My Turn: GOP Must Once Again Embrace Conservation by David Jenkins, President of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship

(Source: Arizona Republic, July 16, 2016).  The Republican Party’s newly adopted 2016 platform contains narrowly approved language calling for our national endowment of federal public lands, which currently belong to all Americans, to be surrendered to states in order to benefit special interests. Given the Republican Party’s strong conservation legacy, it is worth noting just how radical that position is.

The proposed platform language is way out of line with the public-land and conservation ethic that the country has embraced since the early 1900s when Republican president Theodore Roosevelt — responding to the rampant abuse of America’s natural resources — made conservation a priority.

The 1912 Republican Party platform was very clear about the party’s approach to our nation’s natural resources, proclaiming, “We rejoice in the success of the distinctive Republican policy of the conservation of our National resources, for their use by the people without waste and without monopoly. We pledge ourselves to a continuance of such a policy.”  Even though Roosevelt was not the GOP nominee that year, the party continued to embrace his conservation principles. This has also been the case in subsequent platforms.

Even more on point, the 1924 Republican platform declared, “The natural resources of the country belong to all the people and are a part of an estate belonging to generations yet unborn.”

What conservatism really means

That is the kind of prudent, reverent, unselfish and forward-thinking perspective one would expect from a genuinely conservative political party. And we have also seen it reflected in more recent platforms.

The 1988 GOP platform quoted Roosevelt and cited the party’s “long and honored tradition of preserving our nation’s natural resources and environment.” It called safeguarding “our God-given resources” a shared responsibility and stated, “We believe public lands should not be transferred to any special group” and that “we should keep public lands open and accessible.”

As recently as 2008 the platform Scenic view from Point Imperial, Grand Canyon Nationalpledged to manage our lands in a balanced way that protects our “irreplaceable environment” and noted that the “Republican perspective” is in agreement with Theodore Roosevelt’s view that the conservation of the nation’s natural resources is our most fundamental challenge.

Contrast the respect for our natural heritage, ethic of stewardship and commitment to balance reflected in those platforms — which according to polls is consistent with the views and values of most Republicans — with the radical anti-conservation agenda being pushed now by some within the party.

Who’s peddling this agenda?

That agenda includes, as now indicated in the 2016 platform, the wholesale transfer of our national forests, wildlife refuges and conservation lands, many of which were first protected by Theodore Roosevelt, to state and private interests.

It includes efforts in Congress to eliminate or undermine the Antiquities Act, the 110-year-old Republican-passed law that Roosevelt used to protect natural and cultural treasures like the Grand Canyon and Montezuma Castle.

It even includes an assault on the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a universally popular — and conservative — program that dedicates a small portion of oil- and gas-lease revenue to land conservation.

Who is peddling this agenda within the GOP? Primarily a handful of Western lawmakers, along with Koch-funded special-interest groups like Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

They are trying to reverse more than 100 years of conservative stewardship, seize land that is the birthright of every American, and act against the long-term interest of our nation, in order to facilitate their own short-term gain. There is nothing remotely conservative about it.

Be alarmed, very alarmed

That this small faction can hijack and radicalize the Republican Party platform in such a way should alarm all Republicans who love to hunt, fish, hike or otherwise enjoy America’s great outdoors — and especially those whose livelihood depends on outdoor recreation or tourism.

The party of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan recognized the value of the nation’s public lands — its parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other conservation areas — to both present and future generations of Americans. It recognized that protecting them is, as President Reagan reminded us, “our great moral responsibility.”

Republicans who still share those values, and who want their political party to do the same, can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines.

Getting more vocal and more involved is the only way to prevent the anti-conservation agenda of a radical fringe from permanently supplanting the Republican Party’s long and storied conservation tradition.

David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national non-profit organization. Email him at djenkins@conservativestewards.org; follow on Twitter, @ConservStewards.

Arizona legislators want to water down voter intiatives

[Source: Kellie Mejdrich,  Arizona-Sonora News Service] – State legislators want voters to scuttle the power of their own initiatives. Legislators crafted a number of constitutional amendments that subjects voter initiatives to periodic re-authorization, audits their effectiveness, subjects them to legislative appropriation and repeals certain initiatives altogether. GOP legislators say voter initiatives limit their ability to appropriate funds from a tight budget and call the process an outright threat to a “republican, smaller, form of government,” said Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail.

