Catching up from my recent visit "back home..."
• Many people asked me why Gov. Jan Brewer was backing a Medicaid expansion in apparent defiance of GOP orthodoxy. Has she finally shown a conscience? No. The major calculus is that what remains of the business leadership in Arizona leaned on her to accept the Obamacare/Romneycare deal, where the feds will pay for most of the expansion anyway. The biggest employers in Arizona provide no or minimal health-care coverage, so they offload (socialize) those costs to the public through AHCCCS. Among the big employers are health companies that profit from the system, and would make even more under an expansion.
Most of the New Confederacy is not participating, a calculated move to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. So why is Brewer different? My suspicion is the composition of the economy. The other populous, urbanized states have plenty of corporate headquarters and well-paid jobs (and in the case of Texas, oil and big government spending). So it's easy to say, "devil take the hindmost." In Arizona, the hindmost is the economy — Wal-Mart is the largest employer. That and health care. Of course, Brewer might simply be playing a game, knowing the Legislature will prevent Arizona's participation. But I think she's sincere. If she goes "Full Kook," the business interests might do an Ev Mecham on her.
• Ah, a growthgasm. A report celebrated a return to population growth, with Buckeye the 9th fastest-growing "city" in America and "Phoenix poised to pass Philadelphia."
From July 2011 to July 2012, the city of Phoenix added 24,536 people to reach a population of 1,488,750. Yet this is a baby growthgasm compared with the good old days, and proportionately smaller than growth in the city of Seattle. And considering that Seattle attracts more college graduates with means, well...do the math.
Population growth is a bad metric for overall quality of living or economic power. People can be a cost and drag as well as an asset. For metro Phoenix to even pause to mark this finding is unhealthy. And don't count on passing Philly, which also added population. No fair faking the growthgasms.
• Amid the anti-tax hysteria as commonplace as hot concrete (repeal the food tax!) a property levy for the Maricopa County Community College District passed easily. I'm going to ask a politically incorrect question: What does the community college system — one of the nation's largest — actually do? Or is it an artifact, protected by its property tax, that just exists and keep growing, no matter that Phoenix can't afford a decent bus system or commuter rail. I'm not trying to be unpleasant. I'm sure many working poor occupations are grounded in a community college. I received my EMT training at Phoenix College in the mid-1970s — a very different time — so don't get me wrong. But considering that in most places a bachelor's degree is needed even for a basic job, is this gigantic system, with minimum oversight but a huge, guaranteed funding stream, really the proper scale and strategically focused?
• Speaking of education, every time I drive past the monumental tombstone of the new "University" of Phoenix headquarters in the wastelands of 32nd Street and the Maricopa Freeway, I feel the angriest blood vessel in my brain about read to infarct my ass to eternity. This corporation takes the city's name, but won't locate its headquarters downtown or in the Central Corridor. Or be a community steward with the billions brought in by the "for profit" Apollo racket.
• The Business Journal reports on a "massive" State Farm regional headquarters set for Tempe Town Lake. I can't tell how much this is new, or a consolidation of existing back-office operations. Two things are clear: It will be car-dependent, instead of leveraging light rail (perhaps a streetcar will be built). Second, what the hell is going on at Phoenix City Hall? Does the city of Phoenix have an economic strategy? Or is it content to continue in a not-so-genteel decline?
• On my way to Tucson, I was startled the see that the old 1950s assemblage of (mostly abandoned) motels and gas stations at Picacho Junction, once a beacon of neon on a lonely highway, was simply...gone. I suppose it's part of the new yard for the Union Pacific Railroad. News reports keep calling the operation "massive," but I don't have enough information to make comparisons (the North Platte, Neb., yard is the world's largest). What is clear: Any effort to preserve desert was quickly brushed aside, so the Ugliest Drive in America will get even more so, except for rail fans like me, and terribly detract from the stunning Picacho Mountains and moody Picacho Peak. It will bring more blight to private land nearby. Land use is to screwed up that industrial uses can be easily rammed into the desert. Why not expand and rehabilitate the old Southern Pacific yard in Tucson? Why not reopen the Northern Main Line through Phoenix? Part of the answer is that UP (which bought SP) is now mostly passing through, except for delivering cars and construction products. Arizona just doesn't make much any more. Meanwhile, no train service between Phoenix and Tucson.
• Those seeking affirmation for downtown can find it in this editorial, A Downtown on the Cusp of Greatness (from ASU's Downtown Devil). Phoenix's core is way better than it was 20 years ago. It is not a downtown worthy of such a large city, desperately needs more private sector employment and investment...I don't want to repeat myself. Did I mention shade trees? Anyway, your dose of happiness.
• Let me close with a letter from a reader of my mysteries:
I have been slowly making my way through your books over the last few years. Recently I read Arizona Dreams. In your earlier books, your ambivalent feelings towards Phoenix came through strong and clear. In Arizona Dreams, it shifted to downright active hostility. I found myself wondering why you would continue to live here (as the dust jacket indicated). I am happy to learn from your web site that you now live in Seattle. I think that that liberal bastion is much more suited to you.I am everything that you loathe about the Phoenix area. I live in Ahwatukee, and love it. Despite your comments, there IS less crime here. Check the statistics, and not your feelings. It is the nicest place I have ever lived, even though you would be repelled by the single style of architecture. Not everyone can afford to live in the pricey historic district. I am also a Republican. I am always amazed at how many authors use their fiction to bash Republicans. I know of none that bash Democrats, although there probably are some. Don't you guys realize that a lot of Republicans are your best customers? If you are trying to convert us, the Arizona Dreams style bashing will not do it. If you really want to be daring, try making your villain an environmentalist, an atheist, or a left wing radical. That would truly be something fresh. I know that you can't possibly conceive of these people being the bad guys. All evil in the world finds its source in villains who are capitalists, businessmen (not businesswomen), Christians, and elected Republican officials. Everyone knows this. Fiction becomes boring as a result. We know in advance "who dun it", whatever bad might have occurred. Be daring. Surprise us some time!