The challenges facing Arizona have perhaps never been as clear as they were in 2010. Here's a look back at the events that shaped the year:
SB 1070 polarizes the nation: Arizona — and Gov. Jan Brewer — exploded onto the national stage with the signing of SB 1070, the controversial legislation that makes it a crime to be an immigrant in the state without proof of citizenship. We’ve now become a model for other states to emulate as they struggle with the costs of illegal immigration, even as we were demonized and boycotted, and the federal government challenged the law in court — an ongoing battle. Anecdotal evidence of Hispanics fleeing Arizona and the denouncement of SB 1070 by law enforcement and religious leaders have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile the key architect of the law, Mesa’s Russell Pearce, was rewarded with the role of state Senate president, and the stage is set for more proposals to combat illegal immigration, such as his assault on the view that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects children of illegal immigrants from deportation.
The rise of Jan Brewer: She flubbed her televised debate in spectacular fashion, but voters loved Jan Brewer — and her support of SB 1070 — anyway. Brewer, who had replaced Janet Napolitano as governor when Napolitano became Homeland Security chief, easily defeated state Attorney General Terry Goddard in the gubernatorial race. Her support for Arizona’s controversial immigration law not only sealed her victory, but put her on the national map as a rising Republican star as she took on the federal government, and President Barack Obama in particular, for its failure to secure the border with Mexico. But Brewer also showed a flair for compromise and keeping an open mind on issues her party doesn’t necessarily support when she successfully pushed last spring for Arizona voters to pass Proposition 100, a temporary hike in the state sales tax to help public schools, safety, and health programs. To use her own often quoted, grammatically incorrect phrase: Jan Brewer “has did” good, and she is our best hope for keeping radical legislators in line next session when they tackle the state budget.
Sharpen those knives — and break out the Band-Aids: Last legislative session, there was much talk at the state capitol about budget deficits and possible cuts. But when all was said and done, Arizona’s lawmakers and governor essentially put off the hard decisions and passed a budget using accounting gimmicks and temporary fixes, such as raiding the state parks’ fund. In an election year, they were all too willing to put off what they could cut today. So now, Arizona faces an $825 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, and a $1.4 billion deficit for the next. Education, Medicaid, and prisons are the three biggest areas of state spending. But our mostly Republican legislature is not likely to be pushing for cuts to the Department of Corrections, so low-income folks on public health care, universities and schools are likely targets.
It’s the economy, stupid: Unemployment, home foreclosures and vacant storefronts continued to be issues in the East Valley and statewide in 2010. In August, the state’s jobless rate hit 9.7 percent — the highest level it had been in nearly 30 years. In November, the state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate was at 9.4 percent, but economic analysts said it will still be some time before Arizona gets back to pre-recession job gains. “People are still not spending at the same levels prior to recession,” Aruna Murthy of the Arizona Department of Commerce told Capitol Media Services. Meanwhile, a recent report from the W.P.Carey School of Business at Arizona State University also found that while home prices in the Valley continue to drop, the commercial real estate market finally seems to have leveled off. Professor Karl Guntermann predicted 2011 should see “significant improvement” in commercial prices. But he also expressed some caution: “The improvement in the commercial market for the next few years is likely to occur fairly gradually, given the expected recovery in the Arizona economy and unusually high vacancy rates in all sectors of the commercial market.” It all pretty much adds up to more of the same economically for Arizona in the coming months.
Voters paint the state red: Always a conservative stronghold, Arizona reaffirmed its status as a red state with a string of Republican victories in the Nov. 2 general election. Arizona is a GOP state at the highest levels, and it has a rich history of both strong conservative leadership and wise bipartisan cooperation. Those in Arizona, and beyond, who rode the wave of anti-Obama furor into office would do well to remember that as they discover they are in charge and now have to get results rather than just make noise from the sidelines.
Safe! Mesa keeps the Cubs: Mesa overcame what seemed, at times, insurmountable odds to retain its place as the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. Fending off a challenge from Naples, Fla., the city successfully kept the team interested long enough to sell the public on voting to fund a Cactus League facility and year-round “Wrigleyville West” retail center. There are elements in the community that will always shout down any local government’s role in luring what they see as corporate interests — but we see instead an estimated $138 million in annual economic impact that didn’t slip away and could not have been replaced.
IN OTHER NEWS
A real drain: When one of the dams that forms Tempe Town Lake burst July 20, it couldn’t have happened at a better time: Just a few hours later, work to replace the aging structure was set to begin, and a torrent of water would have flushed away equipment and the project workers. Fortunately, the months that followed saw the man-made lake restored swiftly, and the events — big and small — that bring people to the urban oasis were allowed to resume.
The ultimate sacrifice: The year was a tough one for law-enforcement officers and their families, as it started with the death of one of their own: Gilbert police Lt. Eric Shuhandler was shot and killed during a Jan. 28 traffic stop. The summer saw Chandler police Detective Carlos Ledesma gunned down during an undercover drug operation gone bad in south Phoenix. When a cop goes down, the whole community suffers, and we wish their families, and those of all fallen officers, a healing new year.
Taken too soon: The Arizona State University campus in Tempe was rocked by the slayings of two students. In May, Kyleigh Sousa, 21, died after being dragged by a car when the driver tried to steal her purse. In October, Zachary Marco, 21, was shot and killed as he walked to his apartment from the campus library.
Goodbye Powell: Faced with declining enrollment and budget cuts, the Mesa Unified School District closed Powell Junior High School, which had educated students in west Mesa for 39 years. The Mesa district faces more tough decisions in the coming year as enrollment — and state funding — continue to decline.
A new beginning: In March, 1013 Communications purchased the East Valley Tribune, nearly five months after Freedom Communications had announced its intentions to close the newspaper. In November, publisher and president Randy Miller announced the Tribune, now located in downtown Mesa, will expand operations into Tempe and Chandler next year.