2008 State of the State

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Governor Janet Napolitano delivered her 2008 State of the State address this week. HORIZONTE gets insight on the Governor’s speech from Democratic political consultant, Michael Frias and Bettina Nava, a consultant for Hamilton, Gullett, Davis and Roman.

José Cárdenas:
Good evening, I'm José Cárdenas. Welcome to "Horizonte." Governor Napolitano detailed plans for Arizona's future this week in her 2008 state of the state address. Coming up, an analysis of the speech. And, many children in Arizona are looking for a home. Find out about a new program reaching out to the Latino community, with information about foster care and adoption. Next on "Horizonte."

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José Cárdenas:
Governor Napolitano outlined her agenda for Arizona's future in her state of the state address. The governor talked about education to increase standards for all Arizona students in public schools, economic prosperity, continuing to invest in publish/private partnerships for research and technology, public safety, to support law enforcement and crack down on illegal smuggling of drugs and human beings, transportation and growth, develop transportation and state land plans to support Arizona's growth, and finally health care, expand access to affordable health care for families. Joining us now to give impressions of the Governor's address: Bettina Nava of the firm of Hamilton, Gullett, Davis and Roman. Bettina served as the state director for Senator John McCain. And Michael Frias, political consultant and former campaign director for the Arizona democratic party. Michael, Bettina, thank you for joining us on Horizonte. Let's get first your overall impressions and reactions to the governor's state of the state address. Bettina.

Bettina Nava:
José, it was good. It was even aggressive. And in this time of corporate corruption and even politicians that may not be as forthright as we as voters would like them to be, she was pretty bold in really trying to elevate to a level of ideas and really talk about ideas. But there's a "but" in this, with a billion dollars shortfall this fiscal year and 1.5 expected for next, I have a lot of questions about it even though ideas were impressive.

José Cárdenas:
I do want to come back and ask you your thoughts about why she kind of saved that for the last given how it's looming over everything. But Michael, first, your reaction to the overall presentation?

Michael Frias:
I thought it was really a case study in leadership, José. She has stood before the state before when there were better economic times and there was a surplus and guided us with a steady hand and said, "Let's be responsible. Let's put some money away in the rainy day fund. Let's invest in education. Let's invest in children. Let's invest in health care. Let's invest in economic development and infrastructure." And I think you're seeing that same kind of able leadership now. So here she stands before the state and gives this state of the state address and says, "Look. It's going to be tough." We don't have an economy that's churning like it has before in the past, but there's still priorities. She laid them out again, and it's just keeping it simple. I think that's a real showcase in leadership to be able to recognize that you're in the midst of difficult times but still providing Arizonans and people a vision for where we can still go as long as we do things right now.

José Cárdenas:
Speaking of leadership, the Arizona Republic commented on the leadership of the republican party in the legislature and kind of the graciousness with which they received the governor's speech. There was no, as in years past, rejecting out of hand any of her proposals. What's your thought on that?

Bettina Nava:
I think its wise strategy, and I think it's even just the nature of people like Senator Tim Bee, who wisely realizes that -- you know -- he has a Senate that's 17-13. You look at just a few years ago where there were swing votes and swing republicans. Why isolate those potential moderates? Why not say, "Let's just sit back. See what our negotiation's going to be. We haven't seen the governor's budget yet. It comes out this week. So let's just wait and see and not get anybody hyper-excited about it and/or angry about it" and really try to keep -- he's keeping his team in place to really smartly determine where cuts need to be made and where negotiations need to go.

José Cárdenas:
He does seem to have struck more of a conciliatory, cooperative tone throughout his leadership thus far.

Bettina Nava:
He's said at the onset, "I really look forward to working directly with the governor. I look forward to working directly with Lopes and Arsburger" and has really been proactive in extending that hand out.

José Cárdenas:
Michael, on the ‘D' side, any sense for the reaction of the democrats in the legislature to her proposals? Disappointment, excitement?

