29 September 2009

Padres-Diamondbacks Fandemonium Game 9-26-09

Last weekend marked the end of the Arizona Diamondbacks home season at Chase Field, and I was there on Saturday to celebrate the teams successes and lament their failures (let's not kid ourselves, there were many) with the other fans during "Fandemonium" festivities. But I was also on a mission. I had received a ball from reliever Blaine Boyer at a previous game, and I had failed to get Miguel Montero's signature then. So my goal for the game was to get one big-name D-Backs player to give me their autograph.

First, though, I had business to take care of. I got to the ballpark early as I usually do for batting practice, and I got my fifth bobblehead of the year - Mark Reynolds (#27, 3B). I raced into the stadium right around the end of Diamondbacks batting practice, and I tried to get another ball from a player. Unfortunately, not many were being hit to my section of the field, so no luck. After BP concluded, most of the time, a few players will sign autographs down the left-field line, but that night it was Clay Zavada and Esmerling Vasquez, both of whom had already autographed balls/ticket stubs for my in the past.

Instead, I stuck to my guns and tried for more tossups/homers from the visiting Padres players. I actually had a really close play on TWO balls, a homer and a bouncer over the wall. Sadly, both were just out of reach (unless I wanted to jump on the guys standing next to me), so I came up empty-handed. I was also hoping that reliever Aaron Poreda would throw a ball in my direction. He did end up tossing a bunch of balls into the stands, and it was really fun to watch him go all-out to try to snag some of the long fly balls in left field, but alas, he really didn't throw anything near me.

So, 0-for-1,000,000 during BP, I decided my best option was to take a break and go get my Augie Ojeda bobblehead from the Picnic Pavillion in left. Augie's bobblehead was supposed to be given out on Sept. 26th, but it was moved up to Sept. 10th in place of the Tony Pena bobblehead, since Tony had been traded to the White Sox. Unfortunately, the bobblehead company was unable to ship the figures in time for the game, so vouchers were given out to the 25,000 fans who were supposed to get one, and they were finally available Sept. 26th. Two bobbleheads, one day... very cool!

After collecting my bobblehead, I wandered around the stadium, bought a couple scratch-off tickets from the vendors for the "Shirts Off Our D-Backs" promotion ($5 for three chances to win a game-used shirt from a DBacks player following Sunday's game). I didn't win a shirt, but I did win two free bleacher tickets to a 2010 home game... so it was cool! I kept wandering, a full lap around the concourse, and made it back to my section in time for the National Anthem and opening accoutrements, when I then saw a couple fellow DBacks fan friends of mine, April, Anya, and Julie, who were sitting in my section just a couple rows back. I went to chat with them, and stayed the whole time in that area.

The game itself was a doozy! The snakes scored three runs in the first inning, and Dan Haren kept the Pads at zero until the 5th, when they scored 5 runs. We snagged one back in the 6th, making it 5-4, but honestly, it wasn't looking good. We hit a couple batters, and things looked like they'd fall apart.... until the 8th inning. A walk, a hit batter, and a single loaded the bases for Chad Tracy, who blasted the Diamondbacks' third grand slam of the season into the pool area in right field (the prior two GS hitters were Chris Snyder on May 16th and Justin Upton on June 2nd). There was much celebration.

So finally, the game ended, my season of attending big league baseball games ended, and I still hadn't gotten my autograph. Humbug. But wait! I got a hot tip and an invitation from my friends to go join them at the players' stadium exit/entrance to see if anyone would stop to sign an autograph from their cars, and lo and behold, two did: Justin Upton and...

Mark Reynolds! YES! A star player from my final game of the year, on his bobblehead day! It totally made my night of effort all worthwhile! That brought my autograph collection to 8:

From bottom to top, left to right: [bottom row:] a Cubs minor league player from 1999 I'm still trying to ID, a commemorative ball from a D-Backs-Rockies game earlier this year, Glenn Sherlock (bullpen coach), [middle row:] Mark Grace (1B), Tom "Flash" Gordon (RP), Clay Zavada (RP), [top row:] Stephen Drew (SS, from Foz Sports AZ), Dan Haren (SP, from Fox Sports AZ), and Mark Reynolds (3B)! I also have a good-sized collection of bobbleheads and DBacks figures going:

[Bottom row:] Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Chris Snyder, Mark Reynolds, Augie Ojeda. [Middle row:] Brandon Webb, Conor Jackson, Chris Young. [Top row:] Luis Gonzalez figurine, D. Baxter soap dispenser figurine.

