For nearly 40 years, since the time of Ronald Reagan, it has been Republican orthodoxy that “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” It was the rallying cry against overreaching government programs, the guiding principle for Republican tax policy, and the underlying paradigm through which Arizona legislated over the last 40 years.
Today, within the Republican Party, we have federal and state “Freedom Caucuses” whose whole existence is predicated upon this one statement.
It is time to retire this orthodoxy.
It has run its course and it has led the GOP into a dead-end alley of the “Culture of No” and empowered self-serving politicians who broadly demonize their opponents without holding themselves to the same standard.
This election cycle will serve as a reckoning and, hopefully, a time to re-examine their beliefs. (I left the Republican Party in 2017 and am not a member of any party now).
At HighGround, we have been blessed to be a part of efforts to make government better – to make government work. Under former Governor Fife Symington, we were fortunate to be a part of the creation of the charter school movement in the 1990’s, which created parental choice in education. We were also part of juvenile criminal justice reform requiring that 15 through 17-year olds who committed murder, armed robbery or rape, be presumptively tried as adults rather than juveniles. Finally, under Governor Symington’s leadership, we sought and received federal funding for Arizona to treat and care for our state’s disproportionate vulnerable health care populations (DSH).
In the early 2000’s, we worked with the Associated General Contractors to create a multi-modal regional transportation plan. We passed two pieces of legislation and managed Proposition 400, the ½ cent sales tax extension in Maricopa County, which created and funded our existing Regional Transportation Plan and public transportation system – a $10 billion dollar plus investment that helped lay the foundations for our region’s rapid population and economic growth. Additionally, we helped create the Maricopa County Health Care District by passing legislation and running the subsequent campaign to fund our state’s only public hospital – today called Valleywise Health.
In the later part of the 2000’s, we helped Governor Brewer’s administration pass Proposition 100, the temporary one cent sales tax to fund essential portions of state government when the economy had collapsed. Later in her administration, we were part of restoring Medicaid coverage to our state’s most vulnerable population including childless adults and thousands of veterans in need of care. Also, in 2014 we helped pass a bond package for Valleywise, allowing them to implement their innovative “Care Reimagined” initiative to create modern facilities and extend their ability to provide health care to Maricopa County’s at-risk communities.
At HighGround, we have been able to do these and many, many other things because we have had a focus on making government work and work better. The weight of government is a responsibility to improving the lives of the citizens it represents.
However, over the past twenty years, I have noticed the growth of that part of the Republican party that just distains government, unless its public safety, at nearly every level.
The Congressional and Legislative “Freedom Caucuses” are simply focused on tearing government down and justifying its destruction with some fictitious notion of individual liberty. We’ve seen this most recently in Arizona with the GOP Party Chair Dr. Kelly Ward’s opposition to restoring Medicaid coverage, claiming that any doctor who used the state’s Medicaid program (AHCCCS) was committing malpractice. We have also seen it in the Republican Party’s opposition to extending transit services in Phoenix and its surrounding cities (Goldwater Institute’s support of defunding the light rail was soundly defeated by Phoenix voters). We’ve seen it in the Republican opposition to increasing use fees in order to fund road maintenance (Forty-eight other States have raised their fuel taxes since Arizona did in 1991, and we still don’t tax alternative fuel vehicles to fund road maintenance). Potholes anyone?
Now, after years of tearing down our own government, we find ourselves in the midst of a public health care pandemic where the administration had one Director running both the Health Department (ADHS) and the Department of Economic Security (DES). These are the two Departments most responsible for addressing the public health care crisis in COVID-19 and the necessary unemployment benefits to stave off a collapsing economy. Not only did we fail to properly prepare for a healthcare crisis we knew was coming, but we have awarded the lowest unemployment benefits of the entire country.
My intent here is not just to focus on Governor’s office, but rather to bring to light the serial neglect by the GOP for the very government institutions that exist to protect Americans from these crises.
This is not working, people. So, let’s review a little bit of Arizona history to understand why State 48 even exists and wrap this diatribe of frustration up. Arizona exists today because we have worked together and had a cooperative relationship with our Federal Government:
- President Teddy Roosevelt (the guy who protected the Grand Canyon) made a deal with some farmers to build a dam, the first Bureau of Reclamation project in the United States – now named after him. Those series of dams provide water to half of Maricopa County. Without water, we are not here.
- The US Government, yes, the hated “swamp,” built numerous military bases in Arizona during World War II, leading to a whole bunch of folks moving here (and when they did, they had water thanks to the same “swamp” creatures that built the Hoover Dam).
- A bunch of Democrats and Republicans got together during the late sixties and worked on plans to get water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson – today’s Central Arizona Project. Yes, another product of the “swamp,” which today provides nearly half of the water for the other half of Maricopa County not served by SRP.
- A small group of men and women who ran Arizona Public Service decided to build the country’s largest nuclear power plant in western Maricopa County, when fewer than half a million people lived in the region. That one project cost more than the company’s entire balance sheet at the time. Today, partly because of affordable power and water, there are now more than 5 million people living in the valley.
- Democratic Governor Babbitt, and a Republican controlled legislature created the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), to provide health care for our poorest citizens. While we were the last state in the country to accept Medicaid, our system is among the best. Today, the Valley has one of the most robust and innovative health care systems in the country because people from both parties decided to take care of the least first.
- Valley business leaders, with the support of Republicans and Democrats, put a tax increase (today, a violation of the Republican holy commandments) in front of Maricopa County voters in 1986 to begin building our valley’s freeway system. At the time, the freeway system did not even connect us to the rest of the country. The I-10 tunnel had not even been built.
The simple recount above shows that when we work together, great things happen. Our toxic political culture today (identity politics included), pitting Republicans against Democrats and demonizing each party, only serves to benefit those within the party. The narcissistic candidates who occupy some of these offices of public trust show over and over again that they are not there for us, but for themselves.
Public service done right is supposed to cost you something, not make you more popular within your own party. Leadership requires sacrifice. Telling your friends when they are wrong takes courage and grace. True righteousness is when leaders put their community’s needs above their own selfish interests.
I came to Arizona in 1985 because I was attracted to John McCain’s definition of the Republican Party, a party that promoted opportunity for all and was welcoming to everyone willing to try. I was talking to a Congressional candidate yesterday who told me, “Truth is rewarded in today’s politics.” I laughed out loud.
Telling voters the truth these days is hard, but without the truth, our government will continue to fail. It starts by supporting candidates who care more about us than they do their own party. It starts by supporting candidates who defy partisanship and work beyond the nihilism of only seeing government as the problem.
Our next post will address a Teddy Roosevelt’s to do list!