Legislator John Kavanagh Could Teach Panhandlers a Few Tricks, Like How to Score a Free Trip to China

State Representative John Kavanagh revels in his self-appointed role as the rightwinger Arizona lefties love most to hate.

Since recalled, disgraced former state Senate President Russell Pearce (Kavanagh's pal) was pounded into mainstream political irrelevance in 2011, Kavanagh's eclipsed his erstwhile mentor to become Sand Land's Lord Voldemort for liberals, dreaming up all kinds of ways to send those on the D-side into fits of apoplexy.

Which makes him evermore popular with the bloodthirsty moon-howlers who remain the base of the local Republican Party.

Lately, he's been on a roll, twirling his mustache and doing his best Oil Can Harry.

In response to the scandal over Child Protective Services, its 6,500-plus un-investigated cases, and the consensus that more money needs to be allocated for such investigations, Kavanagh, with a gleam in his eye, informed various television reporters that the solution was simple: Raid a state fund that provides grants for early-childhood health and education, shave off 25 percent of its budget, and give it to CPS.

The idea went over like a boxcar of lead, particularly since Governor Jan Brewer brags about how the state has a nearly $1 billion surplus.

She repeated the claim in her State of the State speech, wherein she announced that she was "abolishing" (read: "renaming") CPS via executive order and creating a new agency to protect children.

The mere fact that Kavanagh, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, wanted to rob one set of needy kids to help another set, rather than use any surplus cash or, God forbid, raise rich folks' (or anyone's) taxes, offers an indication of just how black Kavanagh's little black heart really is.

Kavanagh's latest genius idea deals with the horrific societal scourge of over-aggressive panhandling. Of course, you'll be hard-pressed to find an actual mendicant in Fountain Hills, home of the aged and the monied and where Kavanagh lives with his wife, Linda, who happens to be mayor of the burg.

Seems it sticks in Kavanagh's craw that, last year, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake overturned as unconstitutional Arizona's law against "loitering to beg," which cops in Flagstaff were using to crack down on that city's homeless population.

Apparently, this little thing called the First Amendment protects as free speech your right to ask for a handout. Wake's ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a 77-year-old Flagstaff woman arrested after asking a plainclothes lawman (and I use the term loosely) for a measly buck to buy a hamburger.

As panhandling is protected speech, Kavanagh wants to regulate it, preventing poor people from soliciting within 15 feet of an ATM or bank entrance and within 10 feet of a bus stop. Amusingly, Kavanagh felt the need to write in an exception for the bus driver asking for a prospective rider's fare.

House Bill 2024 also would prohibit begging if the beggar touches the beggee, follows the beggee, obstructs the beggee, or "[continues] to solicit the person after the person being solicited has clearly communicated a request that the solicitation stop."

First time is a petty offense; subsequent violations, a class-three misdemeanor.

Kavanagh told Capitol Media Services that the bill still allows people to "ply their First Amendment right to bum money from someone else."

He should know because Kavanagh can bum with the best of them in the Legislature, a veritable Parliament of Panhandlers.

This year, Kavanagh's looking to move over to the state Senate, and his campaign finance filing for January reads like a who's who of lobbyists, lawyers, and special interests.

Everyone from the Gila River Indian Community to Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms to SRP lobbyist Russell Smoldon to attorney Jordan Rose to onetime Phoenix mayoral hopeful Wes Gullett to lawyer Don Isaacson.

There are political committees aplenty kickin' in dough for Kavanagh: the Arizona Dental PAC, Freeport McMoran's PAC, PFIZER's PAC, the Arizona Pharmacy Association, the Beer and Wine Distributors of Arizona, Pinnacle West's PAC, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, yadda yadda yadda.

These PAC and individual contributions were from last year. Kavanagh's next filing, like those of his colleagues, should be impressive, what with new donation limits recently okayed by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Individuals can give legislative candidates up to $2,000 in the primary and $2,000 in the general. Ditto regular PACs.

See, when political panhandlers beg for campaign cash, they don't stand near freeway exits.

Often, they have a party at a supporter's house or rent a room at a restaurant. Lobbyists and others drop off their checks, grab a canape, shake a hand or two, and amscray.

That's the life of a legislator, Democrat or Republican. There are other perks. Various groups regularly take over the lawn of the state Senate or House and serve lunch for the representatives and senators. I've seen legislators stuffing food in their pockets before ambling back for a vote.

And there are the "gifts." The infamous American Legislative Exchange Council, for instance, regularly gives its members — legislators from various states — "scholarships" so that they may attend ALEC conferences at fancy-schmancy hotels and resorts and be treated as mini-Roman emperors as they discuss model ALEC legislation.

A report issued last year titled "ALEC in Arizona" and sponsored by Common Cause and People for the American Way, found Kavanagh to be one of the many state legislators who has accepted ALEC gifts ranging from $175 to $1,448 over the years.

There's nothing illegal about this. Legislators are required to list the source of any such gifts of more than $500 in their annual financial-disclosure forms to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, though they don't have to give details.

Kavanagh has complied with this requirement. The last one he filed, in January 2013, listed gifts from ALEC, as well as from a group I was unfamiliar with, the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

According to the website for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the People's Republic of China, CPAFFC is one of China's major foreign-affairs organizations, founded in 1954, for the "promotion of friendship and mutual understanding between the Chinese people and other peoples throughout the world."

Kavanagh doesn't mention it on his disclosure form, but he recently confirmed to me that in 2012, the CPAFFC paid for him and his wife to visit three cities in China with other legislative leaders from other states.

"It was a friendship and educational trip, and we visited Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing," he wrote via e-mail. "It was sponsored by [CPAFFC] and facilitated through the National Conference of State Legislatures. It was their legislative leaders trip. I was the only Arizona attendee."

When I asked again whether CPAFFC had paid for the entire trip for himself and his wife, he answered, "Yes."

The couple hasn't made a big secret of it. Mayor Linda Kavanagh has a Facebook page, where you'll find photos of her and Kavanagh smiling on the Great Wall of China with politicians from other states.

Kavanagh is not the only one who takes trips like this. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Arizona Legislature have taken junkets to other states or countries on the dime of various organizations.

And in our state parliament of bums, I wouldn't say Kavanagh is the biggest.

Though, if I were the reincarnation of dreaded Wisconsin U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy, I might observe that the People's Republic of China technically still is communist, and Kavanagh took a trip financed by an arm of a commie government.

I know, I know. In our crazy world, Chinese communists are actually state-backed capitalists. Just like the ones on Wall Street.

To be honest, I wouldn't begrudge Kavanagh the trip at all, were it not for his penchant for targeting the poor.

I mean, if the cost of that trip were converted into cash, can you imagine how many dollar burgers it would buy?

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