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By Way of Explanation

I got an e-mail from DreamHost (the folks that host this blog) saying that several files had been “exploited.” I went through and deleted them, but the site was down for a couple of days. There may be some extras that won’t be working until I can poke around and reinstall them, but Tom should be able to post without a problem.

The Bear Essential News regrets the error.

Help Britt Farbo Go To DC

Folks who have been active in Baja Arizona Democratic politics for a while probably remember Britt Farbo, the feisty badass from the Sulphur Springs Valley who made her mark on the Young Democrats back in the aughts. Since then, she has led a wandering life of adventure, including a stint in DC with EMILY’s List, studies in Norway, and work with an NGO in Afghanistan. Currently, she is doing NGO work for the advancement of women in Cambodia and is working on a degree in Phnom Pen.

Farbo is also active as an officer with Democrats Abroad, the arm of the Democratic Party that represents expatriate Democrats around the world. She is raising money so she can go to Washington DC to represent the Asia-Pacific Region in her capacity as a Regional Vice Chair at Democrats Abroad’s 50th Anniversary meeting at the end of February. In Farbo’s words:

My hope is that I can raise enough money to cover travel from Cambodia to the United States, in order to attend the Democrats Abroad 2014 Annual Meeting and 50th Anniversary as well as the DNC Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. (Febuaray 27th-March 5th, 2014) where I am looking forward to representing the Asia-Pacific Region and Cambodia.

At these meetings Americans abroad and Americans from all walks of life will meet with members of congress to advocate for fair applications of the law to Americans living abroad. Work hard with party leaders to understand our role better in the 2014 elections and pass ideas around. Democrats Abroad will also celebrate fifty years since our founding.

2014 is shaping up to be an interesting one political, economically and socially for the world and by extension the individual. For myself personally this year marks the half-way point in finishing my undergraduate degree, turning thirty and five years abroad. My hope is that through my life as a student trying to make it work, my continued participation in Democrats Abroad, and a different and emerging perspective that one day I might be a better change agent for my country and community.

Thanks for your support, patience, and encouragement over time.

In Solidarity,

Britt Farbo
Democratic Party Committee Abroad

Regional Vice Chair Asia-Pacific Region 2013-Present
Chair Democrats Abroad Cambodia 2012-Present
Frm. Secretary Democrats Abroad Afghanistan 2010-2011

Farbo is very close to her $2500 goal. Folks who want to help can contribute over at her site at

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.

Steven Seagal is not running for Governor, so stop talking about him.

NB: Some folks may be wondering why I have not been posting here of late. This is largely due to the fact that my name is being circulated for a possible legislative appointment, and I was reluctant to write anything which would stink of shameless politicking. However, there are some stupidities so offensive as to demand comment.

A throwaway comment by Steven Seagal that he thinks it might be fun to run for Governor of Arizona has inspired much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among your Facebook friends. Even ostensibly serious journalists like Jim Nintzel have been chasing the story, giving the bloated action movie hack more ink than any of the actual candidates have received.

It was not until yesterday that a reporter, apparently embarrassed by a Facebook post from one of her former colleagues, made the ten minutes or so of phone calls and internet surfing necessary to find that Seagal does not meet the residency requirements for the office and is not even registered to vote in Arizona. The fact that Seagal is ineligible to run was not addressed in the pages of The Arizona Republic, but on the reporter’s Twitter feed. Keep in mind that the non-story had already been running for a few days at this point.

Also, no one seems to have noticed that Seagal is doing absolutely nothing to organize a campaign, a necessity at this point in the process. American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken may be annoying, but the fact that he has actually been talking to campaign professionals in preparation for a possible run for Congress shows that he is serious and thoughtful in this regard. Seagal, in contrast, is, in the words of the philosopher, merely farting in the wind.

Seagal’s candidacy is fake, and an obvious attempt by an attention starved used up action actor to get some publicity. While it is sad that a gullible media is willing to accommodate him, it is downright pathetic that so many people who consider themselves well-informed and sophisticated are pulling their hair out over this, but are blissfully unaware of the actual race for Governor which will be shaping up over the next few months.

