How To Win My Vote

I’m not an enigma to unravel – at least not a difficult one politically.  When it comes to securing my vote, my beliefs are not unique either.  In fact, ExDeserto was birthed from the ashes of a particularly difficult political season.  Democrats had made large political gains and Barack Obama rode into the White House on a donkey.  In the months following a group of law students from the East and the West banded together to raise an alternative voice to the liberal agenda.  While ExDeserto’s authors have come, and gone, and graduated, I still maintain the blog and the mission of ExDeserto remains the same: fostering political discussion, debating the status quo and promoting conservative ideals.  Republicans stand poised to make significant gains in the mid-term elections, but they still haven’t managed to channel the conservative energy from the tea party movement.

The tea party movement, well-intentioned as it is, still faces significant obstacles – namely being able to formulate to coherent direction with a simple message.  Democrats, to their credit have been quite effective at painting Republicans as the “Party of No.”  Members of the tea party movement, while leaning Republican, do not necessarily agree with the Republican agenda – especially if that agenda consists of deficit spending or a keep-things-as-they-are attitude.  The tea partiers have been seen almost as the unwanted step-child of the G.O.P: they are related, but they are also a bit extreme.  They can almost be likened to the Minute Men along the Arizona border; both groups lack a definite direction and an outspoken leader.  The difference though lies (among other things) in the size and support of the conservative movement.    The tea party movement is much larger though and its current has rippled throughout the nation.

I haven’t been active enough to label myself as a tea-party goer, but I am conservative, and thoroughly so.  The summer after my first year of law school, I interned at pro-life organization in Austin.  I donate to organizations that advance particular conservative and religious causes – I’m not completely an arm-chair political pundit.   Sure I can become more involved (as some have), but as I just graduated from law school, the past three years have sidelined any entertainment of these ambitions.

Still, like most individuals, I have opinions, and I fully intend to exercise those opinions at the voting booth.  To win my vote, the ideal candidate has absolutely understand that spending must be kept under control.  I’ve posted on this before, and I am increasingly concerned with the almost magical ability federal and state governments can spend non-existent money.  We simply cannot control our spending.  It is out of control.  You want my vote?  Get spending under control.  Budget is not a four letter word.  And it’s not particularly a hard concept to grasp.  My brother actually puts money into envelopes: once the envelope is empty, he can’t spend any more.
Now, fiscal responsibility isn’t the only issue about which I am passionate.  If I may be so bold, fiscal irresponsibility is merely a symptom of larger social issues.   And yes, there are other issues that do trump my out-of-control spending concerns. But when both parties embark on a lemmings’ mission to bankrupt the government while bankrolling and bailing out vital sectors and businesses, I do become upset and I do look for a candidate whose conservative credentials do not change according to the economic winds.  So if you want to win my vote, prove to me that at least the candidate is able to balance a budget.  Encourage me to rally behind a candidate that at least understands the basics of accounting – and who maybe even uses the envelope system.  Basic arithmetic isn’t that hard.   If that basic principle is understood, you’re on the way to gaining my vote.

Prop 100 Passed – Now What?

In a 2-1 vote that was largely expected, Arizona passed Proposition 100.  It wasn’t a huge surprise at all considering proponents spent over two million dollars lobbying for its passage.  In comparison, whether for apathy or lack of disagreement with the sales tax (likely the former), opponents raised a nominal thousand dollars.  Planned to begin on June 1, 2010, Proposition 100 will raise the Arizona state sales tax by 18%.  Though it sounds like hefty increase (and it is), supporters posit that it is “merely” a one-cent increase over the existing sales tax.  That is also true; the sales tax is increasing from 5.6% to 6.6%.

For the time being, state employees can breathe a sign of relief; they are able to keep their jobs.  Teachers and other employees that had been laid off may be rehired.  For those dependent on a state salary or on state services, this is a welcomed relief. 

At the very least, Arizona will hopefully be able to right its financial ship.  I am leery of raising taxes, and it is certainly not the norm that the biggest proponent to raising taxes be a Republican governor.  At the same time, I understand that governor Brewer did inherit much of this debt from Janet Napolitano (who was appointed head of Homeland Security).  This does not mean I have experienced a change of heart regarding Proposition 100; I haven’t.  And like I mentioned in the post yesterday, throwing money at our financial woes is not a viable solution to a systemic spending problem.

The decision to Prop 100 did not relieve the state of its obligation to make hard budget decisions, but it did help mitigate the consequences of its financial irresponsibility.  It’s like touching a hot stove, it’ll burn your hand.  That’s what happens when you touch hot stoves.  Likewise, over spending leads to drastic cuts.  Passing Prop 100 is akin to putting on an oven mit and then touching the hot stove.  You feel it, but it’s no where near the effect of touching the skin to the burner.   We can debate the pros and cons of each method, but it’s clear where I stand.  If I touched the hot burner once with my hand, I learn my lesson.  Touching it with a mit, maybe not.

Regardless, this tax is (supposedly) temporary and it will be automatically repealed in three years.  Again, lots can happen between now and then.  So, the goal now is it still to cut programs and reduce spending such that three years later, Arizona can still function without the additional 300 million in revenue.  I’ve heard talk that to drop off in revenue, Governor Brewer will not renew tax incentives given to businesses (but that isn’t this post).