Can't wait for more baseball next year, though I will continue blogging about the postseason and about Arizona Fall League baseball until then!

24 September 2009

Post No. 200 - Where I Stand

I am excited to be writing tonight, as this is my 200th blog post! Frankly, I never thought I would make it so far as to have kept up on a blog for this long, and ever more excited to have a growing readership that includes my friends, former coworkers, political leaders, and other people. Tonight, as I write, I have come far from the person I was as a senior in college.

I am now a substitute teacher, though I remain vigilant in searching for a more permanent job in the political forum. To that end, in between lectures to elementary school students on the Constitution and helping my sister on math problems, I try to attend some events and functions around Arizona and get my name out there a little bit more. For example, today I was fortunate to have coffee (well, iced tea, really) with LD-22 Chairman Chad Heywood. He gave me some sound advice on "breaking back into" politics. (Because, as most of you know, after the debacle of an internship I ended up with in CD-1, I've had my name slightly tainted on paper.) The advice was to be more proactive in starting or running something that will show a level of competency in project organization. What I need to achieve that is an end goal and passion for some issue I believe in. Unfortunately, I haven't found that singular passion yet, unless it is the obtaining of knowledge.

Frankly, I would be just fine working the behind-the-scenes aspects of politics: research, policy analysis, constituent correspondence, or events staffing. I don't really enjoy coordinating speakers, gathering groups, or running the show. Don't get me wrong - I can do it, and I can usually do a pretty good job of it, but I am not passionate - or I suppose a more appropriate word would be "ambitious" - enough to want those types of responsibilities over other, more low-key ones.

I really don't know why it has to be so hard to find work doing those jobs. It really seems to me that in Arizona, if you don't do the grassroots part of politics, you get seriously overlooked. Even more so if you don't want to be a part of the indentured servitude that is implicit in the all-too-popular "internship" job. I'm the type of person who will do grassroots stuff for FUN - walking precincts, registering voters at fairs, and making phone calls (as my former volunteer coordinator friends will attest to) - but when it is made to be a prerequisite of finding work, it somehow loses its enjoyable qualities.

Maybe I'm just in the wrong line of work. I should just go back to school for a Master's in Library Science and settle into a quiet life of the stewardship and care of knowledge. Why haven't I so far? Well, to be honest, I know I have talents that could be of great use in the political world, and I'm not ready to exhaust my search for the right job in that arena yet - even though I'm fast losing optimism of finding a good fit.

But enough about jobs. 200 posts since my first one, the Arizona Diamondbacks have failed to secure a postseason berth in 2009, having one of the worst records in Major League Baseball this year. I don't really understand why, either. Sure, there have been injuries which have destroyed some of our talent, like Brandon Webb and Conor Jackson and Eric Byrnes, and year-long slumps to guys like Chris Young. The bullpen's been streaky, and starting pitching has at times been problematic, but even when everyone was healthy and people looked good, we've lost badly. It's just one of those seasons to completely forget. At least I kept up my goal: I have scored all but a handful of the DBacks' baseball games, and I have my scoresheets in a nice binder now. I will finish up the final few and attain my goal over the course of the postseason play.

200 posts later, I've discovered new hobbies and reclaimed old ones: geocaching, for example, is a new hobby that can be quite enjoyable. Who doesn't like hunting for buried treasure, unless it's 120-degrees outside? Even then, the occasional road trip up north to Flagstaff or to California or Payson has made the sport enjoyable even in the hot weather. An old hobby I've retaken up is that of baseball card collecting. Granted, I can't buy many packs of cards, but I've settled into a one-a-week groove to sate my appetite. And I've gotten some good pulls, too! Today I bought a pack of Allen & Ginter's 2009 cards and pulled a David Wright (Mets) mini-relic card with a swatch of his game-used batting gloves. Really cool design, too! I'll post pics of some of my faves sometime.

I guess that beings me to the future. I ask myself what it is I want to see in the coming hundred posts up to my 300th. Obviously, it will be nice to be able to blog about getting a job, which I hope I will have earned by that time. I hope in the next hundred posts, I will continue to be invited to events which I can then share on this venue and increase my readership. I hope that I will be able to regain my independence from home, and be able to get my first apartment, car, etc. I hope to see world events start to take shape to push our country onto a better path both fiscally and psychologically than we've been at for the last couple years. But most of all, I hope I can just keep writing honestly and candidly, and that people respect me for that, even though I know I go against the flow sometimes (especially politically within my own party).