Critics call the push to water down voter initiatives a legislative intrusion into the peoples’ lawmaking process. GOP legislators tout the reforms as essential to maintaining Arizona as a state governed by a legislature, not direct democracy. Now, citizens can put laws to a vote by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the electorate—around 100,000 signatures—and change the state constitution by collecting 15 percent—around 150,000 signatures. If approved at election, the initiative becomes law and cannot be repealed or vetoed by the Legislature or the governor. That initiative remains law unless voters gather the necessary signatures to repeal the measure.

Republicans argue that reauthorization helps voters, but critics say it’s an attempt to alter fundamentally Arizona’s identity as a state. “This state would be so different if this legislature overturned the will of the people who passed these initiatives,” said Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, during a committee hearing for a bill sponsored by Antenori, which requires reauthorization of any initiative passed after 1998 that ” creates a fund for public monies, dedicates public monies to a specific purpose or otherwise affects (general fund) revenues or expenditures,” the bill language states.

Antenori’s SCR 1031 requires reauthorization of such initiatives after eight years. A similar bill, HCR 2005, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber. Crandell and Antenori will combine their bills as they approach final passage, Antenori said. The measure would push re-votes on a number of initiatives including Clean Elections, the Independent Redistricting Commission, various tobacco taxes and litigation funds used for education.

Why not let citizens who want to change an initiative propose a revote on it? It’s not that simple, legislators said. “A lot of folks aren’t able to get that done. They don’t have the resources to do it,” Antenori said. “The threshold for doing that is significantly higher, and more difficult and costly.”

Tim Hogan, executive director of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm that defends ballot initiative cases in the state, rejected that argument, adding “the legislature just doesn’t like the initiatives.” “They can come up with those kind of silly arguments. Well, it doesn’t stop people from doing initiatives. We have a ton of them all the time,” Hogan said. “If the people thought those laws were so terrible, I’m sure that somebody would do an initiative to get rid of them.”

Legislators also argue that the electorate has changed — voters die or move and new voters often do not know what initiatives are on the books. “People are uninformed,” Crandell said. “Once it becomes an initiative, and once it starts collecting the money, nobody ever goes back and looks at it again.” Hogan said that argument was glib.

Legislature’s neglect of state park system harms Arizona’s economy

[Source: William C. Thornton,  Special To The Arizona Daily Star]

Preliminary recommendations by the Governor’s Commission on Privatization and Efficiency (“Arizona urged to privatize its parks,” Sept. 22) come as no surprise to those of us who have been on the front lines of the battle to save Arizona’s state parks.

For the rest of us, it should serve as a wake-up call of what’s at stake if a lack of vision and political will is allowed to destroy our state park system. Conveniently, the final proposal won’t be released until after the fall elections; but it’s difficult to envision any park privatization scenario under which Arizona citizens and taxpayers won’t be the big losers.

In comments posted to the Star’s website, one writer asked: “What’s wrong with somebody earning a profit?”

The answer: absolutely nothing, and that’s just the point.

Hundreds of businesses throughout our state earn profits by supplying park visitors with gas, groceries, supplies, lodging and meals. A 2009 study by Northern Arizona University estimated the total economic impact of our state parks at $266 million per year, about half from out-of-state visitors. When a local park closes, as has already happened at Winslow (Homolovi), Springerville (Lyman Lake), and Oracle, visitors and the dollars they spend go away.

You may ask: “Won’t they do just as well under private management?”

The answer: Not likely! Private operators will, no doubt, be eager to take over profitable parks such as Catalina, Kartchner Caverns and the Colorado River parks. They probably won’t show much interest in smaller parks that, in themselves, aren’t profitable but still support local jobs.

How did we get here? The Legislature began the systematic dismantling of our state parks long before it could be justified by a budget crisis.

General-fund park appropriations ceased in 2002. Legislators told parks to become “more entrepreneurial and self-supporting” through admission fees, souvenir sales, etc. When they did, the Legislature took the money.

