Legislators must own their votes - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Legislators must own their votes

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Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 12:00 am

It looks like our new state representative, Vic Williams, hasn’t quite got the hang of what it means to be a legislator.

Let me give him a few bits of unrequested advice.

First, when you vote for a piece of legislation, you own that vote, and you should be able to offer a reasonable explanation of your decision, even to people who disagree with you. That goes double on important votes like cutting the budget.

Second, when a group of constituents travel to Phoenix to visit you, you should be open and respectful, especially if they disagree with you. On Wednesday, Feb. 11, a group of 50 concerned citizens, a mixture of parents of school aged children, retirees and educators, went to Phoenix to hold a rally showing their opposition to the education budget cuts and to meet with their elected representatives. The trip was organized by CARE (Concerned Arizona Residents for Education), an organization recently founded by people living in LD-26.

(Full disclosure: I didn’t attend the event. My comments are based on a number of interviews with participants.)

Rep. Nancy Young Wright is the only LD-26 legislator to vote against the budget cuts, so it’s no surprise; the time the group spent with her was pleasant and positive. Also not surprising, there was more tension in the separate meetings with Sen. Melvin and Rep. Williams, who voted for the cuts.

Melvin made an introductory statement to the group, but when it came time to discuss the budget cutting, he deferred to the Senate Republican’s policy advisor, so Melvin was spared having to explain his vote.

Williams met the group on his own, but according to the people there, he was woefully unprepared and very uncomfortable when he was asked specific questions.

Williams repeatedly explained his votes for budget cuts by saying he wanted to remain relevant to the Republican caucus. That’s also the reason he gave for sponsoring legislation to kill the equalization property tax that was suspended a few years ago when times were flush and is scheduled to be reinstated in 2010, and for supporting the growth of corporate tax credits for private schools.

He wants to remain relevant to the Republican caucus? What exactly does that mean? Is he saying his heart wasn’t in the budget-cutting votes? Is he saying his primary allegiance is to the Maricopa-based Republican Party and not to his constituents back home? No one I talked with was sure.

Maybe this was Williams’ attempt to duck responsibility for his vote by giving a vague answer and hoping the audience would take it as a sign he was really on their side. I saw him pull that trick on the campaign trail, trying to be all things to all people. I suspect he’s a fan of early Bob Dylan. His answers always seem to be blowin’ in the wind.

After awhile, Williams grew frustrated with the detailed questions the group insisted on asking. He told them he didn’t know the discussion would be in such depth on the issues, because he thought this was just a meeting with some parents.

As the meeting was ending, Williams asked the group with a dismissive smile how many of them were involved in education, as if that would explain why these people were so well-informed and persistent. By implying mere parents and retirees wouldn’t be able to ask such piercing questions on their own, he demonstrated his ignorance of the passion that has led people to spend thousands of hours organizing their efforts and researching the issues. And by questioning educators’ motives, he showed he has no idea how dedicated they are to their students and their profession.

Williams needs to do his homework about the votes he casts, not criticize others who have done theirs. And he needs to understand, when he votes for a piece of legislation, he owns that vote.

David Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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