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Talking Politics

Jan. 10 marked the beginning of Arizona’s 2022 Legislative session, which will be fraught with ultra-partisan politics in a state where many elected officials have bought into the fiction that Joe Biden is not the duly elected president of the United States.

Under normal circumstances, the legislative process is an arcane and confusing affair, but this session looks to be particularly contentious and filled with palace intrigue, as Trumpism has metastasized in the Republican Party and its leaders have become more radical and less likely to work with Democrats.

The chasm that has grown between parties has led to 13 lawmakers tendering resignations rather than deal with the rancor that defines Arizona politics in the third decade of the century.

Those resignations represent the highest number in the country and there is a possibility there could be more, as nine legislators are running for higher office, according to Civic Engagement Beyond Voting (CEBV), “a grassroots nonpartisan organization working to empower Arizona residents to exercise their voices at the state level.”

Founded in 2017 by Melinda Merkel Iyer, a Tucson-based activist who cut her teeth on the Save Our Schools campaign, CEBV is a clearinghouse that tracks bills moving through the legislature and offers monthly analysis gleaned from many news sources across the state.

CEBV also helps voters maneuver through the minutiae and muck to understand what each bill means and how it will affect Arizonans, but also encourages citizen engagement, offering help and easier access to the process.

The approach is “progressive,” but “nonpartisan,” and CEBV is not tied to any political party.

One of our most important responsibilities as citizens is to hold our elected representatives accountable and CEBV helps by providing information “that leads to direct action and positive change,” according to the organization’s website at www.cebv.us.

The site provides links to sign up for monthly updates and CEBV offers help signing up for the state’s Request to Speak (RTS) system that allows voters to comment on legislation and bills that drop throughout the session that runs through May 13.

Monthly email updates focus on topics that include civil rights, criminal justice, disability advocacy, education, the environment, gun safety, health care, immigration, transparency in government, voting and women’s rights.

Governance on a state level is equally, if not more, important than on a national level for several reasons. State laws more directly affect our daily lives; state-level politicians are more accessible — unless her name is Kyrsten Sinema — and it is easier to stop bad policy.

In relation to national politics, states can act as testing grounds for and have an effect on national policy. Additionally, while the federal government is usually tied up in partisan gridlock these days, states have to take care of the daily needs of citizens and maintain infrastructure from roads to schools. The remote bureaucracy in Phoenix is much more within reach than the bureaucratic halls of government in Washington DC.

Most importantly, the state constitution provides an additional layer of protection for citizens because “we the people” can overturn bad laws and recall lawmakers who are not serving their constituents in a meaningful way.

So far this year, enough odious bills have already dropped to give us a preview of how Trump-aligned the Arizona Republican Party has become.

COVID will also be a big factor this session since Republican lawmakers are following the lead of their anti-science overlords. Despite a massive surge in cases in the state, there will be no vaccination, masking, or social distancing guidelines in place.

Things to watch for this year will include budget battles and attacks on voting rights, school operation, and funding.

According to CEBV, unless some procedural efforts are made to allow it, by March 1 Arizona public schools may be legally unable to spend $1.2 billion in tax revenues already being collected. Failure to get a 2/3 vote to expand spending limits means schools will have to cut spending for this school year by 16% across the board, leading to teacher layoffs, program cuts and school closures. It could also be the harbinger for effectively killing Prop 208.

Of course, the continued attacks on voting rights — despite dozens of court cases throughout the country that have determined 2020 to be one of the most secure elections in U.S. history — and social issues, like the fight against imaginary “socialism,” “critical race theory” and other nonexistent “wokeness” are seemingly the only platform of governance for the Republican Party anymore.

Some of the lowlights so far this session include the following:

SB1010, Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-23), would make school board elections partisan, bringing “toxic tribalism” to a school board near you and force schools to allow protesters at school board meetings.

SB1011, Kelly Townsend (R-16), would prohibit school districts from using tax dollars to pay for membership in state or national school board associations that provide training, leadership and other services to 240 school boards in Arizona.

SB1012, Townsend (R-16), would force the Secretary of State to hand over the statewide voter registration database to a third party chosen by the Legislature, such as the Cyber Ninjas that were allowed access to more than 2 million legally cast ballots. Anyone not angry about that is not paying attention.

HB2041, Leo Biasiucci (R-5), mandates special ballot paper with no fewer than 19 anti-fraud countermeasures, including proprietary holographic foil, banknote-level background designs, infrared ink that requires a mass spectrometer to read, a QR code for voters to track their ballots as they are processed, and a perforated paper receipt. The bill would take effect in November 2022, likely giving elections officials just four months to comply. See mirror bill SB1120, sponsored by Sonny Borrelli (R-5). Similar to SB1028, sponsored by Rogers (R-6), which would require three of these measures.

SB1058, Wendy Rogers (R-6), would ban county recorders from allowing voters to receive ballots and vote from their cars, as well as banning drop boxes anywhere but inside county recorder buildings and polling places. Trained election workers would be required to monitor drop boxes. The Pima County Recorder called the bill “grossly ableist,” saying, “Unmanned ballot drop boxes are meant to remain accessible to all voters and are especially beneficial to those living in rural locations, those who work non-traditional work hours and those who may be concerned about their mail ballot arriving on time.”

Rogers is no stranger to crazy, as she has also proposed SB1042 creating “President Donald J. Trump Day,” and SB1047, which would require sports teams entering into contracts with the state to play the American National Anthem before their contests or face penalties and loss of contracts.

Welcome to a new column on local and state politics written by David Abbott and focused on the legislative session 

Throughout the legislative session, GMT will publish updates based on the CEBV newsletters. Go to www.cebv.us for more information.

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