Though the specifics will still be worked out, the “wish-list” projects will be scratched from the drawing board – and rightfully so.   Do we need more parks or playgrounds?  Do we even need the latest and greatest technology labs in schools?  Jobs will survive, but there certainly will be fat trimmed from the general budget.  I’m still of the opinion that we need more than a “trimming.”

Why I voted “NO” on Arizona Prop 100

Today the polls open for Arizonians to vote whether to approve a one-cent sales hike for three years to benefit public schools and public safety.  I voted early and I voted no.

Over the past few months, there has been an incredible amount of spin associated with Prop. 100 – almost all exclusively by those in support of the sales tax.  I’ve heard the refrain on the news and in the office: our public schools need support, and we need to support public safety too.  But the thought that failing to support higher taxes means that I am somehow anti-government is absurd.

I am for fiscal responsibility.   Arizona, for the past number of years, has continually dug itself into a financial hole.  Salaries of state and local government employees have swelled as great as the economic boom of the mid-2000s.   It wasnt’ bad at first because year-over-year revenue suggested that future years would be more profitable than the current ones.  But this house of cards quickly collapsed after the economic downturn and as a result, Arizona still has a billion dollars of money to raise or programs to cut. 

Arizona just has not managed its money well over the past decade and am I opposed to raising taxes on the population to cover its financial mismanagement.   The government needs to manage the money entrusted to it, not raise more to pay for its mistakes.  Look, I think funding public safety is important – especially here in Arizona where the state is plagued with unique problems with border enforcement and illegal immigration.   But there is a problem when there are more police sergeants than necessary, and police officers aren’t properly utilized.  Public safety is top-heavy right now and police officers are sometimes being charged with (and paid for) completing tasks that can be best left to lower level (and lower paid) government employees.

Let’s talk about education too.  Supporters of Prop 100 cry wolf if this does not pass: more teachers will be cut, classroom sizes continue to swell and the level of education will drop precipitously.   Arizona, however, has been consistently at the bottom of the barrel in public education.  It can’t drop much further even if class sizes triple.  And look, this issue is dear to my heart too: for the most part, I am a product of public education.  Education is important, but even here, changes are necessary.

The public school system is in desperate need of a paradigm shift.  Reading, writing and arithmetic are certain baseline principles, but so are real-life, practical classes too.  Instead of reading “See Jane Run” teachers need to put more emphasis on the principles of basic budgeting.  I’m not laying the problems on the teachers, the issues are far deeper and systemic than any one group of employees or individuals.  After all, teachers are mandated a particular curriculum with goals, tests, objectives and sub-objectives.  Meeting these goals are supposedly a benchmark to a well-performing school and a well-performing, adapted student.  Even these are flawed.   And as a result, we are sending waves of under-performing students into the workforce or into college without a solid education foundation.

Just throwing money at a program won’t solve a problem.  This is what Governor Brewer, the media, and the general public seem not to understand.  And those that stand to benefit the most are raising their voices, extending their hands, and casting incredulous stares by those challenging the State to make changes to how it has done business over the decade.  Arizona needs to conduct a hard look at how it operates its budgets and it needs to make hard decisions.  But equally, it needs to develop innovative, new solutions.   Just adding a tax is like sticking a finger into a drain.  It’ll plug the problem temporarily, eventually you’ll want to remove the finger.   Until Arizona fundamentally changes how it manages its budget, its schools, public safety programs and other publically funded endeavours, Arizona will continue to encounter one problem after another.

At some point, we need to say “enough is enough.”  I am drawing the line in the sand with Prop 100.  It’s time for Arizona to own up to its mistakes and quit avoiding the hard decisions.  Governor Brewer needs to make a holistic, top to bottom review about how the state already spends its hundreds of millions of dollars.

Life Sentences for Juevenile Offenders

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenders guilty cannot constitutionally be incarcerated for life without parole unless guilty of homicide.  Unsurprisingly, this case was decided along liberal/conservative lines with Justice Kennedy authoring the opinion and Justice Roberts concurring in the judgment.

Putting aside whether I agree with the State’s ability to impose life sentences on non-homicidal crimes for juvenile defendants, the larger – and significantly more troubling issue is whether the State’s decision to make these sentencing decisions may violate the Eighth Amendment.  In other words, should the Constitution be interpreted in light of “evolving standards of decency”?  The majority answered this in the affirmative.  The problem though is that these “evolving standards” actually restrict liberty rather than promote state autonomy. 

I understand that that it may appear unseemly at best and barbaric at worst to impose life sentences on those that have not committed murder (and its lesser included offenses).    But does it violate the Constitution?  Is it cruel and unusual punishment?

The Constitution is not a document that changes according to the disposition of its citizens from one generation to the next; and it should not be interpreted as such.  When the Court reserves in itself the power to strike the constitutionality of laws based on current standards, it reaches inconsistent results.  After all, if I think the law is okay and someone else does not like the punishment it’s hard to tell whether or not the law will be upheld.  In a word: the court becomes unpredictable.  It is led by sticking its finger into the air to determine which way the wind is blowing. 

What may be fine one year becomes suspect in the next. 

A state loses part of its autonomy to govern its citizens when select individuals on a court may invoke “changing times” to invalidate a state action.   A constitutional law in one year because impermissible in another.  Rather than pursing a legislative remedy, the court provides the quick fix. 

The outcome may seem appropriate when first used, but circumventing the legislative branch only leads to more trouble down the road.  See: abortion, homosexual marriage, contraceptives, gay “rights” etc.