I hope my readers will be around for the next hundred posts! Feel free to comment more, guys. I love hearing from you all.

20 September 2009

Baseball Updates

It's been a while since I last posted a baseball update, so I figured now is an appropriate time, what with the end of the regular season fast approaching. There are roughly 13 games left for each team, and the standings are proving to be pretty resiliant to change. Here are the leaders and secondary teams in each division:

AL East:
New York Yankees (95-55) - leading division (12 to play)
Boston Red Sox (89-59) - 5 games back (14 to play)
Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles - Eliminated

AL Central:
Tigers (79-70) - leading division (13 to play)
Twins (76-73) - 3 games back (13 to play)
White Sox (73-77) - 6 1/2 games back (12 to play)
Indians and Royals - Eliminated

AL West:
Angels (89-60) - leading division (13 to play)
Rangers (81-67) - 7 1/2 games back (14 to play)
Mariners (78-72) - 11 1/2 games back (12 to play)
Athletics - Eliminated

AL Wild Card:
Red Sox
Rangers - 8 games back

NL East:
Phillies (87-61) - leading division (14 to play)
Marlins (80-70) - 8 games back (12 to play)
Braves (79-70) - 8 1/2 games back (13 to play)
Mets and Nationals - Eliminated

NL Central:
Cardinals (87-62) - leading division (13 to play)
Cubs (75-72) - 11 games back (15 to play)
Brewers, Astros, Reds, and Pirates - Eliminated

NL West:
Dodgers (90-60) - leading division (12 to play)
Rockies (85-65) - 5 games back (12 to play)
Giants (80-69) - 9 1/2 games back (13 to play)
Padres and Diamondbacks - Eliminated

NL Wild Card:
Giants - 4 1/2 games back
Marlins - 5 games back
Braves - 5 1/2 games back

To sum it all up, we're going to see a post-season with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, and Angels in the American League (very little chance this will change), and a Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Rockies National League lineup (also probably not going to change). The way the division matchups work is that the team with the best record plays the Wild Card team unless that team is from the same division, in which case it plays the team with the 3rd best record among the division winners. Then the #2 team plays the WC team. This year's division matchups should look like this:

Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees (3 games)
Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (4 games)
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (4 games)
Colorado Rockies vs. St. Louis Cardinals (3 games)

I'm picking the Yankees over the Tigers, Red Sox over the Angels, Phillies over Dodgers, and Cardinals over Rockies. Therefore, the Championship Series matchups should be:

Red Sox vs. Yankees (6 games)
Phillies vs. Cardinals (7 games)

I'll then pick the Red Sox over the Yankees (a tough and gutsy decision) and the Cardinals to beat the Phillies. The World Series will feature:

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Boston Red Sox (6 games)

And I'm going to pick the Cardinals to best the Red Sox and win it all in 2009. Will I be right? Stay tuned, sports fans!

17 September 2009

Constitution Day 2009

Happy Constitution Day, my friends! Every year on September 17th, we celebrate the founding charter of these United States. Typically, I like to celebrate by watching lots of television or seeing a movie (freedom of speech/press!), but this year, I was invited to do something a little different. I was asked to give a "lecture" (I use the term very loosely) to 5th grade students at Cambridge Academy East in Mesa, Arizona on what the Constitution is and why it is important.

I admit, I had a lot of fun setting this one up. The teachers combined classrooms for the presentation, a total of about 50 kids:
We started off with a basic history of the Constitution, from the Magna Carta in 1215 (1297 amended) to the Articles of Confederation (1776-77):
I decided to do something fun, so I drew representations of each of the three branches of government as I talked about them. First, the Supreme Court for the Judicial Branch:
Then the White House for the Executive Branch:
And finally the Capitol Building for the Legislative Branch:
The kids enjoyed hearing about the different qualifications for the offices, their powers, and some of the fun details I had to share (like, Thanksgiving isn't about food and Pilgrims as much as George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving as a day to give thanks for the Constitution).
I also brought in several different copies of the Constitution that I own, showing them those to try to illustrate a point about how different scholars have been trying to interpret the Founding Fathers' words for centuries, they're still working out how all the laws interact today, and it will be the charge of the next generation to maintain and interpret the Constitution in the years to come.
Here are 8 of my personal copies. The one in the middle is a Heritage Foundation interpretive book from a panel forum I attended at the Young America's Foundation West Coast Leadership Conference. Around the outside are (from top right, clockwise) an 1897 schoolbook history of the United States, a Constitution Day 2006 copy with Bill of Rights bookmark, a copy from the National Archives in DC, a copy from Liberty Day 2008, a copy signed and presented to me by Congressman Rick Renzi in 2006 for my work on his campaign, a "pocket Constitution" from the WCLC, and a gilded parchment copy that I received as a gift one Christmas:
I would like to hope the kids enjoyed the presentation. I tried to make it fun, including a Constitution Day word search and class demonstrations of voting by population (House of Representatives) versus the "one-state-one-vote" concept in the Articles of Confederation which extended to the Senate when the Constitution was written.
Hopefully, I will get the chance to do bigger and better presentations in the future as well. It's nice teaching elementary students, but I think I would connect better with high school government students on a lot of things!

