Ah, Spring! It’s the time of year when ambitious legislators’ thoughts turn to leadership. And in a session that is quickly heading for completion, discussions are simmering about who is gearing up for the November caucus elections in the House of Representatives.
Those elections, which take place in the days following the November general election, aren’t open to the public or the press, but they are critical in setting the tone for the next two years, as the caucus leaders have the final say in strategic decisions.
For the majority party — since 1967, that’s been the Republicans — that also means determining who will be committee chairs, which bills advance and taking the lead on crafting the budget.
The most prominent race will be for speaker. Kirk Adams, a Republican from Mesa, currently holds the post and is certain to seek re-election to lead the entire body. This term, his first in leadership, has been trying, as lawmakers had an unexpected battle last year with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and have faced massive budget deficits.
“It’s been rough, but I’ve been through rougher,” Adams said.
Most observers expect Phoenix Republican, and former speaker, Jim Weiers to challenge Adams. Weiers has three terms as speaker under his belt, holding the office from 2003-04 and from 2005-08, with a single Senate term separating the two stints.
Although people inside and outside the caucus, all of whom asked not to be identified, assume it is a foregone conclusion that Weiers will try to win back the speakership from Adams, who defeated him in 2008. Weiers wouldn’t say what his plans were.
“It seems everyone has an opinion,” he said.
The two represent wildly different leadership styles. While Adams made openness and transparency the cornerstone of his 2008 bid for speaker and has worked to be responsive to caucus members, Weiers had a reputation for preferring closed-door deal-making. Many GOP lawmakers during Weiers’ tenure openly complained he kept them in the dark about major issues, including the budget.
Adams could be vulnerable, as there will be a large turnover in the caucus, and many of those leaving could be counted among his supporters. If he remains speaker for another term hinges on two things — whether he proved to returning caucus members that he is a capable leader and which Republicans join the caucus.
As happens in leadership elections, he and Weiers will no doubt work to win the support of GOP legislative candidates for open seats and they may have surrogates work to get those would-be lawmakers elected.
There will be no incumbent for the majority leader post, as Phoenix Republican John McComish is running for the Senate. The only name to surface for the position is Andy Tobin, a Republican from Paulden who currently serves as majority whip.
Tobin said he hasn’t given his future leadership plans much thought, however, as he has been working to move legislation and close down the 2010 regular legislative session.
By all accounts, Tobin has worked harmoniously both with Adams and the caucus in his tenure as whip. He has a reputation for doggedly chasing down votes and reacting quickly to concerns raised by caucus members.
If he sets his sights on majority leader — and most expect he will — then that will leave a vacancy for majority whip. Two Republicans have already expressed an interest in the position, Russ Jones and Debbie Lesko. A third, Laurin Hendrix, said he has been approached by others to run, but is leaning against it because of the time commitment.
Jones, from Yuma, is in his second non-consecutive term in the House and is regarded as a straight-shooter. A representative from rural Arizona, he has been at loggerheads in the past with colleagues from Maricopa County over proposals that don’t meet the needs of rural residents, but he is known as someone who will work toward a consensus.
Lesko, from Glendale, is in her first term as a lawmaker. She is seen as a loyal Republican, and to the right of Jones politically. Many in the party see her as having leadership potential.