Folks are asking why Janet Napolitano--after being a US Attorney, Attorney General and Governor-- has managed to make such a fool of herself in Washington.
Here's the answer in one incredible sentence from Saturday's Arizona Republic.
A moderate Democrat, Napolitano navigated Arizona's political scene for most of two decades without major turmoil or embarrassment.*
That astonishing piece of self deception by the Republic's Dennis Wagner sums up a decade of non-feasance by the mavens of corporate media. That's why Janet is in trouble--with a decade of protection from a deluded and sycophantic press, Janet was lulled into thinking that she was made of Teflon and that her frequent gaffes would be ignored on the national stage as well.
Many of the individual reporters--to their credit--wrote about some of Napolitano's abuses and frequent gaffes, but the corporate media management was so busy fawning over her that no one ever bothered to put all the pieces together and write a comprehensive report to expose that Janet was ethically challenged, heavy handed and clueless.
It's not just Wagner, from editorial boards and columnists to the publisher herself, the corporate media had their lips so firmly planted on Janet's backside that they couldn't see the forest for the...trees...whatever.
I knew that the die was cast when I saw this entry on the Arizona Republic's April 2004 lobbyist disclosure.
CLARK-JOHNSON, SUE NAPOLITANO, JANET Flowers 93.08
(You will recall that Sue Clark-Johnson is the hapless publisher who helped drive the Republic into the ground, then was promoted to the Gannett Corporate office and helped drive the entire chain into the ground and then retired--and was promptly appointed to the board of Arizona Public Service.)
Those flowers, plus frequent social interaction--like attending Diamondback Games--between the Governor and the Publisher should have set off alarm bells
So even after the rank and file reporters made it clear that Janet's administration was gaffe prone, heavy handed and corrupt, the media brass never put the pieces together and guys like Wagner can stand amazed at Janet's national self destruction and proclaim that her administration was without "major turmoil or embarrassment."
Some of her embarrassments are similar to her two most recent gaffes. Remember when she compared the US Border fence to the Berlin Wall? That was classic.
But when pressed, Napolitano insisted she was not comparing the plan to build a fence to keep illegal entrants out of the United States from the wall which kept citizens of Communist East Germany in from escaping to the West.
"You know what?'' she said. "Forget that. It was a comment that, we'll just go on.''
That's a major gaffe by anyone's definition. The fact that she is now in charge of border security makes is all the more embarrassing.
Speaking of things that Janet is now in charge of...do you remember that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when the federal government was desperate to get much-needed aid to survivors, Janet asked FEMA to divert some of the funds to the "disaster" on the Arizona Border? The astonished FEMA spokesman merely replied that the request was "inappropriate."
Some of her biggest mistakes weren't just off-the-cuff gaffes, they were actually calculated political maneuvers gone wrong. For example, remember the time that she agreed to support a corporate tax credit scholarship program in exchange for additional state spending and then vetoed the tax credit bill--only to be forced to sign the bill the following session?
Many of Janet's mistakes went well beyond mere gaffes. How could Wagner have forgotten her heavy handed--and illegal--maneuvers to force the name change at "Piestewa" Peak. (In retrospect the peak should be called "Tillman Peak" But that's why the federal government doesn't allow name changes within 5 years of the person's death.)
And speaking of major blunders that were probably criminal, how about the secret deal that Dennis Welsh uncovered? You remember, the one in which Janet promised to write the homebuilders out of the TIME initiative if they gave $100,000 to the campaign and promised not to oppose her State Trust Initiative? I believe they called that "extortion" in law school.
Speaking of embarrassment, both of those initiative's failed to make the ballot which was a major embarrassment that Wagner and media intelligentsia seem to have forgotten. (The really embarrassing part is that the homebuilders actually collected nearly 20,000 signatures to fulfill their part of the bargain but the governor's handpicked consultant rejected them...only to see the initiative fall 10,000 signatures short of making the ballot. Maybe Sue Clark-Johnson and Dennis Wagner can go on a pilgrimage to Connie Wilhelm's office and visit the monument to Janet's embarrassment that's still on Connie's desk waiting to be picked up by Ziemba Wade.)
