John Kavanagh Does Not Want People Like Himself To Go To College

State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) is an ex-cop from a working class background who earned a PhD at a public university and teaches at a community college. This should be considered in light of his recent comments attacking financial aid for allowing “too many” Arizonans to attend our state’s universities.

I am not going to pretend that I know exactly what programs Kavanagh may or may not have benefited from during what must have been a remarkable academic career. Though I served with him for two years, I really know little about his story. Suffice it to say, I made many Republican friends while I was at the capitol and he was not one of them.

However, during my college career, I knew many people from backgrounds very similar to Kavanagh’s. Most of them were helped directly by financial aid in one way or another. More importantly they were helped by the fact that the college experience is very different than it was in previous decades because legislation like the GI Bill (the brainchild of Arizona’s own Senator Ernest “Mac” McFarland) and the Higher Education Act of 1965 made college accessible to more people. As a result, colleges have been forced over the years to accommodate so-called “non-traditional students,” including working people, older students and students with families by altering their schedules, loosening stuffy traditions, and providing services on campus for a population with different and diverse needs. The once-elite experience of college has been democratized, and financial aid has been a big part of this.

Kavanagh points out, correctly, that there are people who should not be in college. He is right. Not everyone is college material, and there are plenty of students who do not take their education seriously. However, his rhetoric implies that he believes that academic merit has something to do with one’s ability to pay. This is insulting bunk, and we can all think of mediocre students who were able to attend elite colleges based solely on their family’s reputation and money. There were plenty of undeserving students in college before the era of financial aid, and there will still be without it. The problem is that too many talented students will be unable to go to college without it.

But more than this, financial aid has been integral to the general opening of the college experience to folks beyond the sons and daughters of wealth and privilege. Without it, campuses would be less diverse and eventually less welcoming to students from different backgrounds, including working class transit cops.

Kavanagh speaks of a halcyon time when only deserving people attended college. What he ignores is that in his perfect world he would probably not have been considered one of them.

Help! Those People Are Talking Mexican About Me!

The Tucson Sentinel reports that a former Pima Community College student is suing the school for allegedly having kicked her out when she complained about her classmates using Spanish when speaking about each other in the classroom.

Pima officials, doubtless on the advice of attorneys, are circumspect regarding the specifics of the case. However, the gist of Pima’s side of the story is that she complained constantly about Spanish being spoken on campus, was argumentative and “displayed intimidating behavior toward students, staff, and faculty.” Given the criticism that Pima took after the press looked into Jared Loughner’s academic record, it seems understandable that officials there followed a strict policy regarding disruptive behavior on campus, and what exactly preceded her expulsion will certainly become clearer if this matter goes too much further.

The student’s sentiments are familiar to most of us in this bilingual town. We all know folks who are remarkably thin skinned about Spanish being spoken in their presence, and this is not the first lawsuit or official complaint from someone objecting to something other than English being used in the workplace, even in private conversations among co-workers. There are even those who regard Spanish billboards and Spanish conversations in the grocery store as a sign that General Santa Anna’s army is assembling to re-take the province. Unfortunately, we trust some of these people to make public policy.

In the press conference announcing the suit, the student brought a Spanish-surnamed relative, doubtless to show folks that she meant no malice against Mexican-Americans and that she is not a racist. Perhaps she is quite sincere about this, but this message is undermined by the other friends she has chosen to associate with.

Her attorney, unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate John Munger, has made a name for himself as a voice for whiteguy grievance. Back in the 1990s, as a member of the Board of Regents, he started a stink about affirmative action on the University of Arizona campus which ultimately proved to be baseless and unproductive. More recently, he courageously stood up for the right of the Tucson Country Club to discriminate against women and threatened a Mexican-American Democratic Party official for correctly calling out one of his clients as a white supremacist. His passion for being on the wrong side of history is legendary.

While Munger is simply an attention-grabbing doofus who traffics in phony umbrage and creating dissent as a way to get his name in the papers from time to time, the other guy at the dais is a frightening true believer. Phil Kent is a blow-dried political hack who carpetbagged from Georgia to announce that financial and “moral” support for the suit was coming from an out-of-state outfit called ProEnglish, which is one of a network of organizations who advocate for ethnic purity in the United States. Kent himself has long been known for his culture war rhetoric, having spoken out against “multiculturalism,” accusing Mexicans and even Somali refugees of undermining “whiteness” and American values. A few weeks back, he was in the papers making inflammatory comments about gays in the wake of the United States v. Windsor decision.

I give the student in this case the benefit of the doubt, which is why I have not used her name. She may well be an earnest individual who is simply being used by crass and cynical people who are trying to promote an ugly agenda. Perhaps she will figure this out in time to make this stop before further poisoning a political environment that has made targets out of her Spanish-surnamed friends and family members. Meanwhile, there seems little chance that any good can come of this.

