Give a hand to the Gang of 8

I’m less concerned about who takes credit for implementing comprehensive immigration reform than I am about ensuring it gets done. But since yesterday’s announcement by the Gang of 8, which includes Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, I’ve heard lots of complaining and very little thanks.

Who cares if it’s Congress or the President who takes the lead on changing the policy? The fact is the President can’t do it alone. Nor can Congress. They need to work together.

I’ve been highly critical of Flake’s flip-flop and McCain’s ‘danged fence’ stance as well as President Obama’s failed first-term promise to tackle CIR, but now is not the time for gloating or ‘I told you so’s.’ The election is over. It clearly had far-reaching consequences, and Republicans and Democrats have been awakened to this reality.

This is a very good thing, but if we want to make the most of it, then we must be willing to put aside our partisan views and work together. After all, isn’t this what we’ve been demanding for the past six years?

We speak about gridlock and Washington’s inability to get things done and then, when compromise is in the works, we criticize those working toward solutions. Enough. Regardless of how we personally feel about those who are a part of the Gang of 8, we should take the time to personally thank them and offer our support.

Immigration reform is far from reality. It will be a very tough climb, and our Senators and Representatives will need as much support as possible to drown out the shrill voices of those who will scream “amnesty” and demand nothing short of deportation for all.

The plan put forward by the Gang of 8 is both compassionate and smart. It balances the political concerns of those on either side of the aisle without forgetting that we are dealing with real people, individuals who already consider themselves Americans.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the Gang of 8’s set of principles, you can do so here. Please, take the time to read it and then send a note of thanks to both Senators McCain and Flake. Only by working together and promising our support will we ensure that passage of comprehensive immigration reform finally becomes reality.

Senator John McCain

D.C: (202) 224-2235

Phoenix: (602) 952-2410

John_McCain@mccain.senate.gov

Senator Jeff Flake

D.C: (202) 224-4521

Phoenix: (602) 840-1891

Jeff_Flake@flake.senate.gov

 

Posted in Featured Articles, immigration, Jeff Flake, John McCain, Main Article | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

NRA doesn’t let the facts stand in the way

In a new ad released by the NRA, an announcer poses the question, “Are the President’s kids more important than yours?”

To which most people will reply, “No, of course not.”

The ad goes on to ask, “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?”

By “armed guards” I’m assuming the ad is referring to the Secret Service protection offered to the President’s kids because, they’re the President’s kids, and it’s the law. Though others have pointed out that the President’s kids attend a private school with security guards. The school, however, has gone on record saying those guards do not carry guns.

Many schools, however, do have armed guards. They’re called school resource officers and campus police. They were present in Columbine in 1999 and at Virginia Tech in 2007.

We also have armed guards, known as police officers, protecting our neighborhoods every day, yet they cannot prevent the 30,000 plus gun deaths that occur, on average, every year in communities across the country.

On Wednesday the President issued 23 Executive Orders that, among other things, called for incentives for schools to hire additional resource officers, which means the NRA’s ad wasn’t just tasteless, it was false.

The NRA will tell you that we need more armed individuals, not less, to keep us safe when the cops are “minutes away.” Except we have more guns than any nation in the world, and a much higher proportion of gun violence than other comparably wealthy and peaceful countries. The argument that more guns equal safer communities just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Nor does the argument that President Obama or Joe Biden or Gabrielle Giffords or Michael Bloomberg or (insert the name of anyone talking about gun safety) are trying to take away our guns.

Strengthening enforcement of existing gun laws, making gun trafficking a felony, keeping guns out of the hands of those deemed psychologically unstable, and requiring background checks for all gun purchases is not a radical idea. It does not take away anyone’s guns. It does not impede the Second Amendment.

The same can be said for the proposals the President would like Congress to consider such as getting rid of armor-piercing bullets, also known as “cop killer bullets” because that’s what they were designed to accomplish. Or his proposal to end the ban on gun violence research so we can understand why we top other nations in this category. Or to ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits. Or give law enforcement additional tools to help prevent gun crimes. Nothing radical here, yet I’ve already heard people claim the President is “shredding the Constitution.”

I can understand, even though I disagree, with those who are opposed to limits on ammunition magazines and bans on military style assault rifles. But when Charles Heller, co-founder of Arizona Citizens Defense League justifies complete opposition to the President by saying, “The idea of the Second Amendment was so we could shoot the cops and the soldiers … who are trying to overthrow the U.S. Constitution,” I become very, very worried.

