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.

It's time for action, Governor Hull.
But nowhere is action more needed than at the Department of Environmental Quality.

In the coming months, Jane Hull will have to work hard if she wants to reverse the reputation she's quickly earning as the Anti-Environment Governor.

Hull didn't win any Green friends for one of the few pointed remarks she made on the campaign trail: "Some day the federal government will realize jobs are more important than small animals."

And she's infuriated environmental activists who are still waiting for an answer to the letter they sent Hull last Earth Day, calling for the removal of DEQ chief Russell Rhoades.

Even the enviros who complained bitterly about Ed Fox when he headed DEQ are begging for his return--that's how unhappy they are with Rhoades, who's been nothing more than an apologist for industry. Rhoades supported the so-called Polluter Protection Act, a measure that would have allowed polluting industries to self-regulate their own pollution. Even Fife Symington vetoed that one when it hit his desk.

Privately, the activists were told: Wait until after Election Day. Election Day has come, and the rumor mill says Rhoades will be out within the week. Of course, it appears Hull's already trumped that move with her rumored Rhoades replacement: Jim Norton, vice president of the big-business-boosting Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Appointing Norton head of DEQ would be like asking Hunter S. Thompson to head up the Food and Drug Administration. Bad idea.

Apparently, no one--including Norton--is salivating over the spot. But there's no shortage of qualified candidates. For starters, how about water attorney Karen Peters, hydrologist Jim Lemmon, state legislators Herschella Horton or Chris Cummiskey?

Even if Hull doesn't have replacements in mind, there's no point in waiting to remove unsavory agency heads. Get 'em out and put acting directors in their place, and do it in the afterglow of the election.

Hull's biggest task in the coming years will be to keep the development community--the self-described "dirt guys"--from bulldozing her.

The potential is there. Del Webb CEO Phil Dion was Hull's campaign finance chairman, and although the final figures won't be in until December, we already know that Hull took more than $75,000 in contributions from developer types.

Even last spring, before the fund raising began in earnest, the dirt guys' fingerprints were all over Hull's work--particularly the Growing Smarter initiative and legislative package. Now Hull will have a hand in appointing the Growing Smarter Commission, charged with preparing recommendations for the state's growth by September 1999. I hope she'll avoid dirt guy lawyers like Steve Betts, or at least temper such appointments with a real conservationist, someone like David Baron, of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest.

And the water issue won't go away. Paul Johnson made much of Hull's cozy relationship with Nevadans, in light of the fact that Arizona and Nevada will likely enter into formal water-banking negotiations soon. Johnson picked the right issue, but the wrong area. Local water policy experts say that while state officials have been focusing on Central Arizona Project water, attention has been diverted from the real crisis area: rural Arizona communities that don't have access to the CAP, and are running out of water.

The community at the top of this list is Prescott Valley. Guess who had to put a huge development there on hold earlier this year, because there is no water to sustain it?

Del Webb.
That could present a challenge for Hull.

There's a piece of wisdom passed down among schoolteachers that Jane Hull, the ex-teacher, should recall: Start the school year off as a strict disciplinarian. No nonsense, no wiggling, no smart talk. At first, the kids will think you're mean, but you'll have control. Then, as the year progresses, you can ease off. You'll win the students' respect, and get them to perform, teachers say. It's a fine art, and one that Hull might consider adapting to her work as governor, whether she's dealing with bureaucrats, legislators or dirt guys.

This is Jane Hull's last term and her only shot at creating a legacy. Granny Hull is surely not up to the challenge. This is a job for Big Red.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com

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