Tuesday, July 1, 2008

SCR 1042 Update From State Rep. Steve Farley

With this session, one of the longest in the state's history, of the Arizona Legislature completed, state Representative Steve Farley, D-Tucson, one of the LGBT community's strongest allies sent out his legislative update.

Back to the narrative... After the budget was finished Thursday night, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Mesa) made an attempt to adjourn sine die and end the session right away. Unfortunately, he got the wording wrong, so Majority Leader Tom Boone (R-Peoria)--who had other plans in mind for a number of unfinished bills--made a substitute motion to recess which canceled out Biggs' motion when the vast majority of the body, unsure what to do, stood in support of Boone.

That paved the way for us to come back the next day for a horrible day of legislating where a whole lot of bad things happened, none worse than the resurrection of the anti-marriage amendment.

You may recall that we have spent much of the session fighting Republican efforts to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to outlaw Gay marriage, which is already illegal. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) carried out an ingenious strategy to derail the House version of the bill several months ago.

As a referendum, it is not subject to veto by the Governor -- it goes directly to the voters if approved by both houses of the Legislature. Right-wingers in the House have been conspiring with the Center for Arizona Policy ever since to find a way to bring another version to the floor.

On May 12, that new version, SCR1042, passed out of the House by one vote when Rep. Marian McClure (R-Green Valley) changed her vote to Yes, under pressure from her partners running for the Corporation Commission--Bob Robson (R-Chandler) and Bob Stump (R-Peoria). They all have been led to believe that the anti-marriage amendment will bring more hard-right voters to the polls in November, and they will benefit from it. It would appear it doesn't matter to them how many LGBT people get hurt on their way to higher office.

Despite withering pressure from the hard right lobbyists, the bill never made it to the floor. Senate President Tim Bee (R-Tucson) apparently came to understand that a yes vote on the amendment would compromise the image of moderation and bipartisanship he has built up over the years, so he refused to bring it forth while at the same time saying to members of his own caucus that he would bring it forth in time.

His caucus members brought it forth for him on Wednesday when they voted to force it to the floor, but it did not receive the votes to carry at that time because the 16th vote was in a cabin in northern Arizona -- Senator Karen Johnson (R-Mesa). She is not running for re-election, and had declared early in the session that her last day would be June 21. She left and planned not to return.

What she didn't plan on was members of her church--including her bishop for Arizona--surrounding her cabin at all hours of the day and night praying for her that she be moved into returning to Phoenix to vote for the amendment.

The pressure worked, and she arrived at the Capitol on Friday, when the bill would be brought back up for reconsideration. Senator Tom O'Halleran (R-Sedona) was rumored to be gone as well, but he stayed to vote Yes. Sixteen votes in favor, including Tim Bee, were present, but we found out that two of them, Senator Pam Gorman (R-Anthem) and Karen Johnson, had plane flights out of town that evening and would be gone by 7pm.

So we forces of reason had our mission -- drag things out until those two were gone, then adjourn sine die. For reasons way too complicated to explain in this already voluminous missive, we had to filibuster in the House and in the Senate, without making it appear we were actually filibustering. Rep. Sinema served as field general, and she picked four of us to do the talking, based on the fact that we always did a lot of talking and we didn't want others to catch on to what we were doing.

The four were Reps. Prezelski (D-South Tucson), Ableser (D-Tempe), Ulmer (D-Yuma), and me. We asked a whole lot of questions in caucus (at one point we stretched out discussion of two of the bills to 40 minutes), in Committee of the Whole, and in explaining our votes in third read and final passage. We were so convincing that certain other members of our own caucus who were not in on the plan began to openly mock us for talking too long and told us to sit down and shut up. In the end we were able to extend debate past 7pm.

Our colleagues in the Senate were doing the same thing on the floor, but things were not going so well. Republicans began suspending Senate rules left and right to deprive the Democrats of talking time, and in one case suspended an entire calendar of bills that had already been passed, a move that had the effect of killing them. People called each other names and nearly got into shoving matches. Senators cried, while other senators openly laughed at those who cried.

