A "Free Flow" of Lobbyists

Is Rose Mofford hiding something?
The bouffant-coiffed occupant of the ninth floor of the capitol tower doesn't think it's any of the public's business with whom she is meeting and consulting before making decisions. It seems that somehow letting the public know who is bending her ear might, in her words, "chill or impede the free and candid flow of information."

New Times requested copies of the governor's calendar for the last ten months of 1988 to determine which lobbyists met with Mofford before she made certain decisions, especially those to veto proposed legislation. The first request--hand-delivered to Mofford press aide Vada Manager--went unanswered for a month until an attorney for the newspaper sent a second letter. Mofford responded that she never heard about the request "by some inadvertence in my office"--the bureaucratic equivalent of "my dog ate my homework."

Finally, nearly a month later, she wrote back saying that, no, she couldn't let just anyone look at her calendar because "it would not be in the best interests of the public."

Did lobbyists influence her before she vetoed a pair of bills last year to change the liability system for doctors? You bet. Is she willing to tell who they were? Nope.

The Arizona Medical Association trotted out several doctors for an audience with Mofford in an effort to get her to sign the bills. They even brought in an obstetrician from Nogales to tell the governor how life for rural doctors would be much easier if she'd just ink her name to the legislation.

Not to be outdone, lobbyists for the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association insisted on an appointment with Mofford to tell their side of the story. They rounded up representatives of various groups, including the Arizona Consumers Council and the Gray Panthers, who predicted dire results unless Mofford vetoed the bills.

Mofford followed the advice of the trial lawyers and deep-sixed both measures. It didn't hurt that the trial lawyers traditionally support Democratic candidates.

"Citizens, legislators, executive branch employees and advisers must know that they may freely meet with and provide input to their governor," Mofford says. And what about lobbyists? Mofford says letting the public know that she met with a lobbyist before signing--or vetoing a bill--might give them the wrong idea. "I wouldn't want it to look like I was pressured into something," the governor says. "People get the wrong impression."

The doctors knew who was lobbying the governor. The lawyers knew who was lobbying the governor. But not the voters.

In an effort to show she's not hiding anything, Mofford points to the weekly calendars she makes available to the press. If the calendars reflect what the governor really does all day, Mofford may be telling the truth: It's not that she doesn't want the public to know with whom she's meeting. Maybe there isn't anything to hide.

For example, by perusing last week's "official" calendar the public would have found the following activities:

Mofford attends Ronald Reagan's speech at Arizona State University, swears in a new judge and attends an evening reception for a staff member.

Mofford has her weekly cabinet meeting. Of course, that's closed to the public.

Mofford signs a proclamation declaring April 1 "Wallace & Ladmo Day." Then she greets some students from China and signs a proclamation for the "Arizona Mother of the Year."

After a closed-door staff meeting, Mofford flies to Tucson to attend a Cleveland Indians baseball game.

Not a darn thing.
More baseball fever: the Seattle Mariners in Tempe.
Still more baseball fever: the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale.

(Midweek, Mofford's staffers rushed an addendum to the pressroom to say she was giving remarks to two conferences on Thursday.)

Last week wasn't unique. The prior week's official schedule shows such major events as "media day" at a golf tournament, a couple of receptions, a prayer breakfast, a couple of dinners, a visit to a nursing home, a trip to greet some mentally handicapped students and, of course, a baseball game.

And what does she do the rest of the time?
"I'm working," she says. "I'm reading bills, I'm looking at appointments, I'm working with department heads."

Mofford apparently hasn't found the pace too much of a burden. Aides already are scurrying around to raise money for a 1990 election race. They'll probably have to use a lot of television advertising if Mofford is so busy running the state that she just can't get out to campaign.

THIS IS ONE BILL YOU'LL PAY FOR What's a dead child worth? Not much, according to the backers of an insurance "reform" bill now winding its way through the Arizona House of Representatives.

Buried deep in the measure drafted by the insurance industry is a section that would stop injured motorists, passengers and pedestrians from collecting anything but actual economic losses. That includes the medical bills and things like lost wages. Damages for "pain and suffering" would be eliminated.

Left unsaid by bill sponsor Karen Mills during debate is exactly what that means in the case of a child killed by a negligent motorist: Because a child has no economic value, the only thing the offending driver would have to pay the surviving parents is the actual cost of burying the dead child. In most cases, it's the only thing that the driver's insurance company would have to pay.

And that's fine with Mills. "The only way we'll be able to lower our costs 40 to 50 percent," the Glendale Republican says, is to eliminate the obligation of the insurance companies to pay for these things. Anyway, she says, the parents are probably better off getting a guaranteed check for the $3,000 or so to pay for the casket and funeral than having to sue the negligent driver. "Right now you go into the tort lottery system," she says of having to go to court to sue. "You have no idea of what you're going to come up with."

Mills contends that the only people who really care about pain and suffering damages are the trial lawyers who traditionally take about a third of any court award. That can translate into large fees when jurors try to compensate parents for the death of a child. Mills' own argument debunks her professed concern for parents: By complaining about how often juries award damages to surviving parents, she admits that most parents now are compensated for far more than the burial costs.

The overall proposal by Mills is the first of its kind in the nation. No such system of what Mills calls "pure no-fault" exists anywhere. Even in Michigan, with its highly touted no-fault system, motorists retain far more rights to sue negligent motorists in cases of wrongful death or permanent and serious injury.

Mills' concoction also has some other unique quirks, including a provision that would allow a motorist to keep a fault-based policy but require that person to sue his or her own insurance company for injuries.

Mills' proposal also offers a carrot to consumers of a 15 percent rollback of existing rates. Never mind that A.M. Best Co., which monitors the insurance industry, reports that the average automobile insurance premium has doubled in Arizona in the last five years. And, it also ignores the fact that the insurance industry is challenging the constitutionality of a similar provision approved last year by California voters. If such a challenge is successful here, that would leave Arizona motorists with the new--and untested--system but with rates as high as before.

The fact that Mills is trying something here that's never been tried anywhere else--and making major changes in what negligent motorists and their insurance companies have to pay to victims--doesn't bother her. "Where would Thomas Edison have been if he was afraid of being the first one to do anything?" Mills asks. "You've got to be on the cutting edge of something.

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Howard Fischer