Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego will discuss issues regarding his district, including his efforts to fight the Phoenix Sky Harbor flight paths that have upset city residents.
TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego discusses FAA flight path changes and other issues. And we'll learn about a clinical trial focused on a certain type of melanoma. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."
VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Supreme Court today decided to hear another Arizona redistricting case, this one challenges state legislative boundaries drawn by Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission. Nearly a dozen Republicans are claiming that the commission violated the one-man-one-vote rule by putting too many Republican voters into too few of districts giving Democrats an unfair advantage. This all comes one day after the Supreme Court upheld the commission's authority to draw congressional districts. The Arizona Court of Appeals today ruled against Scottsdale's ban on sign walkers. The court ruled that Scottsdale could regulate sign-walkers but could not override a recent state law that prohibits cities from banning the signs. Scottsdale is considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
And the Gila River Indian Community filed a lawsuit challenging the South Mountain Freeway. The tribe claims the proposed freeway would run through land that is sacred to the community. The lawsuit also claims that federal and state agencies violated the law by failing to consider the harm the freeway would cause to the environment and to historical and cultural resources.
Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego held a hearing last week on controversial flight path changes out of Sky Harbor. Here now to discuss that and other issues affecting his district is Congressman Ruben Gallego. Good to see you again.
RUBEN GALLEGO: Good to see you, thanks for having me.
TED SIMONS: You betcha, thanks for being here. The latest now with the flight path changes, what's going on?
RUBEN GALLEGO: Well, nothing's changed; people's families and homes are still being harassed by low-flying planes. It's impossible for a lot of our families living in these areas to sit outside and enjoy time with their neighbors. The FAA has largely been irresponsible and not responsive but we are pushing back. We had a great meeting of more than 200 people, we were giving a legislative update on an amendment that I passed to a transportation bill. And you know, we're doubling down. A lot of the neighbors that have been affected by this are going start to pushing hard on more of their elected officials and on the FAA to have some way to rectify this problem.
TED SIMONS: Talk about that bill the amendment here, what's it call for?
RUBEN GALLEGO: The amendment basically says the FAA cannot redesign the metropolitan area flight patterns which extend all the way down to Tucson to the western and eastern border without first dealing with the Phoenix flight pattern and the reason I did that is because knowing how irresponsive and Bureaucratic the FAA has been I do not want them to say we can't change the Phoenix flight patterns because now we have redesigned the whole metro, it's call "the metroplex" area and doing that would have irreparable harm. If they want to actually continue forward with redesigning the whole metropolitan area when it comes to flight patterns they first have to fix the Phoenix flight pattern problem.
TED SIMONS: I was going to say, so it stops further changes, it stops these changes? It's retroactive and takes things back to where they were?
RUBEN GALLEGO: It stops further changes. Now that's just the amendment that came out of the House. Now we need the Senate to act and actually also introduce that same bill. So we're asking Senator McCain and Senator Flake to also introduce my amendment into the same transportation bill that to make sure it goes into law.
TED SIMONS: What kind of response are you getting so far?
RUBEN GALLEGO: We've asked Senator Flake and - we've already sent some messages to Senator McCain. Senator Flake we've heard positive responses from. We're still waiting to hear from Senator McCain.
TED SIMONS: The FAA says this change is necessary to go from this ground to satellite based system. It's necessary for safety. The airlines says it's necessary to cut costs. Are they wrong?
RUBEN GALLEGO: They're not wrong, but the question is, if you're going to do this, why did you have to do it in this manner? They should have gone through a public process to do this; they should have gone through environmental process to make sure it does not negatively impact in terms of noise pollution, a lot of families. Also at the same time just because it'll save you money as an airline does not necessarily mean that we should approve it. This is a Democratic society. People pay their taxes to the FAA. At the end of the day if a change of flight patterns saves some money, but affects millions of people's lives we shouldn't approve it.
TED SIMONS: So, but, speculation here, but the FAA did come to the city and did go to the residents and say here, this is what we're planning on doing because we think this -- it's more safe, it goes to the satellite system. Knowing what you know now, what do you think would have been the right response?
