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A MEANS TO AN ENDA

Both of Arizona's Republican senators voted last week in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers with more than 15 employees from "engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of an individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," according to a legislative summary.

They were among the 10 GOP senators who voted in favor of the legislation, which passed the Senate on a 64-32 vote last Thursday,

As the Skinny noted last week, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake voted against beginning debate on the bill, while John McCain was off taping a late-night show.

But McCain returned to Washington to work with other senators to craft an amendment to the bill that carved out exemptions for religious employers.

"I have always believed that workplace discrimination—whether based on religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation—is inconsistent with the basic values that America holds dear," McCain said in the wake of the bill's passage.

Flake said McCain's amendment helped him to change his mind on ENDA.

"As I said in 2007 when I voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House, one of the most important constitutionally mandated functions of the federal government is to protect the rights of individuals," said Flake. "While I had concerns about expanding protections beyond those House provisions, after consideration, I believe supporting this bill is the right thing to do." Like just about anything that gets out of the Senate these days, the bill faces long odds in the House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has already said that he opposes the legislation.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat who represents Congressional District 2, supports ENDA, according to campaign strategist Rodd McLeod.

Republican Martha McSally, who hopes to unseat Barber next year, declined to take a position on ENDA.

"I haven't read the law, so I'd have to read it before I make a comment," she told the Weekly last week.

When she ran in 2010, McSally was opposed to "adding 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' or 'gender expression' to the protected classes of race, religion, age, sex, and ancestory in anti-discrimination law," according to a survey she filled out for the Center for Arizona Policy, a religious-right organization.

McSally said last week she filled the survey out early in her political career, so she would have to go back and review how the question was phrased before she could say whether she still stood by it. The questionnaire, she said, only let her say whether she supported or opposed various positions, and she felt she should have instead been given an opportunity to write longer answers.

McSally told the Weekly she was "sensitive to individuals not being discriminated or harassed or not being allowed to contribute to society or community to the best of their ability."

But she said she didn't understand why it was important to pass a new law, suggesting that gays and lesbians might already enjoy protection from employment discrimination under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution or state or local laws.

"I'm sure there are state and local laws at some level that make sure there is no employment discrimination regardless of what the issue is," McSally says. "So what I would ask is, legally, what gap is this filling that is not already in existence?"

McLeod said that McSally is wrong when she assumes that such legal protections exist in Arizona.

"Right now, it is legal for someone to be fired in Arizona for being gay,” McLeod said. “It is not legal for someone to be fired for being white or black or Latino or a woman or a man or old. But it is legal for people to be fired for being gay."

Republican Ed Martin, who wants to face McSally in next year’s GOP primary, echoed McSally's position that a federal law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination is not necessary

"I have not read the bill, but my approach to discrimination is as follows: The Constitution requires equal protection for all and wants government to look at Americans as individuals who are all equal and not as members of any particular group,” Martin told the Weekly via email. “I don’t believe in discriminating against anyone for any reason and also believe that the government should not force religious institutions to violate their beliefs. I also question if this is not a matter best handled by the states."

BLUE BLOWOUT

Last week's Tucson City Council election was the culmination of the sleepiest campaign season The Skinny has seen in many a moon.

At the end of the day, the only surprise was the margins of the wins. While city officials have been slow to update the results on their web site, the votes that were counted on Election Day showed that incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Karin Uhlich captured about 58 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Ben Buehler-Garcia, while incumbent Democratic Councilman Richard Fimbres captured 60 percent of the vote against challenger Mike Polak.

That can fairly be called a landslide.

We guess all that talk we heard ahead of the election from GOP operatives about a neck-and-neck race in Ward 3 was what Fox News host Megyn Kelly would call "math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better."

It's hard for a Republican to unseat an incumbent Democrat in a city of Tucson election. Other than Steve Kozachik's win over Councilwoman Nina Trasoff in 2009, it hadn't been done in Tucson in decades.

The main reason for that: The Democrats have an overwhelming voter-registration advantage. The City Clerk's Office sent out 96,549 ballots to Democrats in this election and just 53,728 ballots to Republicans. (Another 73,268 ballots went to voters who were not registered with those parties and 1,991 went to Libertarians.)

Even with an uneven playing field, Buehler-Garcia came a lot closer to unseating Uhlich four years ago, with fewer than 200 votes separating the candidates. This year, the margin was closer to 10,000.

Part of it was that there was no Green Party candidate on the ballot; last time, Mary DeCamp got about 4,000 votes, the majority of which would have gone to Uhlich had DeCamp not been in the race.

But part of it had to do with a strong Pima County Democratic Party that worked hard to reach voters with volunteers, robocalls and other get-out-the-vote efforts. The Pima County Republican Party, by contrast, is in rough shape these days.

Part of it had to do with how much the city has changed since 2009. That year, Republicans had a great issue: The Rio Nuevo downtown revitalization project had produced few tangible results. But four years later, downtown is alive and kicking, and even the GOP challengers admitted that they didn't have much to complain about when it came to Rio Nuevo.

And part of it had to do with the national mood, which overshadows local elections in a big way. In 2009, the Tea Party was ascendant and Democrats were demoralized. In 2013, in the wake of last month's federal government shutdown, the Republican Party has its lowest approval ratings in modern history.

Some Republicans have been complaining that the city's new vote-by-mail program was an effort to suppress Republican voters by getting rid of their normal polling places.

We're not buying that, for a number of reasons. First of all, turnout in the election was just about where it usually is in an off-year city race: just about 30 percent. By comparison, turnout was 31 percent in the last mayoral election, in 2011; it was 33 percent in 2009; it was 27 percent in 2007; it was 25 percent in 2005; and it got as high as 40 percent in 2003, which featured a lively mayoral contest. (And that high percentage had more to do with a lower number of registered voters than it did with having a lot more people come out to the polls.)

Turnout was higher among partisans: 35 percent of Democrats turned out to vote, while 38 percent of Republicans cast a ballot. Among independents, interest was a lot lower: just 19 percent of them cast a ballot.

So while the vote-by-mail system might not have boosted the turnout, it doesn't appear to have depressed it, either.

By Jim Nintzel

Jim Nintzel hosts AZ Illustrated Politics, airing at 6:30 p.m. every Friday on PBS 6. The program repeats on 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

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