Who makes the determination that our President or our police officers are no longer obeying the Constitution? Do these individuals think it’s okay to open fire on elected officials and peace officers because they disagree with the laws they are passing or enforcing?

Considering the extremist language we’ve heard from those on the right, individuals who speak of a foreign-born Muslim President who isn’t legally fit to serve, I am especially concerned about what they will do with their “God-given right” should they completely crack and decide to take action against those they believe are “shredding the Constitution.”

The fact is, the NRA and the Arizona Citizens Defense League have taken on radical stances and knowingly espoused myths that have spurred fear and angst. That fear does not allow us to have a serious conversation about gun safety but rather continue with the status quo and this country’s alarmingly high rates of gun violence.

Posted in Featured Articles, guns, Main Article, NRA | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two courageous Arizonans choose the path less traveled

As a political blogger, it would behoove me to begin my first post of the year with high hopes for what could be accomplished in Arizona’s legislature and in Congress. I should speak of political resolutions and ways citizens can become more involved in the process. I should do this, and maybe I will… another day. Today, however, I digress.

Today, I write about courage. Not the kind that happens in a moment’s notice when someone around you is in dire need and you rush to that person’s aide. That type of help is noble and needed and recognized as a courageous act. But the courage I want to recognize is the kind it takes to speak out when you know you will be attacked and when remaining silent isn’t just the easiest thing to do but the safest as well.

This is the courage I see in people like Roxanna Green and Gabrielle Giffords, two women who shared a major tragedy but from differing perspectives. One almost lost her life and is left with the scars, both physical and emotional, of a bullet that traveled through her brain. The other is left with the emptiness of a life cut short, a daughter murdered haphazardly by a sick individual.

These women were enveloped by the sympathies of an outraged nation. They were honored and embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike. But today, many in this country will no longer look at them with compassionate eyes or write about them with glowing words. Today, their motives are questioned, their character attacked.

Why? Because they dared to question the status quo. They dared to ask why. They dared to challenge this nation and ask for a serious conversation about violence in America and the possibility that gun control could help prevent tragedies like theirs.

For this, they are scorned. For a conversation, a question, a plea for answers.

And we wonder why Congress cannot solve this nation’s problems? We wonder why the big issues of the day are pushed to the brink of a cliff and left for the next set of lawmakers and the next election?

We don’t have to agree with Roxanna Green or Gabrielle Giffords. But what will it hurt to listen, respectfully, to what they have to say?

It’s easy to accept the sympathy of others. It takes courage to step outside of that safety net and put your self and your beliefs front and center on a national stage, knowing powerful people will condemn you.

That’s real courage. And that’s what we need more of in this country, from both our leaders and our citizens.

Posted in Featured Articles, Gabrielle Giffords, guns, Main Article, Roxanna Green | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

This is Adam Lanza’s America, and it needs to change

I used to find the openness of my youngest son’s campus charming. I loved that there were no locked doors leading to the building, no barriers impeding parents and children so they could come and go freely and play in the desert behind the school. Everyone knows everyone, so small and close-knit. It was safe and secure.

And then Friday happened.

Now, I walk onto campus and feel paranoid. I see my child and his school as an easy target. I find the coming and going of adults and students as troubling. I do not trust this small community will be safe from the dangers of a lunatic.

I was shaken to the core by 9-11, but I believed in the goodness of this country. I was shattered by my husband’s murder, but I still believed in the goodness of mankind. But the murder of 20 little kids? This has terrorized me in a very unexpected way.

I don’t like knee-jerk reactions to public policy and yet I find myself wishing we could repeal the Second Amendment. I know we cannot and should not do so. But still, I’m angry with gun lovers and especially the NRA. I want to blame them.

I know how overwhelming it can be to deal with a child who is struggling with depression and yet I find myself angry with the shooter’s mother. Angry she allowed guns in her home. Angry she didn’t do more, whatever that “more” may be.

I hate it when people blame the media and in particular the entertainment industry for society’s problems and yet I find myself angry that games like Black Ops and Assassin’s Creed exist. I want to scream at the makers of these games because my 11-year-old thinks I’m the worst mom ever because I refuse to buy them.

I know there are no easy answers and no easy solutions to Friday’s violence. But still, I want us to do something. I want gun control instead of militarized schools. I want insurance companies mandated to cover innovative and long-term care for those who are suffering from mental illness. I want help for the parents who are caring for these kids.

