It's been a disappointing year for Arizona Republican leaders, in large part because they've allowed partisanship to obscure common sense and even good public policy. And now, after conceding a lost-cause budget battle to Gov. Napolitano, they're hankering for a fight over her executive order prohibiting discrimination against state employees who happen to be homosexual.
Legislative leaders lost ground and credibility in the budget battle because they (1) forgot something Ronald Reagan once preached and (2) thought they could get away with using the tight budget as an excuse to cut education and safety net programs for poor kids.
In an odd role reversal, it was Napolitano who had to remind skeptical Republicans of a key component of Reaganomics: that if you hold the line on taxes this year, the resultant economic growth next year will likely restore sagging tax revenues. And that is precisely what is happening; late in the session, legislative leaders conceded the governor's revenue projections, which they scoffed at six months ago, are right on the money. And while there's been some much-needed belt-tightening throughout state government, education and safety net programs have been preserved.
With budgetary egg still dripping from their faces, GOP leaders are now waving their arms over Napolitano's weekend executive order prohibiting discrimination in state hiring based on sexual orientation. This is hardly a partisan issue anymore. The Senate passed such a measure two years ago, only to see it die in the House, and Republican governors of other states, including New York's Gov. George Pataki and Tom Ridge when he was governor of Pennsylvania, have issued non-discrimination executive orders.
Still, House Speaker Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, and Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, are protesting that Napolitano overstepped her authority in issuing the order. Although a constitutional challenge is more defensible than trying to preserve a last bastion of raw prejudice, we question the wisdom of choosing this particular battle.
Frankly, it smacks of the same mean-spiritedness that laced then-Gov. Evan Mecham's recision of his predecessor, Bruce Babbitt's, executive order establishing an official Martin Luther King Day holiday in the state. Although then-Attorney General Bob Corbin agreed with Mecham that Babbitt probably overstepped his authority, a long, bitter and needless battle ensued that culminated in voters approving a King Day holiday.
While Babbitt's order created another paid holiday for state workers — no small expense and loss of service — Napolitano's simply modifies employment policy among the departments she oversees. And it's a good, long-overdue policy change to boot.
Despite the Medieval fears of a few, ending discrimination against gays in the workforce does not open the door to all manner of objectionable activity.
Offensive conduct in the state workplace is still prohibited, and workers, regardless of sexual orientation, can still be disciplined or fired for cause. They simply cannot be denied employment, persecuted or fired at the whim of some homophobic supervisor.
There are plenty of legitimate, pressing issues in Arizona for clear-thinking conservatives to concentrate on without launching a mean-spirited, losing battle over a perfectly reasonable executive order that accomplishes something the Legislature could and should have done years ago.