Flagstaff Hospital Move?

The shortage of buildable land in and around Flagstaff has caught up to the needs of the community, bringing a tough decision before Flagstaff City Council. I’m no expert on the details but I do know a tough call when I see one, and I’ve been through several similar choices with clients over the years. Here’s what I wrote to Flagstaff Mayor and Council:

To: Mayor and Council

From: Ann Heitland

Re: Northern Arizona Healthcare Development Plan

Date: May 12, 2023

I have lived in the Greater Flagstaff area for 28 years and my family has had numerous experiences with medical treatment at Flagstaff Medical Center. For the most part, all of these have been positive. In addition, my wife delivered babies at FMC from 1995-2002. She then was Chief Midwife at Tuba City Regional Healthcare for 5 years, from where patients were transported to FMC as needed. We are excited by Northern Arizona Healthcare’s proposal to build a new, state-of-the-art facility to serve the northern region of our state during the next decades.

I attended the May 2 Public Hearing and subsequently read the following documents:

  1. Staff Information Memo (Tiffany Antol, Zoning Code Manager) re: Resolution No. 2023-20 and Ordinance 2023-12
  2. Staff Information Memo (Tiffany Antol, Zoning Code Manager) re: Ordinance 2023-11
  3. NAH’s Combined Application for Concept Zoning Map Amendment and Specific Plan
  4. The proposed Ordinance and Resolution
  5. The Police Impact Analysis
  6. Wildfire Fire Risk Assessment and Mitigation
  7. Fire Impact Assessment
  8. Three Standards of Cover Analysis
  9. FUSD Letter
  10. Economic Impact Analysis
  11. Draft Development Agreement (as attached to Staff’s May 2 Memo to Council)
  12. Relevant portions of the Flagstaff Regional Plan
  13. The Flagstaff Carbon Neutrality Plan
  14. The Project Narrative for the Canyon del Rio Zoning Map Amendment
  15. The Timber Sky Concept Zoning Plan Project Narrative
  16. Some of the written public comments submitted regarding the NAH Application

We appreciate all the work that City Staff has put into the NAH development project over many months. The work has certainly advanced us toward the goal of a new, wonderful health center. What strikes me, nonetheless, is that this project is vastly more significant than anything presented to the city in decades, if ever, and – while it has been handled well so far – our community deserves more attention to some of the important details before approval is granted. This was the conclusion of the Commission charged with responsibility for reviewing and recommending development and zoning projects. We hope it will be the conclusion of Council as well, and that Council will give specific direction for further staff work and negotiations with NAH.

The following are some specific thoughts and concerns. These are not exhaustive of all possible issues. I’ve grouped my comments into six bold-faced topics:

The Development Agreement Should Be Considered and Approved Simultaneously with the Concept Plan and Zoning Changes – After Adequate Review Time and Public Hearing

This was done with the Canyon del Rio Development, see Agenda June 4, 2019, items 14 A-C, and the Timber Sky Development, see Agenda November 15, 2016, item 14.

In the case before you now, the Applicant (NAH) and City Staff chose to notice the combined public hearing for the Rezoning and the Concept Plan before the notice of public hearing on the Development Agreement. The consequence of this schedule was to prevent the Public from seeing how the Development Agreement embodied promises that NAH made as part of their presentation on the Rezoning and the Concept Plan and from commenting on the sufficiency of the Development Agreement.

In Staff’s presentation on May 2, Staff recommended that if City Council approved the Specific Plan, the approval be conditioned upon full compliance with the terms of a Development Agreement. (Staff PowerPoint, 5/2/23.)  Yet, it is impossible for Council or the Public to evaluate that condition on the approval without adequate time to review and ask questions about the Development Agreement. (The staff schedule as laid out in the Amended Agenda for May 16 doesn’t sufficiently solve this problem.)

The Public Interest Demands a Thorough Assessment of the Development’s Impact on the Future of the Ft. Tuthill County Park

Rezoning must consider the impact on surrounding properties. (Finding #3) Just as a regional hospital serves a vast population beyond the City of Flagstaff, Ft. Tuthill County Park is a vital asset to our region.

I found it alarming that NAH executives had waited for five months to respond to our County Supervisors’ request for information, and that there had been no meaningful meetings between County representatives, NAH, and City Staff. (According to testimony by County Supervisors at the May 2 Public Hearing.)

