They’ve closed most of the state parks, can’t produce a budget, and keep introducing legislation to allow concealed weapons anywhere and everywhere including bars and college campuses. I thought to myself, surely the Republican controlled Arizona State Legislature can’t sink any lower.
Silly me. Turns out they took money from a dead woman.
Her name was Asta Forrest. She immigrated from Denmark to Fountain Hills, Arizona. She loved Arizona’s state parks so much that in her will Ms. Forrest bequeathed $250,000 to the Arizona Department of Parks. Roger Essenburg, a trustee with the Arizona Heritage Fund and a friend of Ms. Forrest, called her “a true lady,” who wanted to do this “so that other people could enjoy the state parks and all they have to offer.”
Ms. Forrester cared about Arizona’s State Parks, but as I detailed in my previous column, the Arizona State Legislature couldn’t care less. In December 2009 the Republican controlled Budget Committee raided funds set aside to manage Arizona State Park so thoroughly that the department was decimated. The result: the closure of almost all Arizona state parks.
And among those funds taken from the Arizona State Parks? The $250,000 bequest from Asta Forrester. Former state parks director Ken Travous was appalled. “Surely, I thought, they’d have some shame. But they’re shameless.”
The Arizona State Heritage Fund made sure everyone knew what the GOP controlled State Legislature had done. They used their blog to announce the theft of Ms. Forrester’s money by the state legislature: “Widow’s hefty donation to state parks is poached,” shouted their headline. The Phoenix newspaper Arizona Republic picked up the story, with an editorial entitled: “Arizona legislature raids legacy of dead woman.” The first sentence of the editorial said it all: “Stealing a dead woman’s legacy-that’s how far Legislature has gone in its raid on funding for Arizona state parks.” Democrat Chad Campbell, AZ House Minority Whip, made sure the spotlight shone even brighter on Arizona Republicans by posting an article about the theft of Ms. Forrester’s money on Huffington Post. “As children,” Campbell said, “we learn the basic rules of respect: respect your parents, respect your teachers, and respect the dead. But someone needs to remind Arizona Republicans about that last one.”
Thanks to their efforts and the public outcry that followed, the Republican controlled Legislature has finally responded. Today Republican State Senator Al Melvin, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said stealing the dead woman’s money was just a simple mistake, a little oopsie. ‘We feel confident we can get the money restored,” Melvin said. But in her article for the Arizona Republic, Mary Jo Pritzl correctly pointed out that Melvin’s about-face is a case of too little too late, since “21 of the Parks Departments 30 properties are marked for closure.”
Funny how Al Melvin only called this a boo-boo after it was made public. Yeah, very funny. And those laughs just keep on coming; thanks to the GOP-controlled state legislature, our state is becoming a joke. And as we watch our parks close, our state buildings put up for sale and our education system sink to the bottom of the list for all fifty states, it’s pretty clear that the joke’s on us.