Legislative Update

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A weekly update of legislative news with a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Glendale school district today confirms that the writer of a controversial letter read on the Senate floor did indeed teach at Glendale schools. That letter is getting a lot of attention at the state capitol. Also making news, the governor's response to the Senate's budget which calls for heavy cuts to education. Here with the latest from the statehouse is Luige del Puerto of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you again. Thanks for being here. Let's start with this letter read aloud on the floor by senator Laurie Klein of anthem. Give us a brief synopsis. What did this letter say?

Luige del Puerto: Basically it painted a very unflattering, grim picture of Hispanic students. This teacher said in this letter they refused to say the pledge, they refused to do their homework, they were disruptive and basically they think that Americans are, what Americans are racist. And that they're here to basically reconquer, if you will, the United States for Mexico.

Ted Simons: Do we know the exact content? She read the letter on the floor so we kind of know what he said but all the students? One student? A couple? What -- eighth graders? A social kind of social studies and literature class?

Luige del Puerto: It was a social studies and literature class and you are right, this is one class. It's a grade 8 class but the way the letter basically depicted what happened, he kind of painted a broad brush of Hispanic students and I think that's what's causing so much uproar. In addition to that the fact the that the state senator Laurie Klein actually read it on the Senate floor and by doing so she's in effect taking sort of ownership and is an associating herself with the contents of this letter. We did speak to her again this afternoon. She said she disagreed with parts of the letter. For example, she disagreed with description that Hispanic students all they want to do is grow up and be members of gangs and she disagreed with that. But by reading it out loud on the Senate floor, during a discussion of immigration bills, it was to some quite offensive.

Ted Simons: I know initially there was some concern that it might be a hoax, that the teacher didn't exist. They did find the teacher, though, didn't they?

Luige del Puerto: Yes, in fact, originally some people questioned whether the letter was authentic in the first place. We found out it was indeed written by a substitute teacher. Some people speculated, well, who was this substitute teacher? Does he really exist? And turns out that he does exist. And people questioned did he actually teach in this school here in the valley? He did actually teach in a school here in the valley. So that's basically Mr. Pierce's point this afternoon. All this allegations, all this questioning, well, it turn out that most of them, very least we know the teacher, that the substitute teacher, in fact, wrote this letter and that he, in fact, taught at a Glendale high school. Grade 8 school.

Ted Simons: Exactly. An eighth grade class there. But we are also learning there was an exit interview with this teacher. Was any of this mentioned in the exit interview?

Luige del Puerto: The short answer is no. The exit interview basically described the students as poor, that they did not do their assignments, but there was never any mention of inappropriate behavior or that they were being disruptive or they refused to say the pledge. There was none of that in the exit interview. And that's one of the points of the critics of Laurie Klein and the president. They are basically saying, well, you read the letter without verifying its contents, without fact checking it and you know, reading it it did happen.

Ted Simons: How often is something like that done? How often does any senator from any side of the aisle or the house go ahead and read an inflammatory letter or a letter that may not be fully vetted?

Luige del Puerto: Well, lawmakers get letters all the time. And I think they are very deliberate in how they view this -- meaning to say they consciously decide whether to make these letters public or not. How often has it happened? Not quite. Especially with this magnitude, especially with the contents of this letter. You don't always see something like this being read on the Senate floor. A very public place during a very public debate about a very emotional issue like immigration.

Ted Simons: All right. Let's keep it moving here. By the way, is that story pretty much over here? What's next for this story?

Luige del Puerto: I don't think the story is over. Members of the -- I mean Democratic members who are also Hispanics are very upset about it and have publicly called on president Pearce and Laurie Klein to apologize for first of all reading the letter, and for not fact checking before, you know, all this controversy erupted. Pearce has said, well, people have a right -- well, I mean, everyone has his first amendment rights and the teacher expresses his mind. To Pierce's mind a very real experience. And it was heartfelt. It wasn't hateful or anything like that. And so -- and Pearce said, people cannot handle the truth. Basically that's their problem.

Ted Simons: Well, I guess the story will go on then if that's the response.

Luige del Puerto: The story will go on.

Ted Simons: Real quickly before you go now the governor responded to the Senate's budget proposal, the OP-Ed piece is and basically saying she's not pleased with what she's seeing there as far as these cuts and they are much more than her proposal. Talk to us about this dynamic.

Luige del Puerto: Last week, I had said that the Senate's budget proposal is basically, at the core of the Senate's budget plan is the message that we don't like the governor's budget proposal which she released earlier this year so the governor came back with this OP-Ed and basically said, well, I don't like your budget plan either. I don't like it because to her mind it devastates core services and she said, I am willing to do cuts but there has to be certain guidelines. I think she mentioned, for example, that the cuts should be targeted, for example. That they should not devastate core services like education. That they should avoid cost shifts, and that they should be realistic. I guess what we are seeing is I wouldn't say hardening of her position but basically the Senate has said this is what we want to do and the governor has responded. I guess they will settle it during their budget negotiations which I understand are ongoing at this point.

Ted Simons: But there does seem to be a bit of a disconnect here between house, Senate, and governor. Correct?

Luige del Puerto: Well, there's always that friction, if you will. I would say it's a natural tendency of these two bodies. One does offer a budget plan. Government implements the budget plan. There's a difference of constituency. We have to understand the governor's constituency is the entire state. Legislature or individual lawmaker v. their own districts that they have to satisfy. The governor feels that she needs to take a broader view of things and I guess that's always been the source of tension in the capitol.

Ted Simons: All right. Good stuff. Thanks for joining us.

Luige del Puerto: Thank you.

Luige del Puerto:Arizona Capitol Times;

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