People and Politics: July/August 2009
Standoff in the desert. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, filed suit in June against the Republican controlled Legislature for not sending her the budget they had passed some two weeks before. Brewer petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court to order the Legislature to transmit the bills so she can sign or veto them. Lawmakers were struggling to close a $3 billion plus budget shortfall, and Brewer wanted a temporary tax increase passed or sent to the voters. The Legislature opposed that option, and believed Brewer was likely to veto their appropriations package if she received it before the June 30 deadline. Facing a potential shutdown of state government if deadline was not met, Brewer sought and received an expedited review of the case. Brewer believed the Legislature was trying to coerce her into signing the bills, and House Speaker Kirk Adams said he had no intention of sending the bills to the governor in this battle of wills.
High cost of running. It’s costly to run for office in Massachusetts, so costly that it may be keeping candidates out of the race, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. It found that only 311 candidates ran for office last year, and incumbents outspent their opponents by two to one. The lawmaker who spent the most? Former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, running unopposed, spent some $475,000. He was indicted in June on fraud and conspiracy charges for allegedly steering $20 million in state software contracts to a Canadian firm and receiving checks amounting to about $60,000.
Employees hit back. Four New Mexico public employee unions have sued the state for increasing what they must pay into their pensions and cutting the state’s cost. Legislation passed last year increases state employees’ payroll contributions by 1.5 percent of their salaries for the next two years, and saves the state an estimated $42 million a year. The unions charge that the legislation is unconstitutional. An employee making $40,000 a year would pay an additional $20 per pay period. Representative Luciano “Lucky” Varela, chair of the Legislative Finance Committee, said the other option was layoffs.
Free speech fight. A Denver district judge in June issued a temporary injunction against a campaign finance amendment passed by Colorado voters in November. Anyone with ties to an organization that has a no-bid government contract greater than $100,000 is prohibited from contributing to candidates or political parties at any level. Plaintiffs argued that it violated free speech and was confusing and discriminatory. The judge agreed, saying it unfairly targeted members of public employee unions who would have to choose between making political contributions and collective bargaining. “When First Amendment freedoms are involved, the state has got to come forward with evidence of a sufficiently important [threat],” the judge said. The attorney general’s office said the amendment’s intent—to prevent contributors from receiving contracts from government officials—was clear, even if the language is ambiguous. The case may now be tried on its merits or appealed. The amendment passed by 51 percent.
Fond goodbye. Delaware Senate President Thurman Adams, one of the state’s most powerful and respected political leaders, died of pancreatic cancer in June. He was 80, and the legislature’s longest serving member. Adams was a 44-year-old feed store owner when he was first elected to the Senate in 1972, and became president pro tem six years ago. Vice President Joe Biden, who had known Adams for 37 years, said he will be remembered as “one of the most influential legislators in Delaware history. He always did what was right, and history confirmed his decisions over and over again. Few, if any pieces of legislation in Delaware became law without having his imprint, and we were all the better because of that.” The House and Senate both closed their chambers for one day in his honor.