PHOENIX — J.D. Hayworth is irate. He's mad as hell. I'm watching the former Republican congressman rail against President Barack Obama's stimulus package in his radio studio here in Phoenix.
Hayworth is a conservative’s conservative — a loud-voiced, big-boned, saguaro cactus of a guy — and he's denouncing what he sees as an unseemly, dangerous stampede of local politicians desperate for federal cash. He was also defeated in 2006 by Democrat Harry Mitchell.
“It’s all about the money!” he booms. “They may as well be the politburo! This is a huge federal power grab and these people do not care. They’re so excited about their little ‘stimulus strike force.’”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, worth $787 billion, is arguably the most expensive piece of legislation in history, even adjusting for inflation since the days of the Pharaohs.
Here in the sprawling Valley of the Sun, there are two ways of thinking when it comes to Obama’s plan to spend and lend us out of the Great Recession.
One mind sees Arizona as a pioneering desert outpost, the hardscrabble place that produced Barry Goldwater, founding father of modern conservatism. This Arizona is grimly suspicious of Obama’s massive expansion of federal involvement in the economy.
But there is a second mind — another Arizona impulse. It's one that says, rather bluntly, “We want ours.” They do a lot of mining here, and most Arizonans know a rich vein of ore when they see it.
This two-minded Arizona has existed for 150 years. The state was, and is, full of adventurous types. They live in a dramatic, exhilarating landscape that seems to scream “freedom!”
But they also have relied from the start — and sometimes more than folks back East — on federal money and government decision-making. This Washington assistance shapes everything from water projects (it’s a desert, after all), to mining plans, and policies towards Native Americans.
Look for the 'Where's Mine' faction to win
Here’s my prediction for this latest round of the never-ending argument of the West: the Goldwaters will be flattened by the “Where’s Mines.”
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Phoenix city officials, led by Democratic Mayor Phil Gordon, are working furiously to capture funds for economic development and social services — everything from roads to health care facilities and education.
The understandable urgency stems from the ongoing national housing crisis, which has hit Phoenix hard. Once one of the hottest real estate markets, the Valley is now prostrate. By one estimate, there are at least 50,000 housing units for sale. Homes that were selling for $500,000 are now being offered for less than half.
Vast housing developments are also in default. Maintenance workers are going without pay to service apartment blocks whose owners — often, former high-fliers from California — have defaulted.
These workers have an investment, too — in the sense that they still need a place to work, and don’t want to see it go to seed.
Obama’s hope is that the “stim” will not only inject money into the states, but a spirit of optimism as well.
In that sense, the key to the American economic psyche is held by thousands of local television news broadcasts, newspapers, and Web sites.
The news is getting out, and the money will soon follow. With thousands of construction workers idle, the Arizona Republic reported that stimulus money will pay for the expansion of two major roads in the highway-laced Valley. Thousands of jobs will be “created or saved,” the paper dutifully explained on its front page.
Governor leads the wary pack
But state officials, led by Gov. Jan Brewer and a Republican-dominated legislature, are openly wary of some stimulus money — funds they say will either create long-term obligations for the state or come attached with too many federal strings.
The legislature may yet reject, or at least not go after, some of that cash.
Hayworth’s objections are more philosophical. The country, he says, wasn’t built on the idea that money and power flow from Washington. It's supposed to flow toward Capitol Hill, and only in limited amounts.
Arizona is a place, J.D. believes, where there is no inherent regard for free markets, but, rather, a belief that government occupies the higher moral ground. “The guy seems to be a pleasant enough fellow,” he says of Obama, “but he is way left of just being a liberal.”
Beyond ideology, per se, Hayworth and his fellow conservatives know that everything rests on whether the president’s plan is viewed as a success. If the answer is yes, then Obama won’t be the only winner. So will the idea that Washington must play a larger, more direct role.
And that's the part some don’t like in Arizona. But they’ll get over it.
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