The fallout from the election continues to roil the political scene — upending established positions on immigration reform, gun control, spending and a host of other issues.
But don’t worry, Arizona has still managed to crank out high-profile positions likely to spur much head-scratching elsewhere.
On the let-us-be-reasonable side — Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have both come out in favor of a broad package of immigration reform measures — including both tougher border enforcement and a demanding path toward citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants living here illegally. To be fair, both have in the past supported comprehensive immigration reform. But President Obama’s dominance among Hispanic voters did wonders to transform Republican positions on immigration.
Please note, just a couple of years ago, SB 1070’s effort to round up, imprison and deport as many undocumented residents as possible made national headlines and dominated state politics.
If you want to understand the Republican backflip on immigration reform, check out an analysis of the contest between Flake and former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona by the Arizona Capital Times and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. The analysis found that the Hispanic Carmona’s 3-percentage point loss to the conservative Flake represented the strongest showing for a Democrat in a state senate race since 1988. Carmona actually defeated Flake in many Republican-leaning districts — especially those with a chunk of Hispanic voters.
Carmona handily out-preformed President Obama. By contrast, Flake got 130,000 fewer votes than Republican Presidential standard-bearer Mitt Romney.
Well, well. And next thing you know, the newly elected Sen. Flake has jettisoned his tough “enforcement first” immigration position to return to his former support for comprehensive immigration reform.
Health care shift
Meanwhile, the cold chill that ran down Republican spines after the election also appears to have transformed the discussion of health care reform — at least in the governor’s office. Gov. Brewer surprised many observers by including full implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act in her budget proposal — despite the qualms of many Republican lawmakers — like Sen. Chester Crandell, and House Reps Brenda Barton and Bob Thorpe, who represent Rim Country.
Gov. Brewer argued that although she still objects to the expansion of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to cover about 300,000 additional residents — the state can’t afford to spurn more than $1.6 billion in offered federal money. So instead she wants to tax hospitals to come up with the roughly $150 million for the state’s initial match.
The argument gained force when analysts concluded that if Arizona rejects the mostly federally funded expansion, low-income citizens will find themselves denied coverage while legal immigrants making the same amount of money will get subsidized federal health care (the law prohibits illegal immigrants from the medical benefits). This politically toxic quirk came out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld the reforms — but prevents the feds from forcing the states to expand their medical programs for the poor.
Debt ceiling shuffle
Meanwhile, the sharp shift in budget politics also produced some unexpected realignments when it came time for Congress to vote on an increase in the debt ceiling. Please note that the last time the parties went eyeball-to-eyeball on the debt ceiling, the whole Republican congressional delegation threw a fit. But after losing seats in the House and dwindling to single digits in the opinion polls, the state’s delegation shifted positions sharply on the last vote —perhaps influenced by the addition of two new Democrats.
Congress voted along almost bipartisan lines to extend the debt limit to give everyone more time to negotiate a comprehensive budget agreement — well before the traditional last possible moment.
Rep. Paul Gosar — who represents Rim Country — got lots of grief in the Republican primary for having supported an extension of the debt ceiling last time around. He did it again last week, with the state’s delegation supporting the extension 7-2.
He joined with newly elected Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes southern Gila County.
Only outspokenly liberal Raul Grijalva (D-Tucson) and fiercely conservative Matt Salmon (R-Mesa) opposed the debt ceiling extension — obviously for wildly different reasons. Go figure.
Not yet mainstream
But just in case you think Arizona lawmakers have joined the mainstream, please note that Flagstaff state Rep. Bob Thorpe earned his first headlines by introducing a bill that would require high school students to take an oath promising to defend the Constitution if they want to graduate. Thorpe, who represents Rim Country, later said he would amend the bill in committee to make the loyalty oath voluntary — maybe in a government class.
Then maybe he can go after communists in the state department.
Meanwhile, an Arizona Senate committee has approved a bill that would prohibit federal officials from enforcing any new gun control laws in Arizona. Our own Sen. Chester Crandell supported the measure.
Now, guess the name of the bill’s co-sponsor.
That’s right, Don Shooter.
Gotta love Arizona.