13 September 2009

Quick Stats

Today, I scanned a cursory check of Google Analytics, a program I use to track basic stats about how many people visit my blog, where they come from in the world, and what they're reading. This blog has been around since February 17, 2008, and I've been tracking stats since June 12 of that year. In that time:
  • 2,303 visitors
  • 33 countries represented (USA, Canada, Australia, Philippines, and UK with top visits)
  • In the US, I've had visitors from 46 of the 51 states and the District of Columbia, with Arizona, DC, Michigan, California, and Virginia leading the viewership rates. (I'm still missing North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Hawaii, West Virginia, and Vermont.)
  • In Arizona, which holds 1,484 of the 2,303 visits, I've had hits from 42 different cities, with Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix leading the way.
  • People typically spend 1 minute, 46 seconds per visit reading my posts.
  • On three separate occasions, 30 or more people visited my blog in one day: 12/06/2008 (31 visits, "Merry Christmas"), 05/04/2009 (33 visits, "D-Backs Live Postgame Show", 08/11/2009 (55 visits, "Congressman Jeff Flake's Town Hall").
  • 54% of the people that have viewed my blog returned at least once. 45% are uniquely new visitors.

So, loyal readers, thank you for your support! I hope you enjoy my musings. Please feel free to leave more comments on my work... it helps me get better, and keys me in to more of what I should write about to keep people interested!

11 September 2009

Eight Years Later

Since today does mark the 8th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the attempted attack on the White House or Capitol Building in Washington, DC, I wanted to make sure I acknowledged the day with a little rememberance.

I searched through my blog for the other posts I've made about this day, and I found that I really haven't written about it. Probably partially because I was involved with 9/11 events at college last year, and partially because it's still disconcerting to discuss it.

Like most people, I remember exactly where I was when I saw smoke billowing out of the first hole in the towers early in the morning here in Phoenix. I was at home getting ready for my fifth week of tenth grade at Life School Gold charter school, and my dad flipped on the news in his bedroom and told us all to come see what was going on.

I think I remember recognizing the impact of the situation when a second plane hit the towers, and while Mom was ushering us out to get into the car I said, "We can't go to school right now... this is too important!" Not out of an I-don't-wanna-go-to-school mentality, but rather out of a "Holy crap!" line of thought. Mom actually ended up leaving me at home for my dad to drop me off at school a little closer to start time on his way to work.

Naturally, school was effectively cancelled, with all of us students remaining in homeroom for most of the day. I was in the southeastern-most room, facing west, watching the broadcast on CNN on a television that they had wheeled in on a cart. I remember early on the confusion and chaos that reigned as my classmates and teachers watched the twin towers succumb to the heat of the fires and tumble to the ground, engulfing cameramen and reporters and citizens in ash-like powder.

I remember the first time an anchor had "breaking news" about a third plane reportedly hitting the Pentagon, and thinking that it was surreal that we were being attacked by our own jetliners. I remember the video of the smoldering wreckage of Flight 93, brought down in Shanksville, PA by a determined group of heroic passengers resisting the terrorists in the air.

I can still picture the blank-slated shock on the face of the President - actually, on everyone's faces - as he was told by his Chief of Staff that America was under attack at a school in Florida, and hearing his brief statement before being whisked off to an "undisclosed location."

My feelings on that black day were of numbness, even as a high school student in a small charter school in Mesa, Arizona. I was scared that someone might try to fly a plane into the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. I was in disbelief that something of this magnitude could even be accomplished, and I found myself unable to tear myself away from the television and the incoming redundancy of the news reports.