RUBEN GALLEGO: I'd like to correct one, they didn't go to residents. That is absolutely incorrect.
TIM SIMONS: No, I'm saying if they had and knowing what you know now --
RUBEN GALLEGO: Right. Well the response would have been stay in the same flight pattern, you can still use the new navigation system with a flight pattern that is designed to save you as an airline money, is not acceptable to the people that live around Phoenix. We are one of the few downtown Phoenix airports that exists in the country. There's a delicate balance we have had for years to make sure that that continues. That delicate balance was we are willing to deal with a certain amount of noise. We're not going to hand over our whole lifestyle just to keep airlines in the - at least profitable, by a couple of cents per flight. That's not a balance and there has to be a balance that's struck. The balance that should be struck would be you can implement reforms but you're not going to be able to do it in this manner if it affects millions of people's livelihoods.
TED SIMONS: The FAA, some say they propose no meaningful changes, others say they've had some ideas out there. What has been their response to this?
RUBEN GALLEGO: Their changes have been nearly negligible, enough to say they tried something but not enough to change what's occurring in the neighborhoods. People will tell me all the time, I see it all the time, I feel myself once in a while that those planes are really impacting people's lives on a daily basis and the changes they were recommending are basically cosmetic.
TED SIMONS: How have those flight paths changed? -- What are they experiencing in what part of town? Most folks watching this, let's face it, are not under the old one they're not under the new one. What's going on there?
RUBEN GALLEGO: What's going on essentially, there are so many fly-overs in the areas that are experienced and ready for this that people's houses are shaking, people aren't able to have conversations as much. You have people that have different types of ailments and illness, especially the elderly and even younger people that are feeling harassed by these airlines. Essentially it's going over two areas. The flight pattern is going over two areas. Straight west into downtown Phoenix and then curving into our historic -- what's called our historic neighborhoods, which is north of Roosevelt and in between 19th Avenue and maybe all the way up to 16th Street, and down towards South Phoenix and Levine. These are very big, dense neighborhoods with families that have been there many years. Houses and homes were never prepared for these types of low flyers, a lot of noise.
TED SIMONS: Residents in the old flight path, are they saying, well, you know, learn to live with it, we have?
RUBEN GALLEGO: Yeah, some of them are. One of the things that is different is a lot of these homes in the old flight paths have been tempered against the noise. We as a city bought up thousands of homes to help people move out of the flight paths. Even what we're asking for the FAA to do is not necessarily to go back to the same route. But at minimum let's have a public process and see if there's anything we can do that would exempt us having to go back to the same route. We haven't seen that. There's no openness to that whatsoever.
TED SIMONS: So what's next in all this?
RUBEN GALLEGO: The next thing that has to occur is that my amendment that I passed in Congress needs to also pass in the Senate and what I hope would happen that the FAA would come and deal with us and the City of Phoenix, and redesign the air space as part of redesigning the whole metroplex process through an open process with public hearings, with environmental impact statements, whatever it takes. And that way we can continue to have that balance we've always had between a downtown airport and a dense urban area.
TED SIMONS: Other issues, I notice you were involved in helping to support Congressman Grijalva's bill to block that proposed mine, copper mine near Superior. Explain, please.
RUBEN GALLEGO: Well a lot of it is more of a process too, I don't think you should be able to wrap in a land transfer of millions of dollars that involve tribal spiritual land in a process that was supposed to be with the funding of the armed services. They have nothing to do with each other. It's a particular earmark to be honest. And I think what they should have done is been more open about this and gone through the regular order for this and really given an opportunity for both the pro mining community, as well as the, you know, the Apache, to have their opportunity at this, too. -- You know, so it's in the open. This is a very nontransparent process that they went about, and I don't think copper mining has anything to do with defense and that's exactly what they did.
TED SIMONS: Congressman Grijalva's bill blocks the federal land exchange which basically allows this to happen. It also mentions that it destroys sacred sites and environmental restrictions were bypassed and all sorts of things. For those who support the mine. There is bipartisan support in the delegation. They are saying the jobs are there, it will help a struggling area up there near Superior, and that the environmental impact is not that -- I mean, we've had a number of shows on this here. We've got both sides of the story. Why did you decide to go ahead and take this much effort into blocking?
