If it’s mid-February then it is the silly season, that time of the legislative session in some states when voters see bills surface in committee hearings and say, “What were they thinking?”
Except, in Arizona, some of those bills actually get passed and signed by the governor.
Lawmakers who come up with these bills, of course, don’t see themselves as silly. Nullifying federal authority when someone deems it in “conflict” with the U.S. Constitution or banning photo radar because it is an unreasonable search and seizure seems like a logical way to implement their personal beliefs.
But that’s not what voters expect of their state lawmakers, nor is it consonant with what conservative Republicans have long stood for. Most voters see the Legislature as implementing programs clearly within the purview of the state – not the federal government or the cities and counties. And if they voted Republican, the majority likely expected conservatism with a capital “C” – less government and less meddling, not ideology-driven legislation that uses whatever tools of government at their disposal to accomplish a personal agenda.
Instead, we get bills that meddle locally when the same lawmaker would never tolerate the same behavior on the part of the feds toward Arizona. Cities throughout the country have implemented photo radar to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities while never having the practice declared unconstitutional. Banning it in Arizona charter cities ignores local rights under the state constitution while usurping the jurisdiction of the courts and the separation of powers.
The same goes for city elections – there is no plausible reason for a Republican Legislature to force unified state/local fall elections other than the fact that municipal elections in the spring tend to turn our more Democrats.
As for schools, it’s now been recognized that a common core curriculum that draws on the latest educational research will strengthen all schools. But beyond that, what is the statewide interest in whether Flagstaff schools start their year in early August or early September? And why should state lawmakers, not school boards, decide whether students should be allowed to opt out of tests or how recess should be structured? If legislators wanted to micromanage schools, they should have run for school board.
As for state programs and policies that do cross local jurisdictional boundaries, such as runaway prison costs, deteriorating regional roads, tax reform, and water and air quality, there’s hardly any room to do them justice during the silly season. Sen. Steve Pierce, a Republican, has introduced a comprehensive reform bill that would reduce the prison population by 3,000 inmates. Where are the high-profile hearings and press releases from the Republican caucus?
Our concern, as usual, is that a representative democracy thrives on vigorous citizen participation starting at the grassroots. Take away local control for ideological reasons, and the grassroots wither. It’s not only silly, it’s a downright unhealthy way to govern in a state that hardly can afford it.