The public interest in the future of Ft. Tuthill may require commitments in the Development Agreement and modifications to the proposed zoning map. Currently, we simply don’t know. In my opinion, Council cannot make Finding #3 without resolution of the County’s concerns related to this valuable adjacent property.[1]

The Public Interest Demands a Thorough Transportation Study Before Approval

The Staff Memo re: Ordinance 2023-11 states:

Accessible and convenient transportation to the new Hospital remains an unaddressed service.

As of the writing of this report, Mountain Line is not able to provide transit to the Property without additional financial resources. In the interim NAH has committed to providing 20-minute shuttle. Concerns remain for how underserved members of our community will access the Hospital, and how the relocation may affect greenhouse gas emissions from transportation service.

The present, central location of FMC provides the best opportunity for underserved members of our community to quickly reach the hospital and its surrounding medical offices and labs. Moving these services to the outskirts of town may have a significant impact on residents who already struggle with daily, essential tasks. Placing barriers in their way of accessing healthcare is problematic. A stronger effort to mitigate these barriers than NAH has so far made is required to achieve the public interest finding. (Finding #2)

Supervisor Vasquez’s testimony at the May 2 public hearing exacerbated my concerns about the present lack of information. I wondered if the Arizona Department of Transportation had been involved in planning or if consultation with them or other experts had been accomplished.

“Staff requested that NAH develop a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan or strategy for their project,” according to the same Staff Memo cited earlier. But staff seems to believe the City cannot compel NAH to do so and so far NAH has not. If not paid for by NAH, perhaps the City should pay for it. Without it, the evidence before you suggests this project will jeopardize the Ft. Tuthill property and may endanger patients being transported to the hospital during major events at Ft. Tuthill when traffic on I-17 and the exit ramp is backed up.  These factors should prevent you from making Findings #2 and #3 without further information. At the present time there are too many unanswered questions about the transportation impact of this project to proceed.

In the Draft Development Agreement NAH also promises “(a) continuation of NAH’s current program of providing point-to-point shuttle service for low-income persons and/or persons with mobility needs from the regional hospital to Flagstaff Shelter Services facilities and other locations at no cost to riders; (b) continuation of NAH’s current program of coordinating shuttle service for low-income persons and/or persons with mobility needs through private providers at no cost to riders.”  (Draft Agreement, 5/2/2023, Section 4.5.) However, the Draft Development Agreement also provides that NAH may entirely discontinue the private shuttle service if it reaches an agreement with Mountain Line. Id. Therefore, low-income and mobility challenged people may end up with less convenient service than they presently have. As part of the public comment process, the Taylor House wrote a letter asking NAH if their current shuttle service would be continued. The Development Agreement needs to better protect the vulnerable in our community than the current draft does.

The City’s Commitment to Carbon Neutrality as Incorporated in the Regional Plan Needs More Attention Than the Current Concept Plan and Development Agreement Provide

One of the items that stood out for me as I reviewed the two Staff Memos were these statements:

Policy Impacts:

There are no anticipated policy impacts affiliated with the proposed Specific Plan.

(Staff Memo re Resolution No. 2023-20 and Ordinance 2023-12.)

Policy Impacts:

There are no anticipated policy impacts affiliated with the proposed Concept Zoning Map Amendment.

(Staff Memo re re: Ordinance 2023-11.)

This is certainly the largest development that the City has considered since adoption of the Carbon Neutrality Plan and its associated December 2021 amendments to the Regional Plan 2030. How the City handles the application of those statements of policies and goals to this development will be precedent for future developments, so it seems to me that there are huge policy implications to be considered.

One thing I have learned in my political work over the last six years is the importance of government explaining its decisions in ways that are consistent with promises made in other contexts. Our youth are rightly cynical of government actors who make promises to address the most critical issue in their lives – the Climate Crisis – and then conduct business as usual without regard to the reality of that crisis. Yes, our community needs and deserves a state-of-the-art hospital in the coming decades but not at the cost of compromising our commitment to address the most critical healthcare issue – the Climate Crisis. We can have both if we stand by our principles. If we don’t, we face another crisis: The cynicism of our youth which threatens the very existence of democracy as we know it.

You have received numerous comments from people and organizations that are more familiar with construction methods, materials, and sustainability than I am.  Still, I can even spot unanswered questions related to NAH’s commitment to sustainability in the proposed development.

Will the shuttle service provided by NAH use electric vehicles? If not, how will that additional carbon impact be offset?

