One of the examples of some of the silliness that goes on at conventions is the traditional balloon drop. In 1996, the drop became more interesting for one Arizona delegate.
Michael Crawford, who would later serve on the Tucson City Council, was a delegate that year. Crawford has a degenerative muscle disease that has confined him to a wheelchair as long as I’ve known him. The Arizona delegation that year was up in the upper rows of the United Center, which were not very accessible for him. An arrangement was made for Crawford to be able to watch the convention with the Ohio delegation, who had a place on the floor.
The balloon drop came. I don’t know if it was unusually big or not, but Crawford, lower to the ground and not very mobile, got buried in balloons. As he disappeared under the balloons, panicky Ohio delegates struggled to pop them to free him.
In the mean time, Crawford told me later, he thought the whole thing was funny. He didn’t know that the delegates were trying to free him.
Side note: that year, the venue that the Republicans had their convention in had too short a ceiling for a drop. They arranged for a way to release them from various locations on the floor.]]>
Tonight will be a speech by Arizona’s own Raúl Grijalva, who had a prominent role this year as one of the few congressional endorsers of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. This prominence has induced an epidemic of dyslexia among our national media, which manifests itself in some rather confounding pronunciations of his name.
(Memo to Rachel Maddow: It’s Ra-OOL Gree-HAL-Vah. Not that hard.)
Raúl’s first appearance before a national convention was back in 2004. That year, he was extensively courted by the John Edwards campaign, but he chose to go with Howard Dean owing to his strong identification with opposition to the war in Iraq. Despite Raúl’s work on behalf of Dean, Edwards had Raúl give his nomination speech for Vice President.
We in the Arizona delegation were all holding up Grijalva signs, even though I think a couple of delegates from Phoenix didn’t know who he was since he was still relatively new. Grijalva gets up there to speak, and as he got out his first words, he stumbled and seemed a bit confused.
I felt bad for him, even though he gave a pretty rousing speech after that, echoing Edwards’s “two Americas” theme and asking “where’s the compassion?” It was only weeks later that I found out a bit of the back story on the speech’s opening.
Raúl had a hard hitting speech written, but it was kiboshed by the Kerry campaign. After all the edits, he ended up with a rather dull recitation of pre-approved talking points. He went up to the podium to give the speech, he started reciting the first line and looked up to realize that his original speech was the one in the TelePrompTer. He was a bit startled at first, but happily read the speech he wanted to give in the first place.
The way I got this story is a reminder to me of sometimes how little you know about the back stories while you are in the convention hall. Sometimes the big stories are hard to find out about too while you are in the delegate bubble. My brother wrote about the resignation of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In this age of ready social media, that stuff can get out to delegates quickly. But it wasn’t long ago that it was actually harder to get news in the hall than outside.
In 1992, I was an usher at the convention. My job was to stand at the entrance to a large hospitality suite and only let congressman, senators, governors, big city mayors in with one, yes sir we said one, guest in. I got to find out two things at that time: how many governors and mayors think they needed a phalanx of their own armed security with them in a hospitality suite surrounded by Secret Service, DC Capital Police and NYPD, and that DNC staff, at that time anyway, didn’t count Phoenix as a “Big City.” I still remember a couple of people turning away a confused Paul Johnson.
I chatted with Secret Service and other volunteers, usually about bad encounters with politicians. But, I didn’t hear much news. On Thursday, Ross Perot dropped out of the Presidential race. It was the biggest political news of the day. It would have been the talk of everyone, right? Especially in a gathering of half of the most addicted of political junkies in the country.
Me? I only found out about because they gave two of us a break and told us we could go into the suite and watch Bill Clinton’s acceptance speech. In the speech, Clinton dropped a quickie line about welcoming Perot’s supporters. I turned to the other volunteer.
“Did he drop out?”
He shrugged. I didn’t know for sure until I picked up one of the free “convention special” editions of National Journal on the way out.]]>
Due to popular demand, I will be temporarily reviving this here blog for the duration of the Democratic National Convention. For those who do not know, I was elected as a delegate for Senator Sanders back in the Spring. I arrived in Philadelphia late yesterday afternoon, when I was greeted by Lin-Manuel Miranda dressed up as Mark Lindsay.
The big news materialized some time while I was in the air en route to the City of Brotherly Battery Throwing from Tucson, so I got to hear about it when I landed: Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be resigning effective at the end of this week.
It should be made clear that Wasserman Schultz’s resignation at this point is largely symbolic. The nomination having been secured by Secretary Clinton, day-to day operations at the Democratic National Committee will be taken over by her people and she would have largely been a figurehead anyway. However, this was a demand by Senator Sanders,’ and shows a recognition that the party as an institution recognizes that her approach was a problem. This is the first of the twelve steps.
