Legislative Update

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Reporters from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us a post mortem on the just completed Arizona legislative session

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. This year's legislative session ended early last Friday morning after hours of heated rhetoric regarding Medicaid expansion, which passed despite opposition from legislative leaders. Here to wrap things up are "Capital Times" reporters Jim Small, Luige del Puerto, Hank Stephenson, and Jeremy Duda. And we welcome you all to the show. We should remind our viewers that every Wednesday now during the legislative session we have teamed with the "Arizona Capitol Times" for our weekly legislative update. We won't see you again until next year. Jim, overall thoughts regarding this session.

Jim Small: Every session, you talk about how every session is different than the last. You really kind of have an idea of what might happen, but they are unique, like snowflakes. The way the session ended, beginning to end, Governor Brewer coming out and talking about wanting to expand Medicaid under the auspices of the Obama-care law, the way it ended with the special session being called and Republican leaders ending up being steamrolled by a bipartisan coalition, this is something we've never seen before. It's left a lot of people with heads spinning.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Luige?

Luige Del Puerto: I agree with Jim. A lot agree the tremendous powers she has in her hand, the way she wielded her powers, she did it in a very smart, strategic way. She succeeded because she was able to successfully exploit the schisms within her party, in the legislature, and also she had that coalition of Republicans and Democrats that rallied behind her expansion plan.

Ted Simons: Overall impressions?

Hank Stephenson: A session full of surprises. From the very first day, nobody was expecting Brewer to come out and say, We're going to expand Medicaid coverage, until the last day she called the special session. That wasn't even in the cards as far as most people were looking at it.

Ted Simons: What do you think, Jeremy?

Jeremy Duda: Seemed like all along the Governor knew she could kind of of wait a lot of these people out. We've seen that before, but not ending with the same level of bad blood or raw nerves in the past. Even the House Republicans who had been hesitant to roll over Andy Biggs, even they were ready to do so by then.

Ted Simons: I'm getting the general impression this legislative session the Governor was the MVP?

Jim Small: I think Luige hinted at the fact that she wielded the power she has at her disposal in a way we hadn't seen before. There were a lot of Republicans that ended up on the short end of this, that cried foul over the same thing. The Governor realized she had 16 votes to pass what she wanted to pass, and they are committed enough to do what many have said, in some ways, to go out and follow her and commit political suicide, upend their leadership. She used the tools at her disposal. They really did play it in a way that left Republican leadership with little option but to kind of roll over and say, okay, I guess this is the way it's going to be. We'll put up a fight but we know it's not going to matter.

Ted Simons: How contentious was the fight towards the end?

Luige Del Puerto: The Republican Party had members fighting openly, members threatening each other within the same meeting, basically saying, guys, you are going to get primaried and you're sticking out your necks here if you support the Governor's expansion plan. You had grass roots Republicans basically calling out the governor. You had the chairman of the Maricopa County's Republican Party calling her Judas. It was very, very contentious. Jim's right. What really struck me about this session is the fact that they were even willing to roll -- not just roll their leaderships in both chambers, but replacing even. There was a plan the Governor affirmed after the passage of her proposal. She confirmed that plan was in the works.

Ted Simons: We heard words like disrespect, reckless, unbecoming the chief executive, these sorts of things. Lots of folks lobbing grenades over the Governor's way. It did sound from a distance, from where I was sitting, like it got pretty nasty down there.

Hank Stephenson: During the debate in the House it almost came to blows between a couple of Republicans in the back room. It was a nasty, nasty fight. After the final vote was done and we had sine died, everyone shook hands and stuck around and said their little thank-yous and everything. It makes you wonder if it's going to continue for the next session, or are they going to let bygones be bygones.

Jeremy Duda: Next year, in Governor Brewer's last year there, no one needs to -- if you get into her disfavor, it's not going to cost you that much. She will be gone at the end of next year. She will be a lame duck governor with one term left. You will see a lot more of this linger than you might have in previous years.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, let's look at the next session. Does the Governor get much, if anything, that she wants? And this coalition that came together, all Democrats and nine moderate Republicans, whatever the total 14 moderates, does that last?

Jim Small: I think that's a million-dollar question going forward. It's multifaceted. Time heals all wounds, but do they have enough time between now and the beginning of the session to heal some of these fractures. It wasn't just a policy disagreement, it was personal disagreement on a lot of levels. I don't see leadership going out of their way to do her any favors next year, after they were basically told, look, either you toe the line or I'm going to orchestrate a coup to kick you out. Are Andy Tobin or Andy Biggs going to bend over backwards to help the leadership? I don't think they will.

Luige Del Puerto: It's really unusual for both chambers to change leadership in the middle of a term. You know, being House Speaker and Senate President, those are not just ceremonial posts. They sign people's paychecks, they assign staff. They do all sorts of things we don't normally see, because we deal with the political side of things. But I think this will spill over to the next session very clearly. The election next year will probably heal some of those wounds, we'll have to wait until after the election next year.

Ted Simons: How galvanized are some of these conservatives?

Hank Stephenson: I think they are really riled up. There's a certain wing of the party that is ready to go on this. Today they filed the paperwork for that referendum. It'll be interesting if they get the signatures for that, it can drag on and on and bleed into not only the next legislative session, but continue this kind of fracture up until November 2014.

Ted Simons: We talk about the moderate coalition here that had so much power. The coalition of conservatives, if you will, are they there? Stronger, madder, angrier?

