Raising Arizona

Okay, Janet, you won. Now what?

It's up to Governor Napolitano, says Russ Van Vleet, one of the federal court monitors, to make sure history does not repeat itself.

Van Vleet touches on a concern throughout Arizona government. At times, perhaps because of the enormousness of the change Napolitano has promoted, perhaps because of politics, programs that were heading in the right direction have been abandoned to obscurity.

Once such program was an attempt to help asthmatic Phoenix schoolchildren survive the growing air pollution in the Valley.

Joe Forkan
Joe Forkan

The program was launched with great fanfare and hope. At the end of Napolitano's first term, though, no legislation has been passed, no departmental mandates have been given to schools, and there's no enforcement from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

To paraphrase Santayana, Napolitano is dooming these kids to repeat their history of asthma attacks.

And if there's any simple definition of a great leader, it is this:

They are the people who stop history from repeating itself.

The greats of Arizona political history all knew that nothing happens in Arizona without water.

The dams of the Salt River Project, the Central Arizona Project, the canal systems, the landmark water settlements, all provided the foundation for modern Arizona.

In her first four years, Janet Napolitano did surprisingly little to secure Arizona's future water supply.

More than just conservationists, the call for strong governmental leadership in state air and water resource issues is coming from numerous sectors, including pro-growth think tanks such as the Center for Prosperity and Competitiveness Research.

"There's no doubt the quality of the environment is a fundamental quality-of-life issue," Tom Rex says.

What Napolitano has failed to do, and needs to do, is push for stronger measures to protect Arizona's water.

Some suggestions from researchers and advocates:

• Require that all development in the state demonstrate an adequate long-term water supply.

• Move toward water policies that better recognize that pollution and degradation of the state's rivers and streams deeply affects the quality and quantity of groundwater on which life here depends. As part of this, with more than 90 percent of Arizona's stream and river beds degraded or destroyed, put in place strict groundwater-pumping guidelines within scientifically established preserves to better protect the few remaining riparian areas of Arizona.

Once again, Napolitano, even in an area where she has come up short, is still perceived to be better than most of her predecessors.

"Well, to be honest, she didn't make a lot of promises regarding the environment her first term," says Sandy Bahr, conservation director for the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club. "But we had nowhere to go but up. And she has definitely shown leadership in some areas. We'd just obviously like to see a little more leadership."

And Bahr notes that some of the pro-conservation measures that Napolitano has supported have gotten spit out by the hard right in the Legislature.

"That is a very hostile place for anything that might require conservation or more planning or proof of water adequacy," Bahr says. "Simply, she's not that culpable for what's wrong with Arizona right now."

She might want to up her culpability, though, because the environment likely will be something on which her legacy is judged in the future.

Simply, most would agree that Arizona can't continue to sprawl at its present rate without serious ramifications, some of which, like the brown cloud and L.A.-like traffic snarls, are already upon us.

It will be the leader who guides the state toward a more sustainable future who will be remembered.

Other ideas:

• Set an aggressive goal of "no bad air days" within four years for downtown Phoenix. Asthma is reaching epidemic proportions under the Valley's widening brown cloud, and so far, Napolitano has done little of substance to fight it.

• Support and implement meaningful energy conservation and renewable energy policies. For one, she could create a statewide building code for energy efficiency.

• Attempt again an alternative-fuel incentive program that involves only small, efficient cars. Arizona's previous alt-fuel incentive plan could have been successful if not written to include open-ended rebates for any vehicle, most notably in the alt-fuel debacle of a few years ago, giant luxury SUVs.

• Push transportation policies that focus more on buses, light rail, bike paths and pedestrian-friendly areas.

Environmentalists like Bahr suggest these policies primarily for their intrinsic value of improving the health and sustainability of the landscape and the creatures living in it.

But, if sustainable life is too fruity a concept, once again, as Rex points out, these policies also are necessary, in modern America, to attract the type of industries and jobs that raise the income and general quality of life in a region.

This is the nexus at which the progressive thinkers in both parties now meet.

It is here in the center, where people talk of prosperity and progress and humane, efficient government going hand-in-hand — that Janet Napolitano has built her power base.

Considering her poll numbers, it appears this is where the vast majority of Arizonans want to be.

Which leads us to some final, big ideas to help secure Janet's place in history by the greats like Joseph Kibbey.

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