Note: Thank you to Vince Rabago for pointing out that I had missed mentioning Munger’s dilatory threats against Luis Heredia in defense of border vigilante Glenn Spencer. This has been added.

Well, Duh

In a move that should have surprised nobody, but will doubtless inspire more than a little well-practiced umbrage from the legislative leadership nonetheless, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled this week that the Legislature’s diversion of funds from the State Land Trust to balance the budget was unconstitutional.

This sort of thing has happened so many times before that it is safe to assume what happened back in 2009 when this was passed. The Democrats, in committee and on the floor, pointed out that this move was problematic, only to be ignored or rebuffed. Then, the House and Senate passed the measure despite the fact that their own attorneys told them that it was likely to be overturned.

Attorneys and judges make the big bucks in large part because the constitution is “a living document” that to a great extent is open to interpretation. Every generation of Arizona Students Association activists, for example, faces disappointment when they learn that the legislature and the courts disagree with them about what Article 11, Section 6 means when it says that higher education “shall be as nearly free as possible.”

Unfortunately for the Governor and her attorneys, the language involved here was far less equivocal. In fact, it is downright verbose in its specificity. One snippet, however, could well have been the basis for the entire decision:

B. No monies shall ever be taken from one permanent fund for deposit in any other, or for any object other than that for which the land producing the same was granted or confirmed.

To most people, the intent here seems pretty clear. It is even more so when one considers the history of how the State Trust Lands came to be. Back in the late 19th century, Congress tended to be leery about granting statehood to the western territories, not only for partisan political reasons, but also because of a perception that the territorial legislatures, Arizona’s in particular, tended to be reckless and irresponsible. Also, by the time Arizona became a state, Congress, having had the experience of granting trust lands to new states since 1793, was eager to prevent these resources from being squandered or otherwise mismanaged as they had on occasion in the past.

The result of this is that the integrity of the Trust is protected not only by the Constitution, but also in the Enabling Act, the federal law which allowed Arizona to become a state in the first place. This is why all but the most modest of changes to the system would need not only a ballot measure to change the Constitution, but could potentially require an act of Congress. Even one of the architects of the scheme, Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), in his comments in the Star this morning, seems to admit that a legislative fix to reverse the ruling would be more trouble than it would be worth.

This all begs the question of why the Legislature ever thought this would work. They cannot very well claim ignorance, though it may seem tempting for some to agree. But, then, in the environment of unnecessary haste and phony urgency that the legislative leadership creates around the budget, asking questions is considered rude if not treasonous, and it is understandable that the members would let minor matters such as the State Constitution slide.

Alternately, it is also tempting to blame this on the legislature’s clueless failure to accept its role as a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution. Time and time again, the legislature’s claims to supremacy over the Governor, the courts, and even the Tucson City Council have been rebuffed, yet they still persist in this delusion. Thus, they waste considerable taxpayer dollars picking fights that they almost always lose.

Yet another hypothetical assumes that the legislature knew what they were doing all along and expected this very result. After years of domination by a “starve the beast” mentality, there remains little room for cuts in the state budget, and the majority is impaired by a dunderheaded refusal to consider the issue of revenue, so there are very few options when tackling the budget. Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine that they would say something like “Heck, I know that it is illegal, but we can transfer this $13 million and get this thing done for the year. We can worry about how to make it up later when the courts tell us that it is unconstitutional. It is June already and I just want the session to end so I can go on vacation.”

Of course, this would be the same sort of “accounting trick” for which the Republicans still criticize the previous Governor. Perhaps consistency is a bit too much to hope for.

The larger question is whether this makes a big lie out of Republican posturing about fiscal discipline. The fund transfer was unconstitutional, and now $13 million dollars is unaccounted for. Sure, the money can be found elsewhere with a little work, but, for the time being, can this budget really be considered “balanced?”

NB: Arizona Bill designed by Bob Richards

The Shape of Things to Cam

My friend Cam Juárez is running for TUSD Governing Board. I guess I could go into a rant about what’s wrong with TUSD these days (and you can find something more substantive about Cam’s platform at his website), but I just want to tell you two stories about Cam.

Cam has a disability. He was born with arms that are shorter than most and his hands don’t work the way the rest of ours do. I tell you this not so you feel sorry for him, but it’s important for the story.

Anyway, the two of us were working at an event and when it was time to break the thing down, I had the job of getting the boxes with t-shirts and left over cositas into a truck outside. I loaded up some on a dolly, and Cam came over.

“Need any help, man?”

“Naw,” Cam gets along fine, but I still would have felt like a jackass making him move boxes around.

