Dear Governor Ducey,

I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m down to writing you two letters a month. It’s so sad to be out of touch with you, but, like all things good, I should be more generous with your time and Flag Live’s sweet space, opening up the weekly for some other voices. My husband Erik jokes that I don’t like change. I do like a routine. Every Monday, I wake up, take the dogs running, keep my eye out for mountain lions, never see one, come home, stretch, shower and sit down to write to you. Now, my routine is off. I have a Monday that makes no sense. I have to make a phone call to a prospective MFA student in seven minutes. I have a Skype call with a University of Arizona MFA student at 1 p.m., to write 11 comments for a writing contest, give feedback to three essays in my nonfiction class. I have to pack for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Portland, write two paragraphs for a symposium, pick up the kids at 2:20, make it to campus by 2:45 for a non-tenure-track meeting, head to the faculty senate meeting from 3-5, come home, make chicken (routine is routine. Poor chickens), and then head back downtown for Narrow Chimney Reading Series.  

In 2008 I laid over in Phoenix on a $719 flight from Grand Rapids to Flagstaff. The terminal I flew into was not the terminal from which I would fly out. I had to take a shuttle from one to the other. As I sat waiting for the shuttle, sweating in the January sun, watching the cars with Arizona license plates drive by, I said, “I can’t live in Arizona. The politics here are as bad as Salt Lake City’s. Maybe they’re even more extreme.” I remember how Ed Mecham canceled Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Plus, there was no water.

Then I flew up to Flagstaff, and I changed my mind. There was water here, in the form of snow. There was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I fell in love and changed my mind about Arizona, if not the Valley. Even then, as time clicked by, I changed my mind a little about Phoenix. It began with the Flagstaff’s Community Supported Agriculture. Where else do you get tomatoes as early as June? My dear friend Angie, who also teaches me about education systems in Arizona, brings me lemons from her dad’s tree in Phoenix. Then my neighbor brought me lemons from her friend’s tree. Soon, I had boxes and bags and barrels of lemons. Erik, who still doesn’t think I like change, squeezed all the lemons. I have quarts of lemons frozen for summer. The kids will use the lemon juice and simple syrup to make the best lemonade to sell at a lemonade stand. We will go to the park to convince people that, even though it’s not that hot in Flagstaff, it’s hot enough for lemonade.

So Phoenix does export some great things, and, just this legislative season, I was holding onto some hope there would be some good change (see, I’m even an advocate for change) into the oversight of charter schools. Then several newspaper articles and ACLU reports revealed the amount of public funds that had been siphoned off by private institutions, directors, contractors and suppliers. I was so excited to see you had suggested to the legislature to establish some limits to the ways charter schools were held accountable, but no. The headline of an Arizona Republic article is “Arizona’s Charter School Reform is a Big, Fat Joke.” Laurie Roberts writes, “Under this bill, a charter operator still could pay himself however much he wants out of public money provided to educate kids. He still could hire side companies he owns to supply books or janitors or technical support through no-bid contracts that allow him to further jack up his profits. This bill would require that a governing board be set up to oversee school operations. But the charter operator could stack the board with his various relatives and friends.”

One nice thing about change, or the attempt to change, is you get to see the original. Sometimes, I remember sitting between terminals, and think I was right: Arizona is not a great place for kids or the future. I try to hold onto the idea of lemons, but, with a legislature like this, lemons don’t seem so amazing. They seem unchangeably sour.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com



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