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AZ Week Notebook – October 2011

REDISTRICTING TRUTH: HE SAID, SHE SAID

The independent chairwoman and two Democratic members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission have denied any wrongdoing in relation to the state Constitution and the Open Meeting Law.

One Republican commissioner reiterated his claim that the chairwoman offered him a quid pro quo in exchange for his vote to hire Strategic Telemetry as the commission's mapping consultant.

Chairwoman Colleen Mathis said in her written response to Gov. Jan Brewer's demand that commissioners explain why their actions aren't illegal that she sought unanimous consensus on Strategic Telemetry. She denied offering a quid pro quo, and she concluded her letter by saying, "I certify under penalty of perjury that my response to all questions and requests are true and correct."

Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz said in his letter, "Chairwoman Mathis confirmed that if I were to vote with her in regards to the selection of Strategic Telemetry, she would provide a favorable vote for me in the future."

Democratic Commissioners Jose Herrera and Linda McNulty in their letters denied any wrongdoing. The letter from Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman was not made available Monday morning by the commission's spokesman.

Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Colleen Mathis Jan Brewer Jose Herrera Linda McNulty Richard Stertz,

TRYING TO CHANGE LEGISLATIVE MINDS

Arizona's public education community is taking a new look at how it approaches the state Legislature for school budgeting.

The Arizona Capitol Times this week reported that the Arizona Education Association plans to tie job creation and the economy to education funding.

The tie won't be tenuous. The two go hand in hand and have for a long time. The Arizona Board of Regents, among others, have pushed that approach consistently over the years.

But for the education association, it's a new message, one with pragmatism. ut will it resonate?

Capitol Times reporter Caitlin Coakley Beckner quotes association President Andrew Morrill as saying, "We're trying to send the message, which is true, that a properly funded school system can be and has been shown to be an economic driver for the state."

Beckner will appear on the journalists' panel of Friday's Arizona Week to discuss the story and the legislative issues with educational funding.

Andrew Morrill Arizona Education Association Arizona Legislature,

AZ SCHOOLS SEEK SPENDING CAP EXTENSIONS

Arizona public schools have faced hundreds of millions in budgets cuts in the last three years, including $170 million for the school year that's been under way for two months.

To bolster their spending, many districts have for years exceeded their state-imposed spending caps by getting voter approval. These budget overrides, along with the higher property taxes to support the spending, have become common in some districts.

Now many of those overrides are expiring, and more than two dozen districts in the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas are asking voters to extend them.

Without extensions, school officials say, they will have to make more cuts to a wide range of programs and increase class sizes.

In the Tucson area, Sunnyside, Marana, Vail, Continental, Flowing Wells and Tanque Verde districts are seeking overrides to be effective starting in the 2012-13 school year.

In the Phoenix area, 20 school districts, including Glendale Union, Kyrene, Agua Fria, Tolleson, Paradise Valley and Phoenix Union districts are seeking the overrides.

On Friday's Arizona Week, we plan a look at the issues associated with these overrides and at prospects for passage.

Public education school budget override elections,

WHAT ARE RAMIFICATIONS OF PEARCE RECALL?

Some have called Russell Pearce the most powerful person in Arizona state government.

Hearing that statement, Pearce likely would demur, pointing to fellow Republican Gov. Jan Brewer who in fact vetoed a number of bills that Pearce and other Republicans backed in the last legislative session.

All right, then, make that the most powerful man in state government.

What happens if that most powerful man is knocked out of his seat in the recall election scheduled in two weeks? First, there clearly are others in the Republican Senate leadership ready to step in, with the No. 1 candidate likely t be Majority Leader Andy Biggs.

Second, his removal won't deter him from seeking the seat again in the 2012 election, he has said.

The issues around the Pearce recall, Pearce's approach to immigration and other issues he is involved in as Senate president will be the focus of Friday's Arizona Week broadcast, with this caveat: that we get an interview with Pearce.

