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What the Deuce?

Is there a kinder, gentler Doug Ducey running the state?

As the Arizona Legislature got back to work last week, Gov. Doug Ducey delivered a different type of State of the State address—one focused on the importance of funding education, supporting the poor and allowing moms to bring their babies to work if they work in state government.

Sure, there were the usual calls for deregulation, shots at Washington, D.C. with lines like "The federal government makes a mess out of everything it touches," which is an amusing line coming from a governor who nearly destroyed career and technical education his first year in office (and showed little urgency about fixing his mess until lawmakers passed new funding, at which point he declared himself a champion of the program).

But cheap shots at the feds aside, Ducey's speech focused on the need for better schools and more support for teachers. He's not the only one to say that; poll after poll has put education at the top of the concerns of Arizona voters, with a majority saying they'd even support higher taxes to pay for it.

He also called for state lawmakers to find ways to reduce the revolving doors of state prisons, test babies for a rare disorder called severe combined immuno deficiency, provide a new legal defense for good samaritans who bust open car windows to rescue roasting children and pets and reverse cuts they'd made to Temporary Aid for Needy Families, a program that helps low-income families afford food.

Ducey himself isn't saying that he was mistaken to support cuts to the eligibility for the TANF program, but he now wants to restore lifetime eligibility for up to two years, rather than just one.

Ducey says that now the state has enough money to reverse those cuts and invest more in schools.

"We're seeing the economy turn around," Ducey told Tucson reporters last week following a Tucson Metro Chamber luncheon. "We're also hearing from citizens who are out beating the bushes, they're getting their kids to school, they need some help, they need a hand up, not a hand out, and that's what we're providing."

Exactly how much money is one of those things that Ducey and GOP state lawmakers disagree on. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that the state has about $24 million to spend on expanded programs; the Ducey administration is estimating that there's more like $83 million available.

We'll see how the tussle over money turns out and it's certainly encouraging to see Ducey calling for more spending on schools, even if it may be more talk than action.

But if Arizona wants to really make a difference for better schools and higher teacher pay, it's gonna take more than Ducey is proposing.

To-Do List

What else is on the agenda at the AZ Legislature?

Committee hearings are just starting this week, so it will take a few weeks to see just what the Arizona Legislature will get up to this year.

But there are a few proposals to watch for:

• Expanding vouchers: GOP lawmakers made a big push to kneecap public schools by expanding so-called "Empowerment Savings Accounts" that allow parents to send their kids to private and religious schools with tax dollars. The effort failed last year, but a push to allow just about everyone to get a voucher will likely come back.

• Defunding Planned Parenthood: GOP lawmakers have tried all sorts of strategies to prevent low-income women from being able to get healthcare services such as cancer screenings, birth-control services and STD testing and treatment at Planned Parenthood clinics, but have been blocked by the courts. Depending on what happens at the federal level—and House Speaker Paul Ryan is already talking about preventing women from using Medicaid funding to visit Planned Parenthood as part of the Obamacare repeal—look for state lawmakers to revisit this topic.

• Curtailing academic freedom: State Rep. Bob Thorpe has already introduced legislation to prevent university professors from teaching courses that address radical notions such as the idea that white people have certain advantages in America. Gee, a white male in power trying to restrict what adults can learn on a college campus. What a surprise!

• Everyone wishes for silver and gold: State Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley has introduced the Yukon Cornelius Act to make silver and gold legal tender alongside cash and coins. Finally, someone has the courage to stand up to the secret conspiracy to indoctrinate America with all the secret symbols of the conspiracy of the Elders of Enchancia that you find on the back of currency. (What, you didn't know the corrupting power of that weird pyramid with the eyeball? Wake up, sheeple!)

Skipping Out

U.S. Rep. Grijalva takes to House floor to announce he won't be attending Trump inauguration

Even before President-Elect Donald Trump disgracefully laid into civil-rights hero and Congressman John Lewis after Lewis said Trump was not a legitimate president, Congressman Raul Grijalva was among the lawmakers who said they would not attend Trump's inauguration this week.

Grijalva made his declaration on the House floor last week.

"My absence is not motivated by disrespect for the office, or motivated by disrespect for the government that we have in this great democracy," Grijalva said. "But as an individual act—yes, of defiance—at the disrespect shown to millions and millions of Americans by this incoming administration, and by the actions we are taking here in this Congress."

Grijalva pointed out that Trump lost the popular vote and said he'd spend inauguration day here in Tucson, "meeting with seniors, the immigrant community, folks that care about the environment and climate change, healthcare providers. [I will be] marching in Tucson with folks who will demand respect. I will be talking about the need to defend and protect the future for all Americans. Rather than participate in the inauguration, I will be participating in my district and reaffirming, and renewing, this democracy, and the people that are part of it."

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 5 p.m. Sunday afternoons on KXCI community radio, 91.3 FM.

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