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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Arizona madness a cautionary tale for everyone in Florida

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Sure, that was a righteous veto Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer used to a bill that would have sanctioned discrimination in the name of religious freedom. Gay rights groups and many others flooded Arizona with protests and threats of economic consequences.

I mean, Arizona could have lost the Super Bowl scheduled there for 2015. The Super Bowl! So the veto was the obvious move, but still it was huge.

The bigger question to me, though, is how a clearly lousy piece of legislation got that close to becoming law in the first place. How did someone say, “Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a law: If you’re not like me, let’s make it legal to discriminate against you.”

Even Arizona legislators who voted for it were asking Brewer to save them from themselves when they saw how bad the law really was. It all sounds ridiculous, but beware. You never know what might bubble up out of our state Legislature in the midnight hour.

I posed that hypothetical Friday to Mike Fasano, a Republican who served many years in the Legislature before taking over the Pasco County tax collector’s office in 2013. He knows how these things work.

“Sometimes there are so many bills being filed, going through the process, that most of these members will never see a bill until it gets to the floor,” he said. “They are so focused on their own bills that they don’t understand the consequences of a bill until after the fact.

“To be honest, I’m surprised the leadership of the Arizona Legislature allowed that bill to come to the floor.”

Unless, of course, the leadership has its own agenda. Fasano knows how that works. During a battle over prison privatization in 2012, he was chair of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice budget committee. Senate President Mike Haridopolos needed the committee to keep a bill moving that could have led to privatized prisons in an 18-county area, but Fasano balked against the leader of his own party. He wouldn’t let the bill be heard.

So, Haridopolos booted Fasano off the committee and reintroduced the bill through another committee.

“I had never seen something like that before,” Fasano said. “But that’s how leadership can get any bill they want to the floor of their respective chamber.”

The bill eventually died, but it was an object lesson in how rough the game of politics can be.

You might think what happened in Arizona is extreme, but similar bills were bubbling in several states, although passing one could be difficult now. Ohio and Mississippi lawmakers withdrew their bills after the Arizona debacle.

For what it’s worth, Gov. Rick Scott, right here in the Sunshine State, initially gave a non-answer answer when asked repeatedly on MSNBC if Brewer should veto the bill. He kept saying he didn’t know that much about the bill. Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely Democratic challenger in November’s election, called that “stunning.”

Scott later said he would have used his veto.

I don’t think a sense of fair play toward gays or anyone else was the driving force, though. Major corporations were screaming about dire financial ramifications if this bill went through, and dollars will trump fairness every time. Perhaps that is enough to stop stupid bills in the future, at least those that hide discrimination under the cloak of religion.

As a Christian, I find that highly offensive.

Just because a bad bill was stopped short of the finish line this time, though, it’s best to stand guard.

I don’t believe we can ever underestimate the methods some will use to institutionalize bigotry. They got pretty close this time.

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