So far, the field of candidates on the Republican side includes a blowhard geezer who thinks entirely in stale FOX News talking points and a CEO who thinks that the Rio Grande runs somewhere immediately south of Phoenix. Both of these candidates are scarier than Seagal, since one of them could actually be our next Governor.

Meanwhile, the only Democrat running has been dismissed by supposedly serious people as being too thoughtful, well informed and intelligent for public office.

We like to complain about the state of our politics in Arizona. We criticize our elected officials as buffoons and often question how anybody could have put such a motley horde in office without realizing that the blame falls on us, our friends, our family, and our neighbors. Seagal is being taken seriously because we do not take our politics seriously. This is the real problem. We are getting exactly what we deserve.

Yes Day: Vote Early and Often

Voting in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Online Fan Poll lasts only a few more days.

For Tucsonans, two choices are obvious. First, we are going to vote for Linda Ronstadt. Second, we are going to vote for guitar demigod and one-time Tucsonan Link Wray. Wray had a special place in his heart for the Old Pueblo and played here frequently, often sharing the stage with local great Al Perry. I am not sure if there is any truth to the persistent rumor that Wray’s “Tucson, Arizona” was written in the Tap Room at the Hotel Congress, but it is a good story nonetheless.

As for me, my third vote goes to Yes. I loved Yes in high school, then drifted away for them as I discovered punk rock and what came to be called “alternative.” By my college years, I was embarrassed to admit that I had all their albums on now-obsolete vinyl. This story is pretty common, actually, but in more recent years, their profound impact has been acknowledged, with artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, ?uestlove and The Red Hot Chili Peppers admitting to their influence.

Yes’ nomination to the Hall has gotten some unusual attention, in large part because there is an unprecedented campaign being waged on their behalf, which started with a chance meeting of political consultants at a Yes show. I assume that this happened in the men’s room between sets. One dark secret of politics is how much business gets done standing at urinals, something which should change as more women achieve prominence.

These consultants, one a Democrat and the other a Republican formed a group called Voices for Yes, which is applying political tactics to promote the band’s candidacy, including talking points, press releases and an elaborate social media strategy. In the end, win or lose, they plan to release a documentary chronicling the effort.

The band, in true rock-and-roll fashion, does not really care whether they get inducted or not, but it nonetheless seems an interesting experiment, and will probably be a case study for folks in who work in marketing. What is not clear is if the effort, even if successful, will have much impact. The Hall’s process remains murky, with many observers believing that the process is controlled largely by notorious snob Jann Wenner, who rewards artists based on his personal tastes and political views. And of course, there is the persistent accusation that the process is subject to commercial pressure.

The fundamental problem is the balloting process which makes the Electoral College look like a triumph for direct Democracy. The campaign seems to focus on the “fan poll,” whose results count as 1 (one) of over six hundred ballots. Effectively, this means that the more votes there are, the less impact each individual vote has. Don’t tell Michelle Reagan about this. It might give her ideas.

This said, it means that the real effort will have to focus on those six hundred or so electors. It will be interesting to see what strategy these high-powered DC political consultants will be using to win those votes.

It is not an important story, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Legislative Immunity and The Things Man Was Not Meant To Know

Most folks here have already heard that former State Representative Daniel Patterson (D-Tucson) has filed a suit against the City of Tucson and The Pima County Sheriff, alleging that they violated his legislative immunity back in 2012.

It needs to be pointed out that legislative immunity, which is spelled out in the State Constitution, is hardly unique to Arizona. There is similar language in many, if not most, constitutions. In fact, it was such a matter of course that the article was the subject of little or no discussion at the 1910 Constitutional Convention.

Everybody who has worked with or in the legislature has at least one story about someone embarrassing themselves with regard to legislative immunity, usually these have something to do with some arrogant boob being obnoxious to a cop. There are also a number of urban legends about what immunity is and how it works, but the fact is that it has never been tested in court and most law enforcement agencies have no clear policy to deal with it.

