Ambient Derelicts

Hey you! Mister! Gimme a buck. I need a drink.
Christ, I feel like I've got gum in my hair.
I'm feeling mentally ill and homeless.
I'm feeling like Larry Naman. Who wouldn't after watching our politicians?

I'm watching Governor Jane Dee Hull slap the snot out of kids at the same time she wants credit for helping them. I'm watching Congressman Matt Salmon bitch because Hull isn't slapping children hard enough. As if all this isn't bipolar enough, Salmon now claims he was so upset he was tempted to run against Hull with financing arranged by a convicted felon, our ex-governor, Fife Symington.

You watch these politicians bat children's health issues around like a wiffle ball and you can't help thinking of Larry Naman.

Last week in downtown Phoenix, Naman concluded his trial for shooting a politician in the rear end.

Naman wounded county supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox because she voted to impose a tax to build a baseball stadium. Outraged citizens had already rejected such a levy in a referendum.

Naman couldn't believe an elected official would just ignore the public will. So he aimed at her head and, somehow, shot Mary Rose in the behind. They say Larry Naman is a transient with a history of mental illness. Myself, I don't know about that for certain.

But I sure do puzzle about Larry Naman and what got him so upset that he would shoot Mary Rose in the ass, aside from the fact that it was the sort of target you couldn't miss even if you were drunk and homeless.

What with representing himself in trial, Larry Naman hasn't had the time to obsess on Jane Dee Hull and Matt Salmon, but you've got to think once he does focus on the governor and the congressman, he'll be setting up a machine-gun nest.

Governor Hull's so-called "KidsCare" bill would piggyback on federal legislation to provide medical coverage for children of the working poor. If the state allocated $38 million from its tobacco-tax cache, KidsCare could tap into $113 million in federal funds. If Arizona doesn't claim that money, it will go to some other, smarter, state.

There are 200,000 kids in Arizona whose parents don't make enough to purchase health insurance. These numbers don't include welfare kids, who qualify for the state's AHCCCS program. We're only talking about kids who don't qualify for AHCCCS because their parents work.

Conservative critics claim the medical coverage smacks of Hillary Clinton, a rallying cry that induces spasms in mouth breathers on the right like Congressman Salmon.

In order to appease this faction of her party in Arizona, Hull keeps dumping kids from her bill. While many states are including families who earn 200 percent of the federal poverty level, Hull is groveling down at the 150 percent level for the first year. From a pool of 200,000 needy kids, Hull's pared it down to 42,000 children who will actually benefit from her version of the KidsCare bill, year one. She still can't get the cooperation of conservatives to get the bill through the Legislature.

In condemning 158,000 kids to continue living without health care, the governor has been praised in the press as compassionate because 42,000 other kids will get to see doctors. It's a funny kind of math. Makes me want to push my shopping cart to another neighborhood.

Now that KidsCare is stalled in the Legislature's La Brea Tar Pit, it is obvious the bill needed either cold, deft political leadership or compassionate championing that would have inspired the legislative troops.

The editor of the Arizona Republic's editorial page, Keven Ann Willey, tells us that Governor Hull has proved herself "a leader" on health care for children of the working poor.

When did people like Keven Ann start thinking Hull was executive material? The fact is that Hull and Willey have shared sleeping bags for so long that when one itches, the other scratches.

Hull's press secretary informs me that Willey was consulted by the governor's staff when Hull ascended to the governorship. The governor's people wanted to know who Willey thought would make a good press secretary. Gee. Any wonder why Keven Ann finds Jane Dee so impressive?

Can I have a drink here? To the leadership of Jane Hull . . .
People forget that Hull didn't know how to get legislation passed when she was in the House. Burt Barr did that for the Republicans.

I only remember one Hull bill, and if it demonstrated leadership, it also underlined with garish red lipstick her sense of compassion.

In 1988, Hull introduced a bill to rid her legislative district of a group home. The small treatment center cared for victims of serious head trauma. We're not discussing a group home for child molestors. These are victims of strokes and car accidents.

Monica Claros remembers when her organization, now called Rehab Without Walls, was driven out of central Phoenix by the sensitive Hull.

"In the year and a half we were located on North Central, there was never an incident. The patients were never loud or raucus. But the neighbor behind us and others had an issue with patients walking in the neighborhood with a staff person," Claros says.

Although the staff didn't sport attention-grabbing uniforms, some of victims of head injuries did have unusual walking gaits. After all, these people were brain damaged.

Neighbors felt a business, particularly one that treated the handicapped, would drive down property values. Hull agreed.

Now I'm supposed to believe that Governor Hull cares about the children of the working poor.

Rehab Without Walls never recovered from Hull's bill. It's had to move three times. The treatment center is in central Phoenix, but the group home is now in Chandler.

According to Irwin Altman, Rehab's executive director, the residents of the group home spend almost two hours a day commuting back and forth from Chandler to the treatment center.

