Bill Konopnicki

Editor’s note: Yes, the blog is still dark for the time being, but my brother wanted to write a tribute to his friend and colleague (and according to Polish clan rules, shield brother), Bill Konopnicki

Last week came the sad news of the passing of my former colleague, Bill Konopnicki, Republican of Safford. He was a deeply thoughtful statesman in the long-standing tradition of earthy and pragmatic rural Arizona legislators for whom partisan considerations were secondary to the needs of their communities. It is a reminder of how quickly things in Arizona changed so radically that we speak of him as if he was part of some distant, bygone era, but we are talking about a man who was first elected in 2002 and served until 2010. This is not long ago at all, but it is difficult to imagine his like in the current legislature.

An alum of both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, Bill brought to the legislature a long record of community involvement, including terms on the school board and the governing board of the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center. Back in the early 1970s, he was, along with his future House colleague Phil Lopes, involved in the establishment of Pima Community College. He later moved to Safford to work in the administration at Eastern Arizona College. This experience proved invaluable during the many times that state’s community college system became a political football.

My brother met him before I did. Ted ran Marsha Arzberger’s successful campaign for State Senate in 2000, when her district included both Cochise and Graham Counties. Bill was a supporter, despite the fact that Marcia was a Democrat, and his presence would have been difficult to avoid anyway. He seemed to own every McDonald’s in rural Southern Arizona that was not owned by José Canchola.

We hear all the time from politicians who cite their business experience, but a little bit of digging reveals that their records in this regard are problematic. This was not the case with Bill. He was an exemplary community-minded businessman. Once, during one of those marathon budget sessions, Bill took time out to drive to Safford and back to deal with a payroll problem which would have prevented his employees from getting paid on time, something that others might have let slide. This spoke not only to the special problems that rural legislators face, but also to Bill’s sincere concern for the people who worked for him.

Bill was usually labeled a “moderate Republican.” While this label does not seem unfair, it couches his approach to public policy in terms of some sort of ideology. The truth is that Bill recognized, as did his colleagues from his district, Senators Jack Brown (D-St. Johns) and Jake Flake (R-Snowflake), that the underserved rural communities that they represented could ill afford grand partisan gestures and crusades. To this end, he was willing over and over again to work across the aisle and focus on policy rather than politics.

I do not remember if he was a member of the faction that the capitol press corps dubbed the “Cellar Dwellers,” a group of dissident Republicans who met in the basement to hammer out a reasonable budget at a time that the majority leadership was concerned chiefly with exercising a petty and unproductive feud with Governor Janet Napolitano, but Bill was always a solid voice for reason when it came to the budget. Not only did he recognize the long term needs of his district and the state as a whole, but he also knew that a strictly Republican budget would never survive the closely divided House or the scrutiny of the Democratic Governor. Again, results were far more important than talking points.

It was not unusual to find Bill hanging out in Democrat’s offices, including mine, especially that of his seatmate Jack Brown and his old friend Representative Phil Lopes (D-Tucson) when the latter served as the Democratic Leader. It was not always about business, he was a genuinely friendly guy. We often hear about the collegiality of the legislature, but such geniality too infrequently crosses party lines.

One of the things I worked on at the capitol was trying to fix Health Care Group, a sort of state-chartered insurance pool for small businesses. The legislature had, over the years, very intentionally thrown sand into the gears of the program at the behest of the insurance industry. I was surprised one day to find out that Representative Konopnicki had scheduled my bill for a hearing in front of his committee. It failed, as we both knew it would, but he thought that it needed to be discussed. Afterward, he pulled me aside to tell me that he wanted to work with me on it next session, but, unfortunately, I did not have a chance to do so.

Bill often found himself at odds with his caucus’ leadership, something which got him branded a “RINO” by an increasingly doctrinaire clique of party activists. He was openly critical of Senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), whose ascent to near-total dominance occurred largely during Bill’s tenure. It should be remembered that, while Pearce’s rise was due largely to the craven behavior of so many who knew better, he also made use of some despicable tactics, and Bill was one of his targets.

At first, Bill took this with a modicum of humor. Once, when he got a rude email from a Pearce supporter, he recognized the address as being on his way between the place he stayed at while he was in Phoenix and the capitol, so he decided to stop by the writer’s house for a friendly visit. The man’s strident convictions failed him once he was confronted by the fact that his bile was directed at a real person.

However, dealing with this sort of thing this way eventually became impossible. Bill’s opposition to whatever it was that Pearce was pushing at the time made him the target of personal attacks which bordered on actual threats. Though Pearce himself maintained a veneer of plausible deniability, it was clear that he was a little more than indirectly responsible for provoking his most dedicated followers. Finally, Bill rose up to speak out against what Pearce was doing, breaking down into tears on the floor as he voted his conscience. Bill was very careful to stay within the bounds of legislative decorum and not attack Pearce directly, but we all knew who he was speaking of. It was ballsy, and could have been a Joseph Welch moment if a few more of his colleagues had shown this kind of courage.

I will admit that there were times that Bill did things that, at the time, disappointed me. However, in retrospect I understand and even sympathize with why he did what he did. Once, an abortive bipartisan effort to elect him Speaker fizzled before it even started when too many of the Republicans who would have joined Democrats in voting for him proved to be squishy. You cannot accomplish anything at the legislature without steady support from your allies. The reasonable middle is sometimes a lonely place to be, and it seems unfortunate that we have a political environment where governing from consensus is an act of conspicuous bravery.

It was that kind of courage that made Arizona lucky to have Bill. I am proud that he was my colleague and friend.

A Bit of Good News

Janet Napolitano announced this morning that DHS will no longer deport “low priority” illegal immigrants. These would be folks who migrated before their sixteenth birthday, have committed no major crimes and are under the age of 30.

It goes without saying that this will cause the usual veins-in-the-neck popping snit from certain folks who have made their name on claiming the administration is soft on them durned ill-eagles. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands need to be deported before someone is no longer soft. I guess since we haven’t made the state look like the no man’s land at Flanders, we’re soft.

By the way, anybody want to take bets on who will be the first Republican to coin the phrase “Backdoor DREAM Act”?

(Even as I type, Joe Arpaio is on the radio in Phoenix bloviating about how this is all political. He’s running for re-election too which has nothing to do with anything.)

Press release from Raúl Grijalva after the jump.

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Putsching too Hard

Jan Brewer put out word yesterday that she will soon announce what she will do about last week’s supreme court decision striking down her attempted removal of Colleen Mathis. This morning Paul Davenport reported that Brewer wants a more detailed explanation of the court’s decision. I say, let them give her one as soon as she can articulate her own reasons for the ouster.

So, I guess this announcement will be scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (a brilliant media strategy). Odds are vanishingly small that her response will be “I believe in the constitutional rule of law and respect the court’s decision.”

There are a couple of “damn the torpedoes” scenarios involving a second attempt to remove Mathis, or even the other two Democratic members. Re-firing Mathis wouldn’t be totally unprecedented for the legislature: there were times Janet Napolitano would veto bills from the lege, only to see the identical bill passed again. The real comedy was that legislators would actually be shocked that she would veto the same bill a second time.

The more likely scenario, although not lacking hubris, is this ballot referral proposal. This was first put forward by Frank Antenori before the vote to oust Mathis. The Antenori plan is simple: refer the constitutional amendment that created the IRC to the ballot. Oh, and by the way, refer it to the ballot during the Republicans-only presidential primary at the end of February.

Yep, if there is anything that will keep this from looking like it’s a partisan exercise, it’s scheduling it for the one day when you are guaranteed no Democrat or independent has a reason to vote.

I’ve talked to a couple of legislators about this, and they think it will happen (it’s gotta happen soon because of the 90 day requirement for referenda). For one, they have already alienated everyone they are going to alienate on this issue, so what do they have to lose? Also, they are pretty set on this course; it’s a locomotive (emphasis on the “loco”) that can’t change direction once it’s on a track. They have neither the incentive or desire to stop now.

There are a few problems, of course.

One is cost. The primary will already cost $3.4 million. Printing up more ballots and opening it up for more voters will cost an additional $5 million. It leaves me to wonder how many organ transplants that would pay for.

And here is a big one: here is a major change in our election laws purposely scheduled for an election that will have minimal minority turnout. Several observers I talked to are sure that the DOJ would get involved for this reason, and possibly enjoin the state from going through with it.

Okay, let’s say we have this election. Who is to say even Republican voters, once you get outside of hard core activists, are that thrilled about ditching the IRC? Polling numbers quoted in the Yellow Sheet say no, but with the proviso that there hasn’t been a pro-repeal campaign yet. Well, if their messaging around the Mathis putsch is any indication, their persuasive powers on this issue are a bit lacking. To recap: from Andy Biggs “L’etat c’est moi” and from la Cervecera, well, I’m not really sure. Not the sort of rhetoric that will move hundreds of thousands of voters.

Okay, let’s suppose for a second that this gambit works and 106 is ditched. The IRC will be long done with their work by then. Do legislators, most of whom will be running either for legislature or congress and would like a vague idea where the lines are, really want to spend the entire month of March re-starting this silliness?

Another poorly thought out plan from the legislature. Any surprise there?

Doing a Few Lines

You hear that?

Yeah, I can’t either. I’ve been straining myself trying to hear Republican complaints about how the Independent Redistricting Commission is a Star Chamber run by puppeteers in a White House sub-basement, taking orders from Rahm Emanuel, Van Jones and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hmm. Can’t hear anything.

That can’t have anything to do with the release of the legislative maps yesterday, can it? You know, where the Republicans got more than they could have hoped for?

Well, maybe not all they could have hoped for: Rick Stertz still voted against it. He heard that the draft map would allow a Democrat to win an election somewhere, I guess.

Before I set my phaser to “rant,” I should tell you a little bit about what I think “competitive” means.

It doesn’t mean thirty districts that are even politically. Such a map would be just as gerrymandered as a map to benefit one or the other party would be. What it means is that a change in the overall political wind would result in a change in the legislature. The current map doesn’t do that: a strong Democratic year in 2006 elected Janet Napolitano by a large margin and replaced Republican congressional incumbents with Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords. That year, the Democrats made gains in the legislature, but didn’t tip either house. The math made changing the legislature impossible.

