Monday, April 15, 2013

A fresh perspective on the Arizona Legislature

A fresh perspective on the Arizona Legislature
Democratic freshmen on the inner workings of the Arizona House of Representatives

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX As the legislative session approaches the 100th day, many of the newest members are fed up with the lengths to which some of the ideologues at the Capitol will go to obstruct the efforts of Democrats to move Arizona forward.

Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson (District 10), is one of several new Democrats serving in the House of Representatives for the first time. She said she was optimistic about the ability of the incoming members to set aside partisan bickering and to focus on the issues that matter most to the people of Arizona.

“We came here to do the work of the people,” Mach said. “We have a big class of freshmen and most of us brought fresh ideas and new energy to the Capitol. During the first two weeks, Republicans and Democrats worked well together. By week three, I saw that partisanship was making its way back into the process. I first saw how broken the system is after a Republican colleague informed me that he loved a bill I introduced and wanted to work on it with me next year. At first, I was confused because he could have helped me this year. Then I understood that he meant that he would help get the bill passed only if a Republican sponsored it. It was difficult to get used to the hypocrisy, but I’ll continue to reach across the aisle to develop good legislation.”

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron (District 7), said she had a similar experience after proposing an idea to create a Native American Day, after the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill to create a Cowboy Day.

“I soon realized that a bill to create a Native American Day would only be successful if a Republican introduced it. If we are going to have a Cowboy Day, we should also have a Native American Day. This should be obvious to those who voted for the Cowboy Day bill, regardless of party affiliation,” Peshlakai said. “Since they insist on playing partisan politics with something that everyone should agree on, I am not surprised that some of the extremist Republican members are working so hard to block Medicaid expansion.”

Peshlakai added that she has seen how extremists are obstructing attempts to expand Medicaid.

“Recently, I was joined by a Republican senator for a tour of the Flagstaff Medical Center,” she said. “This was supposed to be an opportunity for the hospital to showcase the work done there. Instead, the senator talked the entire time about why he will not support Medicaid expansion. He was not interested in the fact that Medicaid expansion would increase access to health care to hundreds of thousands of people. He did not care that it would provide mental health services to people who are in need, nor did he seem to appreciate that it would create thousands of jobs across the state. He was blinded by partisanship.”

Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Sahuarita (District 2), said she is concerned with how out-of-touch some of the Republicans are with the people of Arizona. Dalessandro sponsored House Concurrent Memorial 2007, which asked Congress to take action to prevent the closing of the Cherrybell Mail Processing Center in Tucson.

“This effort was successful and the Legislature did call on Congress to stop the Tucson Cherrybell Mail Processing Center from closing,” Dalessandro said. “Considering how many jobs the processing center creates, this should have been an effort that the Republicans rallied around. That was not the case, and I had to jump through more hoops than most to get this through the process.”

During her work to get support for HCM 2007, Dalessandro said she had to spend a lot of time encouraging people in the Senate to hear the memorial.

“While I was advocating for HCM 2007, I ran into a Republican senator in the lobby of the House of Representatives. He asked me what I was doing at the Capitol. I thought he wanted to know about the Cherrybell House Concurrent Memorial because I had spent so much time speaking with his colleagues about it. I quickly realized that he thought I was just visiting. He didn’t know that I was elected to serve my community.”

Dalessandro added that she and many of the other freshmen are concerned that the extremists at the Legislature are so committed to an ideological agenda that they are ignoring the Arizonans who are represented by Democrats.

“All Arizonans deserve representation. We are in the minority but we were sent here to do a job. That is something we take seriously,” she said. “Regardless of the obstructionist tactics by a few vocal extremists, House Democrats will continue work for ways to create jobs, improve education and expand access to health care.”


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