Maybe that doesn't bother a patient we'll call Carlos Soto. He doesn't complain. A farmhand for years, Soto was working on a piece of machinery when the tire exploded and the metal rim nearly took his head off.

Hospitalized for a year, Soto made little progress and was on his way to permanent institutionalization when Rehab Without Walls took him in. After 15 months of therapy, Soto now volunteers at the Desert Botanical Garden and restores bicycles for St. Vincent de Paul. He is ready to go home to his family.

The old facility on North Central accommodated 12 patients before Hull intervened. The new place in Chandler only takes five.

Like I said earlier, this funny math you get with Jane Hull makes my head ache. Still, folks with brain trauma fare better with Hull's heart than, say, prisoners, whom Hull once suggested could suffocate in Arizona's summer heat for all she cared.

No, if health care for children of the working poor was going to fly at the statehouse, it would not be a result of Hull's use of the bully pulpit of compassion. She is more Mommy Dearest than Mother Teresa.

The legislation's success hinged on Hull's leadership.

Matt Salmon wasn't buying Keven Ann Willey's theory that the governor is a great leader. Conservatives floated his name to run against Hull in the Republican primary. Salmon encouraged speculation but said he must consult with God before making a final decision.

God wrestled with the prospect of Salmon reportedly taking a quarter of a million dollars from the criminal wing of the Republican party.

No one seemed to mind that former governor Luca Brazzi and his minions wanted to raise $250,000 from a prison cell to finance Salmon's campaign against Hull. No problem for me, either. Have some Muscatel.

What Salmon caught flak in the press for was daring to run in a primary against Hull, who wasn't elected but inherited her post as governor when Symington was convicted of high-stakes bank fraud.

You see, we don't mind the crook's continued influence peddling and fund raising; it's Salmon's loyalty that's the issue. And you wonder why crazy people pick up guns?

On Monday, God told Salmon to stay in Congress.

While Hull's KidsCare legislation has ground to a halt amid cries from Salmon and his brethren that the governor is foisting Hillary Clinton-style health care upon us, a conservative legislator told me of a compromise solution that demonstrates what's wrong with Hull's leadership.

Acknowledging that some members of the conservative caucus will never help kids of the working poor as long as the nefarious federal government funds the bulk of the program, Representative Laura Knaperek nonetheless thinks a solution is in sight.

But she points a finger at Hull's leadership to explain the current impasse.
Knaperek is a thoughtful critic. She has worked for years on health-care issues, first as the director for the Arizona Consortium for Children With Chronic Illness, and for the last four years as a legislator.

She and her allies began planning for expanded health-care coverage for the working poor when Arizona instituted welfare reform.

As a conservative, she was an advocate for a pilot program called premium-sharing in which the working poor pay up to 4 percent of their income for health coverage. She shepherded this program through both houses of the Legislature last year. In fact, Knaperek's pilot program is more generous than KidsCare, whose federal rules allow states to charge the working poor up to 5 percent of their income for medical care.

Argue all you want about the mechanics of the legislation, the point that Knaperek makes is that many conservatives have no intention of abandoning the poor as the press has suggested. She claims to have constructive ideas about implementing health care for the working poor. But Hull, Keven Ann Willey's leader, refused to invite this caucus into the deliberation.

"We were told by Hull's staff that our ideas would only muddy the waters.
"Well, what does that mean?" asked Knaperek. "We can't have discussion?"
And so when Governor Hull called her infamous press conference to announce her KidsCare bill, extreme conservatives picketed the event, calling for Congressman Salmon to challenge her at the polls. Players like Knaperek sat on their hands.

The only people who stood behind Republican Hull at her media event were Democrats who can't pass the time of day in the Legislature, let alone Hull's bill.

Hull has finally recognized that any number of deranged shooters might be drawing a bead on her fanny. According to Knaperek, Hull has asked for the legislator's assistance in drafting compromise legislation. She says Hull is telling the conservative caucus, "If you don't like my bill, draft another."

Representative Knaperek says she is working on legislation that will cover 75,000 kids--33,000 more than Hull's bill--and that she intends to see that these kids' parents get health care, too. She is working with the same two pools of funding, federal funds and Arizona's tobacco tax.

After you get done with Governor Hull's posturing about her sensitivity and her leadership, after you get past Congressman Salmon's criminal associations, you may not forgive Larry Naman for capping a politician, but you can see how he got there.

It isn't just me.
The jury in the Naman case didn't run back in with a verdict. The case went to the jury last Thursday. Monday morning, the jury was still trying to make up its mind about the shooting. Jurors looked at Mary Rose, then they looked at Larry Naman. Then they looked back at Mary Rose.

Some of those jurors must have been feeling mentally ill and homeless themselves. They couldn't choose quickly between a citizen shooter and a politician.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey