Republicans at the state Legislature were feeling pretty giddy about the chance to take some political shots at Gov. Janet Napolitano last week, particularly because the issue of the day had nothing to do with illegal immigration.
GOP leaders were eager to look into how the Napolitano administration had handled problems at the Arizona State Veterans' Home, where an inspection had uncovered a number of appalling incidents involving patients who were being ignored while they were sitting in soiled bedsheets or while they were smoking, which resulted in them burning holes in their clothes.
While Napolitano's aides were alerted to the problems back in February, Napolitano said she hadn't known about the problems until late March. Republicans saw an opportunity to hammer the governor for her management skills.
But, as usual, one Republican went too far. Sen. Jack Harper of Surprise, who was co-chairing the committee, was questioning Napolitano's co-chief of staff, Alan Stephens, when he elicited testimony from Stephens about how Napolitano had represented him when he was a lawmaker who got caught up in the AzScam scandal of the early '90s.
Before Stephens could explain that he was cleared of all charges in the infamous sting operation--in which Maricopa County prosecutors lured several lawmakers into taking bribes in exchange for support of legalized gambling--Harper adjourned the meeting, causing a roar of protest among Democrats on the committee.
Republican committee members weren't much happier. Several House members stood up on the floor later that day to criticize the way the committee was being handled.
By the time the hearings resumed the next day, the damage had been done. Harper had successfully turned Stephens into a victim, and his own buffoonery into the center of attention in the hearings.
In other Capitol action last week:
· Democrats managed to beat back two out of three of Rep. Russell Pearce's illegal-immigration bills. Only one bill, which would force entrepreneurs to prove that they're in the country legally before they can get a license to conduct business, managed to make it out of the House. Two other measures failed; one would have forced drivers from other countries who are pulled over by police to prove they were in the country legally, while the second would have required the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify an applicant's citizenship before issuing an driver's license.
· House Rules Committee Chair Bob Robson is refusing to hear a bill that would allow Arizona residents to freeze their credit reports to avoid identity theft.
Several other states have already passed similar legislation, which allows consumers to pay a fee to block access to their own credit reports to prevent anyone from getting credit cards in their names.
· A proposal to ask voters to preserve an estimated 195,000 acres of state-trust land was held up in the Senate Rules Committee while various interests attempted to iron out the details. If House Concurrent Resolution 2039 passes both the Senate and the House, voters would have to approve the plan on the November 2008 ballot.
· With efforts to reform the payday-loan industry stalling, Rep. Marian McClure of Tucson announced she might lead a petition drive to put the issue before voters in 2008.
· House Bill 2020, which would give the Arizona Corporation Commission the power to review any effort by the railroads to acquire land through eminent domain, was awaiting action on the House floor as of press time. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Paton, said he introduced the legislation on behalf of residents who live near Picacho Peak, who are unhappy with efforts by Union Pacific to build a rail yard near the scenic area.
· Finally, a bill that would strip Secretary of State Jan Brewer of her authority to design the "Golden Rule" license plate passed the House of Representatives.
Sen. Mark Anderson sponsored Senate Bill 1223 after supporters of the Golden Rule license complained that Brewer was insisting on a design for the license plate that they really disliked. When they asked Brewer to reconsider the design, she flat refused.
We have a question for Madame Secretary: Is that kind of obstinacy really following the Golden Rule?