Jeremy Duda: Definitely madder and angrier. If you want to see how mad, come down Saturday for the kickoff of the referendum. Ron Gould and others are organizing, there will be a lot of legislators there, some of the same ones denouncing the Governor and her allies on the floor. Precinct committee men, the grass roots base of the party, these people are extraordinarily mad. They feel like they have been betrayed. They have got more than 1,200 volunteers ready to pass out these petitions.

Ted Simons: I keep hearing this was in the minds of many a Democratic budget. Is that valid?

Jim Small: No, I don't really think so. This is really not that much different than the budget Andy Biggs introduced in the Senate, or not that much different than the budget Governor Brewer introduced back in January that she unrolled. It's $300 million or so over the previous year's budget. It does increase spending over what the baseline is, just the mandatory minimum spending. But to call it a Democratic budget I think is more political rhetoric than anything I think.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Jim Small: And I think it speaks more to the tactics that were used and the people who voted for it, more than the content of the budget.

Ted Simons: Education, CPS services, these were the kinds of things that the majority voted for. Was it what they wanted, though?

Luige Del Puerto: The Governor pretty much got what she wanted in this budget, as well, not just on the Medicaid side of things. She was can go for more money for CPS, for example, she got that one. The Democrats were asking for some money for education, they got that one, as well. Those are priorities by the governor, also. When you think about insipient funding, something conservatives in the Senate agree with. If you recall at the beginning of the session, they did pass emergency funding to hire more workers in CPS. Everybody agreed with that. Jim's right, it's not different than what the Senate President and the Speaker proposed.

Ted Simons: As far as after the session, is it a surprise the Governor signed the election changes?

Hank Stephenson: It might have been a surprise to a couple of Democrats who felt she had their back on this. There may or may not have been promises made that this wouldn't become law. As far as the provisions in the bill, no. This is all things the Governor would agree with if you look at her past history.

Ted Simons: You can't return someone else's ballot if you're part of the political organization. Surprise to you, that she signed it?

Jeremy Duda: Remember, Brewer was Secretary of State for six years. A lot of people, election officials, especially Republicans, have been concerned about a lot of this stuff for a long time. There are rumors of maybe a promise to the Democrats but that doesn't seem to be the case. Standard Republican issues, Medicaid aside, she's a pretty standard solid conservative on most issues. Most of this stuff would have referred to her.

Ted Simons: The high profile issues, guns, abortion, what happened?

Jim Small: Not much. I think the one gun law that went through was closing a loophole in a law passed a couple of years ago regarding gun buy-back programs and destruction of firearms purchased at those. Beyond that there wasn't lot of news. A late push for some abortion legislation that was a melange of things, and inspection of abortion clinics unannounced. Keeping the AHCCCHS money away, but on the final day it was clear the votes weren't there. They were banding together on that issue, as well, to stop that from going forward.

Ted Simons: Will we see those things revived next session?

Luige Del Puerto: It's very likely. The evangelical Christian organization that wanted to get it out, get it done and passed this session, it's very likely we will see the same bill next year. You know, what's interesting is they promised this year they will not push for more abortion bills, they have gotten pretty much everything they wanted in the last three or four years or so. But then there was this late push to have these unannounced inspections, and I think that meshed with what some of the pro-life lawmakers were wanting, the defeat of Medicaid expansion by using this pro-life issue as a wedge.

Ted Simons: You mentioned sales tax reforms, what were some changes or compromises in the end? We've got a few minutes left here, let's go around the table. The biggest surprise and maybe the most memorable moment for you this session, covering the legislature.

Hank Stephenson: The biggest surprise was definitely the special session. And probably the most memorable moment goes right along with that. As I walked into the House before the special session had been officially announced, and it was totally empty on the floor except for eight Republican lawmakers suspected of supporting Medicaid expansion, it was just them sitting in the room, quite a vision.

Ted Simons: Kind of surreal.

Jeremy Duda: Probably from the exact time. Shortly afterwards, watching the Republicans sitting up in the balcony in protest, leaving just one of their members down to hold down the fort for all of them, and denounce the Governor and Medicaid expansion and the whole coalition on their behalf.

Jim Small: I think the most memorable thing to take away from the session was the way in which Governor Brewer got what she wanted. There have been arguments made that this wasn't wholly necessary to do. But it certainly flexes muscles we haven't seen governors flex before. It really changes the dynamic between the executive and legislative, heading into the Governor's lame duck year. Historically it's been a year where governors propose a lot of things and can't get anything done. We'll see what kind of impact that has. It may have a good or a bad impact on that.

Ted Simons: Brazen, bullying, conduct unbecoming a chief executive. The most effective Democratic governor in Arizona history. That stuff all piles up, huh?

Jim Small: It does. The Governor was clearly immensely frustrated with the way things were going and the way her priorities are addressed by the legislature. She said, the Constitution is going to allow me this power, and I'm going to get what I want right now.

Ted Simons: Biggest surprise, most memorable moment.

Luige Del Puerto: The special session was the biggest surprise. It came out of left field. We almost fell off our chair when we saw that press release from the governor's office at 5:00 p.m., right now I'm calling a special session. The most memorable moment was when Senate President Andy Biggs told me and another reporter he was going to do everything he can to block Medicaid expansion from getting to the floor. At that moment that became the very beginning of the end, if you will. That started the ball rolling. He said the president broke the deadlock on Medicaid expansion by doing that. He facilitated the way for allies of the governor to force through this policy debate.

Ted Simons: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Thank you again for the entire legislative session. Great updates, and we look forward to seeing you again in 2014. Oh, my goodness. Thanks for joining us.


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