The Bird Praises CameraFraud.com and Aerosol Art While Urging State Democrats to Grow a Pair
Whenever this canary contemplates the difference between state Republicans and Democrats, he harks back to a famous episode from the original Star Trek series, entitled Mirror, Mirror. In it, Captain James T. Kirk and others are inadvertently transported to a mirror universe, where the egalitarian U.S.S. Enterprise is replaced with an alternate reality where torture is routine, cruelty is the order of the day, and shipmates advance in rank by assassinating their immediate superiors.
Hey, whatever system works, right? It shouldn't take you too much mental effort to conclude that The Bird means to compare the Arizona GOP to the Bizarro-world Enterprise described above. For state Republicans, winning is everything, and if you don't do it, you might as well whip out the samurai sword and perform seppuku on yourself. Either that, or execute an underling.
The latest example of this is the announcement by the state GOP that Executive Director Sean McCaffrey will be walking the plank by the end of January. "State GOP Executive Director Celebrates Victories, to Depart for New Opportunities," announces the press release, which ticks off the state GOP's modest gains in the state Legislature, and then says McCaffrey will be moving on, perhaps to "set up his own communications or lobbying firm."
In a confab with The Bird, McCaffrey claimed he was leaving of his own accord and on excellent terms with GOP Chairman Randy Pullen. But GOP insiders inform this eagle that Pullen's throwing McCaffrey to the wolves to save his own hide. GOPers are pissed about their losses on the Arizona Corporation Commission, where Dems picked up two seats, and about Democratic wins giving the Donkey Kongs a majority of the state's U.S. House delegation.
Then there was Pullen's blunder in taking $105,000 from the mysterious Sheriff's Command Association, money used, in part, to fund slimy ads against Sheriff Joe Arpaio-foe Dan Saban. The eff-up needlessly exposed the state Republican Party to scandal, say GOP honchos, and pointed out how lackluster Pullen's fundraising efforts have been, since Pullen was forced to return the dolo to SCA point-man and MCSO Captain Joel Fox.
(As this tweeter's column goes to press, the Capitol Times is reporting that Fox has been ordered by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to pay more than $300,000 for violating state campaign laws.)
"Sean is the sacrificial lamb," one GOP player told The Bird on condition of anonymity. "Sean gives Pullen someone to blame for all his mistakes. Pullen is able to pass the buck, so to speak."
This, despite the fact that you could make the argument that in a year of Barack Obama-led change, the state GOP bucked the national trend, fending off a major Democratic challenge locally with fewer resources than the Dems, who had a bank-busting, million dollar-plus war chest.
Pre-election, the Arizona Democratic Party insisted it'd take the Legislature with its bloated bank account and massive voter-registration drive. But the Dems lost seats in the Legislature. And with Governor Janet Napolitano ditching the state to become Homeland Security Secretary, and Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer ready to take over, the GOP has a lock on state government for a while.
Still, many Republicans seem queasy with Pullen at the helm as they sally forth toward 2010, a gubernatorial election year.
"It'll be a year when we don't get much help from the national party," The Bird's Republican source noted. "And it really falls on AZ to raise its own nut. Pullen has clearly shown he does not have the ability to do that."
Hence, Pullen's need to find a fall guy before the party's reorganization meeting by the end of January.
Democratic Party Chair Don Bivens is also up for reelection at the Dems' January 24 reorganization meeting. His situation should be far worse than Pullen's, as the local Dems lost in the Legislature, and are currently staring down the black hole of a Brewer administration.
But is Bivens looking to whack his underling, Executive Director Maria Weeg, over the way Weeg executed the Dems' statewide coordinated campaign? Apparently not. Democratic Party squealers peeped to this parakeet about a recent incident where Weeg bragged behind closed doors to her fellow Dems that she thought the state party did swell in the recent campaign, dismal results aside.
This is the same tune Weeg was singing at the Dems' recent November meeting in Tucson, where Representative Steve Farley, policy leader of the state House Democratic caucus, encouraged the assembled to face the reality that "The hard right's in charge, folks."
