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House minority leader gives Legislature an ‘F’

In January, House Minority Leader David Lujan said it would be up to the leaders of the Republican majority caucus to determine what role Democrats would play in the legislative session.

They ended up being sidelined and were never included in the process by Republican leaders or GOP Gov. Jan Brewer.

That, of course, is the perfect real-life example of how elections influence public policy. Lujan’s caucus was trimmed by two members in the 2008 elections, so the little leverage they had the two years prior was whittled away to virtually nothing.

The Phoenix Democrat spoke with Arizona Capitol Times July 29 about the actions lawmakers took, didn’t take and what it was like to be in the minority in 2009.

First of all, how would you rate the performance of the Legislature so far in 2009?

I think given the fact that we had the longest legislative session in the history of the state – we are now a month into the fiscal year without a balanced budget – I would give us a grade of ‘F’ because we didn’t do our job.

In terms of the budget, and in terms of anything else as well?

I think, you know, if you look at the other bills that we passed, I think it was overall a step backwards. I think we took a step back from some of the policies that we have enacted in the past. I disagree with some of the bills that went through, which Janet (Napolitano) had vetoed in years past. So I don’t think it was a very successful session.

And part of that is just the reality, I guess, of having to deal with an executive that now shares the same party as the majority here.

Certainly. I mean, that all comes about by being in the minority party and having a governor in a different party. That is the reality of it and, you know, those things are going to happen. And as Democrats our job is to work for 2010 and see if we can make a difference at the polls at that time.

You mentioned the inability to get a budget done. Certainly one got done in the final day of session, and it may be the basis for what happens in the special session. When you look at the solutions and the mechanisms that are in that budget, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

It doesn’t solve the problem. The Republican budget proposal does not raise enough additional revenue to alleviate the need for massive cuts in the future. When you are looking at massive tax cuts, it is going to prevent us from being able to grow as a state and to build a quality education system and to build the infrastructure that we need as a growing state.

Why were Democrats not involved in the budget during the regular session? It took until July 6 in a special session before that happened.

That is a good question. Certainly we were asking to be involved, and I think the best budget solution that we could have come up with would have been a bipartisan one that reflects all of Arizona.

I think it gets back to the question, to the point, that you have a Republican governor and Republican majority in the Legislature, so they felt that they could put together a Republican budget. And what we saw is they really didn’t have a plan all session on how to get us out of this situation, and they spent six months fighting amongst themselves rather than getting the state’s business done.

At what point did it become clear to you that Democrats were not going to be involved in the creation of the budget?

I think it was pretty early on. I think it was February (or) March when we were asking for meetings with the Republican leadership and with Governor Brewer, and receiving basically a cold shoulder in return.

Obviously, when the special session began, Republicans reached out to you guys and you started working together, but those talks fell apart. What went through your head when they said they had been working with the governor on the side?

Well, it was disappointment, because we had said early on when we started these bipartisan talks — it was actually the (House) speaker who requested that if we were going to have bipartisan talks that neither side would go and work on a separate deal with the governor, and that if the governor wanted to get involved, that we would include her in (joint) negotiations. And, clearly, they did not abide by that agreement.

Disappointment and anger, because we were making real progress, I felt. I think we had gotten our caucus to make some real concessions that I felt, if we would continue to talk, we could have reached a bipartisan agreement. And they simply weren’t interested in continuing.

What kind of concessions? Republicans have said Democrats were being obstinate and not compromising.

That is absolutely not true. I mean, we were making real progress. When you look at a $3 billion budget shortfall, we had gotten it down to about a $500 million budget shortfall and we just needed to figure how to close that gap. Our caucus would have proposed additional cuts beyond where we have been, and I think we had shown some real movement and willingness to work with the Republicans.

What happened was that — and the speaker acknowledged this — that they didn’t believe that they could get their members to move. And, so, when you have negotiations, it is about compromise on both sides and they just weren’t ready to compromise.

2009 Session Wrap coverage:
A session to remember – even if you don’t want to
Brewer reflects on tumultuous first session as guv
Burns’ gambit: Inside Senate president’s strategy
House speaker says work remains on transparency
Garcia says he needed 1 more Dem in Senate
Capitol Quotes – Best of the Session

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