News

Red Scarce

Big Red is MIA.
We last glimpsed our superheroine--Governor Jane Dee Hull's tough-talking, get-the-job-done alter ego--in early January, when she gave her State of the State address. Dressed in her favorite color, with every fiery strand of hair sprayed into submission, Big Red vowed to fight for public education, at-risk families, underpaid state workers, the mentally ill and the preservation of a hunk of pristine Sonoran Desert near Cave Creek called Spur Cross Ranch. And she had the budget proposal to prove it.

At last, I thought, Arizona has a governor with both compassion and conviction, a leader who would use her power to make our state a better place. I felt myself humming "The Star-Spangled Banner." I got the urge to bake an apple pie.

But before I could get to the produce aisle, Arizona politics got ugly again. Hull's Republican colleagues in the Legislature--the mouth-breathers perched on the farthest edge of the right wing, the ones who make Newt Gingrich look like a liberal and Forrest Gump look like a brain surgeon--started calling our governor the dirtiest name they could think of:

Democrat.
Zap! Boom! Pow! More potent than kryptonite, more dangerous than thong underwear, that one word seemingly incapacitated our heroine. Big Red hasn't been heard from since.

Which begs the question: Does Jane Hull believe in her agenda, or was her State of the State just a feel-good mantra concocted by her staff to keep the governor's public opinion ratings high?

If Hull does believe in her agenda, and the budget that would bolster it, she'd better start acting like it. Now. The progressive speech infuriated the right, but the left is mad at her, too, because Hull's not backing up her rhetoric. She's not stumping for her programs.

It's reminiscent of what happened last year, when Hull panicked and punted KidsCare. That scenario: Hull proposes a wonderful plan. The mouth-breathers hate it. They scare her by threatening to run Matt Salmon against her for governor. In the end, she supports a watered-down version of what originally was a visionary program that could have been passed. Nobody is happy.

To avoid a repeat, Big Red needs to head down to the Legislature and gather a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats who support her programs. To hell with the mouth-breathers. Where's the Sue Nation, the famed coalition of moderate Republicans led by Representative Sue Gerard, that teamed up with Dems to squash vouchers and other wing-nut proposals in the early Nineties?

There is no real coalition-building going on. Right now all we have is what I'll delicately call the Poo Nation, a group of House members led by Representative Karen Johnson, who talk about "gay bowel disease" and other hateful nonsense. Others at the Capitol call them the Grape Kool-Aid Club.

Without strong leadership from the Ninth Floor, Karen Johnson & Co. will continue to waste time while Jane Hull's budget, and her desired programs, are ignored.

This year, it's twice as important. For the first time in the state's history, the Arizona Legislature has switched to a two-year budget process, rather than a single-year plan. This doubles the ante; if Hull screws up this year, we're screwed for the next two.

And time's a-wastin'.
"From the State of the State to the time we put the budget on her desk, it's two months," says Democratic Senator Chris Cummiskey. "And to my knowledge, she's squandered the first half by not having a strong engagement campaign down here."

Cummiskey and his colleagues from both sides of the aisle are asking, "Where's Jane?"

"I hear this from everyone, it's not just from our perspective," says Sandy Bahr, lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "Where is the governor, why isn't she asserting herself? She knows this process, she knows the Legislature, so why is she not injecting herself into it? Frankly, I think it would be helpful if she herself showed up to a few things, like maybe a budget hearing or something."

Bob Scott, reporter for KTAR radio and the dean of the Capitol press corps, recently asked a lobbyist, "Who's in charge of this state, anyhow?"

I am! Hull insists, from her ninth-floor office.
"Just say we're up here," she says, when told that legislative players are asking for her. "We're very aware. My people are down there, I think continually, because they're certainly not here."

Hull says she told the Republican leadership she won't get involved in the budget battle until the House and Senate agree upon a budget proposal. She has no intention of coalition-building. "I think that would be a very bad position for me to put the Republican leadership into. . . . I've been down there, and I don't think that's appropriate. I would like to work with--and they all know it--60 legislators in the House and 30 senators. And as I say, we're just not there yet," she says.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.