Threat of jail time may get attention of Arizona leaders
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 5, 2005
In Tucson circles, Raner C. Collins is known as a federal judge and an
all-around fair-minded guy. To that, this week, I would add another title:
Collins has hit upon an idea brilliant in its simplicity, a concept so bold, so
brazen that it may be just the thing to knock some sense into our leaders on the
eve of what promises to be yet another bruising (read: unproductive) political
Collins is the judge presiding over Arizona's long-running battle over teaching
kids English. For five years, the state has been under court order to do a
better job of it. For five years, our leaders haven't done it.
Well, Collins may be just the man to make them.
On Monday, he was asked to withhold $500 million in highway funds until the
Legislature ponies up enough money to help 160,000 kids learn English.
There is something inherently obnoxious about depriving us of our own money,
especially when it's the feds doing the depriving. The feds, who created the
problem to begin with by not enforcing immigration laws. It doesn't seem fair to
penalize us when our only crime was electing these people and expecting them to
do their jobs.
Collins, however, has another idea.
"So who would you lock up?" he asked at Monday's hearing.
Not surprisingly, our leaders' lawyers said, "No one." But the attorney
representing the kids had a few suggestions: Gov. Janet Napolitano, House
Speaker Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett.
It's an inspired idea.
Politics has become a blood sport. No longer is it about solving problems and
boosting the state. These days, it's about sticking it to the enemy and boosting
your party's chances at the next election.
It was not always like this. There was a time in the 1970s and 1980s when
Arizona had a Democratic governor and a Republican Legislature that actually
worked together with minimal loss of body parts or organ damage. Gov. Bruce
Babbitt and a legislative coalition led by Republican Burton Barr and Democrat
Alfredo Gutierrez overhauled the way schools were funded, protected groundwater
and set up a new health care system for the poor.
In those days, they believed there was such a thing as common ground. It's rare
anymore to see a meeting of the minds at the Capitol. It's more like a meeting
of the Hatfields and McCoys. GOP legislators ignore Democrats.
Meanwhile, the governor stockpiles cases of ink for her veto pen.
And so you get 160,000 Arizona students who can't speak English.
Now along comes Collins, who has hit upon a way to end the stalemate: stale
Like I said, an inspired idea. How much petty political posturing would melt at
the prospect of Sheriff Joe's pink undies? A few days on green bologna and I'm
betting our leaders will have those kids speaking not only English but Latin and
And while they're cooling their heels in the hoosegow, maybe they could also
find a way to make sure developers don't suck the land dry in their zeal to
carve up Pinal County. And figure out a way to actually patrol our freeways.
Maybe they can head off Arizona Public Service Co.'s outrageous request to raise
rates 20 percent. Reinstating the rate cap that expired last year might be a
start. Heck, maybe they can even get together and do something about illegal
immigration without grousing about who came up with the idea first or how it'll
position your party in next year's election.
Maybe, for once, our leaders can look beyond politics and become pragmatists.
If it takes a stint in jail to do it, hey, judge, you're speaking my language.
Reach Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-8635.