3 Republican state senators cross the aisle

While they aren’t exactly moderates, and they may vote with their GOP caucus on most issues, they say their goal is to dial down the rhetoric, dispense with issues they consider extreme or divisive and focus on substantive matters, primarily jobs, sales-tax reform, the budget and Medicaid.

 

“The people of Arizona have elected us to move forward with big ideas,” Crandall said. “There’s a lot of small, controversial stuff that doesn’t do anything. … Let’s focus on things that really matter to the people of Arizona.”

Originally posted at Arizona Republic

February 23rd, 2013

Three GOP senators joined with Democrats last week to defeat a Republican-backed bill in a show of political force that demonstrates the upper chamber’s shifting dynamics and fragile GOP control.

The bill — which would allow licensing of foster families who don’t immunize their own children — passed easily when the Senate reconsidered it the next day, with all three maverick senators supporting it.

But the trio had sent a clear message: Teaming with the Senate’s 13 Democrats, Republican Sens. Rich Crandall and Bob Worsley of Mesa and Prescott’s Steve Pierce can block any bill they choose.

The implications of their political leverage on larger issues, such as the budget and Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to expand Medicaid, are significant.

While they aren’t exactly moderates, and they may vote with their GOP caucus on most issues, they say their goal is to dial down the rhetoric, dispense with issues they consider extreme or divisive and focus on substantive matters, primarily jobs, sales-tax reform, the budget and Medicaid.

Perennially controversial or ideological bills, such as those dealing with immigration, abortion and labor unions, as well as measures that could be deemed anti-education or seen as curbing the authority of cities and towns, are among the targets.

“The people of Arizona have elected us to move forward with big ideas,” Crandall said. “There’s a lot of small, controversial stuff that doesn’t do anything. … Let’s focus on things that really matter to the people of Arizona.”

During the previous two sessions, Republicans enjoyed a 21-9 supermajority in the Senate. Republicans now hold a narrow 17-13 advantage in the chamber, where it takes 16 votes to pass a bill, so the caucus can’t afford more than one defection. GOP leaders, however, still determine which bills come to the floor for a vote.

The three senators were expected to flex their political muscles, but the biggest questions are when, and on which issues. Crandall and Worsley faced challenges from the right in their Republican primaries last year, with Worsley beating former Senate President Russell Pearce, who pushed SB 1070 and other controversial immigration measures. Pierce lost his position as the Senate’s leader in a 9-8 vote to Senate President Andy Biggs, thanks in part to controversy over an independent expenditure committee that directed spending toward certain candidates.

Senate GOP leaders said they were surprised by Wednesday’s show of force but are well aware that their smaller caucus — and the influence of the three senators — will require cooperation with Democrats, something that was missing during the supermajority years.

“Two or three of them obviously have the ability to kill anything they want,” said Senate Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix.

“But they can’t pass anything they want. They’re not all-powerful, but they do have veto power,” he said. “Which means compromise is in the offing.”

Longtime Capitol watchers say that kind of cooperation is the norm, not the exception. Wednesday’s vote on the foster-home immunization bill was the first public sign of the GOP caucus split.

“The supermajority we had was a historical aberration in Arizona,” said Stan Barnes, a lobbyist and former lawmaker. “This session marks the return of normalcy to the Arizona Legislature.”

Senate Bill 1108, the foster-family licensure bill, had a fairly easy ride through a Senate committee and won tentative approval from the full Senate a week ago. But as senators recorded their formal votes Wednesday, it quickly became clear the measure was in trouble.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, implored her colleagues to support the measure, which eliminates the requirement that a foster parent’s own children be fully immunized, saying it would enable hundreds of families to become licensed.

Senate Democrats, except for David Bradley of Tucson, joined Crandall, Worsley and Pierce to defeat the bill, 15-14. Then Crandall made a motion to reconsider the bill, giving it new life.

On Thursday, SB 1108 passed 27-2 on reconsideration, with just two Democrats opposed.

The GOP split also forced several bills set for floor debate Thursday to be held because they lacked enough support, and a bipartisan bloc defeated a fifth measure aimed at hindering the ability of public-employee unions from having their dues deducted from members’ paychecks.

Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said the new political dynamic is good for the state because it allows more voices to be heard and compromises to be made. And she said it hopefully will prevent votes on issues that “make our state look worse and make companies not want to come here.”

“With our 13 and another three (Republicans) … you can’t help but spark some conversation. It can’t be ‘My way or the highway,’” she said.

“This is more of a balance right now. That’s how you can work and get things done. Whether we like it or not, we’ve got to hear other people’s opinions.”