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.

The New Republic Catches Wind of Our Discontent

The New Republic’s blog, the Plank (a reference you only get if you know TNR’s logo), has a long (for a blog) piece about the consequences for us Arizonenses should Janet Napolitano pack her bags for Washington. The piece quotes Marsha Arzberger (First Lady of Kansas Settlement), Phil Lopes, Rebecca Rios and Amy Silverman.

The money quote comes from New Times editor Silverman:

I do not think she’s [Jan Brewer] a leader, I do not think she’s prepared for the task, and I don’t think she has a vision in mind. She’s from the same cloth–literally, she came from the legislature–as the wing of the GOP Napolitano has battled with for years.

If I Were In Charge…

Bumblebee ManOne of R-Cubed’s correspondents reports that Tim Bee told some people at a meeting of educational administrators yesterday that if he and Marsha Arzberger were in charge, this whole budget situation would be resolved.

Well…that’s very nice. Frankly, if any individual legislator were in charge, the budget situation would be resolved. Even if if was this guy. But, that ain’t the way it works, is it?

What is interesting about the assertion is that it means that Bee is admitting that he has no sway with either Speaker Jim Weiers, or the true power over the budget process, Russell Pearce. Heck, if the President of the Senate doesn’t feel like he can do anything about the budget process, what chance do the rest of us have?

The assertion of impotence ain’t much of a selling point for a guy who is running to be a freshman member of the congressional minority, is it?

Of course, if he showed up to the legislature more often…

Pack Your Carpetbags!

I spoke with Katie Bolger today, she noticed that I did not link to Karin Uhlich’s website. I could say that I didn’t because I don’t live in her ward, or I could admit that I didn’t know her URL.

There is another Rum, Romanism and Rebellion site. Go figure. They even use the same template I do. They have been up for a while. The two people that do it seem a bit more conservative than I am. I hope the fact that there are two of us will not be a problem. If it is, the only way to settle these matters will be ritual combat.

I read in this morning’s Republic that Debra “Xena” Brimhall has been acquitted of charges stemming from an incident that occurred at last year’s Country Thunder Festival. One of the few privileges that state legislators enjoy here is a sort of immunity from some traffic violations when a legislator is on the way to the capitol. Debra, or some facsimile (she claimed it wasn’t her), tried to get out of the ticket by claiming that she was a legislator an couldn’t get a ticket. This brought up three problems:

  • Florence (the location of the festival) was not on Debra’s way to the capitol.
  • The legislature was not in session
  • Debra hadn’t been a member of the legislature for two years.

In the end, she claimed that she wasn’t at the festival, because she’s a “rocker.” I would poke fun at this, but she was seen at a recent Stan Ridgway show in Phoenix. This makes her not only a rocker, but a very discerning one.

Brimhall was a rather unique legislator. She once was told to put her shoes on during a session, but refused to because she loved the feel of the new carpet on her bare feet. There was talk about changing the legislature’s rather lax dress code because of the sometimes bizarre way she would dress. Once, I was up there to watch a session. She took to the microphone durring a vote and rambled. Finally she looked up to the tote board and said, “I’m going to keep talking until more of you vote yes.” It didn’t work. I was sitting next to a lobbyist who told me that she often does this. As we know, being an oddball has never been a barrier to serving in the Arizona legislature. Brimhall is planning on running for the State House again, this time from Mesa.

Some say that Brimhall’s first election was due to people being angry that Polly Rosenbaum was no longer really living in the district. Rosenbaum was a long time (really long time…she had served since the 1940’s) legislator from Globe, but there was grousing from her opponents that she was really living in Phoenix. Her defeat probably had more to do with opposition to Clinton’s environmental policies, it was 1994.

This brings me to my other topic (I bet you were wondering about that title). Sens. Karen Johnson and Linda Gray are planning to leave the Phoenix area and run in Greater Arizona. Johnson is planning to run against Bill Kopinicki (R-Safford) because Kopinicki is not sufficiently right-wing for her tastes (we know how liberal Safford is, right?). Gray is planning to move to Prescott, supposedly because she is retiring, but she is going to run for the legislature from up there.

Johnson has been in the house before, and her bouncing back and forth probably violates the spirit of the term-limit law. Heck, I think the term-limits should be trashed anyway, so I can’t complain too much. I’m not sure that they can actually move out of town without resigning their seats. I mean, how can they file to run from another town, while they are representing someplace else? Hopefully someone will bring this up.