Michael Frias:
No. I think they share the sentiments that Bettina just spoke about which is -- you know -- the devil is obviously going to be in the details, and I think they appreciate the governor's leadership, and I think they're taking a "wait and see" attitude. With all due respect to Senator Tim Bee, unfortunately it sometimes gets partisan really quick. And so, let's see how long the bipartisan feelings hold up there at the state legislature. The longer the better for Arizonans. If we can go a longer time with a bipartisan feel, and direct communication and outreach, I think we'll be in good shape.

José Cárdenas:
Now, I want to ask both of you your thoughts on the fact that given the overall importance of the budget shortfall, constant attention in the press for months now -- and it seems to be getting bigger and bigger -- were you surprised Bettina that the governor really didn't address it until the very end of her speech?

Bettina Nava:
The budget shortfall?

José Cárdenas:
Yes.

Bettina Nava:
No. not really. I mean, I think she was trying to set out the vision first, sort of what -- if you looked at the template of what she spoke about, it was here are our accomplishments, and here are the items that we need to do to continue progress. You know, she was trying to remain optimistic. And I think you do that by staying on a high note for the majority of your speech. I wasn't surprised by that at all.

José Cárdenas:
Michael, were you?

Michael Frias:
No. I definitely agree. And I think there's -- as you listen to the speech and as you make your way through it, you see there are smart ways where she's leveraging both government money and business sector money. She has the science foundation of Arizona, that they had previously invested in before. And it's giving a $9 to 1 return on their investment. She sprinkled it throughout, but then she obviously laid the reality of the economic situation in Arizona at the end.

José Cárdenas:
The governor described her speech as a story of Arizona's future. She talked about the five chapters, the first one being education. Your thoughts, Michael, on some of the specifics there, the raises the age at which students can drop out of school, increasing the math and science standards, and so forth. What are your thoughts on that?

Michael Frias:
I think it's promising. If you're a parent in Arizona and you're facing the prospect of paying for education and further education, I think you would be encouraged by the centennial program that she mentioned in there where good students that go to school, do their work, stay out of trouble, be rewarded for that and actually have tuition covered for them in the state universities. I think another one was the freezing of tuition, a kind of economic incentive for the students to both do well academically but also do it quickly so that they're making their way through the college system as quickly as possible. I was encouraged by that, and I think, if you're a parent facing the prospects of sending your children to college, that's encouraging.

José Cárdenas:
She also talked about the medical campus and coming up with monies to support the continued development there. Do you think that's going to happen?

Michael Frias:
You know, you'd like to say yes, but I think, at the end of the day, the budget realities are going to start to come in, and I think there's going to be negotiations and cuts and nips here and there, but I think on the whole we're going to end up with a pretty good budget.

José Cárdenas:
Bettina, budget realities are also going to affect one other chapter in the governor's story: transportation.

Bettina Nava:
Right.

José Cárdenas:
What's your thought on that? How much are we going to be able to do there?

Bettina Nava:
I mean, what's not to like about the governor saying we need a statewide plan that has interconnectivity and all parts talking to each other, that we have this great plan? But the last time I checked, the Constitution stipulates that you have to have a funding source. so you look at her time proposal -- love the name of it. We all want to get home and spend more time with our husbands, and our families, those we love -- but what's the funding source? How do we get it done and what are the priorities in that? These are things I'm interested in and have questions about.

José Cárdenas:
And if I recall correctly, this is also the area in her speech where they talked about renewable energy and the 15% goal of having resources come from renewable energy. How realistic is that?

Bettina Nava:
Once again, that's very aggressive and probably something that we need to do. We need to start looking at our dependence issues and reusable energy and how do we convert. Those are all smart things that thoughtful people will do. But then you start to wonder about, "Ok, well, if we begin to convert and meet those criteria, are those costs just simply transferred over to consumers? And consumers, who do they include? Seniors on fixed income, low-income individuals that really watch their budget every month?" Those are where my concerns come in. Love the idea. How we get there -- devil in the details.

José Cárdenas:
Speaking of budgets, the governor's due to unveil hers soon. What do you think we'll see?