NAH offers to provide shuttle service to the nearest Mountain Line stop at a cost of $250,000 per year until Mountain Line can extend a line. If NAH is willing to commit $250,000 per year to a shuttle service, is that enough to fully equip and staff an electric vehicle shuttle service?

In spite of the multi-million-dollar cost of extending the line, I have been told that Mountain Line asked for only $800,000 to cover the cost of extending the line until Mountain Line could find permanent funding. Extending the line from the beginning will more likely encourage its use than requiring passengers to transfer from the shuttle to the bus. Council should press NAH on why it resists the $800,000 contribution in lieu of running it’s own $250,000 per year shuttle, which could go on long enough to eclipse the $800,000 expense.

NAH represented in its PowerPoint and testimony at the May 2 meeting that the new hospital and ambulatory care center would meet LEED Gold Certification. Why not Platinum? The hospital may be unable to obtain Platinum Certification because of the need for natural gas backup, but why not for the ambulatory care center – and other future buildings? What is lacking and why?

Obtaining LEED certification would cost about $50,000 where we are talking about a $1.1 billion project.  Even if the certificate costs twice that, isn’t it worth it for third-party verification of something this important?  Using as an excuse that $50,000-$100,000 will be used to invest in healthcare delivery instead, as NAH did at the May 2 hearing, is unconvincing. I think a requirement of LEED certification is reasonable.

NAH made a commitment in its PowerPoint presentation and the draft Development Agreement (4.4.3) to install solar panels on the garage by 2030.  This is good but why not at occupancy? Beyond the parking garage, there should be a commitment to install solar panels on the other structures (which NAH says in its PowerPoint are being built to tolerate the weight). Let’s install solar panels on the ambulatory care center by 2031 and on the hospital roof by 2032.  And another date for panel installation in the open parking areas as we have at City Hall.

NAH has also committed to enter a contract with APS to purchase clean energy. This must be in the Development Agreement with the requirement being to purchase 100% clean energy.

NAH proposes a minimal number of EV Charging Stations – 20 – among over 2300 parking spaces. More are needed at the outset with a commitment to add additional spaces in future years.

The May 2 Staff Presentation asserted:

  • Certain amendments to the Regional Plan in December 2021 incorporated the City’s carbon neutrality goals.
  • These amendments represent community goals and do not require that any specific project be carbon neutral.

How do we meet community goals if we do not scrutinize all projects and especially projects of this magnitude?  There are, in fact, requirements in the Regional Plan that impact the Council’s review of NAH’s Application:

Policy E&C 2.4: Promote developments that help the community achieve carbon neutrality through strategies that reduce the project’s emissions from transportation, energy, and consumption.

Policy E&C 3.6: Commit to equitably distribute the burdens and benefits of climate action policies and investments to all segments of the community.

The Council is required to consider whether this 175-acre, approximately one-million square foot development “helps the community achieve carbon neutrality” and “equitably distributes the burdens and benefits of climate action policies to all segments of the community.” Without a serious inquiry regarding this project’s impact on the community’s ability to achieve carbon neutrality in a way that equitably distributes the burden of doing so, Council cannot make Findings #1 and #2.   I submit that the Council – like the Planning and Zoning Commission – presently does not have enough information to fulfill this obligation.

A few examples of questions I don’t think you can answer: NAH asserts that the new hospital will use 45% less energy than the current hospital. Does that reduction come anywhere close to offsetting the “53,190 new daily trips” that will be added to this location on the city’s outskirts? What about the emissions arising from construction? How are they offset?  If the old hospital is repurposed, how much will the energy inefficiencies there continue; thus, cancelling the value of the 45% lower consumption in the new location?

The Council has an obligation to find that this project is overall in the public interest (Finding #2) and in compliance with the Regional Plan (Finding #3). Without a more complete Application, you cannot do so. The hospital will argue that it has done more than other projects to provide information. (I’m not sure that is true, looking at Canyon del Rio and Timber Sky.)[2] The answer to that is that this project is larger and more impactful than any other project in recent decades.

NAH has so far failed to provide sufficient information for the Council to evaluate the climate action goals that were incorporated into the Regional Plan.

Infrastructure Improvements

NAH’s May 2 PowerPoint Presentation says it has committed $45 million to infrastructure improvements. It is my understanding that Council knows that at least a substantial portion of this $45 million is intended to be covered by a U.S. Department of Transportation RAISE grant that City Staff helped NAH apply for. The success of the grant application will not be known until the end of June. The RAICES grant is a large contingency, and it seems worth waiting for that commitment before approving anything with respect to this project. 

