The Lobby

Written by Editorial Staff Category: Valley News Issue: December 2017
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Things we love and loathe this month

Dashboard: Dolphin Trouble
As one might expect, animal-rights activists were not doing backflips over the recent demise of Bodie, a 7-year-old bottlenose dolphin who, before falling ill this summer, spent his days nuzzling schoolkids at the Dolphinaris interactive aquarium in Scottsdale. The focus of intense opposition before it opened in October 2016, Dolphinaris did not publicly disclose the September death of the animal until weeks after the fact, and has not commented on the origins of the muscle disease that killed Bodie – details that irk Karen Michael of the Animal Defense League of Arizona and other activists, who hope to reignite the debate over marine animals in captivity. Michael cites records from the federal Marine Mammal Inventory that show more than 1,100 dolphins have died in captivity since the 1950s. Meanwhile, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) maintains that the median life expectancy of a bottlenose dolphin in captivity (24.3 years) is longer than that of its wild counterparts. Dolphinaris officials say the facility has played to packed houses since its opening, but color Michael unimpressed. “We’re hoping that people, as they learn more about the plight of these captive dolphins, they’ll be less interested in supporting this industry.”
— Lauren Loftus

Not-Hot For TeacherNot-Hot for Teacher
By now, most of us are aware that Arizona teachers make less than the guy who flips cardboard arrows in front of the Verizon store. An interesting caveat: If you adjust for cost of living, salaries are even worse in states like Colorado and Maine, where undercompensated educators knocked us out of the lowest-annual-salary “top” 5.

Evidently, money isn’t everything. Despite our glorious 44th place finish in salary, online financial planner Wallet Hub ranked Arizona the bleakest place for teachers in the nation. Using this Venn diagram, we demonstrate why.

 

illustration by Mirelle Inglefield

7 Questions: Polar Express Santa
Saint Nick was born around 280 A.D. on the coast of modern-day Turkey. Known for his outlandish kindness, he was canonized following his extensive travels, giving away his wealth to help poor, sick children. In the centuries since, the jolly old man we now know as Santa Claus moved to the Arctic, married a nice gal and, with the help of an elven fleet, continues his tradition of bringing joy and peace to kids around the world every Christmas via sleigh and magic reindeer. Seventeen years ago, Claus got on board yet another mode of transportation – this time, teaming up with the Grand Canyon Railway to greet girls and boys at the end of their journey on the Polar Express train ride from Williams, Arizona, to his home at the North Pole. This year, Claus will greet every family in each car following their journey of cocoa and story time through January 6. We caught up with the big guy to talk trains, Arizona and, of course, cookies. thetrain.com/polarexpress

1. WILLIAMS IS APPROXIMATELY 3,000 MILES FROM THE NORTH POLE, YET THE GCR TRAIN GETS THERE IN ABOUT A HALF-HOUR WITHOUT THE BENEFIT OF MAGLEV TECHNOLOGY. HOW?
“Well, you know, it was because trains traveled so fast [on railroads in the 1800s] that time zones were invented. The Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express basically time-travels, and given that the North Pole is in the same time zone as every place on Earth, it’s pretty easy to
make it there and back [in 90 minutes,
with time for photos with Santa].”

2. ANY FAVORITE DINING SPOTS AROUND WILLIAMS?
“I don’t have a ton of time for extra exploration, but I particularly love the Pub Bleu Cheese Chips at Spenser’s Pub at Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel. I always try to sneak that in every year! Plus a visit to Bearizona, where the reindeers and I can say hi to
all our animal friends.”

3. YOU’VE TRAVELED, WELL, EVERYWHERE, ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL SPOTS IN ARIZONA – PERHAPS FOR A WELL-DESERVED VACATION?
“Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River [on the bottom of] the Grand Canyon. Instead of reindeer, I switch over to mules to make my travels there.”

4. WHAT ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE ARIZONA HOLIDAY TRADITION?
“To me, there is nothing better than the Polar Express tradition, because I get to visit all the boys and girls on board! It is my favorite time of year when I can say hello and visit with those who have been naughty and nice. Besides my sleigh, the train is my favorite way to travel.”

5. SPEAKING OF TRAVEL, WE HAVE TO ASK: HOW DO YOU GET AROUND THE WHOLE WORLD IN JUST ONE NIGHT?
“I fly in reverse.”

6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COOKIE? DO YOU PREFER WHOLE MILK OR A NON-DAIRY VARIETAL LIKE ALMOND? 
“I’m a classic man – there’s nothing better than a chocolate chip cookie and a tall, cold glass of whole milk.”