There is a certain arrogance here. That somehow, you can just pick up and move and that the voters there should appreciate it. What the heck does Karen Johnson know about the voters in Eastern Arizona? I think she assumes that since they are conservatives, that they will love her. What she doesn’t appreciate is that Kopinicki votes the way he does for a reason. Yeah, his constituents are conservative, but there are needs that people in rural Arizona have, and Johnson is opposed to helping them out with them.

Rural Republicans that have marched in lockstep with the East Valley crowd have had very short legislative careers (Barbara Blewster, Gail Griffin). The reason for this is simple: the rural areas of the state are actually quite dependent on state programs. The largest employer in many of these towns is a state prison, a state transportation yard or some other sort of state facility. They are often dependent on the state for health care or agricultural services. One of the issues that Marsha Arzberger was able to use against Griffin was her vote to close the health clinics in her district. Griffin voted this way because the East Valley leadership didn’t see any need for those clinics; Mesa didn’t need them.

Unless someone changes the number of districts in this state, we could soon have a situation where no rural community will truly be represented by an actual rural resident. I guess Johnson and Gray want to see that sooner rather than later.

Not So Good Vibrations

I haven’t been so good about checking the lefty blogs this week. I fell out of the habit of checking Daily Kos. With this available to me, what is the incentive to post a diary on there? Well, I suppose because more people will read it.

There are some folks on there who are rather doctrinaire. One guy wrote me because I didn’t understand the full nature and agenda of the corporate media conspiracy. When everyone seemed to be talking about what a great guy George Galloway was, I said, wait a sec, this guy is trouble. I wrote about some of the race baiting and Warsaw Pact justifying things that went on during his campaign to regain a seat in parliament. I was amazed at the vitriol of some of the replies, some e-mailed to me off of the board. One guy told me not to hold his past against him. This was about stuff that went on three weeks before. If a Republican engaged in the campaign tactics this guy did, Kossacks would be livid. But, since he’s a lefty, I guess that’s okay. Its amazing to see these guys accuse me of apostasy, when they supposedly don’t believe in such things.

That said, there were some little incidents this week that are worth talking about. On Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid and Gov. Howard Dean held a photo-op and press conference in Reid’s office. Wonkette (my sweet Ana Marie!) has an excellent account of the incident, and you can find the video of it on Dem Bloggers. Huffington Post has a rather short description of the event, but I’m linking to it because sometimes she links back…

Anyhow, our Highly Proffessional Washington Press Corps couldn’t think of anything to ask except about whether or not Dean has said things that are a bit out of bounds. Yeah, good job fellas, news flash: Howard Dean is a Hothead! Stop the presses!

At some point, Brian Wilson (the other, much cooler, and now it seems more sane Brian Wilson is pictured) of Fox News asked Dean if he hated white Christians. Dean blew off the question. Then, he asked again. One reporter, seeing he had no credential, said “who are you?” Wilson, in his most professional manner, said “who the fuck are you?” Apparently this continued into the hallway afterward.

If I were Dean, I would have said “No, I don’t hate White Christians, just you…”, but I’m not as measured and calm as Dr. Dean.

Wilson is not some fringy blogger or talk show host, he’s supposedly a journalist. I’m assuming that his mom and dad paid good money to send him to journalism school, he should do better than this. Any employee of any professional organization that acts this way in public while on duty would get his ass fired. I guess Fox News is not a professional organization. Of course, his colleagues aren’t that much better. With all that is going on, you folks couldn’t find anything substantive to ask about?

Senator Durbin later wondered aloud why the rest of the reporters would let this uncredentialed “moose” run the event. Wilson said that he isn’t a moose, but a gazelle. Nice to have no shame, eh Brian?

Some jackass named Fred Jackson with American Family Radio is alleging that Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa was elected by illegal aliens. I wondered how long it would take for this to be out there. Out here, racist morons have claimed that Raúl Grijalva, Ed Pastor and even Mo Udall were elected by “illegals.” My brother has even heard the cannard that Gov. Napolitano was elected by throngs of the undocumented. What’s worse is he hears this from Republican legislators. One Republican candidate in Cochise county claimed after the 2000 election that Marsha Arzberger won with the votes of illegal aliens living in Douglas. Of course, if you suspect every latino you meet of just having jumped over the fence, it would be natural to assume that any candidate with latino support was elected by illegals. And, this would make you, in border parlance, a baboso.

MSNBC, not learning from what happened with Michael Savage, has brought a man named Jay Severin on board to be a panelist on Tucker Carlson’s new show. Severin has called for the execution of Michael Dukakis, refered to Hillary Clinton a “bitch” and justified date rape. And these boneheads in the press get mad at what Howard Dean says?