Your humble columnist at this "comparatively low-traffic site" is back from a week in Phoenix. I must admit 60 degrees in Seattle is more pleasant than the 108 degrees when I flew out of Sky Harbor — including that big, twisty scream-inducing bump on the 737 as we tried to climb out of the heat.
I spent most of my time in tolerant, diverse central Phoenix. But outside that bubble, the forces of Peak Crazy kept trying to extract ever more madness. Secretary of State Ken Bennett kept Arizona as a national laughing stock (at least among the "liberal elites," read sane people) by pledging to make Hawaii come clean about the president's birth certificate. The Washington Post, read by people who make decisions about deploying capital and quality assets, thought Arizona's witlessness worthy of an editorial. Hawaii, a state for those of you who were home-schooled in the East Valley, turned the tables and is forcing Bennett to prove his bona fides to even ask. The mockery of Arizona's No. 2 elected official continues. But this did not prevent Sheriff Arpaio — who should be in jail — from sending a "threats unit" deputy to investigate in the Aloha State — something to please the "Valley" blue-hairs who vote. Where is Steve McGarrett when we need him? Bennett's antics are more than an embarrassment, more than pandering. He is the official who will preside over the elections. The secretary of state should not be a partisan office (but Jan Brewer used it just that way in 2004, also chairing the Bush re-election campaign in Arizona).
The "information center" has run off the majority of its best, most experienced journalists. One still there is Dennis Wagner, who reported what should be a national blockbuster on Sunday about the Pinal County Sheriff's Office stockpiling surplus military equipment and selling it off to private parties. This is no Babeu boo-boo, but a story that raises troubling questions about how the Military Industrial Complex is infiltrating law enforcement, with the added and sadly typical Arizona corruption thrown in.
Speaking of the Mormons, it's a laff-riot to see national stories about Arizona being in play in the presidential election. The calculus is simple and merciless: The Mormons vote, the "Mexicans" don't. Match Romney. I had cocktail conversations with a number of friends who lamented the state of the state. But these are the same talks we were having over drinks a decade ago. I'm tempted to say nothing changes, but in fact it does get worse. Back then, we had St. Janet and the "sensible center." Now it's all Kooks all the time. Until primary turnout rises, the Democratic Party gets a clue and Hispanic voting increases, this is Arizona.
The white-right will only be more hysterical to cling to power and privilege with the landmark Census report that non-Hispanic white births are now the minority in America. Anyone who thinks this portends a massive political shift, hasn't been paying attention to Arizona. Yes, sad to say my home state is the Appalachia of the 21st century, but politically it is California. In other words, it is the national trend-setter. Madness wins elections, especially in a nation headed to a very bad place. Barry Goldwater said he would be remembered as a liberal. The time may come when Jon Kyl and John McCain are remembered as liberals in the rightward careen of American politics.
Riding light-rail is a pleasure (WBIYB — I heard people saying this little slogan at book signings). Less pleasurable is the unchanging landscape of blight and empty land in Phoenix. Every time I ride light-rail in Seattle, new developments are going up along the line. Not in Phoenix. I spent some time at CityScape, and my opinion hasn't changed: Too suburban, inward-facing and a disappointment (to say the least) architecturally. Still, I hope it makes it. Central Phoenix seems way over-restauranted. Does anybody think all the chains at 7th Ave. and McDowell will be around in a year in a place with so few well-paid jobs? What's missing, to repeat myself, are practical businesses. I think of just a few within convenient walking distance downtown here in Seattle: Payless Shoes, Radio Shack, Aaron Brothers art supplies, nail salons, map store, beauty products, luggage shop, comic-book store (and this is not even in the central shopping district). The big problem is that while one may find these in Phoenix, they all require substantial driving. None are on light rail. The lack of critical mass, with businesses side-by-side right up on walkable sidewalks, is a huge liability. So is the lack of business intensity. Why are the prime locations facing Jefferson in the Luhrs block empty? Remembering all the businesses that once were downtown or lining Central all the way to Camelback is painful — they're almost all gone.
People like Greg Stanton. My sources are uniformly positive about the new mayor. The right-wing only has three council votes. Too bad the Legislature keeps making it more difficult for cities to solve their problems.
In a rational society, those days of 105 or above in May, along with several wildfires, would have constituted a moment of clarity. This is Arizona's future. Anybody talking about it? All along the light-rail line on Central, I see rocks thrown down. God Damned Rocks. Stop it! Central Phoenix needs shade trees and oases of grass. There's the pitiful Steele Indian School Park, surrounded by banked land crying for some investigative reporting (why didn't the federal government just sell the entire Indian School parcel to the city for $1 as has happened in times past; this was public land, but somebody has not only made private profits but is creating ongoing blight through land banking). It lacks the scores, even hundeds of shade trees needed. Same with the deck park. Encanto Park lost many large trees from one of the big, likely climate-change but definitely local warming driven storms in recent years. Has the city planted a new generation of trees? If you move into the historic districts, do not put down desert landscaping, much less rocks. Note how tony Arcadia and north-central have preserved their shade islands. It's especially pathetic to see shrubs planted in the rock-fields, dying from the radiated heat. Where one can't do grass, just let it be dirt. Water is an investment, and if central Phoenix doesn't take it, the water will just be used for crapola lakes in crapola subdivisions out on the fringes.
For all the boosterism one reads of, I didn't pick that up on the ground. There's still a feeling of economic depression, which, combined with the growing political madness, makes for some sober conversations. Members of the Resistance continue to perform heroic civic acts. But it's not just uphill. The hills keep rising. The lack of stewards with money who are committed to the city is a huge liability. So is the retrograde policy environment in everything from economic development to education. One civic leader worried about the rising underclass and asked, how can "they" — the white-right Kookocracy — not see how this is holding Arizona back? It's a good question. But they seem to want things this way. A woman asked me if I "saw any hope for Phoenix." I continue to see great hope — but only if it and the state turn from the trajectory of backwardness and extremism that are now Arizona's substantive (not image) problem.