Politics can get dirty. But Arizona state Senator Paula Aboud claims she’s never seen anything as filthy as the behavior she witnessed on the final day of the recent legislative session.
As the Senate prepared to vote on an anti-gay constitutional amendment putting a question on the ballot that would ban marriage equality, Aboud and another openly gay senator, Ken Cheuvront, had been consistently executing a three-month strategy to prevent the question from going to voters. The strategy: since Republicans needed all their members present to advance the amendment, Aboud and Cheuvront helped keep one Republican off of the floor each day of the session. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
However, on that last day, Aboud claims one Republican senator broke his promise to be absent. “That was the hardest part about what happened. We would not have had to go through the chaos that we did on the Senate floor if Sen. [Tom] O’Halleran would have kept his word,” Aboud said.
Upon realizing that O’Halleran was going to be present, Aboud and Cheuvront began to filibuster the bill. Knowing that the filibuster could legally and effectively kill their opportunity to vote, supporters of the marriage amendment decided that they would take whatever measure necessary to silence Aboud and Cheuvront.
“During the course of that filibuster, the Republicans went into panic mode and frantically went through the rule book, strategized and then realized that they had no legal recourse. That’s when they schemed and devised a plan that actually broke the Senate rules.”
Mid-debate, Republican leadership had Sen. Jack Harper shut off Cheuvront and Abouds’ microphones, and called on the Majority Leader Sen. Thayer Verschoor to bring the matter to a vote. Though opponents of the marriage amendment protested, the chair refused to acknowledge their points of order.
Feeling betrayed and cheated, Aboud called out to those who had violated her civil rights on the Senate floor, those who were seeking to further violate the rights of LGBT Arizonans. “I don’t think you’re afraid of judges. You’re afraid of me and my relationship.”
Read GayPolitics.com’s interview with Arizona State Senator Paula Aboud:
GP: What kind of a message does this violation of ethics present to your constituents?
PA: It’s not just the marriage amendment by itself, but the breach, the violation of the Rules of the Senate that has divided our Senate to a point where members don’t even know how they are going to face Republicans on the floor.
Personally, I will be working against those three Republican Senators [John Huppenthal – Dist. 20, Jack Harper – Dist. 3, Thayer Verschoor – Dist. 22] that committed the violation of our civil rights on the floor of the Senate by shutting off our microphones. I do not want to see their faces in the Senate again because they can no longer be trusted.
In fact, none of the Republicans, except Republican Sen. Carolyn Allen, who supported us, deserve to return to the Senate. They’ve broken our trust and they have broken the trust of the citizens of Arizona by violating our rights. If they’ve violated our rights once they’ll violate them again. They are here to protect the rights and interests of people of this state and here they are violating those very rules that govern our law-making body. It’s a travesty. They have dishonored the Senate.
(click through to read the rest)
GP: During your time in the Arizona State Senate, you have championed crucial legislation and served on many important committees including Appropriations, Higher Education and Health. How has the ongoing debate surrounding an Arizona marriage amendment affected other important issues in the Senate?
PA: The biggest problem with the marriage amendment is that it distracted Republican legislators to such an extent that they couldn’t pass the budget, which was their Constitutional duty, and caused them to have a difficult time focusing on other pieces of legislation that were important to the state of Arizona. They were completely fixated on passing the marriage amendment bill.
We are suffering in so many ways. We are suffering from the nation’s largest budget deficit. Our state’s largest deficit ever. We are suffering from mortgage loan fraud up the yin-yang. We are suffering from immigration concerns, education concerns. We have so many crucial issues to deal with in this state. From feeding people, to serving their basic needs and providing solutions to safety concerns. And a majority of the members of this legislature thought that protecting the citizens from same-sex marriage were more important than those critical issues—it was a joke! To bring the same basic issue back to the voters in another ballot initiative, to once again distract and divide our community is just inconceivable! The people that think this is an important issue are doing a disservice to our state and to our citizens. And our citizens need to vote them out of office and replace them with those who will protect them and take care of the real needs of our state.
GP: How do you think the Arizona marriage amendment ballot initiative will affect the general election? How will it differ from California’s ballot measure?
PA: There are only four months to address this issue. I think it will definitely bring some right wing money into the state. But I think it’s going to empower the LGBT community to get out there to work hard. It will inspire our community to get out there and vote in November.
What I think will happen, if Obama is indeed the Democratic nominee, I think it will mobilize and energize the young voters who will be out there working for Obama anyway, to work against this marriage initiative. The younger generation is so much more supportive of our community than my generation is. There is a good chance we could defeat this initiative this fall.
GP: What are the presidential campaigns doing to reach out to LGBT voters in your state? What relationship do LGBT Arizonans have with each of the candidates?
PA: I don’t think the LGBT community is working so much on the Presidential races as they are on the state races because in order to pass ENDA in Arizona, our community recognizes that we have to change the composition of our legislature. There’s a huge push in Arizona to bring new Democrats into the House because we need five new Democrats to get the majority we need in the State House of Representatives.
GP: We often hear stories about how straight colleagues are impacted by their LGBT peers in elected bodies. Can you think of a time that your presence as an LGBT legislator had an impact on one of your peers?
PA: In a very positive way, when I gave my speech on the eve of June 27. I had people telling me that they were moved by my speech and they called me courageous and a hero. I was really moved by that. I mean, I’ve been speaking out for LGBT rights, women’s rights, environmental and animal rights for years, but I’ve never been called a hero before. I’ve had numerous people remarking on how they have been persuaded to vote against the marriage amendment because of the kinds of things I’ve said on the floor. Probably Sen. Cheuvront experienced the same things when he spoke so passionately on the floor. But unfortunately, it was apparent that the Republican leadership had determined their vote long before I arrived in the Senate.
Only one, I’ll tell you, only one Senator has started to change her opinion. 12 years ago when she was a Senator, she was anti-gay to the Nth degree and 12 years later, her two best friends are Sen. Cheuvront and me, the two gay senators. While she is a Mormon and still supports the marriage amendment, she now recognizes the deeper issues of inequality. She’s surely changed, not 180 degrees, but certainly more than 90 degrees. In fact, she was one of the people that we were able to get to be absent on one day. It’s been truly remarkable.