Of course, there is a good purpose behind it. Such language is there to prevent police harassment of legislators during the session. One can easily imagine, given what happened to the owners of the Phoenix New Times at the hands of Sheriff Arpaio’s office in 2007, how a megalomaniacal  and politically motivated law enforcement agency could attempt to use their power to influence legislation by threatening lawmakers.

Staff counsel at the legislature tends to tell legislators not to cite immunity. If one gets pulled over for a traffic violation, for example, they say to simply pay the ticket and let it go. They also tend to point out that immunity does not extend outside the session, and police can simply choose to sit on a complaint and wait to serve the legislator. Making an issue about immunity potentially makes a routine stop for a broken tail-light into a headline story about an obnoxious and entitled Representative or Senator getting out of a ticket. This would mean attention that was unwanted not only because it could be embarrassing, but also because it would mean that people would be talking about legislative immunity. Generally, folks at the capitol do not want to see this becoming a political issue.

I will not be surprised if Patterson’s lawsuit does not go far, but if it does, a good result might be some clarification of how legislative immunity is supposed to work, either by court precedent or through policy. However, it also draws unwanted attention to an easily misunderstood and abused, though necessary, protection of the integrity of the legislative process, placing it in political jeopardy. It remains to be seen if Patterson has thought through the long-term constitutional consequences of his suit.

Representative Ben Miranda, 1949-2013

It has been a hard week for the Mexican-American community in Phoenix and Arizona, as two irreplaceable leaders have been lost in the space of a few days. First, journalist and arts booster Ruben Hernandez passed away over Veteran’s Day weekend. Now, word comes that Former Representative Ben Miranda passed away on Friday morning.

We were colleagues and sometimes friends. I am not going to pretend that I always got along with him, or that he was easy to get along with. This is not a knock against him. He was difficult for the right reasons. This is a short way of saying that he may have been a pain in the ass, but he was a pain in the ass because he was a man of convictions who believed that it was necessary, a belief that was validated by what he managed to accomplish. Actually, I remember once having called him a pain in the ass, to which he replied “You know it, brother.”

Which brings us to another point, even when we disagreed, Ben recognized that we wanted the same thing, and we never lost respect for each other. He always called me “brother.”

When I first got to the capitol, Ben and I were both new. Ben, however, had a month of seniority on me and knew Phoenix, and the dynamics of the Mexican-American community in the Valley, more than I ever would. I would have been lost were it not for his efforts to mentor me and I am still grateful for his generosity.

Ben had a colorful and accomplished legal career. A colleague once noted that his last name was the same as the plaintiff in the landmark Miranda vs. Arizona, and Ben noted that Ernesto Miranda, while not a relative, was once a client. Ben even still had a signed Miranda card from the days when the destitute Ernesto sold these on the Maricopa Country courthouse steps. Ben lived history.

Ben attended at least a dozen different schools growing up, a consequence of his upbringing in a family of migrant farm workers. He sometimes told the story of how the farm worker kids in Gila Bend would have to walk to their dilapidated school, choking in the dust kicked up by the bus full of Anglo farmer kids who would taunt them on the way to their much nicer school. Majority legislators dismissed the story as fiction or otherwise irrelevant, though I am glad that he told it. Suburban conservatives needed to be reminded that their Arizona of tract homes and golf courses was not the reality for so many of us who actually grew up here.

Ben came back from Viet Nam with a Bronze Star, attended college on the GI Bill and went on to law school at ASU, where he was one of the few Mexican-Americans in his class. Having graduated with honors, Ben struggled to find work because he still did not have a proper suit. Nonetheless, once established, he gained a reputation fighting for causes in the community and for his pro-bono work, his activism informed by his own struggles.

Ben ran for the legislature multiple times before getting elected. He lost his first race to no less than Senator Alfredo Gutierrez. Heck, if you are going to lose, lose to the best, I suppose. Once in the legislature, he quickly became a thorn in the side to the Republican Majority, particularly on the Judiciary Committee, where he fearlessly pointed out the Chairman’s bullshit.

Ben’s came into the legislature at a time when Republican demagoguery on immigration was just starting, and he remained there through the culmination of this fever with SB1070. Though this was a defeat for the people and causes that Ben had been fighting for his whole life, he did not lose heart and remained the happy warrior.