And I want all of us to talk to our children about what happened. Not to scare them but rather to help them understand that actions have consequences and violence leaves a trail of pain and suffering beyond most people’s comprehension. I want us to raise compassionate children and young men who do not see empathy as a weakness.

There are many actions we can and should take because Adam Lanza’s America should be left behind. As President Obama said almost two years ago after the deadly Tucson shooting that killed 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, we need an America “as good as she imagined it.” We need an America worthy of all of those beautiful young lives lost to violence.

Posted in Connecticut shooting, death, Featured Articles, grief, Main Article | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Anger over city manager’s pay raise about more than money

Phoenix residents are ticked off and for good reason. $78,000 ain’t chump change, especially in this economy. But the city manager’s pay raise is about more than just money. It’s about priorities.

After all, city employees are still taking pay cuts and furlough days. City residents are still paying for an emergency food tax. And what employee, whether in the public or private sector, gets a 33 percent pay raise in a depressed economy?

Yes, Mr. Cavazos has done an outstanding job in a very difficult situation. But he didn’t do it alone. Every department and every city employee made cuts and sacrifices for the good of the city, and they all deserve our thanks.

The question isn’t whether or not Mr. Cavazos should be rewarded for his work. The question is if we want to be a city that rewards those at the top while those below continue to sacrifice.

I agree that Phoenix needs competitive salaries and should pay its employees a fair rate. I agree that Mr. Cavazos is underpaid in comparison to what other city managers across the country make. A pay raise may well be in order. But not at 33 percent.

The days of drastic cuts are not over. Staffing levels are greatly decreased and departments are being asked for even more reductions.

The police department has already lost close to 400 officers since implementing a hiring freeze three years ago. Those losses don’t take into account the numerous civilian positions – police support staff — that have been eliminated.

Why are we not hearing about this issue from the council? Do Phoenicians know that the city isn’t planning on hiring any additional officers for two to three more years, meaning we may likely lose several hundred more officers?

Instituting a 33 percent pay raise gives residents the impression that all is well in Phoenix. It is not. The city could lose almost a quarter of its police force. Do we really think we can withstand that type of loss without consequences to public safety?

It’s true that crime is down across the nation. Phoenix hit an all-time low in 2010, and calls for service have been greatly reduced in the past several years despite a Recession. But I believe the police force, especially when considering the sprawling growth of this city, cannot safely function without beginning to replace the officers who leave the force every month.

What many people don’t understand is that the city cannot simply hire several hundred officers all at once. The hiring process itself is quite lengthy, requiring physical and written tests, background checks, interviews, psyche exams, and a polygraph. It lasts several months.

The Police Academy also takes several months to complete, and officers cannot go straight from the academy to the streets without additional probationary training. In other words, once the city BEGINS the hiring process, it will take more than a year to see fully trained officers on the street. This means we could be waiting until 2017 to see new officers in Phoenix, and it will take many years after that just to replace the officers we’ve currently lost.

In my opinion, this is the real crisis in Phoenix, and it is not being addressed. We can continue to bury our heads in the sand, pretending it won’t affect us until we see an uptick in crime. We can continue to focus on rewarding those individuals at the top instead of acknowledging that we still have several painful years of fiscal instability ahead of us. This ignorance, however, is neither wise nor frugal, and we need to realign our focus before it’s too late.

Posted in Featured Articles, Main Article, public safety | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Say what? Arizona LEADS on immigration reform

Much to the chagrin of comedians, Arizona is moving away from its embarrassing headlines on immigration extremism and embracing a S.A.N.E. approach.

After more than two years of work, the Real Arizona Coalition has put together a platform for federal immigration reform supported by almost 40 state organizations, which include thousands of individuals such as business leaders, law enforcement officials, the faith community, civil rights activists, political leaders and more.

The effort is historic because it brings together people from opposite sides of the aisle for a grand compromise, something that hasn’t been attempted in years. It pairs Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a staunch conservative and Tea Party favorite, with the former Chair of the National Council of La Raza, Daniel Ortega, Jr. Who could have guessed we’d see these two individuals on the same side of a legislative debate?

Others have joined in as well, and it is this team effort that makes me believe that for the first time in the five years I’ve been advocating for federal immigration reform, it may actually happen. I’m almost speechless. Almost.