At that powwow, Bivens did briefly mention the possibility that state Dems should maybe look at a change in strategy. But Weeg's shuck and jive was all sweetness and light, although she was the party staffer ultimately responsible for the state party's losses. In turn, Weeg answers to Bivens, who is elected by the party faithful.
"I just felt that there was far too much smiling," said Democratic activist Ted Prezelski of Weeg and Bivens' speeches at the Tucson event. Prezelski, who publishes the influential Democratic blog Rum, Romanism and Rebellion, said what was lacking was a straightforward analysis of how the state Democrats' 2008 debacle occurred.
Other activists, such as the Progressive Democrats of America's Arizona coordinator Dan O'Neal and Todd Landfried, host of the lefty KPHX talk-radio show Desert Politics, echoed Prezelski's sentiment.
"People need to be held accountable," explained Landfried. "If you go selling this bill of goods to people, and then nothing happens, why should you keep your job?"
In The Bird's eye, Bivens should be so petrified he's gonna be kicked out come January 24 that he'd be ready to offer up Weeg's noggin à la John the Baptist. In other words, the Dems need to grow some fangs, and be as ruthlessly results-oriented as the Republicans. Or they deserve to keep losing.
What's the one issue that could turn this die-hard democratic duck into a full-blown Republican rooster? Photo enforcement, those frickin' speed cameras that are going up willy-nilly all over the state and causing everyone to drive like a bunch of blue-haired biddies.
Folks are so peeved by these Orwellian gadgets that they're doing everything from protesting at the Phoenix offices of the Aussie firm responsible for them, Redflex, to stickering the cameras with Post-it notes, spraying them with Silly String, or taking a pickax to the roadside contraptions, as did Glendale resident Travis Townsend recently, to much applause from this avian and other photo-radar loathers.
The initial opposition to the cameras started with the grassroots organization CameraFraud.com, which itself came out of a monthly meet-up of Ron Paul supporters. That origin probably explains the similarity in CameraFraud.com's homemade, stenciled protest signs and those roadside signs from earlier in the year touting the "Ron Paul Revolution."
This group of assorted Republicans, Libertarians, and Indies has garnered free media from their lively protests, during which at least one of their tribe was collared by the Scottsdale po-po for allegedly blocking a Redflex camera with a sign. Their membership has more than quadrupled in recent weeks from 98 people to 481.
"This is an issue that's going to bring people together instead of dividing them," CameraFraud.com spokesperson D.T. Arneson informed this avian. "We're getting support from everyone from the ACLU on the left to the Minutemen and the Republicans on the right. And probably everyone else in between."
Arneson said his group is currently consulting with lawyers on language for a ballot proposition to ban the cameras. He stated he wouldn't put it past Redflex to try to replicate the recent Payday Loan campaign, which sought to trick people into voting for a pro-Payday Loan prop. Arneson was also wary of the Townsend-pickax story, fearing that Townsend's alleged photo camera-assault would be used to taint CameraFraud.com.
"Thankfully, he's not someone who joined our meet-ups, or anything like that," said Arneson.
All the same, Arneson and his fellow road warriors seem to be winning their PR war against Redflex. Theirs is the go-to site for anyone pissed off at the prospect of receiving a $181 ticket for driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, or those who've already gotten one. And Camerafraud.com's scored informational coups such as posting the 400-plus page contract between Redflex and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. And discovering that a member of Secretary of State Jan Brewer's gubernatorial transition team, Jay Heiler, used to work for Redflex.
The Heiler tidbit raises the question of how the anti-tax-and-spend GOPers are going to deal with the burgeoning citizen revolt over all this oppressive photo enforcement shutterbuggery. Brewer and her fellow pachyderms could score major points across the political spectrum if they ditched photo radar and blamed the whole mess on the DC-bound Napolitano. Hell, such a move might even get this lefty lapwing voting for Brewer in 2010.
A phone call to Brewer's office was not immediately returned. But The Bird did get Arizona State Treasurer Dean Martin on the horn. GOPer Martin's been an unflagging opponent of photo enforcement. Before being elected Treasurer in 2006, Martin introduced legislation as a state senator attempting to reign it in and make it more accountable.