Bettina Nava:
I don't know. Probably really thoughtful cuts, a dip into the rainy day fund. I'm actually really interested in what -- I hate to defer, but I'm interested in what that will be.

José Cárdenas:
Yeah.

Michael Frias:
The budget, I think, will be emblematic of her speech. Which is, I think she's going to keep it simple and keep it to the basics of education, economic development -- and health care. They always say that a budget is a way you can see people's priorities. Well, that's certainly the case when you have a surplus, but it is very evident when you don't have a surplus and you're working with a deficit, and I think it will be interesting to see the negotiations and the development of this budget over time, because I think it really is a testament to A) her leadership and B) her ability to bring people together on the core issues that we need to take care of so that we can take that longview towards how do we keep moving Arizona forward? What's out in the next horizon?

Bettina Nava:
One thing I do know -- and I'm sorry to interrupt - is it will have to be bipartisan. That's something that's just going to have to happen. It will be surgical. The tough decisions are going to have to go in like surgeons and really decide what programs produce and what programs don't. So is it a good government measure in terms of who's measuring up and doing their job? It's an opportunity for that.

Michael Frias:
You can see she took a little bit of the first step there by consolidating boards and commissions and eliminating others. I mean, I think, again, that's an effort to shrink this government. It's time to tighten the belt buckle and divert some of that money, that's going over there to some other efforts.

José Cárdenas:
Before we went on the air, we were talking about how many times her speech was interrupted by applause. There was a lot of applause. But Michael, the loudest of applause was when she made her comments about the use of monies from racketeering prosecutions, rico prosecutions.

Michael Frias:
Yes.

José Cárdenas:
And the appropriate uses of them and seemed to be taking a shot at Andrew Thomas. Your thoughts on that.

Michael Frias:
If the shoe fits, wear it. I mean, I think it's one of those things that it's what's responsible. I mean, I think that these elected officials have a fiduciary responsibility to use taxpayer money -- and this isn't taxpayer money, but to use these monies wisely and appropriately. If the shoe fits, wear it. If you feel like you're taken some liberty with putting your picture in my newspaper and on my billboards and I see you everywhere, then maybe you've overstepped your bounds -- a little bit.

José Cárdenas:
An appropriate thing to do, though, in a state of the state speech?

Michael Frias:
Yeah. Yeah, because I think it fits with the theme of we need to be tight with every single dollar we get in here. So every dollar that we get, whether it's a federal grant or it's rico funds that we've taken from criminals, it needs to be directed towards efforts that directly benefit the citizens of Arizona.

José Cárdenas:
Bettina, we talked about the fact that the governor waited until the end of her speech to talk about the budget shortfall, and you seemed to think that was appropriate. But did she say enough about it? Was she underplaying this looming economic crisis?

Bettina Nava:
that's a hard subject to really talk about the reality of that. I think it was the elephant in the room. Everybody knows what's looming and what type of economy we have before us with unemployment up, economic recession essentially looming. Could she have touched upon it more? Sure. That probably would have been more realistic. But I think her theme and what she decided with her handlers is that they were trying to layout an optimistic view of what the future's going to be and try to be visionary.

José Cárdenas:
And should she have said more on another very controversial subject: immigration? She touched briefly on employer sanctions on some of the smuggling issues and on ID, the three in one ID, but should she have said more? What was your reaction to that?

Bettina Nava:
She's not going to win either way on that. She says more, she doesn't win. She says less, she doesn't win. You know, it is, sadly, a subject that is the greatest human tragedy of our time. Do I wish she would have touched on it more? I'm pretty astute in the sense of keeping up with what the governor's saying about it. But no matter what she did, she'll be penalized for it by one group or another. She's not going to win.

José Cárdenas:
Michael, your reaction on that?