This could still mean there are safe seats. A district drawn in Mesa will be strongly Republican, one drawn on Tucson’s south side will be strongly Democratic, and that makes perfect sense. But, will there be enough seats in play that the legislature changes when public opinion does?

If you ask that question of this map, the answer is no.

The commission is claiming eight competitive districts, which would have to include districts with as much as 55 or 56 percent Republican registration. It’s a bit of a stretch, to be sure.

I’ve gone over the numbers, performance and registration, with two people, and the conclusion is the same: nine solidly Democratic districts and fifteen solidly Republican districts. Democrats could run the table, and the best they can hope for is a tie. In other words, it is near impossible for the people of Arizona to change the face of the legislature.

Well, there’s one good thing about this. It will put an end to the tired and whiny trope that the commission is working at the behest of Democrats.

Hmm…I think I do hear something. It’s the Republicans celebrating yet another decade of guaranteed legislative control, no matter what the people want.

Selective Care

During the debate on an abortion bill on Tuesday, newly elected Representative Katie Hobbs pointed out the irony of all the talk about care for minority children and their mothers when many of these same legislators support major cuts in our state’s Medicaid program, AHCCCS.

I guess the Republicans took this as a challenge. Late last night, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to abolish the AHCCCS program. Not cut. Not trim. Abolish.

Republican press release blaming ObamaCare, Janet Napolitano and Kyrsten Sinema will be out later today, no doubt.

Credit Where Credit Ain’t Due

Press release from the Senate Republicans:

The Arizona Senate this afternoon passed a bill authored by Senate President Russell Pearce that will bring jobs to our state, and re-establishes Arizona as a national economic leader. SB1001/HB2001 also include broad tax reductions that will improve the bottom line for all business in Arizona, leading to more job creation.

And here everyone told me that is was Kirk Adams’s bill.

The real fun comes in a few months when we have to deal with massive cuts to our schools, and homeowners see a jump in their property taxes. Then, no one will be taking credit for this bill. It will all be the fault of Janet Napolitano, Kyrsten Sinema and whatever other Democrat is available. Then, the Republic will publish an editorial saying it is the fault of both sides.

Thoughts on a Full Term

Back in January of 2001, a friend of mine was in law school and a fellow student bragged, “I’m going to the Washington for the inauguration.” My friend tore a small piece off of the corner of a sheet of paper and said, “Here, write down everything interesting he says.”

I felt the same about Jan Brewer’s inauguration yesterday.

I was thinking that maybe we’d hear a little less blame and more taking responsibility, but it was only a few paragraphs into her speech that she was blaming Janet Napolitano and the federal government for the woes of our state. I guess the next few years will look a lot like the next two: it’s all the fault of immigrants and Kyrsten Sinema.

La Cervecera Goes on the Attack

Just got an e-mail from Jan Brewer’s campaign in which she takes on Dean Martin. Martin has had some days of decent press lately. Since he’s the State Treasurer, he can couch his criticisms of the legislature and governor as part of his ministerial responsibilities. She can’t be too happy about the free ride he’s gotten, so she’s gone on the attack. She reminds folks that Martin voted for Janet Napolitano’s budgets as a legislator.

Of course, Brewer is also reminding folks of who was governor not too long ago and begging them to make a comparison that she won’t do too well in.

One more thing that Brewer does in her e-mail: she entitles it “That’s Amore!” (complete with a YouTube video. Isn’t anyone on Vimeo?) I already made that joke last year. What, you don’t want Martin to sent out some e-mail saying that y’all “joined” R-Cubed or something?

Us? Budget? Never Heard of It.

One of the little bits from La Cervecera’s State of the State Address that has gotten some folks talking was Jan Brewer’s non-introduction of State Treasurer Dean Martin and Attorney General Terry Goddard. It might not have been as remarked on except that the Governor made a point of looking at the two of them when she called on others to step up and come up with their own budgets.

The incident seemed to make the annual address cross that line into a campaign speech. No serious observer would tell you that these speeches are free of politics; they are given to push the Governor’s agenda. However, we don’t expect it to be a slap at her electoral opponents. I spoke to a long time observer of these speeches and she told me that she hadn’t seen this sort of thing before.

She is frustrated not just at her possible electoral rivals, but the legislators sitting in front of her have given an indication that they may just let her fall on the sword over this budget. There has been talk that Republican leaders may not offer their own budget after the Governor offers her plan on Friday. Even if they don’t go that far, they are already referring to possible budget plans as “staff budgets” rather than the traditional term of “chairmen’s budgets,” making it sound like the whole darned thing will be the fault of anonymous bureaucrats.

Before we try to make her out to be a heroine here, Brewer herself avoided having to present budget specifics last time since she came into office after Janet Napolitano had already presented her budget. Although she was under no legal obligation to present a budget, it took her far too long to get engaged in the arguments last session with anything except platitudes. It makes her “put up or shut up” arguments now a little hard to take.