Though the platform has the backing of influential leaders such as Montgomery and Ortega as well as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, we still need Arizona’s congressional delegation to move the platform forward and begin work on federal legislation.

I remain optimistic because I’ve seen a real desire for compromise and civil discourse by members of Arizona’s congressional delegation. Just this past Sunday, reporter E.J. Montini wrote about Republican Congressman-elect Matt Salmon’s and Democratic Congressman Ed Pastor’s friendship and their desire to work together for the good of this state and country.

Consensus is tough, and this platform was not easy to obtain. As Ms. O’Connor said, “We agreed. We disagreed. And we compromised to produce what we regard as the S.A.N.E. solution.”

So what is this S.A.N.E. platform? It’s a framework for policymakers to address immigration reform by

Securing our sovereign borders

Accounting for everyone in the U.S. without lawful authority

Necessary bureaucratic reform implementation

Engaging all levels of government

In a nutshell it means that yes, we must secure our borders, but no, we must not seal them. The goal is operational control of the border, like what has been achieved in the Yuma Sector, without inhibiting trade with our most important partner.

We must reform our outdated visa system. We need a system that responds to changes in the market, whether those changes are in the low-skilled or high-tech sectors, and create a secure system for all employers to verify work eligibility.

And we must deal with the most controversial area of reform: the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants currently in this country. We know that we cannot deport nor would we want to deport 11 million people, but we also know amnesty – forgiving past wrongs and granting automatic citizenship — will not work and is a nonstarter for many Americans.

Instead, the S.A.N.E. platform offers temporary legal status to those who are currently undocumented, provided those individuals have no felony convictions, pay any taxes due, and undergo a background check. After five years those with temporary legal status who have completed all necessary administrative steps may apply for permanent legal status.

Those who are currently here undocumented who hope to one day gain citizenship will not be able to move to the front of the line but rather wait, on average, eight to ten years before being able to apply.

This platform will not satisfy everyone. Indeed, most people will want to add their own personal tweaks. However, compromise is a must if we wish to move this issue forward.

The eventual legislation will be a battle and everyone pushing for reform will be bruised in some way or another. But if individuals such as Dulce Matuz, president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, and Bob Worsley, the newly elected Republican State Senator from District 25, can find a way to come together, can’t we all?

I encourage everyone to read more about the platform and sign on in support at therealarizona.org. This could be the beginning of a new role for Arizona, one that will make headlines for the right reasons.

Posted in Featured Articles, immigration, Main Article, S.A.N.E. | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

2013: Year of the Latino?

If this last election taught us anything, it’s that Latinos cannot be ignored. They matter. As the fastest expanding minority group in the country, they have and will continue to have an important role in this country’s elections.

That means Republicans need Latinos. Democrats need Latinos. America needs Latinos.

And what is it that Latinos want? The same thing most Americans want: good paying jobs, an excellent and affordable education, and a chance to achieve the American dream.

It isn’t all about immigration reform, and yet, it is immigration reform that drove the conversation this past election and will continue to drive the conversation until reform is finally implemented.

No, most Latinos are NOT undocumented. But many Latinos do know someone who is undocumented, and almost all Latinos know what it means to be the subject of doubt, the one who is most likely to be pulled over and asked for proof of citizenship. They know what it means to be categorized as “illegal.” They know what it means to be hated simply for the color of their skin.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new concept in this country. Black Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans have and continue to feel the sting of racism, of doubt, of less-than full integration into a white-dominated culture.

But now, more than ever before, Latinos have at their fingertips the makings of a perfect storm. With Black Americans deserting the Republican Party, the GOP is struggling to find a way to hold on to this crucial minority, and they know immigration reform may be the only way to do so.

In the coming weeks, Arizonans will have an opportunity to be at the forefront of a major immigration reform movement. Business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and others will soon unveil a plan to move this state and this country forward. How Arizona’s politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, respond to this initiative will set the stage for the future of both parties.

It is an exciting time to be in Arizona. The world will be watching us. Let’s hope this time we find a way to crawl out from the ashes of embarrassment and rise above our racist image as a state ready to lead.

Posted in Featured Articles, immigration, Latinos, Main Article | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Where do we go from here?

In the wake of last week’s election, Arizona’s Republicans and Democrats are left with a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, Democrats are thrilled with the reelection of President Barack Obama but dismayed with the loss of Senate candidate Rich Carmona and Sheriff’s candidate Paul Penzone. They are overjoyed they picked up seats in both chambers of the legislature but puzzled as to why they lost every seat on the Corporation Commission.