Andhy Biggs Arizona Senate president Jerry Lewis Russell Pearce,

PAYING THE PRICE FOR FREE SPEECH

In politics, money talks. Just ask the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that people and corporations, which the court says are people, are exercising their right to free speech when they donate money to political campaigns.

So in politics, that’s how money talks. And these days, money is having a lot to say. Or more accurately, those with money are having a lot to say. Even scarier, politicians are listening, more than ever before.

Quarterly reports on campaign financing are coming out this week, and we’re hearing big figures for campaign cash, although we’re still a year away from the next national election.

What we’re hearing, though, is only a small part of the story. The biggest dollars are being raised without being reported and without any transparency. And they’ll be spent pretty much without disclosure of who’s behind them.

The spending, big spending, will manifest itself in your mailbox and on your TV screen. And, by the account of one political analyst, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, it won’t be pretty.

" ... outside groups are going to come in and buy up all the television time, and the candidates are going to have an increasingly difficult time having their own voices heard directly because they won't be able to buy the prime-time spots," Ornstein said in an interview for Arizona Week.

"So brace yourselves. For the commercial statios, it's going to be a great year ... For the rest of us, it's going to be awful;."

Behind those TV spots will be organizations and individuals lurking in the shadows of politics, hiding their identities but wanting their points of view and influence to prevail.

They come from all along the political spectrum, and they are driven by the desire to keep the status quo. They, and their money, are speaking loudly, and anonymously.

And while according to the Supreme Court, it’s free speech, there’s little prospect of freedom in it.

Caveat civis – let the citizen beware.

More from Norman Ornstein on Arizona Week, 8:30 p.m. MST on PBS-HD-6 or at azweek.com.

campaign financing unalienable rights US Supreme Court,

PEARCE RECALL LOOMS, WITH NATIONAL ATTENTION

An election that might otherwise escape much attention is the object of intense national interest and is splitting Arizona along racial and political lines.

The election will decide on the recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the author of the anti-illegal immigration law known as SB1070. Pearce is opposed by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, considered a moderate.

A driving force behind immigration reform, Pearce is one of Arizona’s most powerful politicians.

Supporters describe him as a principled lawmaker, trying to protect his state. His critics shun the health and education budget cuts he has passed, but set out to recall him based on his immigration stance.

As the election draws closer, Pearce has doubled-down and isn't apologizing for anything.

On Nov. 8, voters in west Mesa’s Legislative District 18 will decide between Pearce and Lewis, who is a political newcomer.

Pearce is making U.S. history as the first sitting state senate president and the first sitting state lawmaker in Arizona to face a recall.

He was reelected last November with 57 percent of the vote, but activists began asking for a recall three weeks after the legislative session started.

At the start of the recall, Pearce faced two opponents: Lewis and Olivia Cortes.

But soon, Cortes’ candidacy was challenged. People speculated she was a sham, recruited by Pearce’s supporters to snag Latino votes from Lewis.

In court, Cortes said she did not know who paid for her signature gatherers or designed her Website, according to the Arizona Republic. She actually had not done much of her own campaigning.

A judge then agreed Pearce’s supporters had drafted Cortes in hopes of splitting votes, but that since she had done nothing wrong, Cortes could stay on the ballot.

Pearce opponents felt this was all they proof they needed to link Cortes to Pearce’s campaign, and immediately pushed the judge for a second hearing.

But before that, Cortes dropped out of the race due to “constant intimidation and harassment,” the Republic reported.

It is too late to take Cortes' name off the ballot, and some people feel this could still allow her to peel away votes from Lewis, thereby helping Pearce win.

Tune in to Arizona Week next week to hear more about the issue.

Russell Pearce Arizona Senate Jerry Lewis Olivia Cortes sb1070 recall election,

About AZ Week Notebook

News and commentary from Arizona Week producer/host Michael Chihak and interns Melanie Huonker and Lucy Valencia.