Letters

From the week of December 21, 2000

The Common Good

Just cause: In response to your article about changes at Arizona Common Cause ("Lost Cause," Amy Silverman, December 7), I would like to correct and clarify some points on behalf of that organization's board.

Arizona Good Government Association, in leaving the Common Cause family, left no unpaid bills behind. Our disagreements with the national organization over fund-raising goals and the allocation of funds between state and national are not debts. In fact, Arizona members of Common Cause give nearly $2 to the national office for every one they get back in support of the state operation or state campaigns. Our directors voted unanimously on November 19 to go it alone, with two former executive directors joining the action. Eleven days later, the national office discontinued the relationship that we had already ended. Our action was based on what we thought was best for future reform activities in Arizona, and based on our assessment of the national association's ability to survive -- it faces insolvency according to an October 23 e-mailed memo circulated widely by the national office. Reform ideas designed to attract younger members (current members are an average age of 73) were proposed over the past two years by the Arizona group but not accepted by the national organization.

Locally, the group has been vitally involved in Arizona reform, and still is. We were an essential partner in the reform coalition that passed the Clean Elections program in 1998, a campaign for which we provided legal research, political assistance, and an audit report of the sources of every campaign dollar used in the prior legislative election.

After that shared victory, we launched the campaign for redistricting reform, which became the Proposition 106 campaign. We convened a public meeting to discuss it, managed a research and drafting committee with the League of Women Voters and Valley Citizen's League, worked with Senator Cunningham and Representative Nichols to put through legislative test versions, recruited national and state legal experts to volunteer their time to improve it, met with and persuaded Grant Woods, Polly Rosenbaum and Jim Pederson to co-chair it, put up and publicized a public Web site where people could see the draft version and suggest improvements (which many did), met with and asked Mr. Pederson, Eddie Basha, and several major organizations to fund it, met with opinion leaders and editorial writers to make sure they didn't see any defects that the rest of us hadn't spotted, brokered the final negotiations between the participants (at a memorable meeting at Grant Woods' office), and a good deal more. Common Cause volunteers made 2,500 signs and put them up (and took them down) through the wee hours of many nights.

The regeneration of our 30-year-old reform organization, Arizona Common Cause, into the Arizona Good Government Association was done to move into the new century as fully engaged as possible with Arizonans of all ages. Our free membership, active program in the Legislature, and programs to develop more inclusive political participation offer new vitality to an organization that had become, by our own self-assessment, effective but dull, strategic but lonely. Making a real change and adapting to the future is always difficult, but we are happy to be moving ahead in this new direction, free to set our own sails.

Dennis Burke, executive director
Arizona Good Government Association

Burke's law: Although I've always been an admirer of Amy Silverman's writing, her article about the demise of Common Cause is far off the mark. While a Common Cause board member during the early 1990s, I became well aware of the tensions that existed between the national office and local branches of Common Cause. Local organizations are supposed to receive permission from the national office for almost any activity they might wish to undertake, yet the office in Washington never consults local groups about the national agenda. Financially, local branches must be committed to support national activities by paying dues that are often perceived by their membership as draining resources from local agendas. Twice a year, during my tenure as a board member, each of us was charged with calling other Common Cause supporters, and requesting financial support for the organization. Our other supporters almost always wanted to know how much of their donation would be sent to Washington, and how much would be used here. Many stated that they would contribute only if all their contribution were used to support Arizona activities. Consequently, it was always difficult to raise the funds needed to support the national office of Common Cause.

There are two ways that legislation regarding government reform can be achieved. One is through legislation that depends on constant lobbying at the Legislature, which, in the past, was the modus operandi of Common Cause. This procedure has generally been unsuccessful and has resulted in a new strategy among reform groups -- citizen-initiated referenda. The latter are far more difficult and expensive to achieve, entailing, as they do, massive local fund raising and the formation of coalitions, often of somewhat disparate interest groups, that must work together over extended periods of time. As compared with previous lobbying activities at the Legislature, which led to little or no legislative breakthroughs, referenda strategy developed by coalitions either headed by or including Common Cause have resulted in the passage of Proposition 200 (Clean Elections) and Proposition 106 (Independent Redistricting).

It was Dennis Burke, as head of Common Cause, who was enough of a visionary to realize that hanging out in the halls of our state Legislature was not the most effective way to pass reform legislation. This may not be appreciated by our elected representatives or by Common Cause in Washington, but his activities have made it possible for Arizona to have a cleaner and more responsive government, for which we should all be thankful.

Luisa Stark
Phoenix

The Fahr Side

Ill will: I have known Felicia Fahr for about six years and I've enjoyed the shows that I've seen her perform ("She-Male Trouble," Dewey Webb, December 7). After she left the 307 Lounge, I was privileged to perform with her in some of the other local venues. Our shows lasted several months, and every time there was a performance, you were sure that Felicia would do something or say something crazy. She is absolutely great.

I would have to agree with the others who stated that Felicia can be extremely tough. But as she stated, she is just honest. Brutally honest. She will tell it like it is, asked or not asked. But I guess that's what endears her to me. I appreciate her honesty. I admire her struggle.

However, I must tell you that I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I was one performer who was asked to perform at a couple of her benefit shows. But I did not perform. I allowed myself to fall prey to the rumors of drug abuse.

Thank you for bringing this story to my attention. I've not seen Felicia for more than a year, and it's sad that it has to take a public newspaper to bring something like this to a friend's attention.

David Canen
Phoenix

Bushwhacked

Dolt.com: Jeremy Voas wrote: "The probable ascendancy of George W. Bush is incontrovertible proof that America loves a dolt" ("Dunce Fever," November 30).

May I remind you, however, that 300,000 more Americans voted for Al Gore than for Dubya? The proof is hardly "incontrovertible."

But it may indeed be true that Arizonans love a dolt, as evidenced by the number of them who have been elected to public office in this state. On the other hand, Voas asked, "What difference, really, will it make in your life -- or mine -- if George W. is president and Al Gore is not?"

In one area, if no other, the choice of president will almost certainly make a big difference in many lives -- the appointments to federal judgeships, both the Supreme Court and others. While such appointments do indeed need congressional approval and thus the decision is not solely the president's, he alone makes the nominations. On crucial issues such as civil rights, the death penalty, abortion, prayer in school and others, the person elected to the presidency in 2000 may have a very big impact on our lives.

Linda Ann Wheeler Hilton
Buckeye

Let George do it: I believe it would be fairly easy to take two years of speeches from any politician and find a few poorly phrased sentences. George W. Bush's popularity does not come from how he states his beliefs, but the fact he actually does have beliefs and standards, something that has clearly been lacking in the last eight years.

The Clinton/Gore administration seems to have a single guideline: What can we get away with? Gore has the ability to twist facts, while simultaneously ignoring them. To me this is not a quality of intelligence or leadership.

Brian Martin
via Internet

Kelley's Zero

Slam dunk: I am with the band Kind of Like Spitting. I just read Brendan Kelley's very lopsided review of our last record, 100 Dollar Room (In Town, November 30). I figured since he felt the need to go out of his way to make it extra insulting (it was more a slam on my character than the band), I could let him in on something. Know this: I love music, and everyone involved in putting out records and touring with Kind of Like Spitting loves music. We bust our asses to do this, and I am proud of 100 Dollar Room.

I know it's bad form and it makes me look petty to answer a review, but I don't really give a shit. Brendan Kelley is straight up mean, and from my end of things (dealing with bands and club owners around the area for the last few years) has done more to hurt the Phoenix music scene than help it.

Ben Barnett
via Internet

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