Enemies of the State
Controversial content has Arizona legislators seeing redand yanking state funds
The story was eye-catching and provocative. The headline&"Sensual Steel"&ran last year on the front page of Arizona State University's weekly entertainment magazine published by the State Press student newspaper. The text described how students use body piercings to enhance sexual sensation and the full-page photograph featured a woman's bare breast, shot from the side, with a metal barbell vertically skewering the nipple.
In response to complaints from constituents about the State Press story and an instructional column about oral sex published last year in the Lumberjack student newspaper at Northern Arizona University, Rep. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) added a footnote to the state budget in March that specified "no state funding for university student newspapers."
The footnote targets those schools' publications as well as the University of Arizona's Daily Wildcat student newspaper.
The legislators supporting the footnote acknowledged that it would not affect the operation of the newspapers because they receive no state funding. Legislators said they intended merely to signify disapproval.
"It's not going to keep [the students] from going ahead and printing their newspapers," said Sen. Karen Johnson (R-Mesa), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which handles the series of bills that comprises Arizona's annual budget proposal. "It sends a very, very strong message that needs to be sent. [The newspapers] had smut, pornographic stuff talking about how people hook up with people and how to have different trysts going on during the week—how many [people] you could score with. Those are just not things that our constituents want their tax dollars going toward."
Cameron Eickmeyer, editor in chief of the State Press student newspaper, said the measure puzzled him.
"The footnote didn't ever really make sense to us as a legitimate effort to affect what was happening in the newsroom," he said. "We tried to explain that a much better way to effect change in a newsroom is to meet with editors, send letters, attempt to write guest columns. Those kinds of things are much more effective than doing something like this."
He said legislators never contacted him directly, but that complaints about the newspaper's content were handed down from university officials.
Johnson said the footnote garnered the support of slightly more than half the Republicans in the Senate and all eight Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. John Huppenthal (R-Phoenix), vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that while he had not "had much time to think about it," he considered the footnote to be a boon to free speech.
"If you really want a free press, a free press has to be independent," he said. "A government-funded press isn't free."
Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed the proposed 2006 state budget in late March. Republican and Democratic legislators agreed that Napolitano rejected the budget primarily because it failed to provide enough funding for full-day kindergarten, healthcare programs and the state's water department during drought season, not because of the footnote.
The three newspapers targeted by the footnote do not receive state funding. The UA Daily Wildcat and Northern Arizona Lumberjack support themselves through advertising. The ASU State Press receives 10 percent of its funding from a university account fed by tuition dollars.
Johnson said the footnote would not affect community college newspapers, some of which rely entirely on state funding.
Huppenthal said he did not realize that the student newspapers the footnote would target do not receive state funding.
"Then the footnote doesn't make sense and it's really not an issue, is it?" he said.
Charles Ares, a professor at the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law who specializes in constitutional law, said "it's startling and certainly worth looking at."
"At the moment, I don't know how to react to this," he said. "I suppose the legislature can appropriate or not appropriate money in any way it wants, but if it's [denying funding] to intimidate a student newspaper, that might be something else and there might be a First Amendment [violation] claim there. I've never seen anything like this. I've never heard of anything like this."
Rep. Steve Gallardo (D-Tolleson) said many Democrats denounced the budget for lack of healthcare funding and the message behind the footnote.
"One thing Rep. Pearce does is wrap himself around the Constitution," he said. "He's an ultra-conservative member of our body, but it's important that he peel off Article I long enough to read it because I don't think he's actually read it. It's just his way of trying to silence the paper."
The Arizona legislature and the governor's office will shuttle budget bills back and forth until they reach a compromise. Legislators are currently working on the second round of bills and it is not clear if the footnote will be included in the second draft of the budget. If approved, the budget will go into effect on July 1.
Eickmeyer said the State Press student newspaper will not speak out against the footnote.
"We covered the original bill coming out and that's pretty much all we've done," he said. "As far as we're concerned, there's not much more we can do. Until we hear something else [about the footnote], we're operating business as usual."
reports, Spring 2005