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UpClose with Rep. Andy Tobin

Rep. Andy Tobin (Photo by Bill Coates)

Rep. Andy Tobin (Photo by Bill Coates)

Capitol veterans have taken notice of Andy Tobin. He’s in his first year as majority whip in the House of Representatives, but ask many of the lobbyists and others with a long tenure at the Capitol and they’ll tell you he’s handled what can be a difficult position with aplomb. Basically, his job is to ensure there is enough support for bills before they come to the floor and that lawmakers are present for votes – a heavy responsibility, considering his caucus has 35 members.

Tobin, a Republican from Paulden, met with Arizona Capitol Times on Aug. 4 to talk about the challenges of being in leadership during a session that was among the most difficult in state history, a plan to put slot machines at racetracks and the person he thinks would make the best governor. Hint: it’s not Jan Brewer.

You’ve been majority whip now for about seven months. How’s that been, considering everything that’s happened, and the fact that you’re still in a special session?

It’s been quite a lifetime, hasn’t it? We’ve gotten four budgets through, some bills. It’s really quite the honor to serve my fellow Republican members in what is very likely the best Republican session we’ve had in a decade, almost.

Why do you say it’s been a great Republican session?

Well, look at what we’ve been able to do. The pro-life agenda has been incredible. We’ve been stopped for the last (six) years trying to put that pro-life agenda together. The Second Amendment right agenda has been phenomenal. The business agenda has also been phenomenal, with the repeal of the equalization tax, tax cuts going forward and the single-assessment ratio.

I think that it would be hard to go back in recent history to find a more efficient and Republican agenda getting through. We were able to move some significant pro-business and pro-family and pro-American legislation. I think it’s pretty incredible.

How tough did it make your job as whip, being the one responsible for rounding up votes, having so many bills rush through the process in the final few weeks?

Clearly, it’s been a painstaking process, but you work with what you have.

We have such a phenomenal group over here. We have a large freshmen class who were thrown into a huge problem when they got here: In less than 30 days, they’re voting to cut a billion dollars out of government. They hadn’t even heard bills yet. It’s an incredible testament to the professionals who are down here, especially in the freshman class.

My goal is to basically try to listen to every member, try to make sure that they understand that their views are being heard and respected – and to try to get every one of their bills through, no matter what their bills are or the controversy.

At this point in the year, do members get angry when they see your number on their caller ID? I mean, it’s August – it can’t be good news.

I’m very lucky. Members and I are talking over the weekends. I think we’ve developed a strong bond. During a year where you basically have lived together for the last six months, it makes me appreciate the quality of the members we have down here.

During session, you floated the idea of expanding casino-style gaming to the state’s racetracks. Why is creating these “racinos” a viable solution to the state’s financial problems?

The benefit is that raising taxes in a recession will not improve or create jobs. It will not generate the revenue that we expect because there are fewer jobs. The only way that I know how to get out of a recession is to put people to work. We can do that very quickly because we already have racetracks here.

The tax rate that we’ll be able to get for those dollars will help us offset the (cuts) for education. We keep trying to make sure our cuts for education are low, and that makes sense. But the opposition continues to say that we can’t cut so much. They say we need to take care of the children. But they don’t have a problem borrowing the money (they need) to take care of the children. What that does is creates a debt that rises. I have a problem with that.

Rather than borrowing, what we should be doing is finding other ways to raise funds. I believe gaming is a clear option in the short term to help us get over the hurdle, and I prefer it over the tax increases and the current borrowing we’re experiencing.

There are a number of objections to your plan. On one side, you’ve got the Native American tribes. On the other, there are a number of people – especially in your caucus – who have a moral objection to gambling. How do you overcome those obstacles?

I’m glad you mentioned it, because I have a moral objection to gaming. The problem is we already have it. Not only do we already have it, we’re about to build one across the street from a high school in Glendale. Folks continue to say that they don’t want to expand gaming, yet we’re allowing this to go on with little to no rate of taxable return to our communities. All I’m saying is, don’t fear the poison pill. (Editor’s note: The 2002 Indian gaming compact approved by voters removes all state restrictions on tribal gambling if the state authorizes other casino-style gambling.)

The poison pill has been dropped. They’re expanding gaming. What you should fear is the fact that gaming will continue to grow and we won’t get the proceeds. By allowing it to come to (racetracks), we are able to calculate what that money would be.

If I were to tell you we could hold our cuts to K-12 and the universities and help our counties with (health care costs), and cover the beneficiaries that the current compact is paying for, it would seem that the only thing to fear would be the elimination of a monopoly that the tribes now have.

At a certain point, you could probably argue that it’s a good deal for the tribes, because it allows them to go to full Vegas-style gambling.

It’s better than that. They get the $100 million (they pay the state annually) back. Now, in my bill, I will ask them to please continue to give that to the beneficiaries.

In theory, they’re getting paid $100 million, plus they can expand on reservation land. So, what would they be afraid of? Are they afraid of the competition? They’re way out in front of everyone else. All we’re doing is putting (slot machines) at some racetracks.

Can you think of another business in Arizona – any one at all – that if I handed $100 million to them and said, all those business restrictions we put on you are gone, can you think of another business that thinks that’s a bad deal? Me, either.

So, what’s the objection? The objection is the protection of a monopoly that currently exists, a monopoly that, in my view, is expanding beyond the halls of the reservations.

You’ve known Ken Bennett for a long time and ran his campaigns in the past. Do you think he’s going to run for governor?

I hope Ken would run for governor. What you’ve got is a man with incredible experience, an incredible family with an Arizona background. I think Ken is clearly a leader. He’s proven that from city council elections to state government, where, in a short period of time, he’s elected president of the Senate.

I give Ken an awful lot of credit for being a man of great vision. I think he represents both rural and urban Arizona at the same time. He’s well-spoken, well-respected. I think Ken would make a great governor.

Better than the current governor?

I think that’s to be determined.

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