The Economic and Social Analysis Seems Incomplete

The Economic Impact Analysis (EIA) performed for NAH and submitted in support of its combined Application concedes that hundreds of the jobs located at the new site are merely being transferred from their current location at the “Legacy Campus” and “no new employment” is associated with the “ambulatory and surgical facilities, medical office and hospital.” (EIA, p. 9.) By 2045, at full buildout of the hospital, “there could be 569 new jobs.” Ibid.

The EIA, however, argues that in 2030 a category labeled “Clinical Partners” will generate 710 new jobs and over $77 million in direct new economic impact and over $134 million of indirect impact. (Figure 5, p. 10 of EIA.)  Outside of the assertions in the tables, the only mention of “Clinical Partners” in the EIA is on p. 1 where it is said that 160,000 square feet of office space will be built for “Clinical Partners;” Figure 2 indicates construction is to be complete by 2029. But how are these Clinical Partners to be enlisted? Will their move to this new space mean that buildings in other parts of town, now surrounding the “Legacy Campus” will become vacant? The EIA fails to address this impact on the economic well-being of our community and whether or not we are simply trading jobs north of I-40 for jobs south of I-40.

The Development Agreement proposes a “Visioning Process” for the “Legacy Campus.”  In NAH’s vision, this process would not begin until January 2024, well after the NAH desired approval of its development application. And, NAH may opt out of the visioning process and proceed with development of all the “Legacy Campus” properties as high-density housing. (High-density housing seems like the right use for most of the old buildings but it would be nice to maintain some of the West Campus as a physical therapy center serving those on the northside of the city, as it does now. From personal experience, I can say that having the NAH physical therapy office in Doney Park five minutes from our home made post-surgical and other PT much easier and I would hope that the thousands of residents in the vicinity of the “Legacy Campus” would not lose that benefit.)

The point here is that without knowing what will happen to the “Legacy Campus” and surrounding “Clinical Partners” and labs, we do not have a realistic picture of the economic and social impact of this move.

We have heard many comments during public hearings from supporters of the move who are eager to avoid traveling to the Phoenix area for healthcare. I fear that NAH has set up unrealistic expectations about how much that will change. Adding 35 physical beds is not the same as adding 35 available beds – that requires professional staffing while the nation is suffering from a long-term physician and nursing shortage. NAH already employs “travelers” to cover their physician, nursing, pharmacy, and para-professional needs; building this proposed facility won’t change that. Building more workforce housing might. How economically viable is it to create further demand for “travelers?”

Furthermore, there are some medical needs that will never be treated in a regional hospital with no medical school. Highly specialized physicians who treat relatively rare illnesses are located in large urban centers because large populations provide the patient base they need to support their practices. There will always be transports to Phoenix, Las Vegas, or even Albuquerque for patients in need of such treatment. Therefore, the Council should carefully consider how much weight it gives to this justification for the NAH project.


The existing hospital is unsuitable for the coming decades. The question for Council is whether the current NAH Application serves the public interest (Finding #2) without jeopardy to other community values and goals (Finding #1) and nearby properties (Finding #3) – or is there a better way to approach this development which will come at the cost of some delay for more information gathering, better analysis, and community involvement? Based on the information presented to you so far, I do not believe that Council can make any of the required findings.

At the very least, the schedule should be reset to (1) allow public hearing and Council decision-making simultaneously on the Concept Plan, Zoning Map Change, and the Development Agreement (as has been done with other projects), and (2) await the announcement of RAISE grant upon which $45 million of the infrastructure development commitment from NAH depends. This would be an approximately one-month delay. Even more time should be required to answer questions raised in the public hearing process about transportation, safety, Ft. Tuthill, and climate action, and to begin the visioning process for the “Legacy Campus.”

Thank you for your attention. You have a tough job and I appreciate your work.


[1] According to Staff’s presentation at the May 2 meeting, Council must make three findings. The third one, per the Staff PowerPoint, says: “The site must be determined to be physically suitable in terms of design, location, shape, size, and operating characteristics; and the provision of public and emergency vehicle access, public services, and utilities to ensure that the requested zone designation and the proposed or anticipated uses and/or development will not endanger, jeopardize, or otherwise constitute a hazard to the property or improvements in the

vicinity in which the property is located.” (Emphasis added.)