Michael Frias:
On immigration? I tend to agree. I mean, I think this is her sixth year in office, and she's been trying to tackle this immigration issue from day one. It's evident in her three in one ID program. You know, you have federal government that says we have the "real ID act". This can solve some problems. But it's an unfunded federal mandate. They haven't fully figured out the technology behind it. Again, she's constantly having to come up with solutions to this problem, and I think at some point you have to hope that the winds of change are blowing right now and you hope she has a new governing majority and back in Washington, D.C., maybe down here at the state legislature at the end of 2008 that actually helps these states.

José Cárdenas:
And I know Bettina, you want to get in on that, but I'm afraid we're out of time. So, we'll have you both back. It's going to be a long legislative session, I'm sure, and we'll have you both back to comment.

José Cárdenas:
Bettina Nava, Michael Frias, thank you both for joining us on Horizonte.

José Cárdenas:
In Arizona, there are more than 9000 children in the state's foster care system and about 3,000 of them are Hispanic. Aid to adoption special kids, known as A-A-S-K, AASK, has a new program called "Todos los Ninos", which means all the children, specifically helping Latino families with information about the foster care and adoption process. Joining us from the aid to adoption of special kids is Eli Marez, Director of Community Relations and Veronica Nichols, Bilingual Family Resource Recruiter. Before we talk about Todos los Ninos, let's talk about the AASK program itself. Can you give us some background?

Eli Marez:
Absolutely. It was started back in the late '80s, specifically in 1988 that this was started by Kathryn Herberger, which is a name familiar to many of us in the valley.

José Cárdenas:
One of the greats -- of Arizona.

Eli Marez:
Absolutely. Her premise and the core value behind this was that she understood that there was a huge value to provide homes for kids that found themselves in the foster care system. So she pooled her resources together and, for the last almost 20 years, AASK has been in the business of finding homes for children, and we've placed, since that inception -- we've placed more than 1,200 kids in homes to this day. Last year alone, we placed 3,132 children in homes. So it's been an ongoing process for us and growth for us. We started off rather small but, in the last five years, under the direction of our current CEO, Ron Adelson, the agency has grown to just about 80 to 90 employees that we have now. So it's grown rather large.

José Cárdenas:
And with respect to the minority population that's involved here, the kids, what are we looking at in terms of the demographics?

Eli Marez:
That's where the concern is for us. Of the 9,000-plus children that are now currently found in the foster care system, José, a third of those children are Latinos. So we're talking about a little over 3,000 children. It just seems that in this adoption/foster care world, we have more of a difficult task at placing a Latino child in a home than we do an Anglo child. For every Anglo child that we find a home for, there's three Latino's that are waiting -- still waiting.

José Cárdenas:
Veronica, why is that?

Veronica Nichols:
Well, it's a lot of factors. Either because the community -- the Hispanic community is not well-informed about how the system works -- and some people don't even know that we have foster kids living in shelters or group homes. So a lot of families call and say, well, I didn't know this even exists. So just because we -- they don't have the information out there, that's why.

José Cárdenas:
Is part of it cultural in the sense that this is not a tradition that you would find in Mexico, for example?

Veronica Nichols:
And also our community has a strong tradition that when it comes to an adopted child -- I mean, why even adopt a child if it's not your blood? Those types of things also. It's a lot of factors that affect that.

José Cárdenas:
So what special efforts are being made now to deal with this problem?

Veronica Nichols:
What special efforts?

José Cárdenas:
In terms of -- well, you're the bilingual family resource recruiter. Does that mean dealing with the families themselves and educating them as to what the possibilities are?

Veronica Nichols:
Yes. We meet them personally, and I actually meet them personally and give all the information. They get trained through the agency, which is required by the state, and they get trained to be able to become a positive family for those kids, 'cause we don't want them to be removed again. So they have the support from the agency and especially from Todos los Ninos program.

José Cárdenas:
Now, Eli, Veronica was talking about the families and getting them more involved. But are the minority kids just harder to place generally? You don't have as many non-minorities adopting them? Why is the number so high?

