Longform

Mr. Lopez Goes to Scottsdale

The Lopezes are like a lot of South Phoenix families. They work hard, obey the law and pay taxes like their neighbors. But for years they've been frustrated that the public school where they send their daughter Lupe is falling apart.

State lawmakers say they've been trying to improve funding for schools in places like South Phoenix. But year after year, the money never comes, and Lupe's school gets even worse.

It looked like a simple case of discrimination, Gloria and Ramon Lopez thought. Their property-tax rates were actually higher than in whiter, more affluent towns like Scottsdale, where the schools have fat budgets. But in return for their taxes, the state provided their daughter an inferior school and a questionable future.

The Lopezes wanted the best for their child, but they didn't know what to do.

Then, in December, Arizona's Great White Father, Governor J. Fife Symington III, made history. Speaking on a local radio show, the governor delivered his very own Emancipation Proclamation, releasing the bonds of unhappy South Phoenix parents.

"You're dealing with different price levels of homes," announced the governor. The Lopezes, who happened to be listening, drew closer to their radio as Symington revealed his deep comprehension of the plight of poor school districts. "People are making market choices if they choose to live there. It's a free market. They don't have to go there and live there. Nobody's forcing anybody to move into that district.

"And so it's freedom of choice," said the governor, concluding, "so you know, as always in life, you make your own choices and you reap the benefit or consequences."

For Ramon, the governor's words were a revelation. "Why didn't we think of it before?" he said to his wife. "We made a bad market choice when we moved into the barrio. If our Lupe's school is crumbling, it's our own pinche fault for not living someplace better!"

And with that, the Lopezes made a monumental decision. They would take the governor's advice and make the best market choice in the Valley. They would move to north Scottsdale, where the paint has barely dried on some of the best schools in the Valley.

There was only one problem: Where would they get the cash? It was one thing to dream about moving to the great white north, and quite another to come up with a down payment.

Again, the Lopezes turned to their governor. What had Symington done when he needed some cash? Exactly. Lie about your net worth. Ramon submitted a financial statement to a lender, generously estimating the value of his South Phoenix home and their 11-year-old car.

The house, Ramon knew, was only worth about $20,000 and the car maybe $900. But he wrote that their total value was a whopping $2 million, figuring that it was their future worth--what he expected crazy white people to pay for them in, say, the 23rd century.

That lender couldn't hand Ramon a check fast enough!
Hours later, the Lopezes sealed the deal on a red-tiled mansion that could have housed the entire block in their old neighborhood. But now it was all theirs, and just a quick drive away in their new Chevy Suburban, Lupe's new school lay like a jewel gleaming in the sun.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega