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June 14, 2010

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It should be no surprise, then, that some of Arizona's most socially disconnected and irresponsible legislators come from the oh-so-white-and-wealthy suburbs on the periphery:

Pamela Gorman, Anthem; Chuck Gray, Mesa; Jack Harper, Surprise; John Huppenthal, Chandler; Barbara Leff, Paradise Valley; Russell Pearce, Mesa; Jay Tibshraeny, Chandler; Thayer Verschoor, Gilbert; Kirk Adams, Mesa; Andy Biggs, Gilbert; Sam Crump, Anthem; John Kavanagh, Fountain Hills; Steve Montenegro, Litchfield Park; Carl Seel (District 6); and the list goes on and on.

Check out this list of Arizona politicians who signed Grover Norquist's "Americans for Tax Reform" pledge:

http://arizona.typepad.com/blog/2009/08/arizona-daily-star-.html

Count how many of them come from wealthy, isolated conclaves within the city, far-flung suburbs and exurbs, or even more remote "small towns" known for their knee-jerk hyper-conservatism. Now count who's left, on the fingers of one hand.


I think of Phoenix as an enormous brontosaurus that so dominates its environment that it can no longer think sensibly about itself. Its brain has devolved to the size of a pea. Its raison d'être has escaped real-world production to become zany overconusmption. It rationalizes its descent into morbid obesity by deciding that Growth (for its own sake) is a net positive absent any other standard of success. In the Robert Altman film Popeye, Olive Oyl explains her attachment to Bluto by singing "He's large".

You look at this mess and wonder what the hell were we thinking. And that's the point: we weren't. Rather, that somebody might get rich was all the reason we needed. It still is. We won't learn now because it would betray the secret at the heart of it all: the unspeakable pointlessness of our greed.

The shills for this "strategy" will comfort us with inapt comparisons and cherry-picked stats. For all the grotesque overdevelopment of Phoenix, small-city Babbitry still rules. It is not open to debate and does not take questions.

It's not as if they have any choice in this matter. Phoenix is more an accident of history than a destiny consciously realized. Even when Barry Goldwater was wistfully contemplating the sprawl marriage of Phoenix and Tucson, it was less triumphal pronouncement than gazing at the horizon and issuing a weather report.

Other myths:

- Phoenix is a libertarian paradise! [Save, of course, the CAP, the dams, the freeways, the military-industrial complex, SB 1070, etc.]

- Arizona State University is an elite school!

- Joe Arpaio is good at his job!

- Stucco and red brick houses are awesome!

"[Lies and myths] do keep the elites in power."

The term "elites" seems to me to be inappropriate when the results of these persons' policies are so blazingly disastrous. For me, the term 'elite' (or 'leader', or 'developer', etc.) should be reserved for persons of merit and accomplishment, and not applied to persons of mere privilege. Perhaps the term "oligarch" is more appropriate for those who have led Phoenix into a sprawling, sterile, suburban cul-de-sac?

I can think of many harsher appellations.

"Low taxes and light regulation are the most important keys to economic success. Low taxes and light regulation are the most important keys to economic success. Low taxes and light regulation are the most important keys to economic success. Low taxes and light regulation are the most important keys ..."

Nope, no matter how many times I repeat it, it still stinks like an oil spill.

My favorite example as a PHX newbie is the placement of WestGate sports complex. I doubt I'll ever make it out there again from the East Valley. Its simply too far and inconvenient to bother with.

Alternatively, I'll take the bus to Sun Devil Stadium or Wells Fargo Arena. Only 30 mins door to door.

One aspect of our state's political malaise is how quickly an outsider can rise to a position of power and influence. Example: ten years ago, John Kavanagh was a NY Port Authority cop and today he's Russell Pearce's opposite number in the House of Representatives. True, he's a soldier of fortune who knows the right horse to ride, but his emergence is still baffling. What am I missing here?

I enjoy your commentary... however, the unending hate/sarcasm tossed @ PHX is getting a bit old and tiresome. Not at all rebutting any of the crystal clear facts you present. However, at one point do you stop being an interested commentator and more of the type of people you seem to rail against on a steady basis?? Rather than simply toss out attack after attack after attack - which is starting to take on a feel of virtual hate, if not bordering on offering the perception that you actually desire to see PHX fail, how 'bout offering up some constructive/practical solutions? Or, is all this is left to do is to toss barbs and lose all hope??

This is the quote I think about alot:

"Phoenix is not even likely to become another San Bernardino County."

Because I've always felt that PHX is competing with that area moreso than Orange County or LA itself.

I was in an old PHX neighborhood the other day and loved the narrow streets with huge shade giving trees. The yards are lush and cool from the deep irrigation. I thought it was wasteful when I first moved here, but I agree that that is the way to make PHX into a very live-able city. Far better than the scalped Texas sage and rock yards that are advertised as the proper way.

"how 'bout offering up some constructive/practical solutions?" - Joe.

Wow, Joe. You need to read more of Jon's writings. He has offered innumerable solutions, as have many of the others who comment on this blog. Besides, Jon's pen was warmed up in hell; what else do you expect? :)

LOL Rate Crimes! Not sure I want to know about Jon's trials in hell!! :)
I've been reading his stuff for quite a while, and I always have found large amounts of commonality between his views and perspectives, and those of my own.
However, it just seems to me that as of late, he has resorted to more of a name-calling, super-cynical approach with little to nom attempt made at offering solutions. I know he knows exactly what ails PHX and what it would take to remedy many of the problems facing the Phoenix Metro area. I'm just not sure what is accomplished by blog posts like this latest version.

Joe, we're talking about a city that doesn't self-critique except from its Seattle outpost. It's really that bad. If anything, it's been getting worse over the past 20 years. Talton's punchy writing style (think of writers like Mencken, Breslin, Hamill, Mailer, Ivins, Taibbi) is really a compliment to Phoenix. It says if you're big enough to play in the majors you shouldn't mind hearing the truth. What's really depressing is that well-meaning folks like yourself get upset by one of the very few authentic voices Phoenix has produced.

The "solutions" (here it helps to imagine an universe where Phoenix is actually conscious) are trotted out from time to time. Here again, Talton is probably the only well-known writer with contacts deep enough to write knowledgeably about the problems themselves. The solutions necessarily sound less convincing knowing what we do about denial and Phoenix's reflexive boosterism.

The small community that meets here is not a church. There's no real dogma or cognitive style except thinking outside the Phoenix box. I hope you come back and think "out loud" about this place. We don't really need an "amen corner" here or want one.

Usually, the people who attack Jon have been related to the Wiz in the Afro version of the Wizard of Oz. He sang, "don't nobody bring me NO bad news". While they were coining money with their real estate schemes, Jon was raining on their parades.

That was before the immigration frenzy that vaulted Russell Pearce into media fame . . and cast Arizona as foolish and racist once again.

So if J. Talton's disappointment grows, it is mirrored by those of us who loved our state before the far right took control.

Joe's criticism of Talton's writing has gotten repetitive, overly negative, and, yes, tiresome. Instead of offering any solutions to the defects in logic, argument, and style in the blog posts -- any suggestions at all, about rhetorical devices Talton should use, or for less-conclusory adjectives or less-incendiary adverbs--Joe's comments have gotten steadily more negative and conclusory. Joe has become a closed-minded critic, whose ceaseless negativity turns off the reader. Honestly, Joe, with that attitude, you simply won't persuade people who are reading your comments for the first time; you're just preaching to the converted. It may make you feel better, but it's really beneath your past work and the decline in quality is a real shame.

Of course I used to be a fan of Joe's comments. Like many people, I used to enjoy his commentary, like the earlier, funny Woody Allen movies. Now he's become a hater, ceaselessly negative, and it feels as if he, despite his expressions of concern, really wants Talton to fail. There's really no difference between Joe and, oh, I don't know, something that has no connection either to Joe or to this argument but that I used to like before it changed, because of course I haven't changed a bit.

If we only could have the "old Joe" back. And if only Barbra Streisand had known to retire after "I Can Get It For You Wholesale" and not done any of that other stuff that I claim not to like as much because that really impresses people when you say that.

Jim Hamblin wrote:

"True, [Kavanagh's] a soldier of fortune who knows the right horse to ride, but his emergence is still baffling. What am I missing here?"

Kavanagh's career in the state legislature began when Rep. Colette Rosati opted to run for Senate in 2006 instead of re-election in the state House of Representatives. That left five candidates in the Republican primary for District 8 (the most important part of which is Fountain Hills but which also included Scottsdale north of Thomas).

One of the five was a shoe-in, incumbent Michele Reagan, leaving four others (including Kavanagh) to compete for the remaining seat.

The Arizona Capitol Times had a story reviewing the candidates' positions on September 1, 2006. The sentence which most stands out involves Kavanagh:

"To say that any issue other than illegal immigration concerns John Kavanagh, a professor, most [likely] would not be accurate. He runs a website deoted to it, hosts a weekly radio show, and says it needs to be the state's top priority."

The article also notes that Kavanagh was endorsed in the primary by then House Speaker Jim Weiers, the Fraternal Order of Police, and also Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Of the other candidates, two were "moderate" Republicans. Dr. Jim Burke had been a Scottsdale councilman and was Chief Medical Officer for Scottsdale Healthcare. His chief concern was "healthcare reform" of a conservative sort, including tort reform.

The other moderate, Travis Junion, was 24 at the time, and only qualified because he was due to turn 25 by the time of the election. He was a public relations consultant.

Besides Kavanagh, the other uber-conservative was Carolyn Schoenrock. She certainly gave Kavanagh a run for his money with regard to immigration rhetoric, claiming that Fountain Hills residents were terribly concerned about state costs for the schooling and medical care of illegal immigrants. According to the AZ Capitol Times story, "She says the state needs to follow the lead of Israel along the Gaza Strip: erect walls and man watchtowers with guards". However, she had precious few endorsements (Arizona Right to Life was the only one mentioned).

All of these individuals, aside from the incumbent and Kavanagh (both of whom won, Burke coming in a distant third) were fairly inexperienced politically. Certainly Burke was the best connected of the others, but consider Kavanagh's background:

According to his member page at the state legislature, Kavanagh had served for years on the Fountain Hills town council, so he was an insider there, the most important place in the district, as opposed to Burke who was connected to Scottsdale. He has been a Republican State Committeeman, Precinct Captain and member of the Fountain Hills Republican Club. He had taught as a professor of criminal justice studies at Scottsdale Community College and also served as Director of that department. Apparently he taught at ASU though I haven't been able to determine the extent of that connection.

He "has also served on or belonged to many other government boards and community service organizations, including a Parks and Recreation Commission, Board of Health, School District Advisory Panel, Planning Advisory Group, Community Center Volunteers, Senior Services Board of Directors, the American Legion, the Civic Association, Historical Society, Friends of the Chamber of Commerce and Scottsdale Republican Forum".

So, I'm guessing that his (admittedly small scale, but vigorous) political savvy, combined with his criminal justice career and academic connections, his support by Weiers, Arpaio, and the police in general, and his gung-ho attitude toward immigration, combined with his self-promotion (tied into the same issue) on his own website and radio show, and the crazy delusions of Fountain Hills residents regarding illegal immigrants, he pretty much sealed up the Republican nomination.

Once elected, he had the incumbent advantage of funds and connections and a track record and a bully pulpit. As long as he didn't make any big mistakes he would be sent back again and again.

"We don't really need an "amen corner" here or want one."

Amen, to that. :)

Emil: Regarding John Kavanagh, you're well-informed as usual.
I'm personally acquainted with him, went to the debates when he first ran for the legislature and saw Carolyn Allen's fruitless support for (moderate)Dr. Jim Burke. I STILL don't understand how Dr. K got so much juice in such a short time. Unfortunately, he has become the face of the Republicans in our legislature. Eye of a cop, mental acuity of a trial lawyer and master of strategic alliances have brought him far and fast. If he's typical of what we'll have to deal with, God help us unless we can elect Terry Goddard as gov to partly neutralize the Flat Earth Society's madness!

Jim Hamblin wrote:

"I STILL don't understand how [Kavanagh] got so much juice in such a short time. Unfortunately, he has become the face of the Republicans in our legislature."

Well, "the juice", surely, must be his chairmanship of the Arizona House Appropriations Committee. Appropriations Committees, whether state or federal, are uncommonly powerful because they hold the purse-strings. You can authorize any damn thing that you like, but if it isn't funded, it's a paper tiger. Similarly, the easiest way to spay or neuter an existing (real) tiger is to drastically cut its funds.

In the world of realpolitik, it doesn't always come to anything so crudely obvious, because, faced with this threat, compromises are often made. That is, compromises are made by those agencies and departments targeted by the Appropriations Committee chairman and by the committee majority whose opinion he commands by virtue of his fiscal powers, his party co-affiliation, and his vigorous leadership (read: domination). Those who fail to understand the political desirability of compromise, get the full treatment (i.e., the fiscal axe). Of course, there is always some more or less neutral excuse for this, aside from partisan politics or personal antagonism.

Now, the question is, how did Kavanagh come to Chair the House Appropriations Committee in the Arizona State Legislature? Well, the exact answer must surely depend on how that position is determined.

Does the outgoing Chairman have any influence on his successor, provided they are both from the same party? One would imagine so. Kavanagh became Chairman with the first regular session of the 49th legislature (2009). Who was the Chairman of this committee prior to that? Russell Pearce. Remember, he only moved to the state Senate to avoid term-limits which made his House membership impossible to continue. (This moving back and forth is a common method by which Arizona Legislature term-limits are evaded.)

Pearce was the original anti-immigration fanatic. By the time he left the house, he had used his committee leadership positions, combined with House rules and internal Republican Party career ambitions and lines of succession, to place "his men" in positions of power. These are the bottlenecks of democracy, where one or a few men can determine the course of greater bodies. They include the officers of the legislative body itself, and of important committees therein.

Incidentally, I meant to have pointed out, in my previous message, that in June, 2006, registered voters in District 8 (Kavanagh's) were 50.5 percent Republican, 22.9 percent Democrat, and 26.6 percent independent or non-affiliated. Given that many of the independents in that district likely were not Democratic fellow travelers or crypto-Dems, the Democratic Party never had a chance there. Thus, the real question was who the Republicans would nominate from their primary.

I miss the early, funny Sam Coppersmith. :)

I agree slightly with Joe. Jon's essays are often contradictory save those issues which are blaring like public education. However, here Jon seems to lament the LA like freeway in Phoenix, yet not too many essay pieces back (I believe one in May in which he visited) he reminded us how little traffic actually "ails" Phoenix.

Truth be told, and for comparisons sake, Seattle ranked the 7th worse city for all traffic categories in 2009, Phoenix...the 29th worse! LOL Seems like Jon is a little incoherent with his facts and stories. He praises L.A.'s "rail system" but laments Phoenix traffic? You have got to be kidding me! I was hoping, for the sake of journalistic integrity that Jon was joking but he was serious.

Despite L.A. having ENDLESS miles of massive freeways, smog that is only topped by cities like Mexico City and Beijing, and a 16 million plus megalopolis that now stretches to San Diego! Yes, a model city.

I do enjoy reading Jon's criticisms of Phoenix shortcomings, but some reality and lack of radical leftist, Seattle elitism is in order. And just to rub it in, our light rail line carries 2 twice the passengers on Sunday than Seattle on any weekday! Seattle's downtown kicks downtown Phoenix square in the mouth but in the 80's it was a shit hole itself. Rampant with gutter punk kids and known for a needles other than the one with "space" in its name.

What does this mean? Well, that not all cities mature and develop at the same time in the same manner. San Diego, Seattle, and many other American cities had horrible or neglected downtown areas before an economic meltdown occurred in the city. City was after all a flannel and lumber town.

Phoenix' time to emerge from the ashes is still probable and possible. I see the changes and the demographics changing for the better everyday in the Central City!

Can we have an "edit" function on rogue? I just read my post and feel like an Arizona public school grad.

All joking aside; I would love to read Jon's take on current business developments in metro Phoenix including:

The new research triangle established by Phoenix and Tempe. Although Scottsdale was originally the northern corner, they opted out which I thing benefits Tempe and Central Phoenix.

The future of the ever expanding solar industry in Phoenix and Arizona, including the soon to be decisions by the Corporation Commission which could propel the industry and erase barriers to rapid growth.

ASU rapid rise in research/rankings/prestige bestowed by other universities and UofA's expansion in downtown Phoenix (primarily in the medical school field).

Population growth in the Central City which has outpaced the periphery since 2008 and land values held higher.

I also wonder if Jon truly knows the metro area he now calls home. Seems to me he doesn't realize that metro Seattle is spread out much more than metro Phoenix, less densely populated than metro Phoenix, and is an energy and water hog (compared to metro Phoenix of course)...

"That's 129 years for those readers who were home-schooled or graduated from Arizona charters."

This is unnecessary and misleading, at least the charter part. Located about a mile from your old home in Willo is Arizona School for the Arts, which has one of the top college preparatory programs in the state and is a charter school.

I do agree with most of what you said, though.

WOW! What a hate rant! You could move to Seattle and buy my sister's house- she would love to move here to get out of the rain, congestion, smog, congestion, taxes, congestion.........

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