Decorum broke down almost completely as the torchbearers for the "moral majority" followed a scorched-earth policy in their single-minded quest to take away rights from LGBT people. After 7pm, it became clear that Gorman and Johnson had no intention to leave to make their planes, and by 7:20, the filibuster could hold out no longer.

The vote was called for through a series of rule suspensions, and voting finally proceeded. Senator Carolyn Allen (R-Scottsdale) left in disgust before the vote. Senator Paula Aboud (D-Tucson), the only open lesbian in the Senate, talked about the power of the love between her and her partner, and asked the other senators, "Why are you afraid of our love? Are you afraid of me? Do I scare you?" Every Republican (besides Carolyn Allen) voted yes, then turned their backs and left the floor in the middle of Aboud's speech.

After all had voted except President Bee, the tally stood at 15 in favor. Weighing in last, Bee explained his vote. He hammered the Center for Arizona Policy and its tactics, calling the issue divisive and saying that the lobbyists in favor of the amendment had "confronted members in hostile ways and coerced them."

Many of us watching held our breath, wondering if Bee would step up courageously to do the right thing--not the easy thing. Would he vote No, and show that he puts policy above politics? Would he reject the Republican strategists who were convinced the anti-marriage amendment would help spur conservative voters to vote for him in his congressional race against Gabrielle Giffords?

His voice moved swiftly lower--almost to a whisper--as he concluded, "But my constituents want to vote on this, so I will vote Aye."

With that, Tim Bee cast the deciding 16th vote, and in effect personally placed the anti-marriage amendment on the ballot once again, ensuring that the divisiveness will continue into the electorate at large.

This concluded the session like a punch to the gut. Exhausted and dispirited, we adjourned sine die shortly thereafter without doing much else. Bills that were in process died, including a vital bill to enact new tax credits for attracting huge solar energy plants to Arizona--plants and factories we are currently losing to California and Oregon in increasing numbers. But apparently, outlawing Gay marriage again was much more important than rebuilding our economy through renewable energy.

The people of Arizona know our priorities. We know what needs to be done, and we are looking for the leadership to make it happen. If there's anything this week proves, it's that the current legislative majority is not providing that leadership.

As you know, I am still asking for your contributions so that we can turn this legislature around and actually tackle the state's biggest challenges head-on with a new Democratic majority. We hear it a lot, but I really think that this time it's totally true: this November's elections at every level will determine whether we can thrive in the 21st century.

The best way we can assure the right outcome in Arizona is to help Democratic legislators get elected all over the state, and the Arizona Democratic Party is the organization best positioned to make that happen.

Please give generously to the party, which has thoughtfully provided a special page for Friends O'Farley to contribute online quickly and easily. Please don't wait; give what you can right now!



NG said...

Here's audio from Paula Aboud - http://www.zshare.net/audio/14473293744ee658/

It would be nice if someone were to get video of Miss Aboud's speech. One can actually see people walking out.

(I have it but it's 3:40 long and jin IVR format.)

That more bloggers aren't even discussing this, particularly gay activist bloggers is reprehensible.

Thanks also for filling in some blanks (re: Karen Johnson).

Anonymous said...

Steve's math is incorrect. It passed with 33 votes -- two more than necessary, not one. Two Democrats (Brown and Rios) voted yes.

The Observer said...

Indeed it did in the House, thanks to former state Senators Jack Brown and Pete Rios, both "Democrats" and who also voted for the original law in 1996

Jennifer said...

It is sad to me "Mr Representative" that you do you not see marriage as an important issue. I guess your history books have been shelved and you have forgotten what our country was founded on. You mistakenly make it about the person and not the lifestyle. It is obvious to me that you also do not see that taking the true definition of marriage and changing it is the start of something bad. I think most in politics are more concerned with being in the mainstream of thinking than really actually thinking.