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In fact, the lobbying has gone far beyond relatively innocuous phone calls, letters and visits from national school-choice supporters such as Pete Du Pont, former governor of Delaware. The rumor mill churns out whispers of legislation--such as Susan Gerard's Success by Six and Senator Patti Noland's juvenile-crime package--held hostage for voucher votes.
There's no proof. Of course not, scoffs Pete Rios. "They're not tactics you want out there for public consumption," Rios says.
As Democratic leaders, Hamilton and Rios can be expected to enjoy a dig at the opposition party. But Republicans themselves tell tales of intimidation and threats--mainly from the Governor's Office.
The mood has been particularly hostile in the House, where Graham's bill faces its first major hurdle. A group of Republican representatives now known as the Solid Seven--Gerard, Sue Grace, Sue Lynch, Becky Jordan, Freddy Hershberger, Lou Ann Preble and John Verkamp--absolutely refuses to support Symington's vouchers.
Gerard is amazed at the pressure she's received, from national leaders to impoverished California school children. Her office neighbor at the legislature, conservative Republican and voucher supporter Greg Patterson, isn't speaking to her, she says, as she digs through folders and files on her desk, looking for letters and messages from lobbyists. She pulls out a message from Tracey Thomas, chairman of the Lincoln Caucus, a religious-right organization. Thomas phoned on behalf of "the Republican party, Governor Symington, Bill Bennett, Lincoln Caucus, Phoenix 40 and others," she reads aloud, tossing the slip of paper aside with a smirk. "I'm gonna write back to him," she says.
Gerard digs around some more, and comes up with a large envelope. Inside are 12 letters, each sealed in its own envelope and addressed to Gerard. The letters were individually penned by students at La Escuela de la Raza Unida, a private K-12 school in Blythe, California. "Arizonas present voucher plan should be given because there are children that don't want to be in pubilc school and they have to be their because their perents don't have the money to send to a differnt school," writes Sandra Gutierrez, one of the school's 40 pupils. Carmela Garnica, the school's director, encouraged her students to write. She was an organizer for California's defeated ballot measure, she says. The letter writing was voluntary, "kind of like an extracurricular thing," she says.
"Once it goes to Arizona, if it does," Garnica adds, "hopefully, it will lead to other states."
Representative Sue Lynch, vice chair of the Education Committee, has endured ridicule from former congressman-cum-radio-talk-show host Sam Steiger. And she's one of a few legislators who were actually hauled up to the Governor's Office for a quasi-private audience with Symington. (Aarons and House Speaker Mark Killian were also present, she says.) The meeting was short. "I just told him [Symington] that the answer was no. And I told him that at the beginning of the conversation and the end of the conversation," Lynch says.
Between the "no"s, the governor asked Lynch if she was, perhaps, a school teacher by profession. (She's not.) Aside from being somewhat offended that the governor didn't bother to find out her profession on his own, Lynch resents the implication. "I don't like the attitude that some of the legislators down here have toward teachers," she says. In most cases, the lobbying has just made the Arizona naysayers dig their heels in. Representative Becky Jordan, who opposes vouchers because she believes that the concept is unconstitutional, wears her heart on her sleeve--for everyone from Symington and Du Pont down--with no small amount of pride. "They tried to get me to come on KFYI to debate this, and I said it would be really boring, cause there's no debate," she says. In private circles, the recalcitrants are called heroes.
Republican Senate naysayers have endured pressure, too. Senator Keith Bee says he's been threatened with primary opposition if he doesn't change his vote and support Graham's bill. "That message did travel to me down through the grapevine, that if I did not support the vouchers, there would be a possibility of a primary in my district. . . . My suspicion is that it came from the Governor's Office--at least, I was led to believe that," he says.
Bee's opposition to vouchers solidified when he received the product of a mass mailing by The Better Schools for Arizona Committee. The committee sent prestamped cards to Republican precinct committeemen in Bee's legislative district; the cards urge legislators to support vouchers. The effort backfired.
"I'm getting these cards back, only they have been changed," Bee says. The committeemen have crossed out the word "support," replacing it with "oppose," and added comments: "Just say no." "No, no, no." "Say no.