As a holistic system, profitable parks could carry those that didn’t break even but still generated economic benefits for their communities. That was no longer possible when the Legislature swept away every cent parks earned for themselves. In a particularly outrageous fund grab, legislators even took money from park donation jars and $250,000 from the estate of a benefactor who specifically willed it to state parks.

Before leaving office Gov. Janet Napolitano assembled a task force on sustainable parks to consider all options, including sale and privatization.

Gov. Jan Brewer continued the task force when she took office in January 2009. In October 2009, the task force recommended a modest $12 surcharge on noncommercial-vehicle licenses. In return, anyone with a current Arizona license plate would gain unlimited admission to all state parks. The system has worked well in other states. It would have assured the future of our state parks and reopened all roadside rest areas.

The measure died when House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanagh would not allow a vote by the panel. Kavanagh claimed to be taking a principled stand for taxpayers. It was nothing of the kind. If the measure had passed the Legislature, it still would have required voter approval. By denying voters a more direct voice in determining the future of our parks, Kavanagh exemplified the arrogant abuse of power that prompted the framers of our state constitution to provide for voter initiatives.

In testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, I relayed sharply contrasting experiences at two state historic parks: Judge Roy Bean in Texas and McFarland in Arizona. Although it’s far off the beaten path, at Roy Bean we found beautifully maintained facilities that celebrate a colorful chapter in the history of the Lone Star State. At McFarland, in the Tucson-Phoenix corridor, we found a closed facility with crumbling historic buildings, even though Senator, Governor and Judge McFarland arguably played a bigger role in Arizona history than Judge Roy Bean did in Texas.

Our tax code is riddled with dozens of loopholes that could be closed to distribute the overall tax burden more evenly and allow for investment in our state’s future. The legislative leadership flatly refused to consider it.

Where do we go from here? The future may look grim, but it’s far from hopeless. Much will be decided in the upcoming elections. If you agree that we need a vibrant system of parks to preserve our natural, cultural and historic treasures for all Arizonans, make your views known to the governor, your state legislators and candidates.

William C. Thornton is a member of the Arizona Heritage Alliance Board. E-mail him at cactusworld@msn.com

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Arizona special election costs could exceed $11 million

Gov. Jan Brewer in her former role as Secretary of State, overseer of elections (Photo: Paul O'Neill, EV Tribune)

[Source: Jeremy Duda, Arizona Capitol Times] — Gov. Jan Brewer is asking the Legislature to put two items on the ballot for a special election that she believes would help close Arizona’s budget gap and revitalize the state’s economy.  But those proposals come with costs of their own.  The Secretary of State’s Office has drawn up three scenarios for special elections in which voters would decide whether to temporarily raise taxes and overhaul the Voter Protection Act of 1998.  The special election, if approved by the Legislature, could cost the state nearly $12 million… for a number of expenses, including the ballots, promotional literature, Election Day personnel, training, voter outreach, and early-ballot processing.

  • According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the first scenario, a regular November-style election, would be the most costly, with an $11.7 million price tag.  That option would require all polling places in the state to open on Election Day, with 120 days notice and a 33-day early-voting period.
  • The second option, modeled after presidential primaries, would cost about $8.3 million, with fewer polling places than the first scenario and a 15-day period for early voting.  That type of election would also require 120 days notice.
  • The final option, a mail-in ballot election, would have a 33-day early voting period, would require just 90 days notice, and would cost about $10.1 million.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett ordered his office to start examining the costs of a special election in February after media reports stated that Brewer would ask the Legislature to send a temporary tax increase proposal to the voters.  She made that request on March 4 in a speech before a joint session of the Legislature, asking lawmakers to either put the issue to a public vote or simply approve it themselves.  “I’m just trying to be prepared, knowing that that’s something they were at least thinking about,” Bennett said after the initial reports that Brewer would ask for a special election.

The governor also requested that the Legislature put another question to the voters, an overhaul of 1998’s Proposition 105, the Voter Protection Act.  Brewer said many of the funds that are protected by that proposition would be put to better use in bridging the $3 billion budget gap the state is expecting to face in fiscal year 2010.