Republicans feel the reverse, with some so upset by President Obama’s reelection that they have signed a petition to secede from the union. And though the idea of secession is ridiculous at best, it highlights the feeling that we are living in a fractured country that is in serious need of repair.

We know where our differences lie. The billions of dollars spent on campaign attack ads made that clear. But what about our commonalities? What shared values do we have as Americans and as Arizonans?

Not that long ago, a think tank called the Center for the Future of Arizona put together a report called The Arizona We Want. The report identified eight goals important to Arizona’s citizens: quality jobs for all, 21st century careers, creating the “place to be” for talented young people, affordable healthcare, protection of Arizona’s natural environment, modern and effective transportation and infrastructure, empowered citizens, and a sense of connection to one another.

As with most public policy matters, the devil is in the details. But what if our state legislature made a concerted effort to focus their time on theses eight goals, above all else, particularly when considering our state budget? I expect we’d see a much different debate at the capitol.

And what if we, as citizens, insisted that our leaders embrace these goals above all else? We have a huge disconnect in this state between government action and citizen wishes. This was confirmed by the Center’s poll, which said 90% of Arizonans believe their elected officials do not represent their interests. That’s even worse than the rating we give Congress.

The good news in the report was that Arizonans rank high in their attachment to their community, but the bad news was that they rank low in their attachment to one another. And this, I believe, is the source of the divide between our state’s citizens and their elected officials.

The Center attributed our inability to connect with one another with our low rankings in areas of volunteerism, charitable giving and service in community organizations. That makes sense. We cannot unite with others when we fail to reach out and make an effort.

But the study also shows us that we have within our grasp a way to step up as citizens and join with our neighbors — be they Republican or Democrat or Independent – and put our imprint on government. This may be as easy as volunteering in our children’s classroom, making contributions to worthy charities or serving on a church committee. Influencing government happens when we meet with our elected officials, read our local paper, and register and vote in elections.

These are not unattainable goals, and if we learn to frame our debates around these goals, we can find ways to begin repairing our fractured state.

It’s easier to find common ground with individuals when we make an effort to know them. It’s easier to move forward when we use our shared values to bridge our divides instead of using our differences to further our rift.

In the days that follow, let’s hope this is the path our elected officials and our citizens will choose to go down. Let’s work toward perfecting our Union instead of upending it.

Posted in elections, Featured Articles, Main Article, public discourse | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Young, brown, and informed

It’s a combination many Republicans in this state fear, especially GOPers like Joe Arpaio who made a career out of profiling and debasing brown people. But whether or not Arpaio wins reelection tomorrow, this group of individuals will change Arizona politics for decades to come.

These young Latinos have tasted the power of political activism, and they know what they are capable of achieving. When Paul Penzone becomes Maricopa County’s next Sheriff, he will have thousands of volunteers to thank, but first on his list should be the young volunteers who worked with groups such as Promise Arizona, Adios Arpaio, and Citizens for a Better Arizona. They registered more than 35,000 new voters, collected thousands of early ballots, and gave voice to thousands of disenfranchised individuals.

Whether or not Penzone and Carmona pull off an upset tomorrow (my bet is that they will), our young Latinos will have made a significant impact in this state, which is a victory for all who believe in equality.

Posted in elections, Featured Articles, Latinos, Main Article, Paul Penzone, Sheriff Arpaio | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh, the misinformation

Rumors are flying about all kinds of voter suppression tactics being used in this election cycle, particularly here in Arizona. From the Tea Party poll watchers, Verify the Vote, who Dems believe are working to intimidate first-time and Latino voters, to incorrect election dates on Spanish language voting materials, we have more than our share of questionable tactics and human errors. But several organizers have told me it’s the early ballots that seem to be confusing many voters, so here’s what you need to know.

The polls are open tomorrow from 6am to 7pm. If you did not mail your early ballot in time, you can drop it off at any polling location. Just don’t forget to sign and date the envelope. If, however, you made a mistake on your early ballot and need a new one, you must go to your assigned polling place to receive a new ballot. If you fill out a provisional ballot at the wrong location, it will not be counted.

Oh, and if you happen to be a Democrat who received a robocall from Jeff Flake with a helpful reminder about where to vote, I suggest you double and triple-check the location. You can find the correct information on your assigned polling location at this website.

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