Voting is a Fundamental Right

by Gitelle Seer, February 14, 2019

Voter suppression has been very much in the news, as state legislatures around the country either embrace or resist efforts to disenfranchise pesky parts of the population, i.e., those that don’t agree with the governing party’s policies.

Arizona is one of those states. On the one hand, we have our elected officials trying to limit access to the ballot box with specious arguments about voter fraud (sound familiar?). On the other hand, and here is the good news, several bills have been introduced in the Arizona state legislature to address the inequitable treatment of individuals who were convicted of felonies and have been released from prison or probation, but do not have the right to vote. 

Arizona has a disenfranchised population of over 220,000, of whom over 100,000 are former felons who have fully completed their sentences. These citizens live in our communities, work, pay taxes and raise families, yet are deprived of this fundamental right to have a say in how and by whom they are governed and the laws that affect them.

Under Arizona law, individuals who have been convicted of one felony have their civil rights (including the right to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury, possess a firearm) restored automatically after completion of their sentence. Individuals who have committed two or more felonies have to wait two years after their final discharge from prison until they can apply to the court to have their rights restored; those who complete a sentence of probation instead of prison do not have to wait two years to apply.

When considering how you feel about whether someone who commits multiple felonies deserves the right to vote, it is important to put some context around “two or more felonies.” Keep in mind that Arizona has very harsh sentencing laws. Thus, many offenders accrue multiple felony convictions for low-level, nonviolent crimes like drug possession and shoplifting, crimes that in other states are classified as misdemeanors. I am sure that it comes as no surprise that disenfranchisement disproportionately affects people of color and the economically disadvantaged. However, you may be surprised to learn that women are well represented in prison for such low-level crimes. 

The process to apply for rights restoration can be a bewildering and cumbersome experience, starting with access (or lack thereof) to information; many recently-released individuals do not know that they have the right to apply or how to proceed. Information is not readily available and is often confusing and contradictory.  

Automatic restoration would replace the current application process, which imposes a bureaucratic and expensive burden on the government, is time-consuming and confusing for both the applicant and those implementing the review process, and subjects applicants to discretionary and potentially discriminatory decision making on the part of those judicial officers who review and rule on the restoration petitions. Clerks often disqualify applications with paperwork deficiencies during initial reviews. In Maricopa County, a significant number of applications are denied. 

There are economic, societal, and legal reasons to support automatic restoration of civil rights for those who have been convicted of two or more felonies. First, depriving citizens of civil rights prolongs punishment after the sentence has been served, which flies in the face of a basic tenet of our criminal justice system; once someone has completed his or her sentence, that individual has had the appropriate amount of punishment and is ready to assume the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Studies have shown that restoration of voting rights is a critical step on the path to rehabilitation and facilitates successful reentry into society, which has positive economic effects. Without these rights, the opportunity to get business licenses, housing, and jobs is often out of reach, thus continuing the cycle of hopelessness, poverty, and crime. Denial of these rights creates a stratum of second-class citizens, whereas restoration of these rights strengthens individuals’ ties to the community.

These restoration efforts are not happening in a vacuum. Last year a popular ballot initiative in Florida restored voting rights to over 1 million former felons. States all across the country – Maryland, New York, Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota – are working on re-enfranchisement efforts, demonstrating strong public support for integrating formerly incarcerated individuals back into the community.

Getting back to the good news, several bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that provide for automatic restoration of voting rights to those with two or more felonies. They include HB2099, introduced by Representative Espinoza (D19) and co-sponsored by our own LD18 Representative Jennifer Jermaine, as well as HB2401, SB1117, SB1202, and SB1377. As of this writing, all bills have been referred to committee, but there has been no further action. 

For these bills to have a chance to move forward, we need to ramp up our armchair advocacy and contact the appropriate committee chairs to insist that they schedule public hearings. Use RTS to find the committees to which these bills have been assigned and use this handy list of legislative leaders and committee members to locate the committee chairs and any other legislators on the relevant committees with whom you have any connection. Call, write, post on social media, comment in RTS, show up at hearings to speak on behalf of the bills and share personal stories.

In our democracy, every citizen has the right to vote, even in Arizona, the only state without an explicit constitutional provision granting that right. There is nothing further to be gained from a criminal justice, public policy or economic perspective by delaying or denying access to the ballot box to people who have served their time.

Gitelle Seer is a retired NYC law librarian and a seasonal resident in Tempe.

Gitelle Seer photo

 

Header photo credit: joebelanger.com

Prop 306 a NO brainer

Voting No on Proposition 306 is a No Vote Brainer

By David Gordon, LD18 Democrat

Do you want the tentacles of Dark Money special interests regulating our Clean Elections Campaigns in Arizona? That is what could happen if Proposition 306 passes this November.

Currently, the administration of Clean Election Campaigns is governed by the politically neutral Citizens Clean Election Commission (CCEC). This commission was implemented when Arizona Prop 200 was overwhelmingly passed by Arizona voters in 1998, and allows for two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent on the Board. Currently operating outside of the Governor’s or State Legislature’s sphere, this body sets the rules for publicly funded campaigns.

Governor Ducey and the Republican Legislators want to change the current composition in two ways. First, they want the CCEC to report to the Governors Regulatory Review Council (GRRC) and abide by its recommendations. Second, they seek to restrict how candidates can distribute their Clean Election Funds. With passage, seven members would staff this Regulatory Review Council and the Governor chooses six of them. It is more than a rumor that special interest lobbyists representing conservative interests would populate this governing body.

Clean Elections should be free of the influence of political manipulations. The system is currently organized to accomplish that mission. Clean Elections mean clean and free of influence. To have the CCEC regulated by Dark Money special interest political hacks would undermine that goal.

Voters should vote NO on Proposition 306 to let Clean Elections run successfully as it has for the last 20 years.


Header photo: Getty Images

Prop 123 is Not New Money — And Possibly Not Legal

By David Boyles

Now that Doug Ducey’s minions on the state Supreme Court have knocked the Invest in Ed initiative off the ballot, and Ducey is up against a pro public education opponent in David Garcia, we are probably going to hear a lot from Ducey about how he pumped millions of dollars into public schools with the Prop 123 initiative that was passed in May 2016.

But here’s a reality check. Prop 123 was not “new” money.” The initiative to raid the state land trust for education funding was a stopgap solution to a decade-old lawsuit against the state legislature for not properly funding public education. After Arizona voters passed Prop 301 in 2000 to increase education funding, the Republican-controlled state legislature refused to spend the money as the voters intended. The legislature was sued and Prop 123 was the “compromise” solution presented by then-State Treasurer Doug Ducey to end the lawsuit. And by the way, the money in Prop 123 only partially pays back the money the legislature stole from Prop 301. Ducey claiming credit for it is like someone stealing money from your wallet and begrudgingly paying back half of it, then wanting you to thank them for it.

And also, Prop 123 might not even be legal. In March, a federal judge ruled the raid on the state land trust that provided the Prop 123 money was unconstitutional. But Ducey and the state legislature have simply chosen to ignore the court ruling while an appeal is pending, possibly leaving the state on the hook for repaying hundreds of millions of dollars to the land trust somewhere down the line, probably after Ducey is out of office and it’s not his problem anymore.

David Boyles is an English instructor at Arizona State University.

The time for universal health care is now

Health care is a basic human right. For too long in this country, people have been insecure about whether they will have access to quality health care at reasonable prices. Many are one health care disaster away from financial ruin.

Even the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” with its Medicaid expansion and marketplaces, did not achieve universal health care. It was a step in the right direction, but the U.S. remains the only developed nation not to have all of its citizens enrolled in medical insurance.

Now Obamacare is under assault by those who cannot stand that it was an Obama program that has worked. As a result, people are facing higher premiums, substandard plans, and possibly denials if the courts rule that insurance companies can refuse coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

Fortunately, many running for office in Arizona and around the country are proposing ideas to finally achieve universal health care. These proposals do not have to reinvent the wheel but can build on existing health care systems. They include the following: further expanding Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program; stabilizing and growing the Obama marketplaces; gradually lowering the age eligibility to join Medicare; and having residents buy into the municipal health care plans that local public servants and bureaucrats receive.

By reviewing the ideas above, it would not take a great deal of legislative might to connect the dots and achieve what all the other developed nations have – some for over a century. Are our leaders going to continue to say we do not have the resources to do what allies have achieved and maintained?

The time for universal health care is now.

By David Gordon, Legislative District 18 Democrat

Header photo credit: Georgia Department of Public Health

 

Private prisons and corporate profit

By Gitelle Seer

The controversial and unconscionable treatment of immigrant families and children at our borders shines a much-needed light on the for-profit prison industry. The largest private prison contractors house thousands of detainees across the country including in Arizona, which like many states is also housing out of state detainees.  It comes as no surprise that private prison companies engage in extensive and expensive lobbying to guarantee that the government’s immigration laws and policies continue to align with their corporate self-interest and help drive their profits.

The use of private prisons subverts the purpose of incarceration, which is to provide rehabilitation for the imprisoned and safety for the community and was never intended to drive profit or be a commodity on a corporate balance sheet. But that is indeed the situation with private prisons, most of which are owned by two large public companies (GEO and CoreCivic) who are accountable only to their shareholders.

Since I prefer my outrage fueled by facts, I started to delve into the details (you know, where the devil is). Let’s start with some very sobering facts to put the situation in context.

Arizona currently has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country, with Latinos and African Americans representing a disproportionate percent of the prison population.  About 25% of our prison population has been convicted of low level, mostly drug-related, crimes. Harsh sentencing laws, including a law which requires prisoners to serve 85% of their sentence, are partly to blame.  We spend over $588,000 a day to incarcerate prisoners; the state corrections budget for incarceration is roughly $1 billion a year. And despite claims that private prisons save the state money, we pay $24,000 a year per inmate in a private prison, which is $5.00 more per day per prisoner than in public facilities. Approximately 20% of prisoners in Arizona are housed in for-profit prisons.

Bear in mind that these private prison contracts with the state are long-term, some run for as many as 20 years, during which time our taxpayer money is going to publicly-held corporations, whose profits are going to their shareholders, rather than to fund drug treatment for prisoners, or programs that benefit the broader population, like education and social services. And the business model is built on paying for full occupancy even if there are empty beds. Private prisons can cherry-pick which inmates they take, screening out those with chronic illness and intractable mental health and behavioral issues – in other words, the most financially burdensome.

Between the lack of drug and mental health treatment in prison, and the incentive to keep all beds occupied, it is no wonder that recidivism is at the shockingly high rate of over 50% in Arizona.

And if the waste of taxpayer dollars while filling the corporate coffers in not outrageous enough, what about the conditions under which inmates live, and the safety threats to the community? There are many documented instances of safety violations, unchecked personal assaults and violence, escapes, riots, poorly trained and inadequate staff, and other scandals. And whose feet are held to the fire? Corporations are shielded from both full disclosure and the consequences of these conditions. Private prisons self-report and are not adequately monitored by the Arizona Department of Corrections. Imagine if you let your children “self-report” on their actions!

To add insult to injury (and deepen the financial hold of private prison contractors), the Arizona State Retirement System has investments in one of the largest private prison companies. Quite the irony, given the lack of funding for education and the fact that Arizona spends more than twice as much to house a prisoner than to educate a child.

Until we take control of the rise in the prison population, we must find ways in which to hold these companies accountable for their poor oversight and break their financial stranglehold on our corrections system. There are steps that the Department of Corrections can take, such as demanding transparency of records, requiring accessibility by outside monitors and members of the press, and tying continuation of contracts to objective measures of success, including declining recidivism and successful drug treatment programs.

In addition, we as citizens must pressure our lawmakers to make good faith efforts to address the complexity of factors that contribute to mass incarceration. But that is a conversation for another time.

Gitelle Seer, retired NYC law librarian and a seasonal resident in Tempe.
Gitelle Seer photo


Header image from www.usprisonculture.com in http://wondergressive.com/private-prison-sues-state-wins-more-prisoners/

American, proud to be?

“Oh, say can you see “…the destruction of America’s humanitarian values?

This 4th of July I had a hard time celebrating as a proud American. But for the birth place on my birth certificate, I am a white privileged citizen living in a white privileged community with white privileged neighbors, as caged children exist in our American borders in horrific conditions through no fault of their own.

News of caged children who have been ripped from parents seeking asylum at our borders deepens my daily depression.  When I hear these caged children have no crayons, no balls, no cards, no books, no radio or television as they sit in sterile rooms with rifled adults, my head swims in misery and disgust. Yes, these caged children are fed 3 times a day; yet all 3 meals consist of noodles with water and crackers. Mylar blankets are distributed at night, but some caged children cannot find mats to sleep on. Guards are warned not to talk to these caged children, not to touch these caged children, not to hug these caged children all because of a zero-tolerance national policy.

This scenario was reported by a lawyer advocate who was granted 2 days of observation in one of the many caged children tents in our country.

Is this what I should celebrate on the birthdate of our country?  I feel impotent to stop the inhumanity as my depression grows.  “Liberty and justice for all”… sometimes.

By CJ Briggle, LD18 Democrat


Photo credit: NonProfitAF.com –  http://nonprofitaf.com/2018/07/its-ok-to-despair-but-there-is-hope-and-social-justice-demands-that-we-rise-up/

Happy birthday, great-grandma Rachel!

The 4th of July is a uniquely American holiday. Its images of camping trips and barbecues of red, white, and blue are etched into our memories. For me, the 4th of July has another meaning, and an interesting bit of our family history, one that really commemorates the importance and true meaning of this great holiday. The 4th of July is my great-grandmother’s birthday.  Well actually we don’t know when her birthday was, but we celebrated her birthday on July 4 because that’s what it said on her immigration papers.

Rachel Singer, date unknown

My great-grandmother immigrated here as a young child from Russia. She didn’t speak English, and as she arrived on Ellis Island, the officer at Ellis Island asked about her birthday, but without any papers he simply assigned a birthday to her, the 4th of July.  I’m sure he probably chose that date simply for convenience, but for my great-grandmother that date was especially poetic, she travelled across the world as a young child, to escape violence and persecution against her people and seek a better life here in America. I can’t help but wonder what she felt as her boat sailed into New York and passed the statue of Liberty. I was very young when she died, so I never got the chance to ask her what she was thinking or feeling as she arrived in America.  I do remember having a big party on the 4th of July and my great-grandmother was there.  We had a big cake, with 4th of July sparklers on it.  I didn’t realize it back then, but as I look back on it now, I think celebrating my great grandma’s birthday on the 4th of July was perfect, she understood the true meaning of this holiday, and for her, this country really was the land of freedom.

By Laurie Nerat
, Ahwatukee resident and Rachel’s great-granddaughter!

Dead People Walking

By Barbara Clark

Political Commentator Marc Thiessen claims that Trump is “fearlessly pro-life.” (May 24, 2018).

Is this the same Trump who gleefully declared, “I like war?”  War means dead people.

Is this the same Trump who has openly admired Putin, Duterte, and Kim for being “strong?”  They meet his idea of “strong” by slaughtering uncounted numbers of people to get their own way.  Slaughter means dead people.

Is this the same Trump who supports the attempts by the right wing to deny access to medical care to as many people as possible?  A lack of medical care means dead people.

Is it the same Trump who favors shutting down women’s reproductive health care clinics just in case someone might need an abortion?  This country has long had the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and now that rate is climbing.  And, by the way, maternal mortality means dead people.

Surely this can’t be the same Trump who supports other deadly policies of the right wing.  Policies like rolling back environmental laws, allowing industries to poison people’s air and water and food in the name of profit.  Poison causes dead people.

Policies like sending people fleeing from violence and starvation back to where they came from, causing more dead people.  Policies like refusing to provide adequate and timely disaster aid to Puerto Ricans, causing thousands of dead people.

He accepts the radical right’s adamant refusal to acknowledge the very existence of climate change.  Regardless of the cause, it is real, it is killing people, and it is on track to kill more.  Killing means dead people.

He has no problem with the many right-wing politicians who support and are supported by an extremist “Christian” movement called Dominionism, which advocates for the execution of gay people.  Execution means dead people.

He is decidedly in line with their acquiescence to the NRA in refusing to consider any regulations on fire-arms, despite an overabundance of evidence that regulations save lives.  Refusal to save lives means lots and lots of dead people.

Perhaps Theissen believes, as many others seem to, that “life” begins at conception and ends at birth.   Perhaps he and others believe that “innocent life” applies only to the unborn and is lost when one commits the sin of taking a first breath.  Perhaps they believe that being rabidly anti-abortion means they can support policies that kill already-born people and still claim the title of “pro-life.”

But most people know that calling Trump “pro-life” is either profound ignorance or a deliberate misnomer.  And a deliberate misnomer is a lie.  And causes dead people.

Barbara Clark
Tempe Activist


Header image: From Child Abuse at the Border by Patrick Chappatte, New York Times, June 18, 2018

Outrage Fatigue

Outrage Fatigue
by Laurie Nerat, LD18 Democrat

Turn on the news or scroll through your social media lately and your head begins to spin. There are so many issues that have you seeing red. It is heartbreaking and frustrating.  Being an informed citizen has become a true test of emotional endurance and many of us are feeling overwhelmed.  Experts have dubbed this sentiment Outrage Fatigue.

You know that feeling; you can’t even turn on the television because the news is a non-stop litany of the ways in which our country is being torn apart.  From images of children in cages, to experts talking about the dismantling of Obamacare, to the EPA dropping important health and safety regulations, the list goes on and on. Add to that our issues here in Arizona with overtly racist legislators, challenges with education funding, a Superintendent of Public Instruction trying to destroy science standards, it is enough to push anyone over the edge.

What can we do?

First, it is important to take a media break once in awhile. Listen to your body. Turn off and tune out. Find something that gives you joy. Read a light-hearted book, watch a sweet, heartwarming movie, spend some time outdoors, play with your children or grandchildren, and give yourself a much-needed mental break.  Remind yourself that there are good people in this world and good things worth fighting for.

Second, you need to pick your battles.  You can’t do everything, but you can do something.  Pick the cause that is closest to your heart and/or the candidate(s) you believe in most and focus your efforts there.  Recalling the old story about the starfish, try to make a difference where you can.

Third, remember that this onslaught of negative stories is intentional.  Don’t fall for every distraction that comes along. Pick a target and stay focused.

Find a way that you can help.  We all have unique gifts and talents and LD18 has volunteer opportunities for everyone, find something you can do to help.

Are you outgoing? We can always use folks for canvassing and phone banks. Are you good at writing?  LD18 Dems has a group of folks dedicated to writing letters to the editor on issues that matter to our district. Are you good with data? We have folks who help with that.  Are you a social media guru? We have a social media team that would love your help. Do you love entertaining? You could host a House Party for one or more of the candidates.  Can you volunteer some time for office work? Can you drive for folks who are canvassing? Do you want to help register new voters? There is a job for everyone.

Getting out there and doing something is the best way to deal with those feelings of outrage and frustration. Together we can all make a difference.

Laurie Nerat, Precinct Committeeman in the Foothills Precinct of Legislative District 18.


Header image from UrbanDictionary.com – https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=outrage+fatigue