The head of the state Senate Government Committee has refused to hold hearings to reconfirm the head of the Arizona National Guard.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said he is miffed that Maj. Gen. David Rataczak testified several years ago against his proposal to require Guard soldiers to conduct their training in southern Arizona, a move the senator said would help slow the flow of people coming across the border illegally.
Harper said it took a presidential order to finally put soldiers along the border. But that did not happen until last year — four years after Rataczak, the adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, opposed Harper’s original plan.
“He specifically said that the bill was not in the best interests of our national security,” Harper said. “I believe that was an incorrect statement.”
The senator complained that Rataczak’s 2003 testimony resulted in the death of the bill.
“Our borders went unsecured and hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens — possibly terrorists — have crossed our borders in the time frame between his testimony and when the president actually put the National Guard on the border,” Harper said.
He also blamed Gov. Janet Napolitano.
“The governor was wrong to send him to the Legislature to do her bidding,” he said. “When a person of great military stature is used as a political pawn, it’s not a good thing for state government.”
Harper said a final decision on whether to have confirmation hearings before the Legislature adjourns for the year could depend on whether Rataczak has second thoughts about his 2003 testimony.
“If the general were to state he was wrong about (not) putting the National Guard on the border ... that might be a factor,” he said.
But Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Aguirre said the general stands behind his comments.
Aguirre said Rataczak, as a career military officer, generally stays out of political fights. He said the general will come to the Capitol to speak on legislative proposals when called.
In this case, Aguirre said, Harper’s bill would have undermined the “critical training requirements” for Guard soldiers. He said Guard units are now an active part of the military and, as such, need proper training.
“That bill didn’t make sense for the National Guard as a military organization then, and I don’t think the adjutant general would apologize or withdraw from his position,” Aguirre said.
If Harper balks at holding the reconfirmation hearings, Rataczak, whose term expired April 13, could still keep his position for now.
Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said the governor would simply renominate the general for the post to which he was first appointed in 1999 by then-Gov. Jane Hull. L’Ecuyer said he would be ousted only if lawmakers refuse again to confirm him during next year’s session.
L’Ecuyer said Harper should proceed with the hearing.
“Gen. Rataczak is an extraordinary leader and has done a phenomenal job with the Arizona National Guard,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that his nomination, for whatever reason, is being held up.”
L’Ecuyer would not discuss Rataczak’s 2003 testimony.
But Napolitano has repeatedly said that state tax dollars should not be used to deal with the failure of the federal government to secure the border.
Last year’s presidential decision to have Guard units on the border came with federal money to pay for units from Arizona and elsewhere.
But that federal order limited the soldiers to secondary roles, such as building fences and staffing observation posts. It did not commission the Guard troops to search for and detain border crossers.