Seeing that so many of the legislators who were attacking immigrants and Mexican-Americans were Mormons, Ben concocted a scheme to petition the church hierarchy in Salt Lake City directly, arguing that what was happening at the capitol potentially undermined LDS efforts to expand in Latin America. Though someone put the kibosh on this before it went too far, LDS involvement in the later successful bi-partisan effort to recall Russell Pierce (R-Mesa), the architect of 1070, seems to confirm that Ben was onto something.

Personally, my favorite Ben Miranda moment came in 2003, when he brought a imam to the floor of the House to do the opening prayer. This was apparently the first time a Muslim cleric did so in Arizona. The day that Ben chose to do this happened to be the day that the United States invaded Iraq. He was always a provocateur.

Folks have been lamenting that Ben will be impossible to replace. I see this as a good thing. Ben’s entire life was dedicated to making sure that others would not have to go through what he went through growing up. His work in the community including service on boards, his civil rights advocacy, labor organizing, and mentoring students, assured that there would be no more Ben Mirandas, and that was is greatest success.

Manuel “Lito” Peña

Iconic state Senator Manuel “Lito” Peña, who served in the legislature from 1967 to 1997 passed away today at 88.

I did not have the opportunity to serve with Peña, though his young protege, Representative John Loredo, was the Democratic Leader during my first term. I knew him mostly by reputation.

A press release from the Arizona Democratic Party today sums up his legacy:

Arizona lost a true pioneer with the death this weekend of Manuel ‘Lito’ Peña who served with distinction for 30 years in the Arizona State Legislature. Lito was one of those rare individuals who had the vision to see society’s inequities and the courage to do something about them. He was a proud Democrat and one of the architects of the early voter registration projects targeting Mexican-Americans in the valley. That led him to become involved in the court case which ultimately led to the end of segregated schools in Arizona. Mr. Peña was a long time supporter of a Martin Luther King Holiday in Arizona. He also backed legislation protecting working families, the homeless and the disabled. Lito was one of the strongest legislative voices advocating the elimination of the state sales tax on food.

Lito served on numerous boards and commissions including the City of Phoenix Human Relations Commission, Movimiento Unido Mexicano, American Legion Post 41 and the Phoenix Catholic Labor Society.

Lito Peña leaves a proud legacy of service, integrity and honor. Our hearts go out to the Peña family. We share their profound sense of loss.

Funeral services are pending.

Update: From Tucson attorney Barry Kirschner comes this remembrance which is here presented in full:

Manuel “Lito” Peña has died at age 88.  He played a great part in advancing political advocacy and involvement for Hispanics and poor persons in Arizona.

I met Lito Peña in 1972. I was writing for New Times, covering HB 2134, the Arizona Agricultural Employment Relations Act (AERA). It was an anti-labor law circulated in about 16 states by the Arizona Farm Bureau. Lito Peña was the strongest and most vocal opponent of the bill in Arizona’s legislature.

Lito was a decent man who tried to help poor people. He was friends with Cesar Chavez and Gustavo Gutierrez who organized farm workers in Arizona’s fields. He hired feminist Madeline Van Arsdell as his secretary when elected to the Senate in 1972 and entitled to one staff member. He caught a lot of hell for his anti-abortion position.

We had the honor of Lito leading the procession in the traditional Mexican wedding dance at our wedding in 1975. We weren’t Mexican, but we adopted some of the culture and dress. Lito was willing to be recruited.

As stated in the linked article below, he gave energy and insight to bringing the idea of registering voters in communities on the southwest side of Phoenix. That was not done before Lito.

Lito was a real Democrat. In 1974 the Watergate scandal irrigated our desert to give us an 18-12 majority in the Arizona Senate. Lito ran for Majority leader against (I recall) Bob Stump.  Stump won his majority. A few years later Stump won a seat in Congress, and switched to the Republican Party when Reagan was president.