RUBEN GALLEGO: Well, I don't disagree. There is a lot of jobs potentially that come from this. But there is something to be said about going through a process that has traditionally always been used. The fact that you had to go and put this in a defense appropriations bill where you basically were forcing Democrats and Republicans and the President to say either you're pro defense or anti-defense, even though you are actually against the mine, really calls into question why you have to do anything in the dark. It calls into question the base idea. I think there's a lot of arguments that are very positive for this mine. But at the same time then if it's so positive, let's go through normal order and at the end of the day I think things would have turned out better. But the fact that it was tied into an overall defense bill in the middle - essentially in the middle of the night, not really in the middle of the night, but essentially in the cover of this amendment it's unfortunate. I don't think that's how you should do politics, especially when you're transferring government land into private hands.
TED SIMONS: Last point on this, Senator McCain said that this is basically an effort by those who have always been and will always be against this mine. Are you included?
RUBEN GALLEGO: I'm here to argue for transparency. I'm very shocked that anybody would argue that tucking something in special legislation that's going to give property over to a private company that's, you know, titled American land, except to be tied into a national defense authorization bill, that's not how we should be running government. I would be probably okay with a lot of mines, not just in this state but other parts of the country as long as I know we're following an open and transparent process. But this did not go through an open, transparent process.
TED SIMONS: You voted against the fast track trade authority and voted against the trade assistance program. Both programs. Why?
RUBEN GALLEGO: Both were tied to each other. I don't believe that any Congress should give away its constitutional authority oversight over any trade bill especially to the executive, whether it's Obama, whether it's Clinton, whether it's Bush, whoever it is, Congress should not be giving its authority away. TPA gives the President a lot of negotiation power with the opportunity for me or any other member of Congress to introduce amendments and that's not what I think our forefathers believed. TAA, the trade adjustment, was basically a little gimme to get some Democrats to vote for it. Why would I want TAA if TPA doesn't exist? If TPA doesn't exist, then I don't need TAA. Lastly, the way they were funding TPA was stealing money out of Medicare and using that to pay for workers. It was a double whammy for a lot of workers.
TED SIMONS: I was going to say, was it a double whammy for you, though? Are you against these bills as they stand or against them because they were tied together?
RUBEN GALLEGO: I'm against it because they were tied together. There is no reason why TPA needs to happen. We can have bilateral trade agreements. The President has the power to do that. And I should have my say and all members of Congress should have their say about that. TAA was just another gimme and I don't think using Medicare funds to pay for something that's actually going to end up hurting workers is a good idea.
TED SIMONS: When the President says the fast track trade authority gives the U.S. a foothold in emerging markets and that it helps diplomacy in that part of the world which is increasingly dominated by China, again, is he wrong?
RUBEN GALLEGO: He is wrong, absolutely. The way to help the United States keep its dominant power is to have a strong middle class. We're not going to sacrifice our position in the world at the altar of a middle-class - or middle class families. That's just ridiculous. Two, the way that we continue growing our alliances with China is continuing to have a very strong military. We cannot fund our military at this point because we have a dying middle class. And shipping more jobs overseas is not going to help us continue to have that. Lastly, he can continue to have bilateral trade agreements. There's nothing that stops him from doing that. Having bilateral trade agreements with Vietnam, with India, with whatever countries he wants, but we need to have some type of oversight, this is our congressional authority that's been given to us since that dawn of this country.
TED SIMONS: Before you go, I won't let you get out of here without some quick comments, if you could, about the Supreme Court actions in the last few days.
RUBEN GALLEGO: It's been a crazy last few days. I've been happy with most of the decisions obviously. Specifically same-sex marriage has been something we've been very happy about, especially in my district. I think upholding the Arizona Redistricting Commission.
TED SIMONS: All right. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
RUBEN GALLEGO: Thank you, sir.
Ruben Gallego : Arizona Congressman