Pullen's pushin', teacher-pay myth and radar games

The Arizona Republic
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Robert Robb

From the political notebook:

Someone forgot to give Randy Pullen the memo, but in the modern political era, political parties are not truly independent political forces. They exist primarily as vehicles for the conduct of certain political tasks for the party's officeholders and candidates.

In today's political world, a political party chairman has only two real functions: raise money and say patently ridiculous things about the other side.

Nevertheless, Pullen, the state Republican Party chairman, has denounced - he claims on behalf of all 1 million registered Republicans - the Senate compromise immigration reform. This despite the fact that both of Arizona's Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, were deeply involved in its drafting and are on the front lines of supporting it legislatively. And the fact that at least one member of Arizona's House Republican delegation, Jeff Flake, is also out front on the issue with an even more expansionist reform.

This assertion by Pullen of a superior claim to speak for Republicans than actual Republican officeholders is curious, to say the least.

McCain received over 1.5 million votes when he last ran. Kyl received over 800,000 votes last fall, when he won against a well-financed challenger by 10 percentage points.

In 2004, Flake was challenged in a Republican primary by a candidate expressing views on immigration similar to those of Pullen. Flake won by nearly 20 percentage points, getting more than 33,000 votes from registered Republicans.

Pullen, by contrast, won election to the position of party chairman on a 408-404 vote.

In general, political parties are increasingly irrelevant. I suspect the Arizona Republican Party is about to explore the outer limits of political irrelevancy.

• The ever-useful Arizona Tax Research Association has busted another Arizona public policy myth: that the state ranks near the bottom in teacher salaries.

The association plumbed figures gathered by the National Education Association and provided context.

On average teacher pay, Arizona ranked 27th among the states, right in the middle.

For all instructional staff (including principals, librarians, counselors and the like), Arizona ranked 11th.

Given that, because of growth, Arizona tends to have a younger teaching staff, this doesn't suggest that teacher pay scales in Arizona are out of whack with those in other states.

• Some lawmakers are trying to sneak a ban on speed cameras into the state budget. This is to thwart Gov. Janet Napolitano's plan to institute it at various places around the state.

This clearly is a policy measure, not an item of appropriation, and has no place in an appropriations bill.

If it stays in the budget, Napolitano will undoubtedly line-item veto it, even though, as a policy measure, her line-item veto authority doesn't technically apply.

In a comparable previous dispute, the state Supreme Court stayed out of it, allowing Napolitano's line-item veto of a policy change buried in an appropriations bill to stand.

The court seemed to take the position, not unreasonably, that if the Legislature was going to legislate unconstitutionally, it wasn't going to stop the governor from vetoing unconstitutionally.

• State Sen. Russell Pearce has a point about whether John McCain shouldn't resign from the U.S. Senate if he's not going to show up to do the work, although I suspect that he wouldn't be making the point if McCain were on his side of the immigration issue.

McCain has missed nearly 50 percent of all the Senate floor votes this year. A spokeswoman for McCain said that he had not missed any votes on which his vote would have changed the outcome, but that's not really the job description.

However, Pearce's rumination about resignation raises what may be an even more interesting question: What is the job of a U.S. senator anyway?

McCain's spokeswoman is right: The vote of an individual senator usually doesn't make any difference.

McCain isn't there to participate in the debates, but senators quit listening to each other in debate a long time ago. For the most part, they don't even show up to hear other senators talk, just to deliver their own speeches.

McCain is presumably missing his committee meetings as well. But congressional committee hearings these days are rarely about actually working legislation. Instead, they are mostly political theater, in which witnesses are props for grandstanding politicians.

The constitutional duty of a senator is to legislate. But senators (and representatives) spend very little time actually legislating. Instead, they spend most of their time pontificating.

Of course, that's also what presidential candidates do. So, McCain could take the position that he's actually doing his job. He's just telecommuting.