Eli Marez:
Well, I think -- I think a lot of it has to go back with the lack of education and information that is in the Latino community regarding foster care and adoption, to be honest with you. There is a huge discrepancy there. But I think over the last several months, we've seen that gap even close in the sense that, since we've made an effort to be on programs like yours here or whether it be on radio or other television stations, we are seeing Latino families truly respond to this need to the point where I think it's probably at a highest ever in the history of the agency, which is something very proud for us to say, because it's not that Latinos are not concerned about the need. It's just I think that once the information gets out there and the education piece is out there for them, it's just a greater understanding, and so they're responding.

José Cárdenas:
What I understand from information that was given to us in preparation for this show that there are some factors involving the kids. They tend to be older, and older children, regardless of race, are harder to place.

Eli Marez:
Absolutely.

José Cárdenas:
But why would that be the case with Hispanic kids?

Eli Marez:
Whether it be Hispanic or non-Hispanic, when families walk into the foster care/adoption world, they're looking primarily for the younger child and there is this idea that, well, if they're younger, at least you get to raise them yourself and they don't come with all the history. So the older the child gets, when they get to 10 years and above, the percentages get much larger, get higher in that they may not even get placed in a permanent home. Once that child reaches the teen years, José, we're talking about 80 to 90% chance that that child will be without a family and they will eventually age out of the system.

José Cárdenas:
Which means they never get placed.

Veronica Nichols:
They never get placed. They stay in the system.

José Cárdenas:
There was also a suggestion that siblings have something to do with this. Is there a desire or an attempt to make sure that brothers and sisters get placed in the same family?

Veronica Nichols:
Yes.

José Cárdenas:
Is that harder with Hispanics?

Veronica Nichols:
It is harder. We try to keep the siblings together, and sometimes families cannot afford to have two or three or four brothers or sisters in the same place, so it is harder. That makes it harder for them.

José Cárdenas:
As I understand it, in a successful placement, it's important to involve not only the foster parents but the extended family, the aunts and uncles and the grandparents. How do you deal with that in your role, Veronica, in terms of getting all those people involved?

Veronica Nichols:
Well, first of all, we invite the families to an orientation where they're going to be informed of how the process is going to be and that they have to involve the rest of the family. Either their own kids, their parents, their grandparents. So everybody has to involve in the process at some point, because once they get trained, we need to make sure that the family is going to be -- when we talk about family, we talk about the grandparents, cousins. Everybody's understanding that this child is a stranger for them and they are strangers for the child, too. So they get a lot of support from the agency.

José Cárdenas:
Eli, we talked off camera about some of the factors that led to the sudden increase and peaking in the numbers of kids who needed placement. Let's expand on that.

Eli Marez:
Well, there's a couple of factors. I think here in the state of Arizona over the last 20 years, not only has the Latino population increased, I think the last census that we've all been aware of is that, in the state of Arizona, there's 30% Latinos in the state. And that's one of the reasons why the number of Latino children.

José Cárdenas:
There are just more Latino children.

Eli Marez:
There are just more Latinos, yeah. The other piece is that, in Arizona, we've struggled and we've battled the drug issue, specifically the meth. When we saw a direct rise in the number of children -- Latino children -- and children just in general increase in numbers, when the meth problem increased for the state of Arizona -- and obviously, when that happens, parents get involved with the drugs. And so therefore the state --

José Cárdenas:
That was one of the factors.

Eli Marez:
Absolutely.

José Cárdenas:
We're going to have to end the discussion there. I'm sorry we're out of time.

Eli Marez:
Thank you.

José Cárdenas:
It's an important subject, and we thank you both for joining us on Horizonte to talk about it.

José Cárdenas:
The Arizona legislature began its 2008 session with one of the challenges finding a solution to the state budget deficit. Hear what Governor Janet Napolitano has to say about this and important issues of the session. Next Thursday on "Horizonte." That's our show for tonight. We thank you for watching. I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

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Funding for "Horizonte" is provided by SRP. SRP's business is water and power, but our dedication to the community doesn't stop there. SRP, delivering more than power. Eight is a service of Arizona State University, supported by viewers like you. Thank you.

Bettina Nava: Hamilton, Gullett, Davis and Roman and State Director for Senator John McCain;

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