As I write this column, our legislature just adjourned. In the closing hours of the session, Republicans experienced a rare moment of sanity and reversed some of their worst, most ideologically driven decisions.
It wasn't because they had a change of heart. Against their wills, they gave in to the reality that we were on the brink of financial ruin. There's nothing like the possibility of losing $7.8 billion in federal health care funding to focus the mind. And when they realized national and international boycotts would cost us billions more in tourist and business revenue, that sealed the deal.
Their 11th hour decisions mean, among other things, health care is back and legal racial profiling is gone (or may be gone). If the outside world can be convinced Arizona hasn't completely lost its mind, maybe people will consider Arizona as a travel and business destination once again.
During the last days of the legislative session:
• A new bill was passed in response to the national uproar over our draconian immigration law. Whether it actually ends the threat of racial profiling or just makes cosmetic changes to the language remains to be seen.
• Funds were restored to health care programs for children and adults at or near the poverty level.
• The corporate bailout bill to give tax breaks to businesses, which would have inevitably raised taxes for the rest of us to make up for the shortfall, was scuttled at the last minute.
• The "We're all Birthers in Arizona" bill was set aside.
Now, if the voters show the good sense to pass Prop 100, our schools won't sustain any more financial hits then they've already taken.
Over the past few weeks, we came very close to earning the title of the most reactionary, right-wing state in the nation. Now we're only high on the list of contenders.
The question is, how did all this happen?
There are two main reasons our legislature lurched so far to the right. First, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party chased all its sane moderates out of office. Second, Gov. Napolitano left town and Jan Brewer took her place.
The wild-eyed right wing of the Republican Party has always been with us here in Arizona, and always will be. But there was a time not long ago when a handful of moderate Republican legislators were able to rein in the party's worst excesses. In the past few election cycles, though, moderates like our own legislative district's Pete Hershberger and Toni Hellon were branded RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and driven out of office. In their place, we got Sen. Al Melvin, a clone of the worst Maricopa County wingnuts, and Rep. Vic Williams, who, though very conservative, looks positively moderate next to the rest of the bunch.
The moderates fought against the worst excesses of their right wing leadership. They even joined with Democrats to craft a reasonable budget when the right wingers wanted to cut state services to the bone.
But even with the moderates there, Republicans passed wild-eyed bills like the ones we've seen this session.
That's where Gov. Napolitano and her veto pen came in. She was like the stern but caring mother telling her rambunctious children, "I'm not going to let you do anything to hurt the state." Napolitano vetoed something like 50 bills every legislative session.
"Aw, gee, mom," the Republicans complained, "why are you always spoiling our fun?"
This session, "cool mom" Jan Brewer took over. "Sure, kids," she smiled. "Go ahead, do whatever you want. I trust you to be careful."
And when it turned into Republicans Gone Wild, Jan Brewer usually let them have their way – often because she was in complete agreement. She has only vetoed five insignificant bills to this point.
This legislative session has come to a close. They can do no more harm. But if we put the same bunch of extremists in charge again, we should expect the same results, and worse.
Next time, don't count on a last-minute conversion.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.