Budget Impact on Republicans

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Solving the state budget crisis has caused an impasse between our Republican governor and our Republican-led legislature. What impact is that having on the Republican party? Former Attorney General Grant Woods and political analyst Chuck Coughlin examine the issue.

TED SIMONS: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A win for state lawmakers and the state's schools chief in the U.S. Supreme Court today. The court decided to send the English language learner case back to the lower courts with instructions that essentially remove the lower court's orders to pump more money into the system. The Supreme Court said the lower courts placed too much emphasis on how much money is spent to educate non-English learners. The court also said funding increases for education in general can be counted as additional funding for English learners. Some are calling it a fight for the soul of the Republican party . Conservatives have held sway over the party in recent years, taking a strong stand against new taxes. When Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican with strong conservative credentials, suggested a tax increase, she set off a fight in her own party that could have significant consequences. Here to talk about that and other issues facing Republicans are former state attorney general Grant Woods and political consultant Chuck Coughlin. Both by the way are Republicans. Still Republicans as of air time?


TED SIMONS: All right. State of the G.O.P., Chuck? In general, the state of the Republican party in Arizona.

CHUCK COUGHLIN: We're having a little civil war at the legislature about whether we can govern as a party. We were given the office, I would say in the seventh inning of a nine-inning game with the deepest financial crisis in the history of the state. State government functionarily provides health care, education, and public safety and transportation. All four things that most voters feel are pretty rudimentary things, services that we provide. The government provides. We have to cut. There's no question the governor said we had to cut, we had to cut billions of dollars in spending out after $10 billion budget. But she at the end of the day said, I cannot stomach what we'll need to do to balance this budget on the backs of public education, higher education, and public health care. So she came to the conclusion given the enormity of the whole that we needed a temporary sales tax increase. She made that conclusion based upon her gut feeling of what -- from a feeling of where she's at, philosophically. She's never increased taxes in 27 years of public service, so that has to say something about who she is and where she's at. But the party itself has had a mantra, Grover Norquist pretends he's the head pope of the party saying that we're against all tax increases. Well, that's -- it's a respectable position to have. It is clearly a part of our party, but it is not dogma.

TED SIMONS: Is that the Grover Norquist no tax increase pledge, and things like that, are they so ideological that forests are not being seen for the trees?

GRANT WOODS: I think so. I think Chuck is right, the governor, certainly with her record, has never been one that's a big spender or for raising taxes. But first and foremost you have to govern. And the legislature is partially to blame for the deficit that we have here, and not anticipating it along with the former governor. But the point is you've got to deal with it. Just like President Obama did, what did he cause? But he stepped into a big mess, and the democrats and nationally control everything. They're moving forward, and they've got a plan here, and we'll see fit works or doesn't work. But at least they have act and they've acted pretty much in unison. In Arizona, don't seem to be able to do that. At some point I'm confident the electorate will say , these guys don't have their act together, so we'll get somebody else.

CHUCK COUGHLIN: Either you cut and you succeed, I'm a political consultant, so you cut and you succeed in a Republican primary, but if you cut so far you're going to hand the office back to the democrats. It's been a fairly easy argument to make, and she understands that. I think she believes it's better for fiscal conservatives for Republicans to be in long-term control of the state legislature, and the governorship, so we can right the ship. I don't think anybody is saying is here to defend as all Republicans and state governments are defending. You can't do that. We can do better. At this point it's like trying to turn the Titanic around after it hit the iceberg.

TED SIMONS: She wants to do that. Do rank and file Republicans in Arizona want to do that?

CHUCK COUGHLIN: I believe majority of public opinion supports that. If you dedicate the tax to public education, health care, or public safety. Down at the legislature, this is what it's important to understand. Most everybody in the legislature, both on the Democratic side and on the Republican side, are elected in primaries. There's only about five or six races based upon a variety, starting with the civil rights act in 1964, why we elect from -- who gets elected. And so you don't really have middle of the road managers down there in most districts. They go back and they're elected in primaries, which are very narrow constituencies. When there's a $4 billion budget deficit trying to get those folks to act as practical managers of a $10 billion difficult, it's difficult.