[2] Incidentally, looking at Canyon del Rio’s Application and Development Agreement, one can see that they provided much more infrastructure than $130,000 for a bus stop as NAH’s attorney suggested was the case on May 2. That’s just one instance where the slick PowerPoint of May 2 may have been misleading to Council.

Abortion Rights Are Gone – Stay Tuned for What’s Next

The Supreme Court has voted to strike down abortion rights. From now on, no right is safe that isn’t “deeply rooted” in “tradition” and “history” — as interpreted by the radical Trump extremists in control of the Court!

Whether or not the exact language quoted above from Justice Alito appears in the final opinion to be released in June, this is the reality.  Americans have relied on the Courts to protect basic human rights since Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. We can no longer do so: With the Trump judicial appointments, democracy lost the 50-year battle for the courts and now the only option for us is to win elections, and win them big. 

Minimum Wage

As we enter another debate about $15/hour, it’s worth preserving this article. And, worth noting that the initial increase in the Biden proposal would still be below $10 per hour. Try living on that.

So often liberals give short-shrift to anything from the Economics Department of my alma mater. That’s hurtful because my experience there — perhaps colored by the naiveté of an undergraduate — was that economics was a science engaged in the search for best answers, no matter where the data led. This conclusion about the minimum wage, written by a University of Chicago star-economist, is consistent with that.

I’m Running for State Party Office – Election January 23

I remain as Chair of the Coconino County Democratic Party, one of the 15 counties in the State of Arizona and the bluest among them. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring to be Senior Vice-Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.*

Why besides that I’m a glutton for punishment? Coconino has a strong and active county party with fine leaders in addition to myself and generous donors. Many of the other 12 counties that make up what’s called “Rural Arizona” are not so lucky. I’d like to help. In addition, I think the way forward for victories in rural and urban Arizona is to register more new voters and inspire them to vote rather than tailoring our policies to appeal to that very small and elusive group known as “swing voters.” I’ll bring that voice to senior leadership in the Arizona Democratic Party. In addition, as Senior Vice Chair, I would automatically be a member of the Rules Committee, something for which my careers have prepared me.

I’m proud to be nominated by the current Senior Vice-Chair, Mary McCord Robinson, who is Chair of the Mohave and LaPaz County Democratic Parties.

Here is the Candidate Statement I’ve submitted for publication by ADP:

I’m running because I believe ADP needs to refocus. With candidates as bad as Trump and McSally, we’ve won. Still, with unprecedented millions spent on legislative races, we lost and too many county races were lost. We need to give Arizonans – too many of whom still don’t register and vote — positive reasons to vote for Democrats. We should communicate our values daily and forcefully. We will be more effective if we are more community-focused in organizing and communicating. With the likely Chair coming from one of our largest, urban counties, at least one of the next two offices in seniority should represent our smaller counties.

I have been a resident of Arizona for 25 years, hailing from the Midwest (Iowa, Chicago). For 20 years after college and law school at the University of Chicago, I practiced law with a large national firm based in Chicago, where I was involved in firm management. While in Chicago, I was an ACLU volunteer attorney and on the board of a LGBT PAC, which helped achieve enactment of the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance in 1988. In 1995, I became a member of the Arizona bar and my wife and I moved to Flagstaff, where we continue to reside.

Beginning around 2000, I became active with the Coconino County Democratic Party. I also served (2000-2005) on the board and as president of Coconino’s non-profit Victim/Witness Services, during which we established the Sexual Assault Center. During that time, I was in the midst of 7 years as caregiver for my mother and running a real estate business. I retired in 2015.

I became Communications Chair for our County Party in late 2016, was elected 1st Vice Chair in 2019, became Chair in July, and was re-elected last month. Since 2017, our County grew from 35 PCs to over 200 with many additional volunteers. Our revenues have similarly expanded. 

Communication and transparency are key to improving ADP. We must be an organization for all Democrats. Community engagement across the entire state is essential. Honoring our obligation to be neutral pre-primary enhances our credibility. Professional staff are important, with experience and ideas officers may not have; nevertheless, final responsibility resides with the Chair and Executive Board.

Some specifics:

The county parties are the grassroots units of party organization (LDs in Maricopa and Pima). They need respect, funding, and infrastructure support.

ADP staff and budget priorities must include Arizona’s Indigenous peoples, on and off sovereign lands, and our growing LatinX population – our largest minority.