According to the teevee news in the hotel lobby this news has thrown the Convention “into chaos.” I suspect that this is just an effort to make a story where none exists, as this has not been my experience so far. The reactions I have heard from my admittedly small sample of delegates range from shrugs to jubilation, even from Clinton’s supporters whom one would expect to feel differently. I was surprised to hear one longtime Arizona Democratic stalwart who had reason to know what he was talking about, a Clinton supporter from day one who was still trying to dissuade me from supporting Sanders, dissing the chairwoman as unlikeable. Clearly, there are a lot of people who are less than impressed with her outside of those of us on the left who she worked so hard to dismiss and insult.
It should de made clear that I do not think that the emails support the contention that the primaries were “fixed” by the DNC. Having worked to build support among constituencies all over the country for decades, Senator Clinton had every possible advantage in her quest for the nomination. That Sanders was able to organize a credible challenge that gave her a significant scare speaks to the power of his message and his ability to mobilize supporters. At best, if these DNC staffers did what they talked about, it would have been gratuitous and unnecessary. Nonetheless, what came out is pretty damning about attitudes toward the Democratic rank and file at the DNC and does not speak well of her leadership. Even former DNC chair Terry MacAuliffe, whose approach to politics is much closer to Wasserman Schultz’s than Sanders, said on NPR that he would never have tolerated this sort of behavior among his staff during his tenure.
It is unlikely that this resignation would have happened without at least the tacit approval of the President and Secretary Clinton, so there seems to be broad recognition that Wasserman Schultz’s approach was not necessarily well-suited to building the coalition necessary to win this election. Clearly, there is much more to this job than fundraising prowess and the ability to passionlessly repeat talking points on MSNBC.
There are plenty of policy outrages that have happened in this legislature so far, the evisceration of our education system being the undisputed number one on the list. It is something else, though, that is the best illustration that the crew running the place care more about ideological wins and short term profits than Arizona as a place.
Darin Mitchell has introduced HB 2570, which would limit the ability of local government to regulate landscaping. It may seem a minor point, but these are the rules that protect our iconic saguaros.
The Arizona Republic cites a variety of rules in the Phoenix area that protect native plants, but we in Tucson have the native plant ordinance as well. It mandates that developers (including the city itself) have to replace plants that are taken out for development. The city also partners with Tucson Electric Power for the Trees for Tucson program, which puts up native trees to increase our natural canopy. The growth in our natural canopy (planting non-native palm trees has only a negligible effect on it) has can lower power bills, mitigate flooding and even make it more pleasant to walk to the store on a July day.
Still, most of the attention of this bill has focused on protections for a non-shade plant: the saguaro. Yes, having to pull them out and move them, or having to “mitigate” them is a pain in the nalgas for builders. But, think for a second why people move to Arizona. Let me give you an example. Here is the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau web page:
See that? Saguaros, saguaros, saguaros. You notice what you don’t see? Tract homes, strip malls and parking lots. Funny that.
By the way, that’s from a city that’s on the edge of the saguaro’s range. Still, the saguaro is so identified with our Southwestern deserts that they feature them. For years, we had a problem with Las Vegas cactus-napping saguaros because they wanted in on the action too. They are what makes us look different than suburbs in Orange County, Dallas or Denver.
These rules aren’t just there to protect the saguaro, but also exist to protect the broader environment and save water. Non-native plants tend to be higher water use, thus harder to maintain. I’d bet that the property managers that have to keep up landscapes for all those subdivisions that Mitchell is building would appreciate not having to maintain a conifer forest out in some tract of desert. Non-native plants can also cause other problems. The amount of money and labor both governments and property owners have had to spend on controlling buffel grass is a testament to that.
Most importantly, we live in a desert with sparse water resources. It’s taken decades, but we are finally getting both a local government and business culture that understand the challenges we face. We are in a unique place, and our policy needs to reflect that.
If you think that saguaros and the laws that protect them are a nuisance, I gotta wonder if you understand what it means to live in Arizona and whether you really give a damn about this place.]]>
The committee now has a set of recommendations and we are seeking public comments. There are two public hearings this week where members of the public may address the Committee directly regarding its recommendations:
March 10, 2015, 5 p.m. – El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, 101 W. Irvington Road
March 12, 2015, 5 p.m. – Morris K. Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road
Written comments may be also submitted to the City Clerk’s Office by email sent to Cityclerk@tucsonaz.gov , or by surface mail to: City Clerk’s Office, P.O. Box 27210, Tucson, AZ 85726.
The public comment period ends on March 20.
The recommendations are as follows:
The Committee’s recommendations fall into the following three categories:1. Recommendations to Define Responsibilities and Improve Accountability. Tucson’s Charter, contains an unusual and confusing patchwork that spreads accountability for executive functions diffusely among Mayor, Council, City Manager, and Department Directors. The Committee is recommending four changes to the Charter to better define responsibilities. These changes are intended to make City Government more effective and allow Tucsonans to better hold City Government accountable.2. Recommendations to Eliminate Unnecessary Fiscal Restrictions. Tucson’s Charter contains a number of inflexible restrictions on the City’s ability to manage its finances. The Committee is recommending two changes to the Charter that would modify or eliminate certain restrictions in the Charter that do not provide meaningful protections to taxpayers.3. Recommendations to Address Important Omissions and Cleanup Issues. The Committee observed important omissions and technical cleanup issues with Tucson’s Charter. The Committee is recommending three changes to the Charter intended to reflect the Tucson community and its values, as well as changes in the lives of Tucsonans since the charter was first created in 1929.
