Posts Tagged ‘Terry Goddard’

Goddard comes out against medical marijuana, his base & the facts

Arizona’s Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard should know better.

Terry Goddard. (Photo from his campaign site.)

When Arizona’s Governor-by-default Jan Brewer announced her opposition to Proposition 203 to legalize medical marijuana on Wednesday, she had little to lose in the way of votes or credibility. There is strong opposition to medical marijuana among conservatives. And since this is the governor who made up tall tales about headless bodies in the desert and rampant drug smuggling by Mexican immigrants, no one is really looking to her as a beacon of truth on the subject. So when she warned in her press conference that medical marijuana dispensaries could overwhelm communities– even though the proposition caps the number of dispensaries at 124 statewide — no one was surprised.

But Goddard is a smart guy who has built his campaign on being, well, smarter and more honest about the issues than Brewer. So that’s why Goddard’s factually-problematic statement this week opposing Proposition 203 — likely posted in haste to pull the issue off the table when Brewer announced her press conference — caught so many people by surprise. Among them, Democratic political operative-turned-medical marijuana champion Andrew Myers, who is running the Yes on Proposition 203 campaign: “What I thought was really disappointing was that his criticism wasn’t even rooted in fact,” Myers says. It was so “remarkably off base”  it sounded like something coming out of Brewer’s camp.

The measure clearly requires dispensaries to grow their own marijuana and charges state officials with the responsibility to inspect them to make sure they are doing so. But Goddard joined the chorus of misinformation on the measure, contending that somehow it would enrich drug cartels:

“I have spent more than seven years as Arizona’s top law enforcement official cracking down on drug trafficking, unrelentingly working to keep Arizona children safe from the dangers of drug abuse.  I cannot in good conscience advocate for a Proposition that encourages importing drugs into our country or that might result in drugs getting into the hands of our children.”

No one seems to know where Goddard got this. Sick people in Arizona who smoke marijuana already get their pot from drug cartels, and Proposition 203 would give them a legal alternative if they qualify. His statement came on the tail of published opposition by the state’s county attorneys and sheriffs — but even they didn’t make this ludicrous argument. And his campaign refuses to explain it. My emails and phone calls seeking an explanation — giving the benefit of the doubt that maybe the attorney general had found a loophole in the measure that I don’t see — have met with no response, even though I have a professional relationship with Goddard and several campaign leaders going back many years.

Not only is Goddard’s opposition not rooted in fact — it doesn’t seem to be true to his own beliefs. As Attorney General, Goddard has said in the past that legalization of marijuana is something that should be discussed. His statement opposing the measure garnered an incredulous response from one of his own employees on Facebook. In a post, since removed, the long-time Goddard loyalist blasted his boss for backing away from his beliefs. “I have never seen him, ever, do something politically expedient in the 5 years I have worked for him — until now,” the employee wrote.

And as for political calculation, where were Goddard’s strategists on this one? As the underdog in the race, Goddard needs to both distinguish himself from Brewer and motivate as many left-leaning (and independent and undecided) folks to the polls as possible if he wants to overcome the odds and defeat Brewer. By jumping on the opposition bandwagon this late in the campaign with a half-hearted explanation (a short statement compared to Brewer’s bells-and-whistles press conference), he didn’t win the issue or take points from Brewer: The Arizona Republic, for example, blogged about Brewer’s press conference but only mentioned Goddard’s opposition in passing in the final sentence.

Proposition 203 is polling far better than Goddard’s campaign. It is especially popular among Democrats and Libertarian-minded Independents: Myers says internal numbers (albeit from last year) found Proposition 203 to poll favorably among 75 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Independents. Plus, polling in California has indicated that the marijuana vote there for Proposition 19 could be a big help to Democratic candidates.

Myers says he has received several calls from disillusioned Democrats, some of whom have said this cost Goddard their votes. I saw similar proclamations on Facebook. Myers’ campaign has asked Goddard for a retraction — reminiscent of Goddard’s own demands to Brewer to admit she was wrong about beheadings in Arizona. So far, no response. The worst possibility for Goddard is that medical marijuana supporters will answer the ballot question for governor the same way.


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This Week in Drugs (Oct. 22, 2010)

By David Robles

Authorities in Tijuana seized 105 tons of marijuana after a clash with suspected drug runners on Monday in what President Felipe Calderon says was the country’s largest marijuana seizure ever. Police seized more than 15,000 packages of marijuana and detained 11 people following the armed encounter that left a government agent and a suspected drug runner injured. (See Mexican officials incinerate the pot in this clip from MSNBC.)

