State senators voted Wednesday to name Jay Heiler as the newest member of the Board of Regents, saying he is a far different man than the one who wrote offensive comments about gays and immigrants three decades ago as editor of the State Press at Arizona State University.
"I hope that people do not judge me on things that I said 30 years ago,'' said Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, in championing the decision by Gov. Jan Brewer to name Heiler to the board that oversees the state's three public universities. "The same is true for Mr. Heiler.''
And Crandall said the work that Heiler, who was chief of staff for former Gov. Fife Symington, has done since, including his current stint as chairman of a network of charter schools, shows he is more than qualified for the job.
But several Democrats said even if Heiler is a changed man -- something they are not necessarily conceding -- they do not believe he has properly apologized for what he said.
Two specific Heiler comments in print are at the center of the debate.
In one, discussing homosexuals "coming out of the closet,'' he said that being gay "is most definitely an aberration.''
Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, said Heiler has since said that word is not one he would use today to describe gays.
But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said Heiler's comments did not stop there.
Writing about illegal immigrants, he wrote that they come here to start a new life and then try to cling to their own language and customs.
"This tendency leads to all sorts of societal problems, ranging from interracial unrest to unexplained disappearances of dogs,'' Heiler wrote. Gallardo said that not only offends Hispanics but is untrue.
What Gallardo did not read, though, was the rest of the paragraph where Heiler clarified his statement a bit, saying, "the former difficulty crops up wherever aliens are to be found; the latter arose in California when the Vietnamese arrived.''
Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe, acknowledged that while Heiler told lawmakers he regretted his comments and no longer feels that way, "he fell short in not apologizing.''
But Heiler's comments were not limited to what he did as an ASU student.
In a 1994 incident, while Symington's chief of staff, he was reported using the word "queer'' while talking to reporters in the press room about the issue of gay marriage that arose in the gubernatorial race.
Heiler later issued a letter of apology several days later, saying he did not recall using that word. On Wednesday, though, Heiler said he never used the word.
Schapira's objections to Heiler, however, also go to his current stance on some items.
For example, Heiler said he was concerned about rising tuition costs. And he acknowledged that the Arizona Constitution requires instruction at the universities be "as nearly free as possible.''
"But he doesn't believe the court should step in there,'' Schapira said.
And Schapira also said he objects to Heiler's refusal that the Regents should adopt policies that prohibit speech on campus that creates a hostile learning environment.
That complaint brought a sharp retort from Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs. He said language should not be banned unless it is defamatory or inciting violence, "the kind of limitations the U.S. Supreme Court has put on speech.''