The Continuing Adventures of Big Red

Jane wins--now will she finally dump the Granny Hull act and spring into action?

The long cookie bake-off is finally over for Granny Hull.
Here is what she's been camera-mugging, sweet-talking and publicly patting small school children on the head for throughout the past year. In this, her moment of truth and reconciliation with the people of Arizona, Governor Jane Dee Hull finally can step out from the shadow of her sleazy, federally convicted predecessor.

Hull is now faced with myriad bright occasions, the most dazzling of all being the golden opportunity to deep-six her irritating but eminently electable persona, Granny Hull, that notable sidestepper of controversy and sound-bite supporter of truth, justice and the Pillsbury DoughBoy. It's time to retire Granny to the role of warm and cuddly mascot. A state with urban sprawl and lax enforcement of groundwater protections and the highest high-school dropout rate in the country could use a real leader.

What Arizona needs right now is a four-year visit from Hull's other persona: Big Red, the tough-talking, Thatcheresque leader who was the scourge of recalcitrant legislators during her time as speaker of the House in the early '90s. Big Red made a brief appearance this fall when Hull lashed out at Democratic challenger Paul Johnson after he accused her of selling Arizona's water to Nevada for $31,000 in campaign contributions. But Granny Hull and her resume of grandkids' birthday parties stole the show for the long run.

For months, Hull's handlers have promised that Big Red would emerge post-election, poised to save the day and make the state safe for at-risk children, overburdened taxpayers and undeveloped land. I'm not holding my breath. But just in case that superheroine we knew in the state Legislature is pulling on her boots, puffing out her 'do and sharpening her pencils up there on the ninth floor, readying a bombastic State of the State address for January 11, here are a few suggestions for Big Red's "To Do" list.

Your work's cut out for you, Guv: Arizona scrapes the bottom of the barrel in caring for its children. Ditto for the seriously mentally ill. Rural Arizonans are forced to drive 200 miles to get decent health care. Our state has a skyrocketing number of senior citizens who need public assistance. Metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson have virtually no mass transit. Urban sprawl is gobbling the state. Arizona's prisons are grossly mismanaged. Environmental "regulations" are a joke, and so are some of Fife Symington's leftover agency heads. Big-business types run the Legislature and the Department of Environmental Quality and, at least until now, the Governor's Office.

If you're listening, Big Red, do something.

Jane Hull says she will be the Children's Governor. First task: Prove it.
Hull's accomplishments over the past year aren't enough. StudentsFIRST and KidsCare may have been passed by the Legislature and, in the case of the first, passed muster with the state Supreme Court, but they are only baby steps toward real reform.

The governor is going to have to figure out a way to implement StudentsFIRST, the program that was created to pay for capital school improvements equitably in rich and poor districts alike, without bankrupting the state--a possible pitfall widely suggested by critics.

And even if the program takes care of the bricks and mortar, Hull has to address quality issues in education, like class size. The conservatives in the Legislature will rally behind the Goldwater Institute report that pooh-poohs the benefit of smaller classes, even though nearly every other national and local education expert disagrees. Hull's a former teacher--let's see her stand up to the crowd-control aficionados who want to provide kids with stadium seating in the classroom.

KidsCare has only been in effect a couple of weeks, but already there are mumblings that it may not work, that only a handful of qualified candidates have signed up for the disadvantaged children's health insurance. Hull better jump on that one, and find a way to lead the public to the program--or her pet project will wilt on the vine.

And KidsCare addresses only part of the state's kid universe. There are plenty of under- and unfunded kid-related programs with happy names that Hull can turn her attention to, like Healthy Families, a child abuse prevention program, or Healthy Start, designed to provide prenatal care to women who don't get it.

Arizona continues to be the poster state for messed-up kids. Child Protective Services is an underfunded, mismanaged shambles. Quality childcare is all but impossible to find.

Arizona ranks 50th among states for high-school dropouts, 41st for child poverty, 45th for births to teens, 42nd for overall child well-being.

Pick one, Governor, or two or three or all of them.

Challenges abound, like what to do with Fife Symington's leftovers?
The Department of Corrections is headed for a meltdown, with overworked, unhappy guards, and prisoner complaints about subhuman conditions, which DOC director and Symington appointee Terry Stewart hasn't done much to fix.

Another Fife-man, Department of Public Safety chief Joe Albo, has seriously ruffled the rank and file at DPS with rampant favoritism and other morale-plungers, like reassigning whistle-blowers to unsavory spots in the department. Albo naysayers were told to sit tight until after the election. Albo has a contract with the state to serve until 2000, but DPS-watchers say that contract should be broken or bought out.

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