subsequent acquittal of the police officers who assaulted him are prime examples of what happens in our society when we don’t promote social justice towards all races, genders, religions, political affiliations, and classes. For Rep. Thorpe to quote Mr. King as a way of justifying his efforts to kill off social justice education in Arizona is ironic, tragic, horrific, and the epitome of willful ignorance. I have a feeling, Mr. Thorpe, that if you asked Mr. King if the proper lesson of his mug shot is that we should not teach our children about social justice, the answer would be a resounding and emphatic no.

Moreover, it is not dialogue and education which cause the kind of “resentment” that you condemn in you bill. Discussing race relations, questioning history, and encouraging students to think critically about power relationships have markedly positive effects: these classes build community, heal injuries inflicted through dominance, and promote conversations in which students can imagine better futures for all of us. Education does not cause resentment, Mr. Thorpe; repressive laws do that. Draining our public schools of their already-strained resources causes resentment. Instituting a policy of denial when it comes to the painful parts of our history causes resentment – and rightly so.

Paulo Freire wrote, “any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence.” Whether this prohibition occurs through outright censorship or through financial intimidation, this sentiment rings true.

– Joel Feinman & Tara Taylor

AZ legislators want to outlaw the teaching of “social justice”; Jesus reacts accordingly

Arizona social justice legislation 4

Arizona state representatives Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) and Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley) have introduced a new bill, HB2120, that would make it illegal for Arizona’s publicly funded schools, community colleges and universities to “promote division, resentment, or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class, or other class of people.”(emphasis added) If the Board of Education or the Attorney General determines – on their own and with no judicial oversight – that a school or college fails to comply with this new law, they can withhold 10% of the institution’s public funding.

The Arizona Daily Star and The Arizona Republic published articles examining HB2120, and quoting Rep. Thorpe on his rationale behind the bill. However due to their understandable constraints, neither newspaper does enough to emphasis what a mind-bogglingly idiotic and un-American idea this is.

Even in Arizona, HB2120 is a rare thing. Beneath the thin veneer of Rep. Thorpe’s moral panic over courses like ASU’s “U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness” lies a staggering ignorance of the values and history that the Honorable Representative presumably holds most dear.

Dictionary.com – not exactly a hotbed of leftist thought – defines “social justice” as “the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society.” By criminalizing events and instruction in public schools that analyzes how society distributes advantage based on class, or race, or religion, or gender or political affiliation, Rep. Thorpe’s HB2120 would ban teaching students the following:

  • “You shall not oppress the poor or vulnerable. God will hear their cry.” Exodus 22:20-26
  • “Speak out in defense of the poor.” Proverbs 31:8-9
  • “True worship is to work for justice and care for the poor and oppressed.” Isaiah 58:5-7
  • “Jesus proclaims his mission: to bring good news to the poor and oppressed.” Luke 4:16-21
  • “Blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20-23

In addition to severely circumscribing how they teach Christianity, schools and universities would also be violating HB2120 if they taught about:

The American revolution

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Women’s suffrage

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The 15th Amendment and the abolition of slavery

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The Civil Rights movement

mlk

And the presidency of Ronald Reagan

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Let us not mince words: HB2120 is one of the most unconstitutional, most anti-American, and outright stupidest pieces of legislation to ever emerge from a capitol building. Representatives Thorpe and Finchem show a stunning disregard for the history of their constituents and their own religion, and a truly shocking ignorance of the values that have made the United States a great country. Their bill also betrays the core values of their very own political party: smaller government, more choice in education, and greater individual freedom.

So, to Representatives Thorpe and Finchem: at no point in your rambling, incoherent bill were you even close to anything that could be considered a viable, democratic proposal. Everyone in this state is now dumber for having been subjected to it. We award you no points, and may God have mercy on your souls.

– Joel Feinman