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Denogean: Arizonans upset over budget cuts shouldn’t be labeled whine- makers

Former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm infamously called Americans a “nation of whiners” during last year’s presidential campaign when he served as senior economic adviser to Sen. John McCain.

It would seem that state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, shares the same lofty opinion of Arizonans – at least those who don’t want legislators to eviscerate social services, public education and universities in the name of balancing the budget.

Earlier this week, the Arizona Republic quoted Pearce, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as saying he would try to accommodate the public’s desire to have its say, but we “don’t want to have 300 people sign up to whine.”

Pearce didn’t return a call from me this week. But he repeated the sentiment to an interviewer from arizonaguardian.com, saying, “We are not going to have a forum just for Dr. Crow (ASU president Michael Crow) to send everybody on his staff down here to whine. I’m not going to do it. And I stand by it.”

Let me just say this: There’s straight talk and there’s stupid talk. Suggesting that the people who pay your salary are whiners is stupid.

The legislators have the difficult job of cutting $1.6 billion out of the fiscal 2009 budget for the year that ends June 30 and an estimated $3 billion out of the 2010 budget.

Not surprisingly, the members of the public want a say in how those cuts are made and what services are prioritized.

It’s not whining. It’s the democratic process.

“I think Russell Pearce has made it clear that he really doesn’t want to hear from the public,” said state Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. “He’s got his own idea of what should be done and we should just shut up and let him do it.”

The public is showing, whether through calls and e-mails to legislators or by marching on the Capitol, that they want to be heard, Farley said.

“And I think we better listen to them,” he said.

On Wednesday, an estimated 2,000 students and other supporters of the state’s university system protested at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. The universities have come up with a plan to cut $100 million from the ’09 budget, but the Legislature wants to cut tens of millions more.

I guess all those folks were just a bunch of snot-nosed snivelers, not responsible citizens who care about the quality of education in Arizona.

To Pearce’s credit, he hasn’t suggested that Arizona’s economic crisis isn’t real. When Gramm called us “a nation of whiners” last year it was in the context of saying that the country was in “a mental recession,” not a real one.

I wish Gramm and Pearce would have attended Tuesday’s job fair at the Tucson Convention Center. They might have learned something about the character of the Americans and Arizonans that they are so quick to disparage.

I didn’t see any whiners there. I saw thousands of people willing to stand in the longest line of their lives in the hope of getting at least one lead on a job.

Brandy Ficzeri, 36, who was standing behind me in line, used to make $125,000 a year as a sous-chef in Cleveland.

Last year, she moved to Tucson, along with her life partner, to help out her mother-in-law, who had just lost her husband.

Ficzeri has been in the food industry for 24 years, including 10 as a certified chef. Unable to find employment for the last six months, Ficzeri said she’d take a job as a line cook for $12 an hour.

Far from being discouraged about either the lengthy line or her lengthy unemployment, she said the job fair was a great way to save people from driving all over town to file applications. And she was optimistic about her own prospects.

“There is a job out there. It’s got to find me or I’ve got to find it,” Ficzeri said.

Frankly, if I were Pearce I’d find another word to describe the resilient people of Arizona.

They deserve his respect and attention.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.

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