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Freedom Schools, Part II

The Best Education Money Can Buy: The Kochs and ASU, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a
blog post about the Arizona legislature’s decision, in the midst of the RedForEd uprising over education funding, to once again provide special funding for “freedom schools” at both ASU and UA. These schools grew out of earlier programs funded by the Koch network and are closely aligned with the Kochs’ conservative politics, supposedly serving as a balance to the Marxist indoctrination camps being run by other ASU faculty like myself.

But apparently, the Arizona legislature has once again proven even too embarrassing for its ostensible allies like the Kochs to publicly defend. On May 21, John Hardin, director of university relations at the Charles Koch Foundation, wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times criticizing the legislature’s attempts to regulate student speech on campus and to silo ASU’s freedom school, the Center for Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) from the rest of the university. In true New York Times editorial page fashion, Hardin presents himself as the last sane man, positioned between Stalinist students on one side and know-nothing politicians on the other, calling for a return to civil academic discourse.

At first it might seem strange for a Koch representative to be criticizing SCETL, a Koch invention, but it makes sense if you understand the Kochs’ long game in higher education, which many of the useful idiots the Kochs sponsor in the Arizona legislature are too dense to grasp. They don’t want SCETL to be a separate safe space for conservatives who feel oppressed by being forced to think about the experiences of people unlike themselves, as many in the legislature envision it. Instead, they want it to be a model for the future of all higher education across the country, in which wealthy donors like the Kochs control what gets taught on campus and who does the teaching.

The freedom schools are only one part of a decades-long push by the Kochs to control America’s colleges by using the power of their purse strings. As recently revealed by a team of student activists, they have been most successful at this at George Mason University in Virginia, where donations by the Kochs and other conservative groups have turned the university into a bastion of conservative thought and even founded a law school named for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia* dedicated to turning out future generations of lawyers and judges dedicated to Scalia’s radically right-wing interpretations of the law.

*Fun fact: the name of the school was changed from Antonin Scalia School of Law to the Scalia Law School after people realized that the original acronym (ASSOL) was perhaps a little too indicative of the infamously bigoted and confrontational late Justice.

As revealed after the student activists after months of fighting for transparency, wealthy conservative donors were given a large amount of input on hiring decisions and even admissions and this influence was largely hidden from public view. And George Mason accepted the money with these strings attached because, like many other public universities around the country, they have been hit hard by more than a decade of disinvestment in higher education by their state legislature.

Sound familiar? Yep, as with K-12 education, most states cut higher education funding after the 2008 crash. States with Republican legislatures cut more. And, you guessed it, just like with K-12, Arizona cut the most and had refused to replace that money even as the economy improved. According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona cut per-student funding for higher education by 53.8% from 2008-2017. And who was responsible for those cuts? Republican politicians, frequently backed by the Kochs. And into that breach has stepped donors like the Kochs, offering funds not only for radical experiments like SCETL but for hiring in traditional academic departments as well. They are making us sick and then selling us the cure.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with wealthy philanthropists, even unsavory ones, supporting education and culture. We wouldn’t have Carnegie Hall without it. But that money should not come with strings attached, whether for separate explicitly conservative programs like SCETL or ASSOL, sorry I mean Scalia Law School, or for traditional programs. And the radical cutting of public funding for higher education, perpetrated by Koch-backed Republican politicians, puts universities into difficult positions in which they feel they cannot turn down the money even with the strings.

As I was writing this, it was announced that David Koch, who is 78 and in poor health, will retire from Koch industries. His brother Charles is 82. The Kochs themselves won’t be around forever and, if we judge from this viral video of Wyatt Koch, the idiot son of forgotten Koch brother Bill who is a character from Step Brothers come to life, the next generation of the family is in some questionable hands. But the Koch network, the vast apparatus of foundations, think tanks, and political action committees the brothers have funded, will live on, as will their long-term goal of radically altering education in the United States at all levels. Those of us who value true public education have to keep fighting back.

David Boyles is an English instructor at Arizona State University.


SCOTUS and the LGBTQ Community

SCOTUS Shows Why We Need Uniform Protections for LGBTQ Community

Pride Month — the annual June celebration of the LGBTQ community which commemorates the Stonewall Riots of 1969 — got off to a sour start with the Supreme Court’s decision on June 4 in the closely-watched Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in favor of a Colorado baker who was sanctioned by the state’s Civil Rights Commission for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. As the Supreme Court often likes to do, it sidestepped the core Constitutional question (Do LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws violate the First Amendment freedoms of people who claim their religion requires them to discriminate against gays?) and issued a narrow ruling in favor the cake shop on the grounds that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown prejudice against the baker’s religious beliefs when handling his case. At issue were some comments one of the commissioners made which the Justices interpreted as anti-religion.

This ruling satisfied no one, and guaranteed that the question of LGBTQ Americans’ right to not be discriminated against will continue to be fought out in court cases for years to come. But much of the media coverage and commentary has, in my opinion, missed one of the biggest lessons we should take away from this case if you support LGBTQ equality. Masterpiece Cakeshop was only ever sanctioned because Colorado has a state law banning LGBTQ discrimination. With no national anti-discrimination law, LGBTQ Americans are forced to navigate a complex patchwork of state and local ordinances in order to avoid completely legal discrimination.

Legislative District 18, and the larger Phoenix Metro area we are a part of, is a perfect example of this problem. Arizona, perhaps unsurprisingly, has no statewide anti-discrimination law like Colorado’s. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index, a thick guidebook designed to help people navigate state laws, Arizona is ranked as a “High Priority to Achieve Equality,” with no protections for employment, housing, and public accommodations, among many other areas. Arizona is ranked lower than any of the states we border (yes, even Utah, which is categorized as “Building Equality”), illustrating the patchwork nature of these laws and making us unattractive to LGBTQ people in neighboring states who might want to move here and add to our economy.

But it gets even patchier than that. HRC also releases a Municipal Equality Index which ranks city-level ordinances. For places like Arizona with no protections at the state level, these city-level laws can be important, but in a place like the Valley Metro area, where more than a dozen municipalities bump against and intersect each other, often making it hard to know which city you’re in, this can get maddening. LD 18, for example, encompasses parts of four cities: the Phoenix neighborhood of Ahwatukee, a large swatch of south Tempe, and the western parts of Mesa and Chandler. On the positive side, liberal-leaning Phoenix and Tempe both score 100 on this scale, joining Tucson as the only cities in the state with perfect scores. But Chandler and Mesa are both just barely D students, scoring 61 and 60 respectively, with no public accommodations protections of the type that would apply in the wedding cake case.  

So a bakery located in Tempe would not be allowed to discriminate against a same-sex couple but one located in Chandler is free to do so. With the way our cities run together, this means whether or not you can get legally discriminated against can literally depend on what side of the street a business is on. This makes no sense and is an undue burden on LGBTQ members of our community.

So instead of complaining about the Supreme Court’s inscrutability, we need to elect state-level officials who will pass statewide policies that will at least bring us up to the level of our neighboring states and, even better, congressional representatives who will pass a national Equality Act. These laws are going to continue being challenged in court by well-financed groups anti-LGBTQ groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom (a similar case challenging Phoenix’s anti-discrimination law is working its way through the courts) but having uniform, fairly applied laws at the state and federal level will prevent them from winning on technical grounds as in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

David Boyles is an English instructor at Arizona State University.

Freedom School Scam

The Freedom School Scam
By David Boyles

The remarkable sight of tens of thousands of educators and public school allies descending on the Capitol lawn for the six days of the #RedForEd walkout clearly scared the Republican leadership in the legislature. Why else would they attempt the underhanded trick of delaying their budget vote by a day in hopes the teachers would leave and, when that didn’t work, holding a marathon 40-hour session in the House of Representatives? The leadership was clearly nervous about having an audience for their budget approval, and for good reason, as the attention has shed light on questionable practices around education that go beyond K-12 funding.

One issue that many people became aware of for the first time last week is the existence of so-called “freedom schools” at ASU and UA which received their own budget line item of $2.5 million. People found themselves wondering for the first time what exactly a freedom school is and why they deserve their own special line of funding. At the same time, higher education institutions many people are familiar with, Pima Community College in Tucson and the 10-college Maricopa Community College District which serves the Phoenix metro area and includes LD18’s own Mesa Community College, received exactly $0 in state funding for the third year in a row. So why designate millions of dollars for obscure, tiny programs within our two largest state universities while spending no money on well-known community institutions that educate thousands of Arizonans every year?

Both decisions, like the decisions to not properly fund public K-12 education and to attempt to divert taxpayer money to private schools through vouchers, are all symptoms of the same disease.

As outlined in a February story in the New York Times, the freedom schools, which go by the unwieldy and obfuscatory names of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (ASU) and Department of Political Economy and Moral Science (UA), are outgrowths of earlier initiatives at each school which were bankrolled by the massive Koch empire in an attempt to inject conservative thought into universities they see as overrun by liberalism. They teach curricula based on a conservative “Great Books” framework that teaches works of literature, political science and philosophy almost entirely written by dead white men and reinforcing a conservative ideology that favors cultural conservatism and free market economics. Think of them as the academic version of Fox News: having pushed an inflated narrative of liberal bias in mainstream institutions, they argue that the only response is unabashed propaganda for the conservative point of view.

And unlike pretty much every other public education entity in Arizona, they are flush with cash. As reported by the Tucson Daily Star, the two freedom schools are sitting on a combined $9.8 million in cash on hand even before receiving this year’s appropriation. And this is after a spending spree over the last year, especially on the part of ASU’s SCETL, which has offered free Spring Break trips to India for students in order to attract majors, purchased rare books including a first edition of The Federalist Papers (timed to capitalize on publicity around ASU Gammage’s hosting of Hamilton), and brought big-name speakers like Cornel West and Steven Pinker to campus to talk about the so-called “crisis of free speech” on college campuses, despite the fact that ASU has not seen the types of free speech clashes that have happened at other more traditionally liberal campuses like UC Berkeley and Middlebury College.

But the greatest irony of these schools receiving and so freely spending taxpayer money is that much of the money is going to undermine the very idea of public, taxpayer-funded education. The Koch brothers have been at war against public education for decades and, as reported by the Center for Media and Democracy in February, Arizona is now “ground zero” in that war. The controversial 2017 Empowerment Scholarship Account school voucher bill, which would divert millions of tax dollars from public to private schools, was copy and pasted by Debbie Lesko from model legislation provided by the Koch-financed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Kochs are dropping millions of dollars into the this fall’s Prop 305 ballot referendum on the ESAs, at the same time our tax money is going to teach their anti-public school ideology at our two largest public universities. And this year’s appropriation for ASU’s SCETL even includes funding to develop a K-12 curriculum, possibly bringing anti-public school propaganda into public school classrooms in an attempt to combat the #RedForEd movement.

Meanwhile, the state’s two largest community college districts continue to struggle after being abandoned by the legislature. A story last year in Inside Higher Education told a story eerily similar to anyone following the K-12 funding saga: unfilled positions, stagnant salaries, crumbling infrastructure. Local residents are paying more in property taxes and students are paying more in tuition, but it doesn’t come close to filling the gap.

The lack of funding for these important institutions is inexplicable unless you see it as another front in the Kochs’ war on public education. Community colleges are a pillar of the public school idea, offering access to higher education at an affordable cost to people who would otherwise be shut out. Attempting to cripple these institutions makes no sense unless you believe, as the Kochs and their allies in the Arizona legislature do, that these people do not deserve access to higher education.

Local media, including conservative talk radio station KTAR, have taken to branding the recent showdown on the Capitol lawn as “Arizona’s Classroom Crisis.” But this makes it sound like something we didn’t have control over, like a natural disaster. But the state of our public education, at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels, was not an accident. It is the result of a deliberate assault on public education, which the “freedom schools” are looking to extend by perversely making it part of the public education curriculum itself.

David Boyles is an English instructor at Arizona State University.

Supporting DACA Students

Supporting Undocumented and DACAmented Students
by David Boyles

The recent Arizona Supreme Court decision rescinding in-state tuition for students at Arizona universities and community colleges who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is just the latest blow for DACA recipients here in Arizona. Much like Donald Trump at the national level, Arizona Republicans like Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who brought the tuition lawsuit, have used attacks on DACA recipients to appeal to nativisit and anti-immigrant resentment. But while these politicians score political points, the lives of hard-working young people have been thrown into disarray.

As a teacher at ASU, I have worked with DACA recipients and other undocumented students. To pursue higher education as an undocumented young person, even one with DACA protections, takes an incredible amount of discipline and sacrifice. Barred from any type of government financial aid, many students pay for their degree in cash, often taking one or two classes at a time because it is all they can afford.

And while I could point to specific students I have worked with, I also recognize that I don’t even know how many DACA and undocumented students I have worked with. Many are not “out” about their immigration status, especially at school, so they deal with the financial difficulties and other instabilities often in isolation. Imagine trying to focus on an English 101 paper last September, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the DACA program, and then imagine that your professor doesn’t realize the reason you turned in your assignment late is because you are worried about your ability to stay in the country. These are the types of challenges these students face everyday.

But despite these obstacles, DACA and undocumented students have thrived and, in many cases, become leaders in our local community. Norma Jimenez, a Grand Canyon University graduate, is director of Latino outreach for Planned Parenthood of Arizona and has made advocacy for undocumented patients part of that organization’s agenda, as described in a story last year by BuzzFeed News.  ASU student Belén Sisa, a member of Undocumented Students for Education Equity at ASU, and ASU graduate Erika Andiola were among the eight people arrested for occupying Congressional offices in December in protest of the Congress’ failure to pass the DREAM Act.

It is a cruel irony that these remarkable women, and many more like them, have become political leaders in Arizona despite not having the right to vote. It is a reminder that voting is a precious thing, not to be taken for granted, and those who have the right need to use it. And while a permanent solution in the form of a DREAM Act is in the hands of Congress and the president, at the local level we need to vote for candidates who will support these young people, not use them as political props like Mark Brnovich.

For more information on the situation of DACA and undocumented students at ASU, check out ASU’s excellent DREAMZone. If you work at ASU or in K-12 education, DREAMZone offers Ally Training programs which are eligible for professional development credit.

For more general information on advocacy for the DREAM Act and other DACA issues, check out United We Dream, the largest national organization for undocumented youth.

David Boyles is an English instructor at Arizona State University.

18 ways to be part of the LD18 Dems Blue Wave

By Rebecca Hinton, LD18 Democrats Board Member and Chair of the Environmental Club, and Susie Thornton, LD18 Democrats Social Media & Communications Co-Coordinator

  1. Become a recurring donor. Talk to Jeff Tucker:
  2. Join us on Slack – Don’t know how? Or even what Slack is? Contact Alison Porter: or Melissa Megna:
  3. Follow Arizona Democrats of Legislative District 18 on Facebook and share posts. Follow us on Twitter @LD18Dems and retweet. Follow us on Instagram at ld18dems.
  4. Help with Voter Registration. To find out how reach out to Alison Porter: or Melissa Megna:
  5. Canvass for Mitzi Epstein: And for Jennifer Jermaine: And for LaDawn Stuben:
  6. Drive Sean Bowie to meet the voters. Contact Dr. Janie Hydrick: or Sean Bowie:
  7. Join our Social Media & Communications Team (SMAC)! Slack channel for info on upcoming meetings. Contact Susie Thornton: or Kate Tice:
  8. Lend us your voice and write a blog for our web page. Blog topics: Environment, Education, Healthcare, & Equality. Contact Laurie Nerat:
  9. Like planning events? Helping at events? Our Event Team needs your support! Kevin Walsh:
  10. Join the Welcome Committee – meet our members and help at the meetings. Melissa Megna:
  11. Community service projects? Follow Dems Give Back on Facebook for details. Rebecca Hinton:
  12. Monthly meeting setup. Arrive early and help unload vehicles, move tables, put out flyers, etc. Contact Dr. Janie Hydrick:
  13. Do you like taking videos? Volunteer to help with videography at meetings:
  14. Get trained! PC training. Van training. Details: Alison Porter: or Melissa Megna:
  15. Join our Fundraising Team. We want your ideas and support! Contact Kevin Walsh:
  16. Are you trained and ready to speak out on Request to Speak? If not, talk to Cathy Sigmon:
  17. Work with the SOS team to save public education. Alison Porter:
  18. Data entry/tech stuff, clean up our contact database. Susie Thornton:


Libraries: The thin red line…

“Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism.”

This month is the 60th anniversary of National Library Week, which we celebrate April 8-14.  In the mid-1950’s research showed that Americans were spending more on radios, televisions and musical instruments than books. Concerned that Americans were reading less a non-profit citizen’s group of librarians and booksellers created a national campaign to encourage people to read.

I grew up in that era, in a household in which everyone read. The books, magazines, and especially newspapers consumed by three generations living together reflected a wide spectrum of political and social views, from the left-leaning Jewish Daily Forward to the conservative and sensationalist New York Post, with an array of iconic NY papers – the Times, Daily News, and the long-defunct Journal American  –  somewhere in the middle.

Reading was in my DNA and libraries were my incubator. My love affair with libraries started with the bookmobile that came to our neighborhood in Brooklyn every Friday afternoon and continues today as I happily frequent the public libraries in and around Tempe and my NJ hometown, and everywhere I travel.  Libraries draw me in, sometimes because of the architecture, sometimes the history or subject matter, and often simply because they are there.

Public libraries are unique among civic institutions in that they are a haven for those seeking literacy and the opportunity to explore ideas, as well as a haven for many who need a place to go during the day. I was volunteering at the Burton Barr Library when storm damage closed the building. At that time, I did not realize the extent of the impact on the community.  Children lost free hot meals, provided by a local food bank, those with autism lost the cafe that offered them training and job skills, and those who needed it most lost their refuge from the summer heat.

It may be easy to dismiss public libraries as less essential in the age of e-books, streaming media, and Google, but there are considerable portions of our community who do not have ready access to these resources or the education or training to navigate them successfully. The inventive ways in which public libraries remain vibrant and relevant are marvelous and many. The Tempe Public Library, like others in the valley, represents the best characteristics of public libraries –  looking inward to serve their core constituency while reaching outward to engage and enrich the community. The wealth of free research guidance and one on one assistance, not to mention electronic resources – books, magazines, newspapers, research databases, music, movies – is remarkable. And consider the range of opportunities offered by our local libraries to learn, share and teach, including classes in citizenship, coding, game design, 3D modeling, ESL, writing, knitting, test preparation, films, lectures, and services such as small business advice and seed libraries.

While many communities still have bookmobiles to serve rural areas, Tempe has the Book Bike program, which brings books and information about library and community services to veterans, seniors, and the city’s homeless population.

And then there are the librarians. I must admit that I have no recollection of any of the public or school librarians from my childhood, but I can trace my decision to become one directly to the librarians for whom I worked in college. They seemed so cool! Smart, persistent, caring and wise (and wise-cracking), but with a certain self-effacing humor, as if they didn’t expect the world to take them seriously. And, despite the stereotypes, all my mentors were men – no buns but lots of glasses!

I have observed librarians over the years playing many roles in a community, as advocates and activists. They are often on the cutting edge of evolving technology, and on the front lines promoting digital literacy, championing intellectual freedom, ensuring equality of access, resisting censorship and protecting the right to privacy. Many of us remember the Patriot Act provision that authorized secretly monitoring electronic communications coming from libraries and requiring librarians to turn over patron records to the FBI when served with a warrant obtained without probable cause.  Professional library associations united as one to protest these incursions on our civil liberties.

As a law librarian, I have been a member of an outspoken and activist professional association that lobbies for permanent and open public access to government information, access to court records, net neutrality, intellectual property protections, and funding for library services across the country.  At a time when we are at risk of losing access to scientific and technical information because our government deems the truth to be inconvenient to their agenda, librarians are among our strongest allies and advocates. Librarians are adept at teaching us how to verify the authenticity and reliability of a source, and how to separate fact from fiction, evidence from opinion.

In many communities, librarians are taking on roles akin to social workers, health care workers, counselors, and confidantes.  In the midst of the controversy about arming teachers, libraries across the country are confronting the opioid epidemic and the implications of providing librarians with an antidote to drug overdoses, and the training to administer life-saving measures.  A library director in upstate NY summed up the situation like this: “That’s what a library’s job is — to respond to the needs of the community …  [l]ater, they may need Shakespeare. But those are their needs right now.”

So, join me in celebrating National Library Week. Show your support by asking a librarian a question, borrowing a book, downloading music, magazines, and movies, taking a class, volunteering your time. And tell a friend.

In the words of author Neil Gaiman “Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism.”

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

Additional Reading:

“From Crafting to Programming, Libraries are Branching Out From Books,”
“How Public Libraries Help Build Healthy Communities,”
“Librarians Versus the NSA,”
“Libraries on the Front Lines,” ALA interview with Neil Gaiman [2011]
“Once It Was Overdue Books. Now Librarians Fight Overdoses,”

About the header photo.

“The Kansas City Public Library hides the parking lot behind walls disguised as giant book spines.”  (Photograph: Alamy) “The most beautiful libraries in America – in pictures,”

Return to civility

By George Krebs, published in the Arizona Republic’s “Your Turn”, Feb. 2, 2018. Original title: “Older generation has a duty to restore comity”

I am a senior on Social Security and Medicare that is distressed and astonished at the current political environment our country.

I and my wife also have pensions, quickly disappearing for most Americans, that allow us a comfortable and financially stable retirement. The government Medicare program works well for me and other seniors.

We attended private colleges when the costs were manageable. We worked for employers who respected their employees and adhered to a social employee-employer contract that benefitted both.  The citizen-government relationship was similarly mutually trusting and supportive, with clear delineation of responsibilities for success by each.

Today’s environment has changed radically!

The “government is the problem” mantra espoused by president Reagan has become the new modus operandi. Government and the necessary revenue needed for it to properly support us are demonized.  Any taxes garnered are disparaged as more money to be wasted or to be redistributed to some unworthy “lazies” in our society.

Forget the need for government support for good education, improving our roads, bridges and infrastructure, disaster relief (hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, etc.), or military readiness. How about protecting our food quality, assuring adequate pharmaceutical effectiveness and other services best provided by a joint government effort rather than by individuals, cities or states?

We are now all for shrinking government support, at all levels, relying instead on profit-making “private enterprise”. We demonize those who push for more government as out-of-touch “liberals” or “elites” or some other derogatory name. Many of us have become brainwashed to these gut-instinct labels. We no longer look at what policies are being proposed or if they are worth supporting.

We now despise those who are the name-called and demonized, and like being on the “winning” team of the nastiest. We no longer value the basic tenets of democracy, at least as I understand it.

Democracy means active citizenship. It means working in a mutually respectful environment based on trust and fair play. Each side gets to argue its points, compromises are made, and we move forward together. Everyone is engaged and has skin in the game. Today, it is more like, “If I have the power, then I make the rules, and if they primarily benefit me, then join me or suffer!”

So politicians are driven to acquire this power to enable them to rule, demean the opposition and to personally acquire the perks and benefits of power. Working for the common good is not how the real world (of those who “succeed”) works. Join the strongest team and succeed with power and perks. Keep the opposition demeaned and powerless. This is the new criterion for success in government.

I long the good old days of my youth when we all worked together. We helped each other and had a vision of mutual progress, both for ourselves and our country.

Our new focus on “nationalism” and of “America first” is just expending the widely entrenched individual attitude of “me first”.

Most younger Americans have not experienced what I have in my earlier years. To reclaim what we had, more of us seniors and older adults need to speak up, move us back to a mutually constructive and progressive society.

Otherwise, other nations will keep catching up to and exceeding us.

We will not solve our problems like immigration reform, large deficits, extreme income inequality and variable social justice, but instead will continue to flounder, continue scapegoating, and wondering why it has to be this way….IT DOESN’T!  Become an active, involved citizen. The time is now!

George Krebs is an engineer who retired from Motorola.

SRP Board and Solar Energy


My name is Mark Mulligan. My wife Toni Ramsey and I are both native Arizonans and have lived in Tempe/LD 18 since 2000. In 2012, I had solar panels installed on my roof because I believed it would help my pocketbook and also help the environment. In fact, the solar panels do save us about $1500/year on our electricity bill and we generate about 54% of the power we consume.

But in 2015, Salt River Project threatened to eliminate our savings with a new mandatory rate plan for existing and new customers wanting solar power. Luckily, on the last day of a 3 month long public process, the SRP Board grandfathered existing solar power customers, allowing us to keep our existing rate plans. Unfortunately, they did enact a mandatory rate plan for new solar power customers that eliminates the return on investment for the majority of new solar power installations. Installations have plummeted 80% as a result1. This translates into SRP unilaterally taking away your choice to install solar power on your home, even as prices for the technology have fallen dramatically in recent years.

I think this is wrong. I would like to see my LD 18 neighbors, and all Arizonans, have the opportunity to install rooftop solar power and generate their own electricity from our abundant sunshine. Doing so will help their own pocket books, create jobs, while also helping the environment and climate.

On a related note, it is a bit shocking to learn that contrary to SRP’s extensive green advertising touting their concern for the environment, the reality is that SRP generates a scant less than 1% of its own power from solar.

Graphic credit: Sheila Motomatsu, Dennis Burke, both candidates running for the SRP Board

It seems very misguided to ignore a free energy source-a fusion reactor in the sky (our sun)-that has plenty of fuel and requires no maintenance. We can harness this free energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels with their negative and costly externalities including air pollution, greenhouse gas contributions, mining damage, and fuel transportation accidents.

Don’t get me wrong. SRP has done great things for the Valley over the last 100 years. SRP’s harnessing of the Salt River to minimize floods and provide a year-round reliable water supply enabled the valley to grow immensely in the 20th century. And SRP is a leader in providing low cost, reliable electrical power. But it is time for SRP to show energy leadership for the next 100 years. That is why I volunteered to help two clean energy minded candidates get elected to the SRP Board in 2016. And it is why I am helping five more new “clean energy” candidates running for the SRP Board, election being held April 3. The SRP election is a little known, special election. If you want to vote in SRP’s election, you must request a ballot from SRP. To request a ballot, check out the five qualified clean energy candidates, donate, or even volunteer with me, check out their website:

1) SRP Solar Installation data:

2018 Environmental Challenges and Opportunities

By Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter

This year promises to be filled with challenges and opportunities. A key priority for Sierra Club will and must be to prevent environmental backsliding at both the federal and state level and to keep the state from further limiting the actions of local government relative to environmental protection.

Arizona is very lucky to have a multitude of public lands, roughly 28 million acres. These lands include six national forests, three national parks, eighteen national monuments, and nine wildlife refuges, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Our public lands provide important wildlife habitat, protect our watersheds, and give us ample opportunities for recreation, including hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, and more. They are important to our $20 billion tourism economy as well. Arizonans love our public lands, but unfortunately many in our congressional delegation and at the Arizona Legislature do not.

That is why we will be working overtime in 2018 to stop efforts to privatize or weaken protections for these lands, including preventing actions to remove national monument protections, efforts to rescind a ban on uranium mining on lands surrounding Grand Canyon and other actions to remove or weaken special designations and protective management.

Water is also a key priority this year and every year. We want to ensure that environmental flows are protected in our rivers and streams and prevent further weakening of the limited laws that keep water flowing and limit groundwater pumping. We also want to ensure that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality does not weaken standards for surface water quality and that there continues to be strong protections for Outstanding Arizona Waters such as Fossil Creek, Davidson Canyon, and more.

Arizona must be a part of the timely transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to address climate change and put our state and our country on track. In fact, Arizona should be a leader. In 2018, there will be opportunities to promote clean energy as part of the utility resource plans at the Arizona Corporation Commission, in legislation, and possibly via a ballot measure. We will be working hard throughout the year to put the clean energy train back on track in our state.

Keeping the Endangered Species Act intact at the federal level and promoting stronger protections and recovery for species such as the Mexican gray wolf is also a top priority. We will be working to prevent Senator Flake from advancing legislation to erect roadblocks to wolf recovery and seeking to stop the multitude of bills aimed at weakening the Endangered Species Act, a key lifeline for many plants and animals. Also, relative to wildlife, Sierra Club strongly supports the proposed ballot measure to limit trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats, and other wild cat species. A lot of signatures are needed between now and July to ensure that it is on the ballot for the general election. We will be part of that effort.

Sierra Club and our partners are focused on keeping the Trump administration from erecting more walls along our southern border with Mexico and promoting more humane and rational borderlands policies. We must not let these hateful and environmentally destructive policies advance in 2018.

Our work to support tribal nations and protect Oak Flat, the Santa Ritas, and other sacred and sensitive areas threatened by ill-conceived mining projects will also continue in 2018. There will be environmental reviews and litigation and a concerted effort to protect these lands from foreign mining giants.

As if all of that were not enough, we are extremely concerned about backsliding on air quality for our state. Lately, Phoenix has experienced some of the worst air quality of the year. Rather than take additional measures to ensure that we all have healthy air to breathe, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is supporting two bills sponsored by Senator Flake that will weaken the Clean Air Act and allow for more exemptions related to “exceptional events,” which frequently means the regular drought conditions we experience. Our lungs are not “exceptional” and should be protected from pollution as mandated by the health-based standards of the Clean Air Act.

That is a lot for 2018 and there will likely be more as well. We are up for the challenges and know that you are too. Our air, water, lands, wildlife, and certainly our health, are too important not to double down on our opposition to bad policies and the politicians who promote them.

Take action to support Clean Energy!

Keep the Grand Canyon uranium mining ban in place!

Sign up to participate in Environmental Day at the Arizona Capitol on February 7. or you can use this shorter bitly link

Sign up for Sierra Club weekly legislative updates!


Sandy Bahr is the Chapter Director, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter, and advocate for clean air, clean water, clean energy, our beautiful land, and its wildlife.