You'd think Arizona legislators claiming the moral high ground in seeking to constitutionalize a ban on same-sex marriages would be more ethical in their approach to including the referendum on the November ballot. But that appears not to be the case with conservatives more interested in pushing their own agenda than in following long-standing Senate rules.
Last month, Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, filed a formal ethics violation complaint against Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, and on July 28, the Senate Ethics Committee voted 3-2 to look into the matter. The committee will investigate whether Harper, with the aid of Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, purposefully cut off an ongoing Democratic filibuster in order to press forward with a vote to place a same-sex marriage ban on the fall ballot.
Recent comments by Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, indicate that the conservative block went to great lengths to pressure fellow Republicans into toeing the party line. Despite desperate attempts to avoid declaring her stand on the measure, Johnson was ultimately rounded up and bullied into casting the deciding vote. She has said she doesn't believe the ban should be added to the state Constitution, or included on the ballot, but she felt compelled to ignore her own sense of fairness and adhere to the demands of her constituents.
Now we learn that while acting as chairman of the closing Senate session on June 27, Harper was willing to break Senate rules to force a vote on the referendum. The only real question is whether Verschoor was in on the plan. My call to Verschoor's office has yet to be returned, but believe me, I'm anxious to learn if he was aware of Harper's intent to break an ongoing filibuster by turning off the microphone of Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson.
I'm also interested to know why he didn't give up the floor when he heard fellow senators calling for a stop in action that would allow Aboud to finish her speech. Instead, Verschoor appears to have been more than willing to ignore a violation of Senate rules and offer a motion to end the debate. Senate procedure dictates that members be allowed to discuss a bill for as long as they deem necessary - without interruption - and that the chair must acknowledge calls for a "point of order." Apparently Republicans were willing to dispense with ethics in order to halt a Democratic filibuster that Harper later termed "repetitive and dilatory."
At the time, Harper implied he had turned off the microphones by mistake. Now he admits it was a conscious decision due to the fact that Aboud and Cheuvront "were making the same point over and over again." Since Harper had led an all-night talk-a-thon just the day before, one assumes he was aware of the rule sanctioning unlimited debate. It's also quite probable he found Republican stonewalling of the state budget more interesting - not at all repetitive or "designed only to delay the Senate's business," as he insists the Democratic filibuster was.
But Senate rules exist to ensure legislative legitimacy. The majority party simply cannot stampede the body in order to deny members of the minority party the right to speak. As a citizen of Gilbert, I find it shameful that Verschor would go along with a scheme to force his personal agenda on a public that has previously defeated a similar measure.
Aboud has since made an appeal for the voters to demonstrate their displeasure for this legislative maneuver by once again vetoing the attempt to alter the Arizona Constitution. Johnson now says, "I wish I had a little more courage," voicing regret for being coerced into voting against her own conscience.
Come November, I'm hoping Gilbert residents, as well as all Arizonans, will exhibit more gumption - and ethics - by voting to defeat this measure of false morality.
Sandi Glauser is a Gilbert resident.