Above the Law in Arizona?

Some kind of conservative.

In recent years, Republicans have regularly charged that liberal Democrats tend only to enforce those laws that they support and ignore those laws they regard as misguided. Although the evidence for this criticism is mixed at best, demands for reestablishing the “Rule of Law” have become a staple of partisan Republican attacks on an allegedly arrogant liberal establishment.

Even if these charges are generally true, the post-election results of the “English for the Children” initiatives in Democratic California and Republican Arizona provide a strong counter-example to this pattern. Both these initiatives, which won by huge landslides, require the dismantling of established bilingual-education programs and that immigrant children instead be taught through English immersion programs.

In California, Prop. 227 was opposed by virtually every elected Democrat in the state (and most Republicans), but following its 1998 passage, was generally implemented by that state’s Democratic governor, Democratic superintendent of schools, and other top officials. Although there have been ongoing disputes over legal interpretation, and considerable local resistance in some individual school districts, all elected officials from Day One claimed that they would honor the letter and spirit of the law.

However, Wednesday’s Arizona Republic carried a shocking front-page story highlighting Republican Superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan intention to ignore Arizona’s Prop. 203 almost entirely, substitute her own pro-bilingual policy views for the explicit and overwhelming desires of Arizona voters, and maintain Arizona’s existing bilingual programs essentially unchanged if she personally judged them to be successful. Faced with such shocking statements, the reporter naturally called Ms. Keegan to confirm her positions before the story went to press, and she stood by her views, essentially “Keegan to Prop. 203: Drop Dead.”

Remarkably enough, it fell to Democratic State Senator Joe Eddy Lopez, leader of the anti-Prop. 203 campaign, to urge that the new law be honored and warn bilingual advocates that they faced personal legal penalties if they disobeyed the measure.

Fortunately for Arizona’s immigrant students, the provisions of Prop. 203 contain extremely sharp legal teeth. The measure allows parents of Arizona schoolchildren to file personal legal actions against any administrator or elected official who refused to comply with the new law, and hold them personally liable for damages and legal expenses; furthermore, if found guilty, such resisters are also immediately removed from office and banned for five years.

As I noted to reporters who called for comment, since many hundreds of thousands of Arizonans voted for Prop. 203, Ms. Keegan’s arrogant resistance would quickly result in millions of dollars in personal damages, bankrupting her and also removing her from office. These simple facts ? plus widespread calls in Arizona for Ms. Keegan’s impeachment ? are probably the reason that the following day’s Arizona newspapers carried accounts that Ms. Keegan was now backing away from her resistance.

Unfortunately, these articles also prove that despite over two years of intense media coverage of Prop. 203, Ms. Keegan has apparently still never bothered to read the actual text of the measure she should be enforcing. She claims that Prop. 203 provides no guidelines on how much or how little English teachers are allowed to use in the classroom; the actual text says “nearly all” instruction must be in English.

The strangest part of this story is that in recent years, Ms. Keegan had ? for no good reason ? become the national darling of conservative Republicans on educational matters, this despite her generally disastrous educational policies in Arizona. For example, Keegan was widely perceived as the front-runner for Secretary of Education in President Bush’s Cabinet, until a front-page lead story in the New York Times brought national attention to the remarkable incompetence of her statewide testing policy, her leading policy initiative.

That AIMS test was so poorly designed that nearly 90% of students failed statewide, a test which almost all students fail being obviously as bad as no test at all.

The infinite gullibility of American’s national conservative movement ? of which I suppose I am generally considered a member ? never ceases to amaze me.

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