"It was never about slowing down speeders or safety," said Martin, referring to the cameras. "It was only about revenue. For example, someone who's driving 110 m.p.h. through six cameras never actually gets stopped. You don't stop the bad behavior. You just take a picture of it."
Martin thinks the money would be better spent putting more DPS officers on patrol, officers who could arrest drunk drivers, and respond to traffic collisions and other emergencies. That would make the freeways safer, he contends.
The State Treasurer also believes the current law authorizing the speed cameras is unconstitutional, as it was essentially a tax increase passed without the required two-thirds vote from the Legislature. Martin has even gone so far as to ask the state's Solicitor General Mary O'Grady to urge state courts to strike down the law.
Martin argues that the law is unfair to those who don't have enough money to pay the tickets, and he insists the effects on tourism will be devastating. Who would want to return to Cactus Country after getting home from a vacay to find a mail box full of Redflex tickets?! Obviously, Martin gets the populist appeal of this issue. But will Brewer?
Phoenix spends $2.3 million annually to "buff" graffiti off city walls, but The Bird wishes they'd catch a clue from some businesses in town that support "legal walls" for aerosol artists, allowing these spray-can Picassos to add some much-needed art to the city's often drab exterior.
As this avian's blogging bro, Feathered Bastard, has documented previously, one of these businesses is Miranda's Custom Cars at 706 South Central Avenue, where a wall that wraps around the auto body shop features urban art as dope as any you'd discover in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York City.
The images change regularly, and, ironically, one was ripped off this year by none other than County Attorney Andrew Thomas, whose office took a pic of a large piece by graf artist WIES and used it on an anti-graffiti flyer, even though Miranda's owner Luis Miranda had given permission for WIES and other artists to use his walls.
The Miranda wall, which has garnered attention in the graf community in and outside of Phoenix, was organized by PHX graf guru DOSE, who opts not to use his real name for obvious reasons. Recently, DOSE scored another legal wall for city graf artists at the Madison Event Center at 441 West Madison Street, right next to the Fourth Avenue Jail. (The legal wall is actually on Jackson Street, at Fourth Avenue.)
Proprietors Malcolm Marr and Michael Booher have allowed DOSE and the talent pool he commands to transform the south side of the property into a seasonal wall, which most recently featured Halloween-themed graffiti calling to mind graphics associated with old horror comics like Tales from the Crypt. Next up will be some Tim Burton-esque Christmas scenes. DOSE says they'll begin painting a few days after this column goes to press.
"At first, the response was a little negative," said Booher, noting that the city initially sent him a letter demanding that he paint over the graffiti. "Now I've got sheriff's deputies asking to pose in front of it."
Though the city threatened to fine Booher if he didn't paint out the graf or let city workers do it, officials eventually relented after Booher and Marr visited City Hall and told authorities that they'd commissioned the work. The same thing happened with Miranda. Seems the concept that someone might actually like graffiti befuddles those who run the city's Graffiti Busters program.
Booher and Marr have also allowed DOSE and artists such as CRE, SERP, ASEK, SREK, and DEXTER to paint inside the property's structures. What's developed is an impromptu gallery of graffiti murals, with artists flying in from as far away as L.A. and New York to add their paintings to scores already up.
Since the city cracked down last year on the underground raves that had been going on at the property ("The Party's Over," Sarah Fenske, October 25, 2007), the rechristened Madison Event Center has been renting out the buildings to bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, and the like. Of the three buildings on the property, one is a vast hall for more upscale events, which is graffiti-free, or sort of. DOSE and his collaborator SERP filled one entire wall with a spray-painted Manhattan cityscape.
Party-goers are often surprised, Booher says, to learn that the same artists who did the Manhattan skyline did the graf in and on the other buildings. They shouldn't be. It takes skills to do graffiti art and do it well.
The city should take notice and try spending a little bit of that $2.3 million on artists like DOSE. Phoenix's Department of Neighborhood Services currently sponsors no legal walls, according to Deputy Director Tim Boling. That's a shame. 'Cause P-town needs fewer façades the shade of brown paper bags and more vibrant colors, like DOSE and his comrades can deliver.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.