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Serraglio

Randy takes a trip to the Arizona Legislature to try to reach some understanding

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Spring is here. Last week, for the first time in months, I saw lizards in the yard. Voracious big-headed ants emerged from their bunker under the shed and began denuding nearby vegetation. And Jim Nintzel has written his annual legislative roundup, a forensic examination of the train wreck of democracy, Arizona style.

I know a lot of ink has been spilled on this (electrons, too—check out Blogislature, in The Range on the Weekly Wide Web). But, hey, it's important. At least, it seems to be, considering how much people complain about what politicians do, or fail to do.

Problem is, rarely does that attitude translate to action. Democracy is what you make of it, folks. Put up or shut up.

I'm guilty, too, when it comes to the Arizona Legislature, which I wrote off long ago as a hopeless majority of yahoos who run roughshod over a caring, sensible minority while shoveling our money to business cronies and playing out paranoid fantasies with misguided, disastrous legislation. But I also think that doing nothing about it encourages such mischief.

So, last month I attended Environmental Lobby Day at the Capitol, organized by the Sierra Club, the Arizona League of Conservation Voters and the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, among others. One way or another, I've worked for each of these groups at some point in the past 20 years, but on Lobby Day, I chose to be an average Joe, with no affiliation or agenda other than protecting the health of my community and what's left of the natural world.

It was a surreal day, beginning at the butt-crack of dawn with a bus ride to Phoenix through dense fog and fields thick with frost. As I chatted with old friends and new acquaintances on the dim, half-empty bus, I wondered why it's so damn difficult to get anybody to do anything about this stuff.

Is everyone cynical like me, or do people just take the whole "environment" thing for granted? Like, no matter how much we shit where we eat (and breathe, and drink), it somehow won't hurt us? No matter how many species wink out in the cascading extinction crisis that is a primary symptom of our planet's ecological collapse, ours will somehow persist? I don't trust our luck that much.

We arrived to a briefing from Tucson Sen. Steve Farley, who was excited by the prospect of Democrats crafting slim majorities on some issues with a small handful of Republican moderates to at least block the worst crackpot bills.

Then it was on to the Senate minority caucus, where bills that are actually moving toward a vote are discussed. Democratic senators parsed dozens of "terrible bills" before landing on one sponsored by one of their own, which literally generated a round of applause. Yeah, things are still pretty bad for the D-team.

After a quick lunch in the cafeteria dungeon, my group met with my senator, Olivia Cajero-Bedford. In the morning caucus we had watched her pull a resolution attacking the Endangered Species Act from the consent calendar, thereby ensuring it would receive more scrutiny. It was a toothless memo to the federal government to the effect that we don't like that law in these parts, but it was full of lies and distortions regarding the "ineffectiveness" of the act, which is actually one of the most successful environmental laws in history.

As Olivia worked her way down the line, it became abundantly clear that she was genuinely heartened by our presence. When she shook my hand, I thanked her for what she'd done in the caucus and asked why. She seemed a bit surprised by my question, but explained it this way: She'd never considered herself much of an environmentalist until she moved out to the Tucson Mountains and began seeing deer, javelina and bobcats strolling through her yard. Then she really began to appreciate how beautiful and miraculous the wild world is and decided to do more to protect it.

Wow. If it were that easy with everybody, we might actually get somewhere. But then, Olivia is probably one of the nicest people ever elected, so it's not surprising that her compassion for critters would come naturally.

Even if encouraging Olivia was the only thing I accomplished that day, it was time well spent. It's fun to see how the process works and make politicians pay attention to the people they represent. And it felt really good to let Olivia know that her hard work is greatly appreciated on this end.

You should try it. Go to the Weekly's Blogislature coverage, pick a bill that's important to you, and make a call. I promise it won't hurt, and you might even enjoy it.

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