TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — When Sandra Day O'Connor was a member of the Arizona Senate in the 1970s and needed to get business done, she would bring folks from both sides of the aisle to the adobe house she and her husband built, serve Mexican food and beer and work things out, civilly.
Sadly, politicians in Arizona and the U.S. are struggling with the concept of civil discussion — unfortunate, because civil discussion leads to "good civic action," O'Connor said Thursday at the YWCA Tucson.
Making matters worse, she said, Arizona is ranked 46th in voter registration, and of those who can vote, only 52 percent actually do.
Arizona can and must do better, the former U.S. Supreme Court justice said, as she launched Speak Out Arizona, a nonpartisan initiative to persuade local organizations to promote voter registration.
The hope is Arizona will one day get into the top 10.
O'Connor said she doesn't understand why the U.S. is ranked 139th out of 172 democratic countries in terms of voter participation.
"That's embarrassing as a nation, and we hold ourselves up as great champions" of freedom and good government, O'Connor said.
Arizona has no excuse considering people can now vote through the mail, O'Connor said. "We have to improve that. I know we can. It just takes encouragement."
David Hutchens, Tucson Electric Power Co. president, said his company is doing what it can to get its employees registered to vote, to educate its employees and to encourage them to vote.
Voter registration forms are given to new employees and candidate forums are held, Hutchens said.
Mara Aspinall, president of Ventana Medical Systems, said Speak Out Arizona is right in line with the company's cultural belief that you can't complain if you don't speak up. A voter registration booth has been set up for the company's 1,400 employees on its campus, she said.
Linda Wojtowicz, senior vice president of Tucson Medical Center, said Pima Community College is encouraging employees to register at health and benefit fairs, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Mi Familia Vota are going door-to-door and Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona is creating a Get Out the Vote badge to help girls and their families understand the importance of voting.
Pima County Supervisor Ann Day stressed the importance of making educated decisions at the polls, and chastised her sister for not mentioning the www.icivics.org website.
This prompted O'Connor to address the group again. Alarmed upon learning that half of the U.S. states no longer require students to be taught civics, O'Connor said she got a group of teachers and game makers together in 2009 to create educational games that teach children how government works. So far, more than a dozen games have been created. The group also offers lesson plans for teachers.
ICivics has been such a success that the Boys and Girls Club encourages its members to play the games, and Baylor University gave iCivics a "rave review," O'Connor said. She hopes the program spreads even further.
Elva Coor, chairwoman of Speak Out Arizona, told the group she is convinced Arizona can register more voters and that, if everyone can learn to "respectfully listen," much can be accomplished.