7. MOST IMPORTANTLY, HOW DO WE GET OFF of THE NAUGHTY LIST?
“You can send a check to... Just kidding. Just treat other people as you want them to treat you. It’s not that hard.”

 

O'Pinion: Senate Dominoes
In a blockbuster October announcement that rocked the Beltway, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2018.

The immediate effect: A multitude of ambitious Arizona Republicans gazed at their reflections in the mirror and thought: “Could that be Arizona’s next U.S. Senator?” The number of potential candidates – including our sitting governor and five incumbent Republican congresspersons – is staggering.

The Back Room: The public will not have access to the most interesting of the discussions about what happens next – only the GOP’s top brass will be privy. We can be sure of one thing, though: The establishment does not want to see former Arizona Senator Kelli Ward emerge from the primary. Ward is still widely regarded as unelectable, despite outpolling Flake and garnering the support of Svengali-esque Breitbart chief Steve Bannon. Expect party elders to pressure the Republican frontrunners to find one consensus candidate, and the rest to stand down.

The Ducey Domino: Governor Doug Ducey’s position is critical. Flush with Koch brothers backing, the governor could preempt the non-Ward primary field. Doing so would also solve a major problem for him: In running for re-election as governor, he would have to say how he can provide funding for what the public sees as massively underfunded education without breaking his pledge to cut taxes every year. Doing both is impossible, but as senator, he could largely sidestep this problem. He has indicated he’s not likely to run for Senate, but the denial was unconvincing.

Enter McSally: If Ducey opts out, Southern Arizonan congresswoman Martha McSally would likely find the race irresistible. She is only a coinflip in Arizona’s 2nd District, one of the most genuinely competitive districts in the country. But running in a statewide election as a Republican means she would leap out of the gate with a nearly insurmountable 12 percent lead, due to the Republican edge in voter registration. In short: She’s a better bet for Senate than re-election in her current district. (Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, her main challenger for Congress, might even send a check to McSally’s senatorial exploratory committee – it would seem a sound investment.) McSally’s problem is being nominated. It is not clear if she is hard-right enough for Republican primary voters.

The Others: Arizona has four other Republican congressmen. All are in safe seats, with a high probability of being elected indefinitely. According to Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin, both Paul Gosar and David Schweikert have taken themselves out of consideration. That leaves Trent Franks (R-Glendale), who is just extreme enough to  have Ward-level November electability concerns; and freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert), who once raked in $10 million as a Publishers Clearing House winner. Former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon is another possibility.

The Other Others: Jay Heiler, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, evidently has the support of former governors Fife Symington and Jan Brewer. These are impressive backers, especially given that Heiler has never run for anything, and I doubt his name recognition would crack 1 percent. Arizona State Treasurer Jeff DeWit and party operative Robert Graham were floated as trial balloons even before Flake bowed out. Either they were not interested, or they garnered little support. Another possibility: any self-funded multimillionaire seeing a Senate seat. We’re looking at you, Bob Parsons.

The Dems: U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema will likely coast to the Democratic nomination, unless liberals revolt, angry that she voted with Republicans more often than almost every other House Democrat. Sinema was clearly hoping to face either an injured Flake or an unelectable Ward in November. The latter is still a possibility, and is clearly her best hope. Another name that’s been floated is astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who would presumably make gun control part of his platform.

Sinema’s worst nightmare is McSally. Both occupy swing districts and tend to cross party lines, and both could claim momentous  candidacies as Arizona’s first female U.S. senator. To the extent that they are mirror images of one another, that translates to McSally starting out 12 percentage points ahead. That’s a tough margin to overcome. Sinema needs a far-right opponent, like Ward, to win in a statewide Arizona race.

Mike O’Neil is a sociologist and pollster who hosts the public affairs program The Think Tank on KTAR-FM 92.3.

 

From The Hip:

photo by Mark Hoffman 

“I [have] a passion for photographing graffiti mural artistry. Graffiti Alley and Roosevelt Row in Phoenix offer photographic opportunities to showcase the raw, native talents of city residents, many of whom are Hispanic. I'm a member of We Click Phoenix!, a local meetup photography club, [and I took this photo on] Roosevelt Row as one of our field trip exercises.”

— Mark Hoffman
Retired photographer and former New Yorker Hoffman relocated to Arizona 25 years ago and has snapped photos all over the globe.

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