TREES ARE MADE OF WOOD; THE FIFESTER IS HUMAN

The whining from the leftish side of American politics seems to grow less intelligent and more ineffectual by the day, even to a veteran Nixon-Reagan-Bush hater like me. It's as if the Democrats want to prove that Rush Limbaugh is right--that they actually are the party of politically correct minutiae and irrelevancy.

A local example: State Representative Rusty Bowers, R-Dogpatch, pushes a measure that would take $300,000 or so raised from the sale of environmental license plates away from the public schools. The money had been earmarked to fund so-called environmental education. Under Bowers' proposal, most of the money would go instead to the less-than-environmentally sensitive state land department.

Now, a thoughtful observer might suspect Bowers is a political Neanderthal playing to the know-nothing vote, that he made this proposal in the very hope that tree huggers and other Democrats would howl in outrage--a reaction that would garner publicity that, Bowers knows, would endear him to right-wing supporters.

So, of course, the Arizona environmentalists oblige.
A spokesman for the Arizona Heritage Alliance moans that Bowers' silliness would be an "outrageous" disaster.

And, of course, the Arizona Democrats scream loud and long.
A state senator from Tucson groans that people who bought environmental license plates would be "defrauded" by Bowers' evil plan.

The Arizona Republic--that hotbed of environmental concern--even editorializes against the evil Bowers plan.

Now, I've got nothing against teaching kids about recycling and the saving of the Sonoran Desert. But can we have a bit of perspective here?

First off, the $600,000 (plus or minus) that the sale of environmental license plates has generated since its inception a couple of years ago does not even rise to the level of pocket change when you're talking about the cost of primary education in Arizona.

The Phoenix Union High School District expects to get about $18,000 this year from the sale of multicolored license tags.

Phoenix Union has an annual budget of about $145 million. That means the environmental-license-plate funding represents about one one-hundredth of 1 percent--.0001--of the district's budget, a truly irrelevant amount of money.

And actually, Phoenix Union has yet to receive a dime of those funds. It has managed to design and teach environmental classes, anyway. I looked at some curriculum materials and texts for those classes. It's pretty dull, traditional stuff: an ecology segment in the biology course for college prep students; a massaged, environmental form of earth science for the noncollege trackers.

Some of the material, however, seems awfully dumbed down. For example, a district curriculum guide says that after completing Unit Six of this high school course on the environment:

"The student will be able to identify trees as being the source of wood."
I don't see any reason that particular infobit should upset Rusty Bowers, R-Dogpatch, or his troglodyte friends. I assume they and their kids have built fires in the fireplace. But I don't see why anybody truly concerned about this state's disgraceful history on education funding or its continuing disregard for most basic tenets of environmental protection would spend ten minutes worrying about parti-colored license plates. Or how much is paid for them.

A reminder: When the Republic editorial page is on your side, you've made a wrong turn somewhere. Whatever it is you're doing represents no challenge whatsoever to the folks who control most of the money, and virtually all of the political power, in this state.

As a rule, it is more interesting to notice what the Republic ignores than what it publishes. Exhibit A is a story John Dougherty wrote for New Times a few weeks ago ("Anatomy of a Greased Bid," March 16).

When boiled down to essentials, the story makes the case that Governor Fife Symington and his buddy and former aide George Leckie greased a $3 million contract so that it would eventually, somehow, miraculously, go to the governor's personal accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand. Although the story does not make a prima facie case of bid-rigging, it does quote from a series of official documents that would make almost anyone except Fife Symington, George Leckie and Coopers & Lybrand wonder whether bid-fixing had not actually occurred. It's a good read.

To its credit, Channel 3 sent a reporter to the New Times offices. Dougherty showed the reporter the public documents that backed the case. The reporter aired the story.

In Phoenix journalism, that type of ordinary curiosity represents landmark enterprise.

Don't misunderstand my point. I do not expect any other news organization to accept what New Times prints as gospel.

In his most recent story on Symington, however, Dougherty, a former Arizona journalist of the year, does not quote from mysterious, unidentified sources. His story is based almost entirely on public documents, obtained after months of legal jockeying with the governor and his various executive-branch minions. Anyone who wondered whether the story was true, then, would not have to rely at all on New Times, Dougherty or me. The documents would tell the tale.

And the tale they tell is damned important. The documents suggest that the second of two contracts involving Project SLIM--the governor's attempt to streamline state government--was awarded on the basis of inside information. As I said, the documents alone do not prove a case of criminal collusion. But they certainly raise questions in that regard. And there is something odd about the Republic's slowness in following the story. You see, the Republic published a series of genuinely admirable stories about the first Project SLIM contract, which also went to Coopers & Lybrand. The Republic stories also raised substantial questions about the bidding process on Project SLIM.

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