In the days following, I watched with resolve the President's speech from the rubble of the Trade Center on September 14, 2001, and I must have looked up hundreds of news reports online and on television. The dark gray clouds that could be seen from space over Manhattan Island of the smoke and ash that lingered for weeks it seemed, I see clearly. I remember feeling anger and hatred for Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, and a sense of helplessness from realizing I was too young even to volunteer to go to New York and help in the rescue and recovery efforts.

Eight years later, when I watch the History Channel broadcasts of the news stories and the photographs taken on 9/11/01, my chest still finds a way of tightening up, and my blood boils when at 12:06pm EST they show the first photo of Osama bin Laden on the Today Show's coverage. It's especially hard to see the pictures of folks who decided to jump from the highest stories of the towers rather than be burned alive in the flaming plane wreckage or choke to death on thick, black smoke. It can be even more difficult to see the photos of people with eyes larger than saucers, mouths open, screaming in abject terror at a nameless, faceless perpetrator and the sense of impending death.

To this very day, I know that the events of 9/11 are what inspired my interest in and love of politics. Not really because anything political happened that day, but because in the weeks and months and even years to follow, I strove to understand why the attacks happened, what caused the failures of security and flaws in communications here in America, and followed the writings and speeches of the President, his cabinet members, the legislators who responded with the PATRIOT Act, the Attornies General charged with upholding and interpreting the new security legislation, journalists, and ordinary citizens who were directly or indirectly involved.

I still don't think I can ever know all the details of 9/11, but authors like Bob Woodward with "insider" perspective on the day, the 9/11 Commission charged with rooting out those details, and accounts and stories of the victims in the towers, planes, and Pentagon have helped to sate my curiousity.

I remember 9/11, and I firmly hold that it something we collectively should never allow to be forgotten. God bless America.

LD22 Meeting 9/10/2009

Every now and again, I am invited to attend LD (legislative district) meetings from outside my own area. If I kept a calendar, I'd probably remember to attend them more often, but at least I try to keep up with state goings-on. So anyway, last night I had to fortune and good luck to receive a call from Chad Heywood, the LD-22 GOP leader, who called to mention his meeting and to invite me to attend. There were a good host of speakers, and the agenda sounded like it would be really interesting, so I definitely wanted to make it out there.

I left a bit early from the house to make it down to the utterly fantastic Gilbert Public Library (which I had never been to before, but definitely want to check out again sometime), and I met Chad and two of his other friends, Brandon and Blake - two really good guys around my age and in similar employment situations who were helping to set up drinks, chairs, and other stuff for the meeting.

When we were allowed into the room, I was able to say hello to State Representative Andy Biggs of LD22 whom I had met at another previous LD meeting and who is the Chairman of the Transportation Committee in the House. I'd heard him discuss, among other things, photo radar and the state budget battles, and he was slated to give an update from the Legislature later on in the meeting.

I also said hello to newly elected Gilbert Mayor John Lewis, who defeated a rival incumbent in the last election back in May. I was unable to really be of any help in that election, but I think Mayor Lewis' platform of attracting new medium-to-large-sized businesses to Gilbert to ramp up their economic development. As I understand it (not well, since I don't live in Gilbert myself), their plans are going well.

Also there were Jenn Daniels of the Gilbert Town Council, also elected to her first term back in May and someone I'd met a few months back at an LD-22 meeting, and Mesa District 6 Councilmember Scott Somers. Scott was kind enough to talk to me at length after the meeting about Mesa's Fiscal Year 2010 balanced budget (what a feat for the Mesa City Council in a recession!) and about the differences in communications strategies between federal/state and local entities.

A few minutes past 7:00pm, they started the meeting with an invocation, the Pledge of Allegiance, and introductions of the different lawmakers, precinct captains, and visitors (like me) who were in attendance. Adam Armer, the 1st Vice Chairman of LD22 made a few announcements, and a gentleman whose name I did not catch got up to discuss Gilbert's Constitution Week.

For those not aware previously, Constitution Day is on September 17th each year, and commemorates the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America on 9/17/1787. Annually now, Gilbert hosts a bevy of Constitution Week activities, including a Patriotic presentation called "The Price of Freedom" this year on Friday 9/18 at Mesquite High School's auditorium, featuring stories from WWII veterans and a prelude from Senator John McCain. On 9/19 (Saturday) there is a fair also held at Mesquite HS for $2.00 per person with booths, games, music, a fireworks show, and historical characters like Ben Franklin. I attended a version of this for the 4th of July about 3 years ago, and it was definitely well-worth attending. Check out http://www.constitutionweekusa.com/ for more information on the event.

