by Nancy Neff
Scottsdale Community College
Given the current political climate in our country and in Arizona, it was a good time for State Government Day to remind us all of our civic responsibility.
Our day began in the Historical Supreme Court, where the 1966 Miranda vs. Arizona case was tried, giving all criminal suspects in the United States the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney – you can probably recite the Miranda rights verbatim, or come pretty close, if you’ve watched any crime-related television over the last 50 years.
We had the chance to meet several local political heavyweights, including elected officials, state legislative staff, lobbyists and policy advisers. To a person, each of our guest speakers was enthusiastic, open, honest and even entertaining. What struck me the most is how each one conveyed how much they truly love what they do and how loyal they are to the citizens of Arizona. It gave me, and my fellow classmates, hope.
You can’t have State Government Day without at least a short lesson in Civics, so here goes:
- There are three branches of government – Executive, Legislative and Judicial.
- There are 90 members of the State Legislature – 60 in the House and 30 in the Senate.
- Legislative power in Arizona does not reside solely with the Legislature – Our state constitution says the people have independent power.
- There are about 24,000 existing state statutes.
- When new bills are introduced (about 1,700 per year), the Arizona Legislative Council’s role is to review each bill and provide analysis on how the bill fits under the existing constitution and whether there are any potential legal issues.
The citizens of Arizona have ample opportunity and are encouraged to track new bills being introduced to become educated and prepared to share their opinion for or against the bill(s) with their elected representatives. There is one critical action that you must take in order to be able to make your voice heard, and it requires an in-person visit to the State Capitol. There is a bank of computers available for citizens to establish a “Request to Speak” account. Once you’ve created your RTS account in person, all of your other bill-tracking and engagement can be done online from any computer.
Another critical piece of advice conveyed by more than one speaker was for citizens to know who their state and local representatives are, and to get to know them if at all possible. It’s not only important to know who they are, but also which committees they serve on so you can weigh in at critical times in the review process.
Representative Heather Carter (R-15) was very open about how effective it is for legislators to hear from constituents. She said, “Get to know your local representatives and share with them, not only your opinion, but also your areas of expertise, so that you are a resource if they need input on pending legislation.” Carter said she reached out on many occasions to a local Optometry expert when legislation was introduced that would greatly impact that profession.
The advice to get involved and have a voice was reiterated by Political Consultant Stan Barnes, who said “No one is in charge – this is Arizona and we are really open in self-government. Don’t wait for anyone to invite you or tell you it’s your turn. In Arizona, 80 percent of winning a seat in the legislature is being on the ballot.” Barnes should know – he was elected to the State House with little political experience at the age of 27.
Our final stop for the day was at the Arizona Supreme Court and you would have thought our class was a group of school children let loose on a playground. Heads turned in awe as we took in the dignified courtroom, with its wood columns and tasteful décor perfectly framing the seven chairs assigned to our Supreme Court Justices.
Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick was kind enough to take time out of his day to meet Scottsdale Leadership Class 31 and ensure us that we did “save the best for last” on our state government tour. Bolick and his colleagues hear about three dozen cases per year, including all death penalty cases, which they burrow into and look at every single word and exhibit, he said.
Bolick said, “I love the courts here. There is a tremendous degree of integrity, and that is not true across the country. Collegiality is a feature of our court. We don’t share the same judicial policy or politics, but we put our minds together to the best job we can.”
And, really, that’s all we, as citizens, can ask for.