Adams and Pearce

House Speaker Kirk Adams, left, confers Wednesday, Dec. 29, with Russell Pearce, the president-elect of the state Senate.

Capitol Media Services file

Arizona’s lawmakers have led the nation in cracking down on illegal immigration for years, but this year they vowed task No. 1 was boosting the economy and creating jobs.

They tackled what they promised — then garnered nationwide praise and ridicule for some of the country’s boldest moves to scale back government.

A few items under consideration in the Arizona Legislature:

• Voiding birthright citizenship, which would overturn a Civil War-era precedent.

• Abolishing Medicaid in Arizona in favor of a less expensive alternative.

• Dissolving the Arizona Board of Regents system in favor of separate boards for each state university.

• Immigration measures more sweeping than SB 1070 that would require hospitals and schools to determine if those enrolling are illegal immigrants.

• Letting southern Arizona secede and become the 51st state.

• Creating a committee that would allow Arizona to nullify federal laws it does not agree with.

All are far-reaching measures that, in their totality, are almost unprecedented. Which begs the question: Is this heavily Republican Legislature going too far with its proposals? Or do drastic times (big budget deficits, a struggling economy and the lack of federal immigration) call for drastic measures?

Lawmakers behind the proposals say voters swept conservative Republicans into office to shrink spending dramatically — even if it requires challenging the U.S. Constitution. Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, declared his “Tea Party Senate” would trigger reforms across the United States.

Republican lawmakers say they’ve done what they promised on the economic issues and now have time for immigration, challenging the federal government and responding to what voters elected them to do.

But critics say ultra-conservatives have overreached with clearly unconstitutional bills that distract one of the more economically battered states from rebounding. The dwindling number of Democrats in power — along with some Republicans — see a Legislature that’s out of touch with average Arizonans.

Longtime pollster Bruce Merrill said the latest crop of lawmakers is a reaction to the tea party, economic anxiety and people who believe the Obama administration has overreached. The popularity of last year’s anti-illegal immigration bill also upended politics in the state, he said. Merrill has conducted more than 500 surveys in two decades and said he’s found Arizonans as a whole are conservative but more centrist than today’s lawmakers.

“I give probably 20 interviews a week to media outside of Arizona and even outside of the country and almost always all of them start out with, ‘What the hell is going on in that nutty state?’ It’s actually hurting the image of the state,” Merrill said. “Why would a business go to Arizona, where you have this incredible political instability? Businesses need stability.”

Sweeping measures

Some top leaders vowed to ease away from hot-button immigration issues this year after criticism from the business community that economic recovery had been neglected. Those lawmakers wanted to change course after court challenges over a 2007 employer sanctions law and last year’s SB 1070, which made it a crime for illegal immigrants to be in Arizona.

But the state Senate took up more illegal immigration legislation with SB 1161, which would require hospitals to check immigration status. Also, illegal immigrants couldn’t buy or drive a vehicle or enroll in schools. Pearce said the bill fixes SB 1070 glitches.

During a recent Senate panel meeting that stretched until 2 a.m., Pearce said he’s obligated to block illegal residents from using taxpayer dollars.

“I’m after what the citizens have demanded and I’m after what the citizens overwhelmingly passed at the ballot box,” he said.

Other Republicans said Arizona should eliminate its AHCCCS health care system because it’s too costly and “immoral” to burden future generations with the bill. People in the Great Depression found a way to keep going without subsidized health care, they argued.

Democratic Majority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, shot back that people died in the streets during the Depression. “I’m tired of passing things out of here just to make headlines and spawn court cases,” Schapira said.

Lawmakers say some of the most far-reaching bills are symbolic efforts to ease regulations rather than literal assaults. The bill to eliminate AHCCCS would hit the economy hard and is a tough sell with many members, said Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. He noted that the nullification of federal mandates would require Congress to set up compacts that carved exceptions to federal rules, as opposed to letting Arizona act entirely on its own. The bill is a signal Arizonans don’t want the federal government to have so much control, he said.

“Sometimes we advance measures that are in effect a statement that we’re trying to send a message and I suspect that a lot of the push on the AHCCCS has to do with frustration on federal mandates, federal strings,” Mesnard said.

But Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said the Republican moves are part of what she considers a nationwide movement to tell the federal government: You’re not the boss of me.

The nullification bill is offensive by redefining the U.S. Constitution, she said.

“I almost feel like we’re not living in the real world. It’s like this is a bad TV show but it’s all so real,” Sinema said. “I do wish the public knew more. I know it’s hard to keep up because there are so many bad bills, but I wish people had a peak into what we do. I think they’d be just as appalled as I am.”

Jobs first

The Legislature made good on pro-business measures early on by passing a sweeping jobs bill that cut corporate taxes, reduced property taxes and encouraged export businesses. Gov. Jan Brewer has already signed it into law.

The reform amounted to winning the Super Bowl for Arizona’s business community, said Glenn Hamer, the president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

He considers it among the most pro-jobs measures in Arizona history even if other issues have gotten more attention.

“As far as we can tell, that’s the most aggressive tax reform and jobs package that’s been signed into law in any state in the United States, up to this point,” Hamer said.

Hamer endorses the fight against many federal regulations. He believes the birthright bill and other issues are certain to get shot down in court. Yet he doesn’t consider those battles as taking significant time away from other issues the business community still wants to address at the Capitol. But he is concerned at additional immigration bills because of estimates that prior actions have chased off convention business at a cost $15 million to $150 million.

“When these types of measures come up, it does affect our tourism industry in many ways,” Hamer said. “We do need to do a cost analysis when these bills come up.”

