Last week, in an unprecedented move, Republicans who control the Arizona House of Representatives banned reporters from the House floor. Then they said the press would have to undergo extensive background checks. They finally relented on Tuesday, saying the floor would be open to journalists — at least for the rest of this session.
As usual, this embarrassment has a back story. Earlier this year, Hank Stephenson of the Arizona Capitol Times, revealed that House Speaker David Gowan had used a state vehicle to travel to events for his congressional campaign. Even in compromised Arizona, this action has left Gowan in deep doo-doo.
The ban was an explicit retaliation. It included a provision that if a reporter had been convicted of even a misdemeanor, he or she could be kept off the floor for a decade. Conveniently, Stephenson had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing in 2014, apparently after a bar fight in Wickenburg (my kind of reporter).
Gowan is a typical Kook mediocrity. He's connected to the extremist "Oath Keepers." A-plus rating from the NRA. As usual, he wants to perpetuate his sucking at the gub'ment teet by moving up in gub'ment. With incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick (to my mind misguidedly) challenging wealthy Republican John Sidney McCain III for the U.S. Senate, the First Congressional District seat is open.
Unfortunately for Gowan, the field is crowded, including Tea Party favorite Gary "99 percent of mass shootings are committed by Democrats" Kiehne, former state Senate President Ken Bennett, and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Gowan is far behind those three in fundraising. All is vanity.
Anyway, with all due respect to the capitol press corps, it's not as if the (st)hate Legislature is overrun with muckrakers, although there is so much muck to rake. Or investigative reporters, although so much demands to be investigated. These are good people, some outstanding, but the news organizations have faced savage cuts and there is little encouragement of digging outside of things such as the outrage of public pensions or the decades-long saga of the state child welfare agency.
Amid all the general media diet of car wrecks, shootings, sunny weather, and "everything's fine," occasionally unavoidable eruptions of facts happen. You can read the compilation every week on Arizona's Continuing Crisis.
Meanwhile, there's a herd of sacred cows that largely go uncovered. Among them: the charter school racket, private prison racket, groundwater management racket, the power of ALEC and billionaires such as the Kochs, the political and economic power of the Mormon Church, and, especially, the Real Estate Industrial Complex. And how these assorted rackets and powers perpetuate the Kookocracy to the detriment of the state.
When reporters were banned from the sanctum of Burton Barr, I received notes from several journalists saying, "We have to do something about this!" Well, above is an incomplete target list. Get busy.
Unfortunately, really exposing these things would require the sustained work of veteran, professional journalists. It can't be done in a video or a list. It can't be crowdsourced or explained in a compilation of tweets. It would require stalwart news organizations with the financial means and the guts to stand up against the backlash of the Kooks and their puppetmasters. And that's where things get rough.
In the banning, Gowan and his henchmen cited their "security" concerns. They should feel insecure, and not merely from their fellow firearm-toting, sanity-challenged solons. They are afraid of the public knowing how badly they have broken its trust.