During a recent panel presentation at the University of Texas at Austin, The Los Angeles Times‘ Mexico City bureau chief, Tracy Wilkinson, said reporting on the cartel violence in Mexico is no different than covering a war. Wilson explained that the foreign press struggles with three main obstacles when reporting on the drug war: getting sources  to talk, avoiding being made a pawn by one side or the other, and whether and how to use the “grisly images” and “horrific details,” according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog.

In the Mexican state of Chihuahua, a 20-year-old criminology student, Marisol Valles Garcia, was named the chief of police for the city of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero on Monday. No one else would accept the position of chief of police in the city where the former mayor and members of the local police force have been killed and at least eight people were murdered in the last week, MSNBC reported. Garcia said that her job would not be to fight the drug trafficking, which falls to the federal government, but instead will focus on preventative programs for schools and neighborhoods to make an impact on the community.

Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, told the Dallas News that he believes his country needs to take a new stance on U.S. migration and border enforcement. Sarukhan says Mexico needs to boost economic growth and job creation “to anchor those women and men with well-paying jobs in Mexico” and “ensure that every single Mexican that crosses the border into the United States does so with papers, through a designated port of entry, and legally.” These are two key courses of action that he says Mexico has been unwilling to do in the past.

A new poll shows California’s Proposition 19 to legalize medical marijuana for recreational use by adults might fail. The Los Angeles Times/USC poll found voters opposing it 51 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, The Press-Enterprise sought to clear up confusion about the measure with a question-and-answer story here.

All 30 of Arizona’s elected county sheriffs and county attorneys have come out against the state’s medical marijuana measure, Proposition 203, as have the two leading candidates for governor. Republican Jan Brewer and Democrat Terry Goddard both announced their opposition to the measure this week. Meanwhile, officials at the Arizona Department of Health Services are beginning to contemplate new regulations, since they would have 120 days following the certification of the election to put regulations in place.


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The real threat: Cartels could disrupt economy of entire Western Hemisphere

What’s the worst thing that could happen if drug cartel violence in Mexico is left unchecked? The collapse of the Mexican government? Increased violence in U.S. border towns?

Cameron H. Holmes, staff director of the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance, says cartels have the potential to disrupt the economy of the entire Western Hemisphere. And he thinks our political leaders just don’t get it.

Holmes will retire soon from his post as senior litigation counsel in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to lead the Alliance, a quasi-governmental agency formed earlier this year to provide assistance to law enforcement along the border in combatting cartel activities and stopping the flow of guns and money into Mexico. The Alliance is funded with the settlement proceeds from a lawsuit against Western Union led by Holmes’ boss Arizona Attorney General (and Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Terry Goddard, which accused the company of facilitating money transfers from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels. (Read more about the Alliance here and the Western Union settlement here.)

Last month, I interviewed Holmes for a story on gun trafficking that will appear in the October issue of Phoenix Magazine. The conversation was among the most thoughtful I have had about the drug war, how we got to this bloody moment in time and what we should be worried about in the future. Here are highlights from that conversation* – think of it as Mexican Drug War 101, from Holmes’ perspective:

The major change in the drug war in Mexico in the last three years is the result of a change in strategy and methods by the drug cartels, Holmes says. Previously there had been an “uneasy truce”: the cartels paid off Mexican law enforcement to look the other way. But now, the cartels want absolute power. This has manifested itself in attacks on police stations and politicians, car bombs, beheadings and attacks on the general public.

The cartels have diversified their business to gain all manner of control: diverting petroleum, hijacking cargo from trains and trucks, extorting insurance companies. Essentially, they have taken on the characteristics of a classic mafia organization or warlord, not of a traditional drug trafficking organization. Many young men are attracted to the border area to work in the maquiladoras (the factories that have sprung up on the Mexican side of the border in recent years) and immigrate into the U.S. This gives the drug cartels an unlimited supply of young men to recruit as soldiers. In the past, the drug trafficking organizations were familial. Now, they see their men as expendable.