Are we still in the category of embarrassing illegal shakedowns? Good, because this is a good time to mention the Honeywell Supplemental Environmental Program (SEP). A SEP is a program that allows a company to use part of an environmental fine to pay for environmental programs in the area that was affected by the violation. It's a win/win. The company gets to buy alternative fuel school buses, replace old furnaces or do other projects that benefit the local community. Instead, Janet hijacked the funds and insisted that Honeywell contribute the money to her Western Climate Initiative.
I broke the Honeywell story. Here's what I wrote at the time.
Early last week I pointed out that the Governor had hijacked a $1 million settlement that Honeywell had paid to settle an environmental violation. According to DEQ policy, the money should have been used to fund clean water issues in South Phoenix. Instead, the money will be sent to the Western Governor's Association to fund Governor Napolitano's Western Climate Initiative.
Speaking of stories that I broke, how about Arizona's 9/11 memorial? Dennis Wagner apparently needs to be reminded of Janet beaming at the dedication. After I broke the story, the Trib picked it up and then Drudge linked to the Trib article. By the next day, the story was in 125 papers across the country. Fox news had me in the studio at 4:30 AM Phoenix time, so it would be on at 7:30 AM in New York. (It would be another three weeks before the Republic mentioned it.) This is from the Trib article.
One inscription states, “You don’t win battles of terrorism with more battles.” Another: “Congress questions why CIA and FBI didn’t prevent attacks.” And another reads, “Erroneous US air strike kills 46 Uruzgan civilians,” referring to a wedding reportedly hit by mistake in Afghanistan.
“It’s a worldview that is critical of America, and in many cases cheapens 9/11,” said Greg Patterson, a lobbyist and consultant who operates the EspressoPundit blog, where he and his readers have been critical of the memorial. “It is bent on attacking the Bush administration’s take on the war, at the expense of the memory of 9/11.”
While we are on the subject of embarrassing, possibly illegal, diversions of funds, who can forget that Dennis Welsh and Mark Flatten broke this story.
Two years ago, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed an order that granted a newly formed corporation the power to oversee state-authorized, low-interest student loans.
Now, the governor says, she didn’t know that the company, the nonprofit Arizona Higher Education Loan Authority, or AHELA, was headed by two of her closest political allies, Billy Shields and Pat Cantelme, the current and former heads of the Phoenix firefighters’ union, the United Phoenix Firefighters Association, when she signed the order in December 2004.
Sure that's the ticket---create a low interest student loan monopoly and give the franchise to the head of the firefighters union. I think I saw that trick on Season Four of the Sopranos.
One of the best stories was uncovered by Republic Columnist Laurie Roberts who was skeptical of Janet's claim that she was supporting a Child Protective Services reform bill authored by Reps Paton and Adams. Roberts filed a Freedom of Information Request and obtained a copy the emails sent by Janet's Legislative Liaison. It turns out that not only was Janet's staff urging a "No" vote on a bill that Janet Claimed to support, but the language of the email provided a window into the way that Janet treated people---including Democratic Legislators.
I had some fun following up on Robert's story with a piece that I called "That F***ing Blows."
Republic Columnist Laurie Roberts has obtained a remarkable series of emails between the Governor's staff and Legislative Democrats during a vote to force Child Protective Services to be more transparent. This one is the most interesting.
From Haener to Campbell, when he remained a Yes vote and the bill passed with Democrat support (6:32 p.m.): “That (inappropriate term) blows. Glad to see the (inappropriate term) caucus is willing to help. Hope that there are no (inappropriate term) changes in senate.”
Meanwhile, if you are looking for a gaffe hat trick, remember that Janet established her "Copper Card" by executive order on her first day of office? Not only was that arguably illegal, and heavy handed, but it also eliminated any chance of a good start with legislature. Then when the Copper Card failed to catch on, she diverted $400,000 out of the State Medical Emergency Fund to promote it. (That fund was meant to be used in real medical emergencies like, you know, flu pandemics...but what are the odds of the state facing a flu pandemic?)
If Mecham, Hull or Symington had committed half of these gaffes, the Republic would have run endless front page stories about what an embarrassment our governor was. And any one of the other issues--the SEP, Emergency Medical fund diversion, Piestewa Peak or Firefighters Student Loan Monopoly would have led the Republic (or Chris Herstam) to call for impeachment.