ADP’s communications team needs inspiration and better infrastructure. It also needs a progressive outlook, and inclusion of rural and minority voices.

Our party should represent our people and our values. We should aggressively oppose the white supremacy that has infested the GOP. At this critical time, leadership should have strong management skills, party experience, and inspiring voices.

Note: I’d love to be First Vice-Chair instead of Senior Vice Chair. However, DNC Rules and ADP by-laws require that the First Vice Chair be of the opposite gender from the Chair and both announced candidates for Chair are women, so it’s likely that the First Vice-Chair option will not be open to me. In case there is a nomination of a male from the floor who is then elected as Chair, I’ve also listed my name as a candidate for First Vice-Chair.

“There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one.”

During Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine wrote The American Crisis, a series of pamphlets, the first of which was published on December 23, 1776. It’s a lengthy piece by today’s standards, detailing the trials of the early battles of the War and Paine’s thoughts on the Tories (the loyalists to King George).

I was reminded of Paine’s essay this week. Nancy Pelosi alluded to it on Tuesday, “the times have found us,” she said, citing Paine. Yesterday, David Rothkopf, author and commentator, tweeted:

“We need to stop a moment and recognize the stakes, the grievous nature of Trump, McConnell & Barr’s crimes, the preciousness of the institutions and values they are defiling, and the unspeakable damage to America and the world that would be caused were justice not to be done.”

Rothkopf’s initial tweet was followed by a substantial thread, all of which is worth reading.

But for me, Paine’s 18th Century language says it best. I’ve excerpted from his full essay, which then General George Washington thought to be so inspiring that he ordered it to be read to the troops at Valley Forge:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. …

…I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. … It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. … if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to “bind me in all cases whatsoever” to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? …Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. …

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war….. men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.

…By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils …. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.

Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 23, 1776.

Paine’s essays appear on a website owned by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942. Copyright © 1999-2019 by the Independence Hall Association. Publishing electronically as ushistory.org. On the Internet since July 4, 1995.

No Thanks, David Brooks

I continue to spend my writing efforts on Democratic politics. Here’s my latest post to the website of the Coconino County Democratic Party:

I’m starting to hear that self-defeating refrain, “I will not under any circumstances vote for X.” Embarrassing himself, David Brooks of the New York Times wrote the morning after the second night of debates an opinion piece entitled, “Dems, Please Don’t Drive Me Away

Dear David,

It’s your civic duty to vote. No candidate is going to perfectly match your special interests, but one candidate will surely be at least slightly better than the other. If you don’t carry out your duty, democracy will fail. Full stop.

I’m hearing people like David Brooks complain that our candidates are too left-wing and that progressive activists are “nasty” or “too persistent.” Brooks wrote, “The progressive narrative…is dominating because no moderate wants to bear the brunt of progressive fury by opposing it.”

What? Moderate candidates are too weak to stand up to progressives? If moderates can’t do that, how can we expect them to stand up to Russia, China, Iran? Mitch McConnell? Trump?

I think the progressive narrative is dominating because it is the forward-looking narrative. It’s the one talking about real problems. If the moderates’ only platform is that we go back to “civility,” they are in trouble.

The Democratic Party has a responsibility to do more than defeat Trump (though we certainly must do that). We must do more than go back to pre-Trump, Obama-Era policies on climate, heath care, economic opportunity. Yes, we need to stay with the Paris Climate Accord, preserve access to health insurance, and reverse the Trump tax cuts.

But that’s not enough. We need to save the planet, stop bankrupting people with medical problems even when they have insurance, and restructure the tax code to assure everyone pays his fair share. We need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create innovative infrastructure for the future. We need to educate a workforce that can do that. We need to reclaim our role as a moral leader for human rights on the world stage.

What’s the moderate plan to reach those goals? I’m listening. So far, all I hear is “bipartisanship” and “civility.” I’m all for that, but not at the expense of giving more ground on the issues that are necessary for species survival and preservation of our Constitution and its ideals.

If a moderate prevails in this primary process, you bet I’ll vote for him or her because the alternative of not doing my civic duty is unthinkable. I hope all other Democrats will do the same, including any disappointed moderates who may be stuck with a choice between a progressive and Donald Trump.

Arizona Voter Crisis?

