Legislative Update

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Join Arizona Capitol Times reporter Luige del Puerto for a weekly update from the Arizona Legislature.

Ted Simons: Thank you. Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The Governor calls a special session of the legislature to push lawmakers into quicker action on Medicaid expansion and the budget. Here with the latest, Luige del Puerto with the "Arizona Capital Times." Luige, was this a surprise?

Luige del Puerto: It was a complete surprise. We had expected that after Speaker Andy Tobin said we're not going to meet Wednesday, we meet on Thursday, and Andy Biggs said we'll not meet on Thursday, we'll meet on Monday, we expected nothing would happen on the Medicaid expansion front on the budget this week. Lo and behold, yesterday afternoon the Governor called for a special session. The call landed in our mailbox at 5:01 p.m. That call for a special session was for 5:00 p.m. today.

Ted Simons: Now, get down there now. And this after Speaker Andy Tobin basically adjourned the House until Thursday. Why did he do that?

Luige del Puerto: There are theories that he may be trying to buy time to work on his proposal to get his budget out. He's been working to try and get Republicans to support his proposal. The other speculation is he's starting to poke the Governor's eye and maybe pulling her chain a little bit, and the governor poked back.

Ted Simons: And President Andy Biggs of the Senate adjourned until next week?

Luige del Puerto: Their plan was to meet today and adjourn until Monday. So they are not going to meet on Thursday.

Ted Simons: The Governor is tired of the delays, find out we're not going to do this until tomorrow. As of a minute ago I want you down here for a special session. Talk to me about what a special session is and how much control the Governor has, how much control the legislature has.

Luige del Puerto: It's really just like a regular session, except that they usually decide if they want to fast-track the passage of certain issues. They used to do special sessions to pass the budget. It's quicker to pass it that way and you can immediately start the time frame where the budget takes effect. It's true for other bills they have done before. You do a special session to do it. In this particular case the Governor has to proclaim special session, and specify what she wants to be included or tackled in that special session. In this case she said it would be the budget and it would be Medicaid expansion. Now, of course, the Constitution essentially requires the legislature to meet when the governor makes that request for a special session. But there's no requirement for them to do anything. The Governor can call them to a special session, they could go into a special session and sit there and not do anything.

Ted Simons: If some sat there, and some apparently did and not do anything, at least as protest for the opening night. Still, the votes are there for Medicaid expansion. So you can sit there and do nothing, but something's going to happen.

Luige del Puerto: Yes. What's really telling last night is that the House and Senate leadership did accede to the Governor's request for a special session. They were the ones, Speaker Andy Tobin and Andy Biggs are the ones that presided over the chambers. There is pressure on them. They are against Medicaid expansion. That tells you there was pressure on them to accede to the Governor's request, and at the end of the day they said, if you get the votes we'll make it happen.

Ted Simons: Basically do their jobs.

Luige del Puerto: Yes.

Ted Simons: Speaking of their jobs, there were rumors all over they might lose their jobs, in terms of leadership. How close did it come to literally a palace coup in the House similar to the Senate, and maybe one in the Senate, both leaders, Biggs and Tobin being shown the door?

Luige del Puerto: This is the first time we've heard rumors about ousting Andy Tobin. We were really surprised yesterday to hear speculation about a potential plan to oust Speaker Andy Tobin. The Governor can compel the leaders and the legislature to meet in a special session, but she cannot really force them to do anything during that special session. There was this supposed plan to go ahead, and if it came to that, replace the two leaders to ensure the Governor gets what she wants.

Ted Simons: Which you could do with a simple majority?

Luige del Puerto: It would be in the House and in the Senate. They are voting for a new Senate President and new speaker.

Ted Simons: Were there new ones lined up ready to go?

Luige del Puerto: Well, the other things that's telling is that the budget bills that were introduced yesterday were introduced by Frank Pratt in the House and Steve Pierce in the Senate. The speculation, the rumor, however you want to put it, they were prepared to go ahead and take over from Mr. Biggs and Mr. Tobin.

Ted Simons: Okay. You've got all this going on and the governor calls a special session. Some lawmakers are upset because their dinner was interrupted and these sorts of things. What was the response from Biggs and Tobin?

Luige del Puerto: It was pretty acerbic. They were not happy. That's an understatement. They basically accused her of being impetuous. Essentially hijacking the budget process and forcing them to do something and intervening in what should be a process that belongs to the House and the Senate.

Ted Simons: But certainly you would think that they would have to know by these adjournments and stretching it out and stretching it out, at some point someone's going to say enough's enough. Again, you're saying that Tobin in the House was perhaps buying time, perhaps hoping to cool some people off a little bit and maybe address it on Thursday? I guess the Governor's office said enough's enough.

Luige del Puerto: Yeah. And obviously the Governor has the votes to pass her budget and to pass Medicaid expansion and to a certain extent this has been -- played on for a number of weeks. The Governor finally decided that's it. Let's get this done.

Ted Simons: Last point on this: None of this happens if there isn't a coalition of Republicans and almost all Democrats, I guess, together working side by side, if you will, in the kind of cooperation many haven't seen in a while down there. Talk to us about the coalition. Who's involved and who's left out on the sidelines.

Luige del Puerto: This coalition of Republicans and all of the Democrats in both the House and the Senate, the Republicans are essentially the members of the so-called main extreme wing of the Republican caucus. They are viewed to be more pragmatic, less ideological about their stances on issues. We've seen this caucus essentially emerge on certain crucial votes before, on immigration for example, the immigration debate a few years ago. Some of the budget bills we've seen a few years ago. Now we are seeing them again. To a certain extent this, split within the caucus is really just being reaffirmed by what we are seeing now. Folks like John Mccommis in the Senate for example, and Mr. Pratt in the house, for example, guys that live in districts that may be called swing districts. They are considered to be, like I said, more mainstream than the rest of their caucus.

Ted Simons: One representative had an interesting quote, the most effective Democratic governor in Arizona history. They are throwing spitballs at her, they are not happy.

Luige del Puerto: Making that comment was probably being very gracious. Some of the tweets, the comments that we've seen are just really acerbic, really harsh.

Ted Simons: Luige, thanks for joining us.

Luige del Puerto: Thank you.

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