The all-out war we see in Mexico is enabled by this unlimited supply of mercenaries combined with a steady stream of weapons from the U.S. “The only way this war for regional control can continue to function is with a continuous supply of high-powered weapons,” he says. Yet U.S. politicians have done little to really clamp down on gun trafficking to Mexico by passing common sense laws such as restrictions on military grade weapon sales and sales at gun shows, instituting common sense reporting requirements (like of multiple purchases of assault rifles) or lifting gun lobby-pushed restrictions on the ATF that limit the agency’s investigative abilities.

Holmes notes that the Democrats control Congress and the White House, but they haven’t been willing to take on the gun lobby. “They haven’t got the guts, and I don’t think they understand how important it is to the future of our hemisphere,” he says. He calls the inaction on gun trafficking by Congress “disgraceful.” “Here is an opportunity to do something about the weapons fueling the Mexican criminal enterprise and they have done zero. They allowed previous restrictions on assault weapons to expire.”

Holmes says he does not think U.S. residents or political leaders fully grasp the significant threat posed by the increasing power of the Mexican cartels. “They are in a position to blockade trade between the U.S. and Mexico,” which would disrupt the economy of the entire hemisphere, he says. “I don’t think the general public of the U.S. has any idea how threatening the situation is or that Congress adequately appreciates it. I think that time is very short … that we and our contemporaries have to reverse this trend.”

Instead of focusing on gun trafficking, Holmes notes that politicians nationally and in Arizona have instead focused on immigrants and illegal immigration. “It doesn’t make the least bit of difference how many immigrants are in the United States at any given time to make the threat of Mexican criminal enterprises a clear and present danger to the United States’ hemispheric interests,” Holmes says. The cartels “don’t need to cross the border. They could stay in Mexico, throttle U.S.-Mexico trade and our hemispheric economy is dramatically disrupted . . . . What’s going to happen next is the representative government in Mexico is under question about whether it can survive.”

“We are spending our energy worrying about individuals crossing the border. We should be worried if there is going to be a Mexican economy five years from now,” he says. “It is tragic. We’re not doing nearly enough, and we are not succeeding.”

[*Author's Note: Ideally, I would have posted a verbatim transcript of my conversation with Holmes. However, my digital recorder died (and not just the batteries) right before the interview. As I always told my journalism students at Arizona State: this is why you take good notes.]


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Border security & budget cuts: two “drug” stories today show what we do right, wrong in Drug War

A delegation of Obama administration officials met with Arizona state leaders today to discuss border security, pledging hundreds of millions of dollars more in financial resources and increased manpower to fight crime at the Arizona-Mexico border (including 524 National Guard troops). The lengthy report from the White House on the tactics discussed in the meetings (link to PDF below) includes some smart efforts to fight cartel crime, such as a focus on southbound guns and money. But as I read the report, I found myself thinking about another unrelated “drug” story in Arizona, about thousands of mentally ill people who will lose access to treatment and medications because of state budget cuts.

At first blush, these two stories don’t seem connected at all. But for years, we have waged a war on drugs that has all but ignored the root causes of the problem. Year after year, politicians have increased minimum sentences for drug crimes and built more prisons while slashing drug treatment services and social programs that address poverty, mental illness and other societal problems linked to drug abuse. As I read this morning’s Arizona Republic story about the mental health program cuts, I thought about Paula, a woman with bipolar disorder I wrote about for  Phoenix Magazine this spring, who would lapse back into self-medicating by smoking crack whenever she didn’t have access to treatment or the right prescription meds. Arizona leaders who are so concerned about Mexicans bringing us drug cartel violence should consider what role they play in fighting drug use — not just punishing drug users — here at home. Treating and caring for those with mental illness is an important part of the social safety net that helps prevent crime, homelessness and drug abuse.

The Obama administration’s Southwest Border Strategy includes a tacit acknowledgment of the role the U.S. plays in the Mexican drug violence. The bloody battle with and between drug cartels that has left 23,000 Mexicans dead since 2006 is funded by money from U.S. drug sales and waged with U.S.-purchased guns. As I wrote yesterday, we can’t expect to get at the problem by targeting immigrants. But targeting southbound weapons and money is smart.

More information:

-Read the full White House report on today’s meetings here. Highlights: The White House has pledged $600 million to secure the Southwest border and enhance law enforcement efforts; additional ATF “Gunrunner Teams” and prosecutors; and 1,200 additional National Guard troops on the border (524 in Arizona).

-Read about efforts by the office of Arizona’s U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke to target firearms trafficking in a new border security fact sheet posted last week here.

-Watch the press conference by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords today on the increase in National Guard troops here.

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