He sees the dolly and says, “No, I’ll get this.” Next thing I know, he’s racing to the outside door with four full boxes. I look around and only see one box, and it’s empty.

So, here I was with an empty box, following the “disabled” guy who was pushing a full load.

People gave me grief for weeks about that one. “This guy made Cam carry all his boxes, can you believe that?”

I told Cam about it later. He just laughed. “Yeah, I knew that would happen. Funny, eh?”

Sometimes other people seem to have more trouble with his disability than he does.

Many of you know that for years I worked at a GED program. Cam would make trips down to talk to the students. I never had the chance to watch one of Cam’s presentations, but I talked to students afterward. The crew of kids we got in the program tended to the cynical side, but what he said touched them. He talked about growing up as the child of farmworkers and what he made of himself with the help of the community. It made a difference to them.

Interestingly, it wasn’t Cam’s job to do this. He took time off work to come down. It was that important for him to do it.

These weren’t kids that were easy to get along with and easy for many of us to forget, but the fact that he took the time to talk to them tells you a lot about why Cam is running.

Color Me Unshocked

Earlier this week, the report that no state cut more money for schools than Arizona did got a lot of play. I guess I should have written about it, but, unfortunately, the news that the folks that run our state don’t give a rat’s ass about our state’s future doesn’t shock me enough to make me angry anymore.

Phil Hubbard, who served in the legislature in the eighties and nineties, used tell a story about a Republican from Sun City who had a seat near him on the floor. Another legislator was giving a speech about preparing for the future. The legislator from Sun City leaned over to Hubbard and said, “The future? In Sun City we don’t even buy green bananas.”

These days, we’ve got a veto-proof majority and a governor serving on behalf of people who don’t buy green bananas.

Vote yes on 204…sales taxes suck and are regressive, but hoping our legislators will give a darn is a fool’s errand.

The Other Choice

I’ll start by saying I’ve always been a bit iffy on Olivia Cajero-Bedford. My opinions about her are still colored by a driven-by-bitterness attempt to break the caucus a few years back and subsequent support for a rather gawdawful budget, and her silly statement about incandescent light bulbs didn’t help either.

Still, she’s been a reliable vote and voice on reproductive rights, and given the current direction of the Republican caucus, it’s good to see that up there.

Enter María García, who is running against Cajero-Bedford in the Democratic primary. She’s the widow of former Senator Jorge García, and she was Cajero-Bedford’s predecessor, since she was appointed to fill a couple of months of Jorge’s term after his death.

She hasn’t run the most high profile campaign, for example she didn’t even submit a profile for the Clean Elections pamphlet. But, this week a mailer went out on her behalf from the American Federation for Children.

Well…that’s nice. I’m for children too…wait a second.

It turns out that the organization advocates for school vouchers, a little detail that is not included at all on the mailer. In fact, the mailer is all about jobs.

Apparently, school vouchers are such a fantastic idea that they are unwilling to campaign on them.

Other candidates supported by the group include John Huppenthal, John Kavanagh, Al Melvin as well as Russell Pearce during his recall election last year.

Cast your own judgements there.

But, That’s Different…

I received a report from one of my top correspondents who attended yesterday’s meeting of the Arizona-Mexico Commission.

John Huppenthal made an appearance. No word on whether he tried to nail a campaign banner to the wall.

Anyway, Huppenthal tried to sell attendees on a Mandarin immersion program.

It’s early in the morning, you’ll have to excuse me for not being able to wrap my head around this. The man who has presided over the continuing dismantling of cultural studies and bilingual education actually said to a group of civic leaders interested in strengthening ties between Arizona and Mexico that students need to learn Mandarin.

Hmm. Maybe after Huppenthal is done with any program that smacks of Chicanismo, his successor will need a program to campaign against. He wants to set this one up just so the next guy can bloviate against it.

Hey, doesn’t make any less sense than anything else that has gone on in politics here lately.

Yeah, How’d That Work Out?

My chief frustration with Mark Stegeman in this whole ethnic studies mess is his assumption that Tom Horne and John Huppenthal have any incentive to act like reasonable people who can be bargained with.

So, what we have now is this plan for a “multicultural cirriculum.” They’ve put a first rate guy in charge of developing it, but I figure it won’t fly. Heck, it’s got the word “multicultural” in it.

I mean, do we think any cirriculum that includes more Hispanic history than a viewing of Zorro movies will fly?

By the way, that would have to be Guy Williams’s Zorro. Antonio Banderas’s accent brings him dangerously close to chicanismo.

Anyhow, check out what David Safier has written over at Blog for Arizona on the subject. Precis: surprise, surprise, Horne and company don’t want anything but more conflict.

Sometimes, you can be the smartest guy in the room and have a pile of letters after your name and still be horribly naive.