A controversial constitutional amendment that limits the length of time that lawmakers can stay in office will force more than one-third of the senators out of their chamber by the end of next year, a massive revamp unprecedented in recent years.
Among those who are leaving are some who have been lawmakers since the 1980s and the 1990s. These are veteran legislators who have a deep understanding of how government works and have accumulated an intricate knowledge of specific areas, such as state finance, taxation and veterans affairs.
A few of those who are term-limited have indicated an interest to run for the House or for other elective office, but some have said they would retire.
Those who cannot run for re-election next year include Senate President Bob Burns, who joined the Legislature in the late 1980s and whose budget expertise is probably unrivaled in his chamber. Burns has chaired both the Senate and House Appropriations committees.
Also leaving the Senate are Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia of Tucson, Carolyn Allen of Scottsdale, Ken Cheuvront of Phoenix, Albert Hale of Window Rock, Jack Harper of Surprise, Barbara Leff of Paradise Valley, Richard Miranda of Tolleson, Jay Tibshraeny of Chandler, Thayer Verschoor of Gilbert and Jim Waring of Phoenix.
In addition to these 11 lawmakers – seven Republicans and four Democrats – a few others may also not be returning to the 30-person Senate chamber.
Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican from Chandler, has opened an exploratory committee for the post of superintendent of public instruction.
Term-limits have also impacted lawmakers in another way.
Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, a Democrat from Phoenix, is not term-limited in 2010. But her House mate, Rep. Robert Meza, is. McCune Davis said they have previously discussed switching seats if Meza were term-limited and still wanted to serve in state government.
Like Burns, McCune Davis is one of the longest-serving lawmakers in the Legislature. She joined the Legislature in the late 1970s – at age 27.
If McCune Davis and Huppenthal eventually decided to leave the chamber, the Senate could lose almost half of its current membership by the end of next year, not to mention those who might be defeated in their primary or general re-election races.
Burns, who led the charge to solve the budget deficit in his chamber, told the Arizona Capitol Times he has a number of options after his term ends, but he has not seriously thought about them at this point.
One obvious option is for him to run for the House, but he said he doesn’t intend to do that.
Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, said she’s about had it with politics and will be retiring at the end of her term. The chairwoman of the Senate Healthcare and Medical Liability Reform Committee said she enjoyed her first years, but not the last two-to-three years in the Legislature.
“The tone in the Legislature, the vitriol at times, it is very toxic. I don’t enjoy that anymore. I don’t want to be part of such a toxic environment anymore,” she said. She partly blames term-limits for this “toxic environment.”
There is a sense of irony in Allen’s view that term limits have been a detriment to the Legislature. Allen was on an ad hoc committee that helped put term limits on the ballot. Allen said she is going to run a bill next year to overturn term limits. At the very least, she said she wants the conversation about it to start.
Waring, a Republican from Phoenix who has worked extensively on domestic violence, drunk-driving and veterans affairs, said he had considered not seeking re-election to his Senate seat in 2006.
“This time the decision is made for me,” said a termed-out Waring. Instead, he opened an exploratory committee for the House. But even then, Waring said he is not certain about running.
Harper, the Republican from Surprise who is term-limited next year, is also unsure about his next move. Harper recently amended his exploratory committee to reflect that he is considering exploring a run for the House.
But he said he hasn’t “even made up my mind what I am exploring for.” Harper said he keeps hearing rumors about Secretary of State Ken Bennett running for governor.
Harper said if Bennett indicated he would run for governor, he may again amend his committee to explore a run for secretary of state, the position he was originally interested in.
Meanwhile, Tibshraeny, the Chandler Republican, is not ready to disclose what he is going to do next after his term ends. But speculation abounds that he may run for his old mayoral seat and then run for Congress after new congressional districts are drawn up in 2012.
Garcia, the minority leader, said he is considering a run for Corporation Commission. But he called it “just a distant thought.” Garcia also said is he considering running for his old House seat.
Senate Minority Whip Linda Lopez, a former House member, was initially supportive of term limits, which helped her get into the Legislature. Without term limits, the folks she replaced would have been around for
a long time and running against them would be a challenge, she said. “What I have seen over the years now is deterioration in the respect for the institution, the respect for one another as fellow elected official no matter what political party they belong to or what their ideology is,” she said.
Then last year, Lopez herself was termed out of the House. Her choices were to retire, run for the Senate or run for some other elective office. Victor Soltero, then the state senator from her district, was not termed out until 2010.
Lopez decided to run for the Senate anyway. She told Soltero of her plan, but did not offer to switch places with him. Soltero eventually decided to retire from the Legislature.
Our in-depth look at term limits in Arizona:
13 House members will be looking for new jobs
Lawmakers lament term limits, but the public supports them