Local Tucson talk show host John C. Scott, then known as John Scott Ulm, was elected to the Senate in 1974 as a progressive with Labor’s support.  I remember learning that Ulm had the courage to vote “present” in the contest between Pena and Stump the Blue (soon to be red) Dog.

Lito was a fine man who was devoted to many good causes.  He will be missed.


But, Its More Complicated Than That!

Back in 1995, during the last government shutdown, prompted, as some might recall, by Speaker Newt Gingrich’s fit of bratty pique after a perceived  snub by President Clinton, Arizona Governor J. Fife “Three Sticks” Symington pledged that he would take action to keep Grand Canyon National Park open during the crisis. He sent the Arizona National Guard in for this purpose. The Guard protected access to one road that ran from the park boundary to a single scenic overlook for a day or so. In other words, they did exactly enough to provide a show for the teevee and nothing else.

Yet, as late as 2007, I heard a member of the legislature brag about how the State showed how they could run the park better and cheaper than the federal government could, but it would be difficult for anyone to sincerely say that what the Guard was doing was the same as managing a 1900 square mile piece of land that receives over four million visitors a year.

Speaking of insincerity, in the wake of the phony umbrage which followed the lockout of  veterans from the World War II Memorial, Republican National Committee Chairman Rence Priebus pledged $150,000 to pay a small staff of 5 security guards to keep the monument open for a month. Like Symington before him, Preibus, seems to be gleefully ignorant of what running a public park actually entails.

If you have visitors, someone has to clean up after them. Visitors leave trash behind, some of them make a stop to use the toilet, and sometimes one or two accidentally break something. All of this is to say nothing of the fact that someone has to trim the weeds, change the lightbulbs, sweep the floors, and generally keep up the place to a standard befitting a national treasure. None of these things are in the job description, or skill set, of a private security guard.

Preibus’ stunt is actually somewhat insulting, since it seems to reflect a certain disdain for the work that the Park Service does. This contempt was similarly expressed by Senator Rand Paul, who referred to Park Service professionals as “idiots” and “goons.” It is generally consistent with the anti-government rhetoric of the modern Republican Party, which regards government employees as parasites, and is ignorant of the important work that they actually do.

While the hardship the shutdown has caused for government employees and their families needs to be discussed, the fact that this is the focus of discussion in the media only helps perpetuate the Tea-Party narrative that the crisis is merely a matter of a missed paycheck for some overpaid bureaucrats. The much larger problem is that the work that those people are otherwise paid to do for the public is not being done. Research has come to a halt, buildings are not being maintained, money for projects is not moving, roads are not being repaired, food is not being inspected, toxic waste is not being cleaned up, and other important functions that the public needs and demands are simply not happening.

In about two weeks Washington DC, whose budget is controlled by Congress, will run through its reserves, which will leave the Nation’s capitol unable to pay its police, firefighters or garbagemen. At about the same time, the Veterans Administration will have trouble processing claims, and even the military will suffer as some of its civilian support functions have ceased. It will become very clear to the public at large that this is about more than a few furloughs. If anything, ending the shutdown is in the best interest of the Republican Party as it might become clear to the public that the Tea-Party narrative that government employees are useless and that the work they do is a mere nuisance is a dangerous fantasy.

Or, maybe Rence Preibus could write a few more fat checks.

Senator, You Are No Five Syllable Henry.

I was going to write a snarky piece which said that Senator John McCain’s takedown of Ted Cruz, while effective, was nowhere nearly as awesome as what his predecessor, Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst, did to Huey Long in 1935, but my brother beat me to it in the Tucson Sentinel.

Ashurst, a Shakespeare-quoting cowboy turned lawyer, was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1897 where he became Speaker at the age of 23, the youngest legislative leader in Arizona’s history. There, the Coconino County Democrat was credited with the legislation that created the normal school that eventually became Northern Arizona University.

Upon statehood, Ashurst was one of Arizona’s two new United States Senators. While never known as a particularly effective legislator, his unparalleled skill as an orator made him well loved in the halls of Congress and the ideal man to put the self-aggrandizing Senator from Louisiana in his place.

As I said, go check out Ted’s piece in the Sentinel.