Once announcements were out of the way, the special guest speaker for the evening got up to give a presentation on the budget: Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. While currently not among his official duties as SOS, his former position as a lawmaker and President of the State Senate back in 2006, and his involvement with the records-keeping of the current Legislature makes him uniquely suited to speak on the issue and break it down.

His discussion focused on how the Arizona state budget is made, where money is spent, and how we came to be in this really big deficit in 2009 from the modest surplus of 2006. Without redoing his speech (which can be found at the Secretary of State's website HERE), the following explains how the state budget is structured:

1. General Fund: the portion of the state budget that the legislature gets to divvy up among programs for each fiscal year. This primary mode of spending accounts for about $10.5 billion per year (in 2009).

  • 1/2 of the GF comes from sales taxes, 1/2 from income taxes
  • Property taxes got directly to local government entities, not the legislature's GF
  • $5 billion per year goes to K-12 education, $1 billion each to higher ed and prisons/court systems, $2.5 billion to Health and Welfare (AHCCCS, CPS, ADES, etc), and $500 million to everything else.
2. Other Funds: funds appropriated by the legislature that comes from other fees or taxes (like on alcohol or tobacco). About $1 billion of this goes to transportation, $1 billion to health/welfare, and $500 million to higher education, and $3 billion to education.

3. Federal and Non-Appropriated Monies: money given to Arizona from the federal government directly to agencies, bypassing the legislature.

  • $6.5 billion goes to health and welfare
  • $2 billion goes to each K-12 and higher education
  • $1 billion goes to capital projects
  • $500 million goes to each state lottery & workers compensation, environmental agencies, Dept. of Administration, and others.
This means the state budget is made up of about $32 billion. $11 billion goes to K-12 education, $5 billion to higher education, $10 billion to Health and Welfare, and $5-6 billion to all other projects. The real shocking part of the discussion come from trying to interpret how Arizona fell into such a big hole. Here's the gist:
  1. In 2007, lawmakers projected $9.8 billion of raised revenue and $9.6 billion of state expenses through the General Fund. They ACTUALLY collected $9.6 billion revenue with that amount of expenses. There was also about $1 billion in state reserves from the Rainy Day Fund and cash on hand.
  2. In 2008, projected revenue was $10.1 billion, with $10.6 billion in expenses, but the state really only collected $8.8 billion and spent $10.5 billion (a nearly $2 billion deficit). This was due to the recession. To compensate, the state took $500 million of the Rainy Day Fund for the difference, conducted "sweeps" of excess money from other state budget areas amounting to $300 million, made $100 million in cuts, and "rolled over" about $300 million on K-12 education payments to the next fiscal year. This made it LOOK like the state was only in a $200 million deficit, when in reality it was behind about $1.2 billion. Confused yet?
  3. Okay, so the state was down quite a bit. Someone in 2009 decided the recession was over, and proposed revenue collection projections of $9.1 billion with $11.1 billion in spending. In reality the state collected a mere $7.3 billion and spent $10 billion. Again, the state took money from the Rainy Day Fund, borrowed over $500 million on credit, did another $300 million K-12 rollover, and made $400 million in cuts. What was the final score? A nearly $3 billion deficit problem for the state for Fiscal Year 2010. Confusing, yes, but true? Unfortunately, yes.
After a good long explanation involving charts and Kleenex boxes (simulating the billions of dollars being spent), SOS Bennett proposed a potential solution: living on 96% of our current spending. WHAT?! Yes. You see, there is a provision that for Arizona to receive federal money, our level of spending can't dip below that of 2006. In 2006, we spent $8.3 billion. That's roughly 96% of our current spending level as of right now. Then, we get revenue back up via one of two ways: either a temporary tax increase to raise $1 billion proposed by Governor Brewer, which only solves 1/3 of the deficit problem; or by finding ways to attract more businesses and companies into the state through spending cuts, tax incentives, and other means. I'm no tax lawyer, so I'm not always sure what the details are involved with something like that, but it's got to be better than raising taxes to get a few quick bucks which aren't going to completely solve the problem.

After the presentation, SOS Bennett took a few questions, and I wrote down some of the better ones. First, what's the deal with selling off the State Capitol buildings? The legislature's quick-fix, one-time-only plan to raise revenue is to sell off the House and Senate buildings, and then lease them back over a period of several years. On one hand, it does provide roughly $700 million right now, but on the other, it puts the state into what Rep. Biggs called a "$70 million debt service to raise one-time money for 2010." I haven't liked the idea from the get-go.

Another question: what can we do as individuals? Well, for one thing, being careful at the ballot box is a start. Many of the initiatives passed that require money to be spent somewhere end up being deemed "voter protected" and spending cuts usually pass those types of laws by when it comes time to audit finances. SOS Bennett mentioned that roughly 1/3 of the budget now has these "voter protections" on it, and it ends up being both numerically and politically dicey when it comes time to try to effect cuts in the budget.

A final question: Where does the money for K-12 schools go? Educators or administrators? SOS Bennett didn't really give numbers for this one, except to say that he found it odd that K-12 education gets roughly $10,000 per student per year, and that at a class size on average of 25 students, that's about $250,000 per class per year. The average teacher salary in Arizona is only $44,000 per year, so that leaves $206,000 being spend somewhere else for each classroom. And being a substitute teacher myself, and having my mom be a fifth grade teacher, I can say with conviction that I'll be damned if $206,000 is going into her classroom or those of the classes I've taught.

Okay, since this post is now the length of some airport tarmacs, I'll quickly summarize the remainder of the meeting: Mayor Lewis gave a City of Gilbert update, reiterating Constitution Week and reminding people about the Citizens' Budget Committee; Mesa Councilman Somers talked about airport fees info and about the balanced Mesa city budget; and Rep. Biggs discussed briefly the negotiations process with Governor Brewer on the state budget and some of the frustrations going on there right now.

All told, it was a very interesting meeting. I'd never heard in such detail how the state budget is put together, let alone how the deficit came to be in such a bad shape. Of course, it was good seeing my Gilbert friends again, and seeing Ken Bennett again - the last time was at a dinner up in Flagstaff while I was a member of the College Republicans. He's a good guy.

I'll try in the future to be more proactive about getting information on the LD meetings up earlier so others who are interested in the topics for discussion can also attend.

08 September 2009

Obama's Speech to Schoolchildren Part 2

I'm betting most of you people out there who made a huge flap out of this speech, saying it was going to push socialist values on our little children, bring about a new age of liberally-minded ideologues who would follow the president's every word like flies to honey, and generally ferment the Apocalypse are feeling slightly stupid right about now. And you should be. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm no liberal. I believe in the good that limited government can bring, and I know for myself that the Republican Party generally has a better hold these days than the Democratic Party on the right track for the country overall. But in this case, I sincerely, truly, and wholeheartedly hope that the Republican Party's purposeful willing of parents and kids and school districts NOT to watch the President of the United States speak on the topic of kids' personal responsibility did no harm to what ended up being a beautiful message. Some of the passages that resounded with me (from MSNBC.com's text of the President's prepared remarks):

At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying. Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter. Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other. So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
I especially liked the final passage there, about the story of America. It was people taking personal responsibility and doing their very best job to give what Abraham Lincoln called the "last full measure of devotion" to their country, state, community, and home to make something better. And throughout this country's 233-year existance, we have done great things: wiped out smallpox, sent a spacecraft (Voyager) competely out of our solar system into deep space, stopped dictators like Hitler and Stalin from destroying the world, became a role model for how millions if not billions of others around the world wish they could live, and shown our courage and resolve in the face of terror. I have threefold hopes for this speech's impact. First, for students, I hope that those of you who were allowed to listen to this speech listened well and will take at least some of it to heart about doing your best, striving to overcome adversity, and recognizing that failure is the key to learning, not giving up. I know there are times I could use that recognition in my own life today. For those who did not get to hear the President speak, seek out the text of this speech, either at the link I provided above or elsewhere on that other American invention: the internet. Secondly, for the parents of schoolkids: sit down with your kids and talk about what the consequences are of taking to heart this speech's message. Discuss personal responsibility, the importance of school and graduating, and of learning not just to survive in this beast of a world right now, but also for just the simple sake of learning and satisfying one's curiousity. And finally, for the President and his advisors: as much as I liked this speech and thought it was well-founded, now is the time to back it up. You talked about getting in gear to provide books, better classrooms, more supplies, higher teacher pay, and a better learning environment. From where I sit as a substitute teacher in Arizona, those things are more important than getting a universal healthcare plan published this year. Drop the junk in your agenda and focus on training tomorrow's leaders. The other pieces that will restrengthen this country and finally be able to help more and more people with other aspects of their lives will fall into place when the nation as a whole is educated and ready to accept hearty and intelligent debate on the issues. Doing anything else, like trying to shove through proposals on any topic without educating the citizens first is going against everything you just said about civic duty and personal responsibility. I hope that this hearkens in a new era of passion for learning, and a reawakening of individual values in an apathetic world, even though I know that one speech is hardly a Renaissance. I just hope something good comes of all this.