Eventually, the Governor's victims realized that their only recourse would be the courts...Janet did miserably in court. How about the time that she tried to use her line item veto to AMEND a bill? Wow, that was blatantly unconstitutional--and indeed she lost 5-0 at the State Supreme Court. Golly, I bet that was embarrassing.
Of course, amending legislation by veto is a rather arcane trick, hard for the general public and newspaper mavens to understand. Easier to explain was her blatant rip off from the cities. You will recall that when Janet and the Democratic caucuses (with the help of a few Republican enablers) managed to get control of the state budget process, they immediately passed legislation to force the cash-strapped cities to contribute $30 million to the state general fund. The cities refused to pay and then sued. Back to the Supreme court for another 5-0 thumping.
"Right Wing Terrorists"
Those are just examples of gaffes. What about Janet's report that "right-wing" extremists could become terrorists? We'll, as it turns out, Janet has a history of making that mistake as well.
Remember the "Vipers"? They sounded really scary. We read this back in 1996 when Janet was US Attorney.
Twelve members of a private Arizona militia unit were arrested yesterday on charges of plotting for more than two years to bomb government offices in the Phoenix area, federal officials announced.
That was a national story with great video and, for a moment, it looked like Janet and her buddy Janet Reno had foiled an Oklahoma City type plot.
The case began to unravel immediately. Within a week, the feds dropped the allegation that the "vipers" were planning to blow up buildings. It turns out that they were guilty of being rednecks--going out to the desert to drink beer, shoot bottles and make harmless explosions with fertilizer bombs. Not an incredibly sophisticated way to spend a Saturday--frankly, I prefer Scrabble--but even after the feds conceded that the vipers weren't terrorists, Janet Napolitano prosecuted them for a series of lame "possession of bomb making materials" charges. The story went from national terrorist plot by a "militia" to, well, a pile of fertilizer. Of course, that's no consolation to the 11 people who were indicted and prosecuted so they could be another feather in Janet's cap.
The whole episode was, well...an embarrassment.
Incredibly, even though the media had reported gaffe after gaffe, no one stood up and pointed out the obvious fact that the Governor was ineffective and error prone.
Then finally, the Republic's Matthew Benson wrote an excellent article in which he publicaly speculated that the Governor wasn't as effective as Sue Clark-Johnson and all her Chamber buddies would like us to believe.
Has Janet Napolitano lost her mojo?
Unthinkable even a year ago, the question is circulating among some of the governor's watchers at the Capitol. They're struck by an administration seemingly put on its heels by a stumbling state economy, rash of key staff departures and, most recently, the disqualification from the November ballot of her two most favored initiatives.
That article was written in September of 2008 and seemed to set the Governor's office back on its heals. But even Matt Benson made it clear that he hadn't absorbed the full extent of the disaster that had been the Napolitano Administration.
Failure of the proposals - one calling for a tax increase for transportation, and the other a reform of the state trust-land system - is particularly stunning given Team Napolitano's remarkable efficiency up to this point.
Remarkable efficiency? Napolitano limped along from one gaffe to the next. The only reason her administration seemed efficient is that no one was willing to say that the emperess had no clothes.
Now she's gone, the state is bankrupt, and she's conducting business as usual in Washington. The only difference is that in Washington, the media actually watches your behavior and if you are gaffe prone, heavy handed and corrupt, someone is going to point it out.
We'll be hearing from Janet again really soon.
*The only accurate word in Dennis Wagner's sentence is that Janet is a Democrat. Wagner's assertion that Janet was somehow a "moderate" is especially comical.
Is she a social moderate? Janet vetoed EVERY abortion bill that crossed her desk including popular measures that regulate late-term "partial birth" abortions as well as parental consent bills. She used an executive order to establish domestic partner benefits for state employees, and spent her weekends coaching Phoenix Mercury games. She's obviously a liberal on social issues.
Is she a fiscal moderate? She spent every dime of the housing bubble revenue on ongoing social programs and left the state with a $3 Billion deficit. Spending skyrocketed under her "leadership."
School reform? Janet was so beholden to the teachers union that when she managed to get control of the budget process, the only program she actually cut was vouchers that allowed severely disabled children to attend private school. Those were real kids--suffering from serious disabilities--who faced the personal turmoil of being kicked out of their schools because Janet and the Legislative Democrats eliminated their program. I've been in politics for 20 years and that was the single most mean-spirited vote that I've seen.