Funny You Should Ask

The disheveled, unshaven middle-aged man, armed with shopping cart and crutch, took a bead on me right as I walked out of the garden section of the store.

Like a skilled player performing urban little theater, entering stage left across the parking lot, he approached innocuously, commenting about the plants I was carrying, and asked, as I opened the trunk, whether I had change to spare for lunch at the fast-food restaurant nearby.

For sure, he is not one of the bed tax-paying tourists upon whom city officials will bank increasingly as state funds for the budgets of Kingman and other cities dry up.

This transient, and his compatriots at the bottom of Interstate 40 on-ramps, who hold signs that do not say, "Please come again."

I silently dismissed the parking lot entreaty in bourgeois fashion, though castigating myself on the one hand for thinking him simply a part of the great unwashed.

But on the other, who or how many of us should be held accountable fiscally or otherwise for what, in societal context, is but a speck of failure?

The fellow's thoughts about representative government probably aren't much different than of those, say, who scrambled to buy bread in 1790s France, when the monarchy was overthrown, then executed, and the country was fast going to war with the rest of Europe.

And Jacobin and Girondist factions of the revolutionary assembly – professional politicians long before the label become fashionable – concerned themselves with power and political purity in the new republic, to the point of bloodletting in Parisian streets.

Long before Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives form a Committee of Public Safety to purge Democratic neighborhoods of central Phoenix or Tucson, they may well be starring in little theater of their own, while the Democratic governor smiles all the way to the bank or at least loftier office.

Generic republicanism has been manifest at the state Capitol, where legislators have long negotiated an alternative to Gov.

Janet Napolitano's fiscal 2005 budget proposal.

Whose interests they represent, we don't know.

They've been doing it in secret.

Negotiation implies give and take, which would be plausible had Democrats been involved, which they have been in the Senate but apparently not in the House.

But it took the comments of a Democrat – Sen.

Pete Rios of Hayden, by all reports a bargainer respected on both sides of the aisle – to make me wonder.

Of legislative secrecy, Rios said a recent Arizona Republic report, "It allows members to speak candidly, and, frankly, it allows you to count noses to see what proposals might have the votes."

I give men and woman smart enough to get elected the credit to be prescient enough to see which proposals are going nowhere.

That they have to count noses behind closed doors seems counterintuitive at best.

And candor? Can a Republican who argues sensibly for sound fiscal policy in print not stand to be in the same room with the head of an advocacy group that wants more social spending?

And on the House side, how candid – or sensitive – do Republicans have to be with each other behind closed doors? The discussion must range from the ridiculous – the color of someone's tie or hair dye, or whether someone missed their turn picking up the lunch tab the day before – to novel-like scenarios with nefarious undertones of personal blackmail, involving if not legislators then heads of state agencies.

Are they actually conspiring or simply undergoing intensive political re-indoctrination by the majority leadership?

I think the latter, if Napolitano's Cheshirelike composure on a public television news program Friday evening was any indication.

The governor no doubt is counting on dissent in Republican ranks even after re-education camp is over.

The mystery of the caucusing, of course, may well be nothing more than dealmaking with another alternative-fuels fiasco in the works.

The irony for legislators is that the portion of the budget they are haggling over is small, thanks to the mistrust they've engendered among voters and scowling among judges.

About two-third of the budget from year to year already has been decided at the ballot box or by judicial fiat.

Heck, the lawmakers can't even raise taxes.

Unless two-thirds of them somehow agree.

True to the ideals of a republic, legislators have the right to represent the best interests of their constituencies, be they small-business owners, corporate lobbyists, church leaders or advocates for social programs.

But those same legislators ought to credibly defend their support of those constituencies by showing how those interests are weighted toward overall public good.

The public's business ought to be done in public.

Rob Moore is the Miner's copy editor.