I attended a conference sponsored by the Arizona Clean Elections Commission and the Morrison Institute of Arizona State University on November 19, 2018, entitled Arizona’s Voter Crisis. Cronkite news reported on the event here, which was picked up by Flagstaff’s newspaper and published November 21 here.  Perhaps it’s hard to understand the concern about a “voter crisis,” much less an entire conference devoted to the topic, especially after a midterm election with record turnout. Frankly, it’s harder for me to tolerate “experts” bewailing a crisis without a serious plan to address it — or even a plan to get to a plan. It’s like sending “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. Nice, but get your expressions of sympathy ready because more mass shootings are surely coming down the pike if that’s all we can muster. 

Activists and voters should pat themselves on the back about this past election. Several Arizona counties set new records, including our own, Coconino County, with 67.2% of registered voters voting. The State voter turnout clocked over the finish line at 64.85%. Sounds pretty good until one realizes that half of the adults over age 18 are not registered. That brings us down to a one-third voter-engagement rate. Furthermore, we’ve seen turnout at these levels in the past — notably 1982 — only to have voters back away from civic engagement in subsequent elections. 

This state of affairs is only a crisis, of course, if one considers voting participation important.  I do. We call ourselves a democracy after all. Furthermore, while some see political competition as a dirty business that breeds discord, I see it as a means to resolve our differences in a (relatively) peaceful manner. If too many people lose confidence in our political system as a means to resolve differences in how to govern ourselves, the alternative becomes warfare.  So, let’s proceed with the notion that increased eligible voter participation is desirable. (I’ll come back to this later.)

Random Notes

I want to share some notes I took at the conference of comments by the academics and other luminaries on panels and podiums.  These don’t have much to do with the topic of the conference, but they are interesting observations on the 2018 Election.

  • Campaigns matter. When margins are this close, outcomes are determined by thoughtful voters.
  • The rural/urban split in Arizona was more evident in this election than ever before.
  • Women were the wave.
  • The top-level ticket-splitting was surprising (in its magnitude)
  • People were very engaged over Prop 305 because people love their school districts. People move for good school districts and this has implications for the legislative district maps which Republicans in the legislature should pay attention to as they go forward with school funding issues. Some “safe” Republican districts with good schools aren’t going to be so safe for Republicans anymore if they keep up what they have been doing.
  • Republicans turn in ballots early; Democrats turn them in later.
  • Millennials increased their turnout substantially
  • Turnout was not surprising given the amount of money spent on turnout — text messaging and social media ads played a big role
  • The mayoral race in Phoenix may have bumped turnout in Maricopa County
  • Latinxs like to hold onto their ballots — thanks to Maricopa County for the extra days for “emergency” voting
  • Hobbs and Hoffman won in the face of overwhelming expenditures for their opponents due to unprecedented groundwork and social media campaigning
  • Typically,  the big money in Arizona midterms is for ballot propositions. This time candidate campaigns may have overshadowed the ballot propositions. [Author note: Because statewide Democratic candidates actually had a chance this time!]
  • Prop 305 was a true grassroots movement. [This came up several times — the pros seemed a bit stunned by this.]
  • The biggest complaint coming into the Secretary of State’s office about disenfranchisement is from voters who moved and didn’t check the box to change their voter registration address when they changed their address with the Department of Motor Vehicles. They show up at the polls and find they are not registered — or realize it after the voter registration deadline. [This is a simple administrative fix, which Katie Hobbs is committed to doing.]
  • Nationally, there was a big surge in Independents turning out — larger than the surge of either Rs or Ds. In 2008-2015, Independents voted for disruption. In 2018, they said this is enough disruption. 
  • “We live in Newt Gingrich’s world. Policy is impossible, politicians’ decisions are all about retaining power.”
  • “Emotion drives turnout.”
  • “Polarization makes me sad.”

Was there a blue wave?

Panelists in the afternoon were asked “Was there a Blue Wave?” Responses:

  • A journalist from the Weekly Standard: “I can’t see anything other than a negative vote on Trump.”  Democrats didn’t gain as much power as “some” would require to call it a wave election [ever hear of gerrymandering?]; “but it’s clear there was an opinion wave.”
  • Washington Post reporter: “Definitely, it was not a red wave.”
  • Independent Voter expert: “It was a wave of women making a difference.”
  • ASU Dean: “‘Wave’ implies a seismic shift. This may be a particular reaction — a desire to impose a check — rather than a ‘wave.'”

Can We Please Address the Crisis?

Like so many academic conferences, the bulk of the time was spent defining the crisis with very little time spent on practical solutions. Worse, the conference leaders seemed determined to obscure an important point from their own data in order to avoid controversial solutions. By controversial, I mean here solutions Republicans in the Arizona Legislature won’t like.

In July, the Morrison Institute, with funding from the Clean Elections Commission, issued a report on the crisis and traveled about the state presenting its findings.  You can read the full report, as slightly revised post-November 6, here. The July report inspired another publication, which was designed to address the sub-crisis of low turnout in primary elections. This report, entitled Arizona Primary Elections: Primarily Forgotten, is worth the read and can be found here.

What’s the Morrison Institute’s final conclusion for addressing Arizona’s Voter Crisis? “Education is the key.” (July Report, p. 24) My reaction: Really?

The ASU/Morrison Institute folks ignored one striking bit of original research based on their poll of Arizona voters, likely because it didn’t fit comfortably with the thesis they began with, which is that if only Arizona non-voters had access to more civics education, more of them would vote. But the key bit of information that belies that thesis is that 28% of those who say they didn’t vote in the 2016 General Election gave as their primary reason “No time/too busy.” (Table 7, p. 22 of the July Report.) If people say they are too busy to vote, surely they are too busy to receive further information via civics classes?

When asked about improving access to voting by such means as opening the polls on the weekend before Election Day, same-day voter registration, and declaring Election Day a holiday, one panelist remarked that “it’s already so easy to vote in Arizona that those actions are unlikely to increase participation.”  Another panelist, Garret Archer, did concede that allowing automatic voter registration updates through the Motor Vehicles Department when registered voters move would help. Another panelist Neil Giuliano, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership, said: “Being politically realistic, voter registration reform issues don’t happen very often in red states.” (Cronkite News)

But Arizona is no longer a red state. With Democrats sweeping four statewide races and holding a majority of the nine Congressional seats, Arizona is at least purple. The more voter participation we have, the bluer we’ll get. Which is why Republicans resist voting reforms while giving lip service to improving voter engagement. That was the elephant in the room at this conference and it’s an issue that needs to be brought out of the closet in future elections. We don’t control the legislature yet, but one way to remain in that condition is to be shy about solving real problems.

Imagine campaigns confronting people who say they don’t have time to vote by laying the blame where it belongs? Would you vote if you could on the Sunday before Election Day? Would you like to vote now if you could walk into the polls on Tuesday even though you forgot to register a month ago? How would you like Election Day to be a holiday? “I’m in favor of all those reforms,” the candidate would say. “My opponent is not. If that makes you mad, go out of your way on Tuesday and vote to fix it by electing me.”

In Coconino County, our local Democratic Party tried a variety of things to make voting easier. Before the primary, we talked to voters about what the primary means and let them know that Independents could vote in Arizona primary elections and were welcome to vote in the Democratic Primary. We offered a colorful brochure highlighting candidates running as Democrats and our values. After the primary, we continued the effort begun in 2017 to find and register new voters. We did an unprecedented outreach effort to Navajo voters. We told voters about early voting — by mail and in person. We publicized Vote Centers and their advantages. We publicized childcare and ride-to-the-poll options.  We created a sample ballot which voters were excited to receive. We incorporated all of these things into our canvassing efforts so that we were not simply surveying for candidates but making voting easier. We sponsored events on issues that mattered to voters and endorsed propositions, explaining why we were for things that mattered to voters. The result — record turnout in the county, not only in the percentage of registered voters who voted but also in the number of people who voted.

The ASU Dean noted that emotion drives turnout. Indeed, if voters see a connection between voting and their daily lives, they care and they vote. Thus, healthcare was a driving force in the 2018 Election. Education funding drove teachers and parents to the polls. Gun violence drove Millennials to the polls — in record numbers. The panelists at this event discounted these issues, seeing turnout as higher merely in reaction to a vague sense of “discord and turmoil” in our nation or — to the extent they dared mention him — reaction to Trump. One panelist asked if anyone in the room thought that voter turnout had anything to do with a message put out by the Democrats as opposed to the disruption created by Trump and challenged anyone to say what that message was — obviously expecting silence. Several shouted out “healthcare,” but that didn’t fit with the theme of the day — which was that voters are uneducated. On the contrary, I think adults are plenty educated about the issues that matter in their daily lives. It’s just hard to get to the polls for many of them. We can fix that.

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