TED SIMONS: Does that schematic that Chuck points out there, does that mean a smaller tent for the Republican party ? Have they taken it so far that a lot of folks who -- I know people who are -- one party or the other, and they've got problems with their party. The ones that are Republicans, they say, I don't know if that's my party anymore. I don't recognize it. That sounds pretty serious.

GRANT WOODS: I say that. I've lived my whole life here as a Republican. I've spent a good portion of my life in active involvement in the political world here. But the old days it was the Barry Goldwaters of the world that attracted me to the Republican party . I don't see is that, because one thing, senator Goldwater was a fiscal conservative. And so am I. But he would also have told you I think that the things that government should do, they should do well. So what we've got is a bunch of people who for whatever reason, they don't seem to really care if Arizona is 48th or 49th or 50th in education. They don't seem to really care if we have kids by the tens of thousands without health care. If we cut even more in those areas. That's not right. I think the Republican party can stand for fiscal conservatism, but it also has to stand for quality governance. You have to be able to say, I'm going to vote for him because I know he's not going to waste money. He's not going to tax us unless it's absolutely necessary. But he's going to get the job done in a quality way. That's what we're missing here.

TED SIMONS: It's the ones that don't care about those things, keep getting elected and wind up in leadership positions at the state house, again, what does that say about the party in Arizona?

GRANT WOODS: What it says is that the legislature for a long time in my view, really for 20, 25 years, the Republicans there as a group have not reflected Republicans or the electorate at large. If you look at Arizona as -- statewide offices, on propositions, it's actually pretty moderate group out there. We elect Republicans, we elect democrats. If you look at the issues where Arizona has come down, sometimes a little conservative, sometimes a little liberal. Pretty much down the road. But that legislature continues to be out of step. Will that ever change? I don't know. Because they've continued to rig the system so that if they win the primary, they won't have a competitive general -- we're taping here in Tempe. In Tempe, it's a good example of how it should work. If you run too far to the right or too far to the left you'll lose in the general to the person in the other party. This is one of the few areas where that's true.

TED SIMONS: The future of the Republican party in Arizona, the entire west is veering in a different direction than it looks like Arizona is veering. What does that say for the future?

CHUCK COUGHLIN: Well, we're in a fight. And whether or not we can hold those values and hold those conservatives in the party, and understand that we do have a rule in governing. And do we have the ability, what the governor said at the outset of this discussion, when she delayed -- delivered her five-point plan, was one of the things we need to do is control the rate of government growth. That's a good Republican conservative principle. State spending has gone out of control since about the '03 budget. It's just been skyrocketing. And so she and the legislature are working on proposals. There's grounds that we can make up. But again, you can't turn it around, I don't believe, in one session. She's been in office six months. The legislature -- the leadership of the legislature was elected what I call a war cabinet, to go to war with Napolitano. Governor Napolitano's budget since '07 that have been passed. It's not been Republican budgets. They were always the governor's budgets. Napolitano's budgets with a minority of Republican votes. And so what they got elected in leadership this time was a war cabinet to go to war with Napolitano. Well guess what, she left, and we still have a war cabinet fighting with our own governor, who is trying to govern I think on a statewide basis.

TED SIMONS: We've got to get out of here, but yes or no -- are you optimistic for the Republican party in Arizona if it stays as it is?

CHUCK COUGHLIN: No. I think every party has to change in order to accommodate. What we've seen on the national scale is an immense movement to the left. I'm very concerned. I'm hopeful that it works, but I'm very concerned a lot of things are there. I believe we need to recognize how to govern in that environment. We cannot become irrelevant. We have to manage toward the center, center right.

TED SIMONS: Optimistic in just in general for the party in Arizona?

GRANT WOODS: Definitely not, no . They're going to have to show that they can govern responsibly, that they can deal with quality of life issues. I think people care about education, for example, and this legislature and their record on education has been extremely poor. So they're going to have to bump it up in the areas that matter to people. If they don't, they're going to get tossed out.

TED SIMONS: Ok that'll have to do it. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizon."

Grant Woods:Former Attorney General;Chuck Coughlin:political analyst;

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