The past two years may not have shaped up the way David Lujan imagined when he ran for minority leader in the fall of 2008.
Democrats were expected to make gains in the Legislature that year, but they ended up losing seats. Then Gov. Janet Napolitano announced she would resign to take a post in the Obama administration. That required a complete retooling of the caucus strategy, as they would be dealing with Republican majorities and a GOP governor in Jan Brewer.
Lujan’s Democratic caucus was significantly outnumbered and outgunned, but he said minority members did a good job of playing the role of loyal opposition. Democrats dug in and refused to help Republicans with the budget unless their needs were met — something that never happened — and remained unified in their opposition to GOP ideas.
As Lujan prepares to leave the Legislature to run for attorney general, he reflected on the legislative session in a May 13 interview.
Were you surprised to see how early the session ended this year?
Not so much, because the speaker had told me early on that he wanted to get out early, and I could see that he was focused and intent on doing that. Once we finished the budget in March, there really was nothing to stop us from getting out early.
You managed to hold your caucus together last year, to most everyone’s surprise. What was different this year than last year? You lost half of your caucus on the sales tax referral, which was really the only leverage you had with Republicans.
Our caucus held together both years, other than the sales tax referral. Even after that, we were unified.
On the sales tax, I think it was just people seeing the concerns that we had in the past — every other time the sales tax was presented to us, it was accompanied by almost an equal tax cut. When they finally presented a clean referral, I think that was enough to get some of our members to go along with it.
Why did you vote against the referral?
Two reasons: One, just weeks before, we had passed the jobs bill, and I had significant concerns that we were going to ask voters to raise the sales tax while giving a nearly equal tax cut to the rich.
Also, I felt it should have been something that we should have done in the Legislature and not sent to the voters. That’s what we’re elected to do, to pass things. I know the political realities of it.
Yeah, that’s a bit like wishing for a unicorn. It’s never going to happen.
Well, clearly it didn’t happen. And it wouldn’t in this Legislature.
Now that the jobs bill has gone by the wayside — hopefully, permanently — I can support the sales tax. In fact, I sent in my ballot last week, voting for the sales tax.
This was your first term in leadership. Was this what you thought you were signing up for?
Well, right after I was elected leader, Governor Napolitano decided to leave for D.C., so that wasn’t the greatest news that I could have received. Obviously, I was the minority leader during the worst economic crisis in the history of the state, and at a time when we had, without a doubt, the most conservative Legislature in the state.
I’m proud of the fact that we did keep our caucus unified. I think one of the things we were successfully able to do — and it’s about the only thing you can do in that position — is to let the people of Arizona know that there’s alternatives out there and continually remind them of the 40 years of failed leadership we’ve seen from Republicans.
Why weren’t you able to leverage the Democratic votes that were needed on the sales tax issue into something that would meet some of the priorities of your caucus?
Because we had a governor and Republican leadership that were unwilling to negotiate at all. They would not give in on any of those things, and that was one of the most frustrating things, and I think it’s frustrating to all of Arizona. That was just the bottom line. They were unwilling to find common ground.
Any positive reflections on the
Yeah. Largely because of the efforts of our caucus, we were able to bring back KidsCare. I think that wouldn’t have happened without us sounding the alarms and saying it was a mistake for Governor Brewer and the Republicans to eliminate that. They realized their mistake later and had to bring it back.
What advice would you give to the person who replaces you as minority leader?
That person’s probably going to be speaker of the House, so it will be a little different.
Oh, really? Fine, then your advice to whoever the highest ranking Democrat is, then.
I’m actually going to be somewhat envious of them, because I firmly expect Terry Goddard to be our next governor, so they’re going to have more opportunities to work in a bipartisan fashion that we didn’t have the last two years.
If, for some reason, it stays the same and there’s a Republican governor and Republican legislative control, all you can do is what we did this year: keep the caucus unified and reach out to the people of Arizona.
Do you really believe that Democrats are going to take control of the House?
I think we’ll pick up seats.
Despite the national climate trending against Democrats?
Yeah. I think the climate in Arizona is very different. There are no excuses on their part.
The situation we are in, with the dramatic cuts to education and public safety, those all are owned by the Republicans.
I think the people of Arizona are going to respond in November by electing more Democrats.