Caucus putting together plan to push agenda
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 14, 2006
It will be a watershed session for them, a high-stakes showdown that could
change the state.
The Arizona Legislature's 18-member Latino Caucus is set to grapple with a
number of issues that could affect their constituents and the state's 1.6
But even their forecasts for success this session are decidedly gloomy.
Outnumbered by Republican majorities in both chambers and even "betrayed" by
Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano's plan on border security, some in the caucus
see little chance of moving forward on the issues they deem critical.
A spending plan for a program for English learners, workplace sanctions for
employers who hire undocumented workers, tightened restrictions on the
payday-lending industry and other high-profile topics are doomed, too.
"It's pretty much zero to zilch for every Democrat regardless of whether he's in
the Latino Caucus," said Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix. "I don't have much
prospects (for this session)."
To "assess their situation," some Latino Caucus members, community leaders and
activists will meet at 10 a.m. today in downtown Phoenix
In the past, Latino lawmakers have been inclined to champion so-called Latino
causes, such as driver's licenses for undocumented workers, better access to
higher education and child-care subsidies for poor families. In a state where at
least 25 percent of the residents are Latino, issues such as all-day
kindergarten, affordable higher education and workplace sanctions would have a
tremendous positive impact on Hispanics, they said.
But despite huge population gains, only 17 Latinos have been elected to serve in
the 90-member Legislature. One other member of the caucus is not Hispanic. With
no Republicans, the mostly urban caucus cannot lead the debate on issues the
members feel they should be shaping and must rest much of their hopes on the
governor, who is in line with some of what they want to achieve.
"It's almost hard to separate the caucus from the governor," Arizona State
University pollster Bruce Merrill said. "The fact that they would say that they
are in despair would maybe be a ploy to try to get support or beef up these two
very important issues (of education and illegal immigration)."
This year, Hispanic lawmakers' most immediate and pressing goal at the Capitol
would be to develop a plan to comply with a federal court order to spend more on
English-language learners. The state is under court order to assist thousands of
students or face fines of $500,000 a day, the result of Flores vs. Arizona a
lawsuit filed in 1992 on behalf of a Nogales family.
Republicans and Democrats have been deadlocked over how to address the judge's
orders. Republican House and Senate leaders plan on fast-tracking a version of
their grant program vetoed by the governor because she felt it did not guarantee
future funding. Democrats are pushing a bill that would allocate $180 million
for the program.
Still, like many of the issues the Latino Caucus has taken up, it will come down
to the governor's negotiations with Republicans.
"We all argue that children and adults must master the English language in order
to succeed," said Rep. Pete Rios, D-Hayden.
The caucus also will be play defense this legislative session on proposals
related to illegal immigration, which is another key topic they won't be able to
shape debate on. However, some have concluded they must revise their messages.
In line with the governor, they will address what they call illegal
immigration's "root cause": employers. They hope employer sanctions will
pressure the GOP business community to comprehensively tackle illegal
That's a significant turnaround from last year's message of the "symptoms,"
with Hispanic lawmakers talking often about the immigrant, state-funded
programs, social services and Proposition 200, which blocked state benefits for
"Hispanic legislators have been painted as a group that wants open borders,"
said Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. "That's not what we want. The cause of
illegal immigration is the employers hiring them. If the employers stop hiring
undocumented workers, they'll stop coming."
The Latino Caucus has an uphill battle, said Senate Minority Leader Linda
Aguirre, D-Phoenix, but she said they are determined to debate and influence.
"It's not a complete wash," she said. "We play a vital role. We're raising
(the) conscious level (of issues important to Hispanics)."