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 year.

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 bread.

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 Greek.

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 or (602) 444-8635.