There's little argument that the rollout of the online marketplaces for the Affordable Care Act has been a political nightmare for Democrats.
The media has seized on both the non-functional online marketplace where people are supposed to be shopping for health insurance and the flood of cancellation notices going out to people who had figured out how to buy health insurance without having a decent job that provides it. And all the arguments that better insurance will be available once the marketplace starts working have, up to this point, been lost in the noise.
As a result, President Barack Obama's popularity level has tumbled and polls are starting to show the public has already forgotten all about how angry they were at Republicans over October's government shutdown.
Republicans are starting to like their chances of winning the three competitive congressional seats in Arizona. Earlier this week, political operatives with the National Republican Congressional Committee briefed reporters on why they think they can knock out U.S. Reps. Ron Barber, Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema.
NRCC political director Rob Simms said the political troubles for the three Democrats "had been acerbated by the disastrous rollout of Obamacare."
Barber has been working to insulate himself against anticipated Obamacare attacks. While he says he supports the Affordable Care Act, he has frequently said it needed changes and he has repeatedly voted to delay the individual mandate for a year.
Last week, Barber and Sinema again crossed party lines to vote with Republicans on the Keep Your Health Plan Act, a bit of legislation that would allow insurance companies to keep offering plans that didn't meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act.
"I am frustrated and angered by the continuing problems with the health care website and I know Southern Arizonans are frustrated and angry, too," Barber said after voting last Friday, Nov. 15. "Today I voted to give people the option to keep their current plan until these and other issues are resolved. That's only fair."
Kirkpatrick took the opposite path, voting against the Keep Your Health Plan Act, saying "it would neither fix nor improve the ACA. It would raise premiums and undermine market reform—by discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, restoring annual caps on care, and forcing women to pay more than men for the same coverage."
If you want to get all wonky on the details of the Keep Your Plan Act, you can find plenty of background via Google. Here's the most important takeaway: The bill is not going to become law.
In that sense, it was a free vote for Barber and the other 38 Democrats, mostly in vulnerable districts. Nonetheless, it's a symbolic vote that has raised the hackles of many on the left, who believe that Barber is betraying the principles of the Affordable Care Act.
And he can still anticipate plenty of attacks from the GOP. As Simms put it in his NRCC memo: "Mr. Barber has voted for Obamacare. He won't be able to avoid saying otherwise this time around."
Back in October, some Tucson Police officers ended up pepper-spraying members of the Southside Presbyterian congregation while trying to transfer a pair of suspected undocumented immigrants to the U.S. Border Patrol.
That ugly image was enough to get the Tucson City Council to review how TPD is enforcing SB 1070. Last week, the council voted unanimously to tweak some practices and policies regarding the so-called "papers, please" provision that requires cops to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop or detain if they suspect the person is in the country illegally.
Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor has been an outspoken critic of SB 1070, but he's also said he's required to enforce the law—especially since it includes a provision allowing citizens to sue TPD if they believe the law is being ignored.
The City Council voted last week to direct Villaseñor to make a few changes to how his officers enforce SB 1070, including:
• Emphasizing that cops should focus on the suspect or arrestee rather than on witnesses and victims in situations where they suspect someone is in the country illegally.
• Letting a passenger drive home in an arrestee's car rather than automatically impounding it.
• Prohibiting police from inquiring about the immigration status of minors unless there is a parent or attorney present.
• Not inquiring about the immigration status of people who come forward to report police misconduct.
Councilwoman Regina Romero, who called for the study session, said that the incident outside Southside Presbyterian was a sign that the law is "creating a rift" between police officers and the Latino community.
Romero said it was also important the City Council told TPD to start tracking a number of statistics regarding SB 1070 enforcement, including the race of each individual who is stopped, the results of any search, the outcome of each stop and whether the cops called Border Patrol.
Romero said that data will allow city officials to better understand whether any racial profiling is underway with the enforcement of SB 1070. It could also lay the groundwork for future constitutional challenges to SB 1070; while the Supreme Court upheld the "papers, please" provision last year, justices left open a future challenge to the law if it could be demonstrated that it is being implemented with some kind of racial bias.
ACLU attorney James Lyall told the Weekly that he's heard "mounting complaints" about interactions between police and members of the city's Latino community.
"There have been problems with selectively enforced traffic violations and extended questioning of individuals about their immigration status in collaboration with the Border Patrol," Lyall said.
In other cases, crime victims or witnesses may be too scared to call the police if they fear deportation.
"We have documented instances of people who have called the police for assistance and were subject to immigration inquiries," Lyall said. "That is not required by SB 1070 and that is devastating from a community trust or public safety standpoint."
Lyall is also involved with a notice of claim against the city of South Tucson for $100,000 following the detention of Alejandro Valenzuela, who has applied for the legal protections offered under the federal Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.
In July, Valenzuela had a run-in with South Tucson police, who drove him to a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol station rather than the South Tucson police station, according to the claim. He was eventually released when he was able to show he was eligible for the DACA program.
Valenzuela "was detained by STPD for no other reason than to check his immigration status and transport him to federal immigration authorities," according to the claim.
"Both the ACLU and our client are especially interested in a variety of changes to practice and policy that we think are necessary to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future," Lyall said.
Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, who hopes to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in next year's congressional midterms, picked up a coveted supporter last week: Auto dealer and GOP sugar daddy Jim Click.
Click called Tobin "the kind of leader we need fighting for Arizona in Washington" in the obligatory campaign press release, while Tobin called Click "a great American who understands the fight for conservatism in Arizona."
Click isn't likely to get many of the grassroots primary voters revved up, but if he taps his network, he's likely to make it rain for Team Tobin.
Tobin is facing fellow lawmaker Adam Kwasman and rancher Gary Kiehne in the GOP primary in CD1, which stretches across rural Arizona from Oro Valley to Flagstaff.
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.