Recommendations to Define Responsibilities and Improve Accountability.
A. Changes to the Mayor’s Responsibilities.
Under the current Charter, the Mayor is the elected chief executive of City Government and is responsible for setting the Council agenda and presiding at Council meetings. Despite having a vote to break ties on most issues before the Council, the Mayor does not count toward a Council quorum and cannot vote on several significant matters, including the removal of the City Manager, Police Chief or Fire Chief. The Committee is seeking public comment on 2 alternative recommendations to change the Mayor’s responsibilities:
Alternative 1. Amend the Charter to grant the Mayor a full voice and vote on all matters before the Council and for the Mayor to count toward a council quorum.
Alternative 2. Amend the Charter to eliminate the Mayor’s vote, but give the Mayor the a vetoover all actions passed by the City Council. Council could override a mayoral veto with a supermajority (5 votes).
If Alternative 2 is recommended for referral to voters, the Committee is also considering recommending the addition of a seventh Council Member, elected from the City at large, to avoid tie votes and to make it easier for Council to override a Mayoral veto.
B. Changes to Council Elections.
The current Charter includes a unique election system for Council Members in which candidates for Council are nominated by their political party in ward-only primary elections and party nominees then compete in citywide general elections.
Recommendation: Retain the partisan elections but make the general elections ward-only for the six council seats.
C. Changes to Department Director Appointment and Removal Process.
The current Charter contains a confusing patchwork of responsibility for appointment and removal of Department Directors and an equally confusing patchwork that makes some Department Directors “at will” employees but grants others civil service protections.
Recommendation 1. Change appointment and removal procedures as follows:
*Council appoints and removes the City Manager, City Clerk, City Attorney, and Magistrates with a majority vote (under Alternative 1 the Mayor would vote, under Alternative 2 the Mayor could veto the Council’s decision subject to override by the Council);
*Granting the City Manager authority to appoint all other Department Directors with approval by a majority vote of the Council (under Alternative 1 the Mayor would vote, under Alternative 2 the Mayor could veto appointments subject to override by the Council);
*Granting City Manager sole authority to remove Department Directors.
Recommendation 2. Make all Department Directors “at will” employees exempt from Civil Service Protections, except that the Police Chief and Fire Chief will retain their limited advisory civil service appeal rights. No change would be made to the civil service protections of rank-and-file employees.
D. Mutual Respect for Council-Manager Form of Government.
The current Charter does not explicitly require the City Manager and Department Directors to respect Elected Officials’ policy setting and oversight. Nor does the current Charter require Elected Officials to respect the City Manager’s responsibility for implementing policies and delivering services. Mayor and Council adopted a Code of Ethics Ordinance in 2013 that contains this requirement.
Recommendation. The Committee recommends incorporating Code of Ethics Ordinance’s mutual respect and noninterference requirements into the Charter.
Recommendations to Eliminate Unnecessary Fiscal Restrictions
The current Charter contains inflexible restrictions on the City’s ability to manage its finances that do not provide meaningful protections to taxpayers.
A. Modify the Property Tax Cap.
The Charter currently imposes a combined cap on primary and secondly secondary property taxes of $1.75 per $100 of assessed value.
Recommendation. Modify this restriction to apply the $1.75 limit only to the primary property tax. This is not a tax increase.
B. Eliminate Prohibition on Pledging Sales Taxes. The Charter currently prohibits Tucson from using sales tax revenue to secure bonds financing.
Recommendation. The Committee recommends that this restriction be eliminated from the Charter. This is not a tax increase.
Recommendations to Address Important Omissions and Cleanup Issues
The Committee observed important omissions and technical cleanup issues with the current Charter.
The current Charter does not contain a preamble.
Recommendation. Add a preamble to the Charter to encourage interpreting and implementing the Charter in a manner consistent with valuing Arts and Culture, the Environment, Diversity, Transparency, Prosperous Economy, and Equal Protection of all Tucsonans.
B. Enumerated Powers.
The current Charter includes two extensive lists of enumerated powers that are very specific. At times the Charter’s specificity is used to argue that the City lacks the authority to take certain actions. This problem has been emphasized to the Committee by the arts and culture community.
Recommendation. Add specific language to the enumerated powers that makes clear the City has express authority to undertake and fund arts and culture projects. The Committee is also considering adding express reference to the City’s authority to act to implement such additional values as improving the Tucson economy, improving the environment, improving Government transparency, and improving access to government.
The Charter exclusively uses masculine pronouns, has several numbering mistakes, and refers to departments, positions and technologies that no longer exist (i.e. Transportation Director for Superintendent of Streets).
Recommendation. “Clean up” the Charter to be gender neutral, repair numbering, and identify correct titles and departments; modify problem enumerations of powers and duties topics that refer to technologies or practices that have changed or are likely to change over time.]]>