John Kavanagh Defends His Trips to Commie China and Azerbaijan

I can hear you now: "John Kavanagh, for a second week in a row?"

Admittedly, in the post-Russell Pearce era, villains ain't what they used to be, but Kavanagh, a Republican and chair of the state House Appropriations Committee, took exception to some of what I had to say about him in last week's column and nearly talked my ear off defending himself.

So how could I resist another swipe at the piñata? Especially when Kavanagh's aching to move over to the state Senate this year, where he can field more cracked, far-right legislation — you know, like his genius idea to regulate "aggressive" panhandlers, which I discussed last week.

Chairman K's got a million of 'em. Thing is, some make it into the law books. Like Arizona's bid at becoming a police state — Senate Bill 1070, which Kavanagh sponsored along with his good buddy Pearce back in the day.

Additionally, there are lesser-known nuggets of hostility, including Kavanagh's 2012 bill (now law) criminalizing passive resistance.

Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day just passed, it's worth harking back to Kavanagh's performance as he pimped his bill making passive resistance a class-one misdemeanor before the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

Referring to protesters who go limp while getting arrested, Kavanagh, a former cop with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, explained that he was addressing his own grievance with those practicing civil disobedience.

"I've always been annoyed that people would force police officers to pick them up and carry them around and slow down the process," testified Kavanagh before the committee.

Under questioning by Democrats, he admitted there had been no stakeholder meetings on the subject and that no police organizations were seeking the change in the law, which made passive resistance a form of resisting arrest.

When one Democrat on the committee wondered whether those African-Americans engaged in the civil rights struggle of the last century would have been affected by the statute, Kavanagh had a smart-ass reply:

"No, they would not because this [law] won't be effective until 90 days after the session."

Oh, how the Republicans chortled.

As with his proposed law regulating panhandling, Kavanagh's anti-Gandhi law is unneeded, vindictive legislation, the kind he enjoys moving.

Last week, I mentioned in passing Kavanagh's supposed solution to the crisis involving Arizona's Child Protective Services, which Governor Jan Brewer has since "abolished," reorganized, and renamed.

Whatever you call it, the former CPS could use more money to address the problem of thousands of un-investigated cases.

Kavanagh proposes a referendum that, if approved by voters, would take "at least 25 percent" of the budget of an early-childhood development and services program called First Things First and mandate that it be used "to fund programs and services for children in the Child Protective Services program."

Kavanagh objected to my line in the column about his wanting to "shave off 25 percent of its budget and give it to CPS."

When I accused Kavanagh of splitting hairs, he disagreed.

"I'm not splitting hairs," he said. "Not one dime of that money is going to be spent for case workers, for investigators, for clerical staff. Not one dime of that money goes into the CPS bureau or division.

"It totally stays in First Things First, and they direct it to social and educational programs and drug treatment programs for children under CPS, or who recently were, and their families."

So what Kavagnah suggests will not give money to help with the investigation of child-abuse cases.

Boy, do I stand corrected.

Where is the needed money going to come from then? What about that nearly $1 billion surplus Brewer touted in her State of the State address?

Kavanagh contends it does not really exist because the state still is spending more than it takes in and that without any increases in revenue, Arizona will "be about a half-billion dollars in the red" come 2017.

Here's a novel concept: Why not raise taxes to generate revenue?

"I would not vote for a tax increase, and if you need a two-thirds vote for it, that will never happen," he says. "Not in the foreseeable future, unless there's a tectonic political shift in Arizona."

Thus, the tots suffer and keep on sufferin'. And if some abused kids need services, the funds for some it have to come from another group of needy kids.

Sounds like a scene right out of Oliver Twist.

The state representative also played defense concerning his 2012 trip to China, paid for by an arm of China's communist government, which I also discussed last week, and about a trek I just learned about — to the Republic of Azerbaijan. He and his wife visited the latter in 2013 as guests of a state-owned oil company, Kavanagh says.

"It's not costing the taxpayer one dime," Kavanagh insists. "Admittedly, I'm not a congressperson, but by the same token, it increases our knowledge level about issues. And beyond that, it helps build friendships with foreign countries, so it helps our country overall, too."

Now that's what I call a patriot.

Kavanagh and his wife, Linda, mayor of Fountain Hills, were the only politicians from Arizona on the trip to China.

On the trip to Azerbaijan, there were several state legislators, including Democratic representatives Chad Campbell and Ruben Gallego and Ruben's wife, Kate, now a Phoenix city councilwoman, Republican state Senator Don Shooter, and even Republican state Senator Michele Reagan, whose seat Kavanagh hopes to inherit this year as she runs for Arizona Secretary of State.

Ironically, Reagan is a proponent of tightening Arizona laws regarding gifts to legislators, though she wants to close the loophole for tickets to sporting events. Not the one for travel and lodging.

But Kav seems to miss the gist of last week's column, which pointed out that the kind of mooching he and his colleagues practice is far more lucrative than the "aggressive" street begging he wants to punish in one bill.

"If I accept a trip from something or a donation from a constituent or a lobbyist, I don't harass them to get it," he told me. "You know, they come to me and they want to give it."

Yeah, but the only reason pols like him get the opportunity to expand their horizons through travel is because they're supposedly servants of the people.

"I pay for plenty of my own vacations," Kav said. "I might also add, this is not exactly like a vacation. These trips are extremely structured and regimented. And you spend an awful lot of time meeting with government officials, going on tours of factories. Clearly, they give you fun things to do, too."

They do indeed, as a photo gallery from the Azerbaijan trip on Linda Kavanagh's Facebook page attests. Most of the shots are of the representative and his wife playing tourist at historical sites. There is a shot of Kavanagh in what looks like a meeting.

Azerbaijan formerly was part of the Soviet Union, but it no longer is communist.

China, however, remains a one-party state, where dissent is crushed ruthlessly and state-sponsored capitalism is encouraged.

Indeed, some modern Republicans are a lot like China's newfangled communists. They also crush dissent, encourage capitalism, and enjoy ruling-class perks, peasants and their ragamuffin rugrats be damned.

I'm sure not saying Kavanagh is a commie, even though he took a free trip from commies.

Still, a Mao jacket would suit him.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons