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/

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

Support ALL School Personnel

Standing With the Lunch Ladies
By David Boyles

According to a poll conducted by local news station KTAR last week, support for the proposed Invest in Education Act ballot initiative stands at 65%. That means if supporters can collect the required signatures to get it on the ballot by July 5, the initiative has a high probability of passing. That a proposed tax increase for the wealthy is polling this well in notoriously tax-averse Arizona is shocking, and conservative opponents are already getting ugly and desperate.

Those who want to continue starving our public education system and replacing it with private and charter schools, which includes Governor Doug Ducey and most of the Republicans in our legislature, have learned from the #RedForEd walkout that attacking teachers doesn’t work. Raising salaries for teachers is extremely popular and opposing them head on is a political loser, so instead Ducey and his cronies have decided to divide and conquer by defining down what a “teacher” is and setting teachers and school support staff against each other, throwing in ugly attacks on low wage workers for good measure.

This tactic started with Ducey’s mythical “20% by 2020” teacher raise proposal, which used an extremely narrow definition of “teacher,” excluding positions such as nurses, counselors, and reading specialists, to get to that 20% number, which he knew most teachers would never actually see. Then, predictably, when school districts such as Tucson Unified planned to give raises to people who fell outside this narrow definition, Ducey blasted the decision and used it to once again pass the buck for school funding problems to the districts.

And now, anti-education stooges are using a similar tactic to attack the Invest in Education Act. At Azcentral, Abe Kwok has criticized the fact that the initiative’s definition of “teachers,” to which 60% of the funds raised are dedicated, includes nurses and counselors. He also criticizes the fact that the remaining 40% dedicated to operations could go to support personnel such as “cafeteria workers and bus drivers.” At KTAR, the popular drive-time duo Mac and Gaydos, who admirably held Ducey’s feet to the fire during the teacher walkout, have also picked up this argument, criticizing the idea that increased school funding could go to “lunch ladies.”

This line of argument both misses the point and plays into an ugly history of demonizing minimum wage workers by Arizona Republicans. First of all, the walkout and the larger #RedForEd movement have never been just about teacher pay, as is clear to anyone who has actually been to the Arizona Educators United website. The List of Demands issued on the eve of the walkout includes the 20% teacher raise as just one of a five point plan to correct the historic disinvestment in public education Arizona has made over the last 25 years. And second on the list is “competitive wages for classified staff.” Focusing only on teacher pay is a way of distracting from the bigger problem of the Arizona legislature’s complete contempt for the idea of public education.

And speaking of contempt, the contempt with which Kwok, Mac and Gaydos, and others have treated classified staff is disgusting. Anyone who has ever worked in a school knows classified staff are vital to its functioning and basic decency should tell you that low wage workers also deserve decent pay and dignity in their jobs. But instead, the conservatives are pulling out many of the same ugly arguments they made in opposition to the Proposition 206 minimum wage increase in 2016.

Classified staff have already made greater sacrifices than most in the #RedForEd movement. They walked out with the teachers in April, even though it meant that, as hourly employees, they would not be getting paid. The Arizona Democrats of Legislative District 18 ran a fundraiser and foodbank for those classified staff, some of whom went two full pay periods without their regular pay, and saw firsthand the sacrifices they made. To now pit them against the teachers instead of acknowledging the contributions that every member of a school staff makes is repugnant. Opponents of public education know the tide has turned against them and are now trying to divide and conquer. Don’t let them. If you support public education, support everyone who makes it possible and support sustainable solutions, not politically expedient quick fixes.

David Boyles is an English instructor at Arizona State University.
dboyles

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.