Overall, he’s concluded the Legislature has focused on important economic issues.

But Chandler mayor Jay Tibshraeny — a former Republican legislator — said the Legislature is not as in touch with Arizonans as local elected officials. He’s troubled at their efforts to improve the economy.

“I think they want to,” he said. “I don’t think they know how to.”

The Legislature has about 15 bills that Tibshraeny said would hurt cities by slashing their revenues and cutting impact fees that allow growth to pay for growth. He said the state doesn’t drive economic development as much as lawmakers might believe. He noted that Chandler recently inked deals on the two largest new employers in Arizona — an Intel plant that will employ 1,000 and a PayPal office that will hire 2,000.

“Those companies didn’t go to the state level to get the deals done. They go to the cities,” Tibshraeny said. “I know there’s folks down there that want to do things with economic development, but you have to be careful. You can’t go two steps forward and five steps back, which is what a lot of those bills do.”

Partisan politics

Merrill said the Legislature’s makeup is a result of the state’s 30 legislative districts being so partisan. Of 30 districts, only three or four are competitive. The rest fall into the hands of the tiny number of voters in primary elections. An increasing number of voters have become independent, leaving more hard-core Republicans and Democrats to define each party, he said.

A redistricting effort will take place by the next election that will shift boundaries and could result in more competitive districts.

Merrill said Republicans felt they had a mandate by winning so many seats even if the overall political mood wasn’t as much in their favor.

He predicts that just as voters think Democrats went too far nationwide in the past two years, that they’ll determine Republicans have gone too far as well. That could help more moderate candidates like Grant Woods, the former Arizona attorney general who has been mentioned as a candidate to replace retiring Sen. Jon Kyl. Woods was a mainstream Republican in his term in the 1990s who is now too moderate for many in the GOP. But Merrill said that could propel him in the next election.

“Because of what’s going on in the Arizona Legislature and the tea party, I think there’s a lot of people who are open to a neo-populist candidate, a guy who can say, ‘Screw both parties.’ I think you would be amazed how many people would be extremely attracted to that kind of candidacy.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

(1) comment

Brittanicus

"Give me your tired, your poor"--except now the tired and poor are draining the financial safety-net for US citizens and Residents? Except back at the time of an active Ellis Island there was no welfare and their was no need for immigration restrictions. Hey! But Utah is open to occupation as they have just passed a law, to bring in Guest Workers from another corrupt province south of the border. So all those illegal aliens that are dismayed with the State of Arizona policing laws, are leaving and going elsewhere? MANY STATES THAT HAS NO EFFECTIVE POLICING LAWS will also become an unaware target. Conversely, those States who are mandating the federal E-Verify computer data-bases operated by the Social Security and (ICE) Immigration and Custom Services to qualify true US workers will not be swamped with foreigners.

Most States never hear the truth of the illegal alien importation, as the politicians are in collusion with businesses and other special interest. The Leftist press never reveals any of the facts about the assault on our traditions and society, using the race card if we make waves. If we offer negative dialogues about the invasion we are labeled bigots. While all the time "tired and poor" Americans are being crippled by higher taxes, to pay for the education, medical care and a other public programs. Now foreign nationals can skedaddle over to Utah as the Legislators are welcoming them. If they don't fancy Utah, the Sanctuary State of California still has a wide open welfare system, so they can start feeding off the taxpayers there. All these people need is a bogus Social Security number and Drivers license to collect hand-full’s of money and Democrat Governor Jerry Brown will leach that extra money from taxes or cut spending to legal residents. Some States are even thinking of rescinding the use of displaying drivers licenses, government ID, passports and other verification documents, to vote. This will be a major error for citizen voters, as this will become a loophole for illegal immigrants--intentional or not--to use fraudulent absentee ballots and in polling stations.

In soft States the politicians will give out Section 8 housing, taken away from Senior Citizens who have worked all their lives. Never mind that these persons come to American penniless and the females have a 14th Amendment citizenship infant, requiring no insurance and burdening the emergency rooms—because the Liberal Court system mandated it. Guaranteeing the State taxpayers will subsidize the low income housing and all public services. The more children they conceive, the more cash payments they can accumulate. Texas lawmakers are suddenly feeling guilty of these reoccurring financial circumstances, because they too have been flooded for decades with a part of the 20 million foreigners from all parts of the world. California is the perfect place to inhabit, even though they a facing massive cutbacks in their economy, as they have a 24 billion dollars deficit.

Nevada is hurting economically as well, as that State is overpopulated by illegal aliens with their families. The majority of other regions are painfully aware, that they too maybe visited by illegal squatters. Billions of dollars are going overseas and into Latin America from illegal labor here, to their families. The majority of phone books have a government listing of both federal and State lawmakers, who you can contact. This country is in deep trouble from public entitlements, especially from the free handouts nationwide to illegal persons. Take a few minutes from the pizza and football, to call your Representatives or join a local TEA PARTY. Your voice is a powerful ally in this unceasing issue and you need to understand future consequences. NumbersUSA is a formidable advocate against any anti-sovereignty, pro-illegal immigration and overpopulation. It also has clickable links to many resources and a free faxing buffet, to communicate your frustration and opinion to those in Washington.

Utah's in for a traumatic shock, when the word gets out they are welcoming Guest workers from some Mexican province. Hundreds of thousands will pour in from not just South of the border, but thousands from Arizona and other illegal alien policing enforcement states. Thousands more economic illegal nations, will start flooding your schools, hospitals and looking for free welfare handouts.

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