One of the big questions about the recent push for gun-control legislation is whether the outrage over current firearms regulation is a blip in the wake of the Newtown massacre or whether it's the start of a change in public attitudes on gun laws.
Time will tell whether the Sandy Hook shootings were a transforming moment for the country—or if some future, horrific mass shooting has a similar effect.
But in the short term, Sen. Jeff Flake's recent vote against expanded background checks has led to a collapse in his approval numbers, if a poll released earlier this week from Public Policy Polling is to be believed.
In the wake of Flake's vote against the proposal to extend background checks to firearm sales at gun shows, in the online marketplaces and other places where an ad was posted, the PPP survey showed that just 32 percent of voters approved of him—and 51 percent disapprove.
"After just three months in office Jeff Flake has already become one of the most unpopular Senators in the country," pollster Tom Jensen noted in a release about the poll.
The negative 19-percentage-point spread between his approval and disapproval numbers mark Flake as "the most unpopular sitting Senator we've polled on, taking that label from Mitch McConnell," Jensen added.
The PPP poll of 600 Arizona voters, taken April 25-26, showed that 70 percent of those surveyed supported "requiring background checks for all guns sales, including gun shows and the Internet," while just 26 percent opposed the idea.
Support was across the board: 92 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents and 50 percent of Republicans. (For the record, 44 percent of Republicans oppose the expansion of background checks, making it—for now, anyway—a wedge issue within the GOP.)
More than half of those surveyed—52 percent—said they were less likely to vote for Flake after his vote.
Flake's press secretary, Genevieve Rozansky, suggested that Public Policy Polling's surveys were less than trustworthy.
"If early PPP polls were accurate, Sen. Flake wouldn't be in office right now," Rozansky told The Skinny via email after the poll was released Monday, April 29.
Flake peddled a similar line to the press earlier in the day, but by Monday night, he acknowledged on his Facebook page that his approval numbers were falling.
"Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you're the nation's least popular senator," Flake wrote. "Given the public's dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.
"Now, notwithstanding the polling firm's leftist bent, I would assume that my poll numbers have indeed taken a southerly turn since my vote against the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal," he added. "It was a popular amendment, and I voted against it."
Flake has been cautious about the background-check issue. He earned the scorn of some gun-rights advocates after he voted against a filibuster to prevent the gun bill (which he opposed in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings) from being heard at all on the Senate floor.
But after Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia put forward an amendment requiring a background check if a gun was sold at a gun show or after it had been advertised online or in print, Flake said he'd vote against it. One reason he cited during an interview on Meet the Press: Expanding background checks to those sales would create too much paperwork.
Advocates for more background checks complain that Flake has done something of a dance on the question. He tells the press and public that he supports strengthening the background-check system, but his support is for changing laws to place more mentally ill people who pose a danger to themselves or others on the list—which is not the legislation that groups like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Gabby Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions and are fighting to enact.
All that said: This is one poll and Flake is not up for reelection until 2018—a fact he himself brought up in response to threats that the vote could come back to haunt him.
"That's the beauty of a six-year term," Flake told the Los Angeles Times as he assessed the fallout in the days after the vote.
The Arizona Legislature hit its 100th day last week with no end in sight, thanks to Gov. Jan Brewer's continuing push for Medicaid expansion.
As we've explained in detail in the past, the Medicaid expansion would allow anyone within 133 percent of the federal poverty level to get onto the state's AHCCCS program, which provides enrollees with health insurance. The expansion would bring billions of federal dollars to the state, while Arizona's share would be picked up by hospitals.
Details about how the plan would work are still being hammered out in closed-door negotiations with lawmakers, but so far, the majority of GOP lawmakers are refusing to support the proposal because it will advance the federal Affordable Care Act and allows sick people to fall back on a government program instead of finding a private-sector solution to their health-care issues.
A handful of Republicans supports the proposal, as do all of the Democrats, so if it were to get to a vote, it would probably pass.
But that requires getting it to the House and Senate floor—a difficult task when one of the fiercest critics is Senate President Andy Biggs.
Biggs told the Arizona Capitol Times last week that he'd do everything in his power to prevent the bills from coming to a vote.
That's led to all kinds of talk, ranging from obscure parliamentary procedures to advance a bill to the idea of overthrowing Biggs as Senate president.
Last week, Brewer got word from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that the current arrangement the state has with the federal government expires at the end of the year. At that point, Arizona has four policy options laid out by Brewer in a letter to Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin:
• The governor's proposal, which would provide health insurance to 300,000 Arizonans, save the state's general fund $100 million and allow the state to tap $4.1 billion between fiscal years 2014-2016.
• Restore AHCCCS coverage to everyone below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, under the terms of Prop 204 (approved by voters in 2000), which would cover 240,000 people, cost the state's general fund $1.3 billion and allow the state to tap $2.6 billion from the federal government between fiscal years 2014-2016.
• Continue the state's current policy of freezing AHCCCS enrollment to childless adults, which would cover a shrinking pool of 63,000 Arizonans, cost the state's general fund $850 million between fiscal years 2014-2016 and get us nothing from the federal government.
• Terminate all AHCCCS coverage as of Jan. 1, 2014, which would knock 63,000 off the AHCCCS rolls, but cost the state and the feds nothing.
Is it any wonder that the state's business community, having seen these numbers, is firmly behind the first option?
Meanwhile, the rest of the business at the Legislature has slowed enough that lawmakers are meeting just three days a week. That's OK by us—the less they're in action, the less likely it is that they'll pass terrible legislation.