The U.S. Senate broke a filibuster last week to start debate on a bill that would expand background checks on gun sales.
The original bill that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote in mid-March would require background checks on nearly all gun sales, with some exceptions for family members and for temporary transfers for sporting and hunting events.
But that bit of legislation isn't likely to go anywhere. Instead, the focus has shifted to a compromise brokered last week by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia would instead require background checks at gun shows and with online sales.
The NRA announced last week that it was opposed to the background-check compromise, but some of those who have been pushing for new restrictions on firearms cheered.
Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly of Americans for Responsible Solutions announced their support for the Manchin-Toomey amendment and urged people to contact their senators to persuade them to vote for it.
"We've come a long way, and we know from our conversations with legislators on both sides of the aisle that we wouldn't be where we are today without your support and participation," the couple wrote in an email to supporters last week.
Arizona's two senators appear split on the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
During a Sunday appearance on CNN's State of the Union, Sen. John McCain said he was "very favorably disposed" toward the bipartisan compromise.
"I would like to thank Pat and Joe for their work together," McCain said. "We need to do a lot more of that. And I'm very favorably disposed towards that. Eighty percent of the American people want to see a better background check procedure. The Internet aspect of it, which I need more explanations—greater explanation of, but, look, I appreciate their work. And the American people want to do what we can to prevent these tragedies. And there's a lot more that needs to be done particularly in the area of mental health."
Sen. Jeff Flake announced earlier this week on his Facebook page that he'd oppose the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
"Manchin-Toomey would expand background checks far beyond commercial sales to include almost all private transfers—including between friends and neighbors—if the posting or display of the ad for a firearm was made public," Flake said. "It would likely even extend to message boards, like the one in an office kitchen. This simply goes too far."
But others warn that the bill is getting too watered-down to make much of a difference—and that there are risks that it may be amended to make it easier for the mentally ill to have their right to a gun restored or to create a national reciprocity agreement that would require states with strict gun laws to accept concealed-weapon permits from states with looser laws.
"We could see this so weakened that it's not even in our interest to see it pass," said attorney Jeff Rogers, former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. "There are several poison-pill amendments. One of them would make it easier for the mentally ill to get guns. ... We're going to come out of this with something that's pretty weak tea."
OPENING THE FLOODGATES
Gov. Jan Brewer wasted little time last week in signing legislation that increases the contributions limits for candidates for state office in Arizona.
Under the current rules, candidates for the Arizona Legislature were limited to contributions in the neighborhood of $488 from individuals, while candidates for statewide office were limited to $390.
But under the bill signed by the governor, those limits are raised to a staggering $5,000 per election cycle—up to $2,500 for a primary race and another $2,500 for the general election.
The bill also lifts various caps on the aggregate amount that political action committees and individuals can contribute in any particular election cycle.
We talk to plenty of voters during campaign season and we can't say that we've heard too many complaints that there's just not enough money in politics. It's true that in the post-Citizens United world, more influence is headed in the direction of alleged non-profits that are getting involved in politics, but we don't think the balance is restored by increasing the influence of people who can afford to write $5,000 checks to their favorite tools.
There's another fundamental problem with the legislation: The limits now in place were set by the Clean Elections Act passed by voters in 1998. Since that falls under the so-called Voter Protection Act (another initiative passed by voters that says that voter-approved measures can only be changed by a three-fourths vote of the Legislature), we have a hard time understanding how the new limits will survive a court challenge.
Democrat Fred DuVal, who is exploring a gubernatorial run in 2014, announced last week that he'd picked up more key endorsements.
First DuVal landed the support of three former governors: Raul Castro, Rose Mofford and Bruce Babbitt.
"I was Arizona's governor back when we were growing, building and improving," Babbitt said in a prepared statement. "We got a lot of big things done, and Fred was a key part of the team. ... How do I describe Fred? Energetic, capable, and most of all, no ego. That's what it takes to get things done."
Castro said that DuVal "knows that leadership takes humility as well as confidence."
"One thing I knew when I was governor was that it is essential to talk to people all over the state--not only in the 30 square blocks from the Capitol to downtown Phoenix," Castro said in a press release. "Fred has lived his life all across Arizona, starting with a childhood in Tucson. He has been to every county, many times, and he listens to people when they speak."
Duval, who worked in the Clinton White House after his stint in the Babbitt administration, also nabbed an endorsement from Congressman Raul Grijalva.
"Today, as middle class living standards are falling, and more and more parents struggle to provide for their children, we need leaders with the courage to stand up for the greater good," Grijalva said in a press release. "This is the defining issue of our time, and in Fred DuVal, we see someone with a record of looking out for those in need. His work made it possible for us to extend Medicaid to millions of Arizonans, and on the Board of Regents, he fought to increase financial aid for those students whose parents could not afford college. We can trust Fred."
The endorsements are another step in DuVal's campaign to nail down as much support as possible before any other Democrats get into the race and demonstrate that he has wide appeal across the many wings of the party.
The only other Democrat considering a legitimate run is state Rep. Chad Campbell. With Gov. Jan Brewer facing a term limit (no matter how much she may believe that law does not apply to her), at least a half-dozen Republicans are considering campaigns, including Secretary of State Ken Bennett and state Treasurer Doug Ducey.