2012: The stories that look to shape the East Valley - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

2012: The stories that look to shape the East Valley

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Posted: Saturday, December 31, 2011 12:02 pm | Updated: 3:38 pm, Mon Jan 2, 2012.

2012 is here. Now what? Once the Christmas tree is recycled, the tinsel tossed out, and the hangover from New Year’s Eve subsides, what can you expect the new year to bring to Arizona? 2012 will undoubtedly bring many things, some expected, some not. But we’ve narrowed down the list to five issues we think will dominate life and water-cooler chat in the East Valley in the coming year.


Elections:

With voter dissatisfaction at record lows, 2012 is lining up to be a rocky election season at every level. New legislative and Congressional district lines could make some districts within reach of Democrats, perhaps easing the Republican domination in the statehouse and in Washington, D.C. 

And the defeat of Mesa Republican Russell Pearce could embolden stronger candidates to challenge politicians who had seemed invincible. The elections will also reveal whether the recall of the former Senate President was an issue unto itself or whether voters want more moderate political representation.

Voters will also decide whether to reward or punish state lawmakers who made painful cuts to the budget, including education and health care for low-income Arizonans.

Locally, voters will decide whether Mesa’s Scott Smith deserves a second term as mayor, and which of three candidates will succeed Hugh Hallman after two terms as Tempe mayor.


What’s next for Pearce?:

Russell Pearce lost his office, but 2012 will give him plenty of options to parlay his experience into another significant position. He could try to regain a seat in the Legislature, and new legislative districts will likely mean he wouldn’t have to campaign against his successor, Jerry Lewis. 

His strong name recognition would also give him a boost for statewide offices or a seat in Congress, though it’s getting late to launch a campaign for some 2012 races. Pearce could also be tapped to serve as a political appointee or to serve at a private institution that advances immigration policy or a range of conservative causes.

And Pearce could head up his own organization, much like former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo has formed a political action committee that supports federal candidates who oppose illegal immigration.


Economy:

Nearly every key economic indicator is supposed to improve in 2012 – but don’t get too excited. Whether it’s jobs, incomes, housing or retail sales, the growth will be tepid at best. This is the projection by research professor Lee McPheters, director of the JP Morgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business. McPheters anticipates 45,000 new jobs in Arizona. Unfortunately, that barely puts a dent in the 324,000 jobs lost from 2007 through 2010. Jobs, housing and the rest of the economy probably won’t fully recover for three or four years, according to the W.P. Carey School of Business. 

Arizona is now one of the top 10 states for job growth and should see unemployment drop from 9 percent to about 8.5 percent. And the population will grow about 1.5 percent, below normal levels but faster than the national average of 1 percent.


Baby Gabriel:

The mother of missing baby Gabriel Johnson will go on trial in 2012, more than two years after Gabriel vanished during a custody battle. The trial has been on hold as Elizabeth Johnson, 25, was found incompetent to go on trail for charges that include kidnapping, child abuse, custodial interference and conspiracy to commit custodial interference. But a judge ruled in December she’s now competent in a case that’s garnered national attention.

Gabriel vanished when he was 7 months old in 2009, when Johnson claimed she gave him to a couple she didn’t know at a hotel in San Antonio, Texas. She was in the midst of a custody battle with Logan McQueary of Gilbert, her estranged boyfriend and Gabriel’s father. 

Johnson’s frustrated police by saying little, and her defense attorneys quit in December after citing she has serious mental issues. Johnson’s family maintains she knows what happened to Gabriel and that a trial could finally bring clues to light.


Illegal immigration:

Illegal immigration won’t be just a debate or a state law in 2012 – it’ll be a U.S. Supreme Court case. The court will take up provisions of SB 1070, deciding issues including whether police are required to determine the immigration status of people if they have “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the U.S. illegally.

A ruling is likely later in the year – at the height of the presidential campaign. The ruling could bolster President Barack Obama’s support from Hispanics – or alienate a public that supports stronger enforcement of immigration laws.

The Supreme Court sided with a 2007 Arizona immigration law earlier this year, allowing the state to revoke business licenses when operators had a history of hiring illegal immigrants. But the case on SB 1070 is much broader and could resolve how much states can do to enforce federal immigration laws.

At home, the ouster of Senate President Russell Pearce will leave the Legislature without its strongest advocate of illegal immigration issues. Already, lawmakers decided last year to ease off on new measures in part because of a letter from business leaders who said Arizona’s reputation had suffered from so much focus on that single issue.

And immigration will play a major role in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s battle with the U.S. Department of Justice over civil-rights violations. Federal investigators are demanding Arpaio change how he deals with Hispanic suspects and inmates. And Arpaio is certain to use his illegal immigration stance as a cornerstone of his campaign for a sixth term in November.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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