03 September 2009

Obama's Speech to Schoolchildren

I know the few Republicans who read this blog are going to call me crazy, but here goes: This coming Tuesday, President Barack Obama has a speech planned to a very special audience: schoolchildren. All across the country, kids in classrooms are going to be tuned into the speech by the leader of the free world, which, according to a letter from the US Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is on the topic of "[challenging] students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning" and "about persisting and succeeding in school." Along with this letter are two .pdf files which give teachers suggested corresponding learning materials to use in their classrooms to stimulate discussion on the speech and the topics. Basically, it's an outline of questions teachers could ask, like "What is the President asking you to do?" and "If you were the President, what would you tell students?" for younger students in grades K-6, and questions like "We heard President Obama mention the importance of personal responsibility. In your life, who exemplifies this kind of responsibility? How? Give examples." and "Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation? What was the impact?" Apparently, leaders in Congress, state education systems, and some parents have a problem with this. They view it as an attempt to indoctrinate their kids in the classroom to Barack Obama's liberal ideology. Here in Arizona, Republican State Superintendent Tom Horne called the accompanying lesson plans "call for a worshipful rather than critical approach" to viewing the President's address. Former gubernatorial candidate-turned political pundit and PAC leader Len Munsil was recently citing Arizona state law ARS 15-102 to allow parents to "opt out" of anything they feel is "harmful" to their children during school hours. Here's Len's Facebook status message from about 8pm Thursday night:
"Lots of folks concerned about President Obama's speech to students Tuesday. When Bush 41 did this, Dems complained about the waste of tax money for a "political ad." But one of the reasons for concern today is the 'cult of personality' surrounding this president, unlike anything we've seen since JFK. Some schools are saying attendance is mandatory, but parents in AZ are in charge. Under ARS 15-102, you can opt your kids out of anything you consider 'harmful.'"
I feel that this type of behavior is not only rediculous, but it's just another disappointment coming from the GOP in an era of already-bad messaging from the right. Do some of them have a point? Yes. From Texas Governor Rick Perry: "Nobody seems to know what he's going to be talking about.... Why didn't he spend more time talking to the local districts and superintendents, at least give them a heads-up about it?" That might have dispelled the notion of a socialist takeover of the classrooms, sure. From Plano, TX (Associated Press news article):
PTA council president Cara Mendelsohn said Obama is 'cutting out the parent' by speaking to kids during school hours. "Why can't a parent be watching this with their kid in the evening?" Mendelsohn said. "Because that's what makes a powerful statement, when a parent is sitting there saying, 'This is what I dream for you. This is what I want you to achieve."
From a messaging standpoint, it makes sense to talk to students about their education DURING school hours, not after school when they're playing video games, doing homework, watching tv, or eating dinner. But any Republican - actually, any PERSON - actively calling for parents to pull their kids out of school because of this speech, or calling teachers, principles, or school officials demanding that they not show the address is doing their children an extreme civil disservice. I think, as an average citizen with an above-average knowledge of the political system, that it is important to hear from the President of the United States. I respect that office enough to know that what he has to say, even to a national audience of schoolchildren, is important to consider. And I think it's important for kids to be given the opportunity to learn about and make their own choices about politics and civic duties. It is part of the job of the parents of those kids to help them understand what the President is saying and interpret it according to that family's principles. Parents can watch this address at the time of its broadcast on their phones, televisions, or internet (it's being broadcast on C-SPAN, CSPAN.com, and some local channels), or even go into the classrooms with their kids to watch it live. They can become active in the discussion, letting their kids talk with them about the President's words and discussing what parts of the speech conform to their family values, and which may not and why. And if they want a "fair and balanced" approach, there are plenty of Republican materials and speeches on education that they can discuss and teach their children. It's sad that Republican leaders are telling parents to pull their kids from classrooms in order to advance dislike of the person holding the highest office in the land. Exactly what kind of message does THAT send to our kids?