Kirk Adams presided over the House of Representatives during what may go down as one of the most conservative legislatures in Arizona history. The past two years have seen more than $2 billion in spending cuts as lawmakers grappled with annual budget deficits totaling nearly three times that amount, as well as a raft of conservative policy decisions on everything from abortion to guns to immigration.
Perhaps immigration will define 2010, despite the massive budget deficit and deep cuts GOP lawmakers endorsed. Arizona has been pilloried internationally for its decision to require local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.
Adams spoke candidly about that, his ill-fated job-development bill and the early end to the legislative session in a May 12 interview. Excerpts are printed below.
When you told me back in January that you planned on getting out of session early, I distinctly remember thinking…
You didn’t believe me, did you?
No, I didn’t. We’ve heard about goals to get a budget done quickly and end session early so many times. How important was it for you guys to get done quickly?
I think it’s actually one of the big achievements of the session, because it demonstrated our ability to govern. We also had been in session for so long the previous year. It’s like I told you when you didn’t believe me: We’d been through all the ideas that didn’t work, and it came down to the things we knew we had to choose from and putting together a menu of bad options.
Like it or love it — and few people love it — we got the budget done efficiently.
Do you love it?
I think it’s like any budget. The individual parts are ugly, but if you look at the whole of what we were able to accomplish in a historic fiscal crisis, I am proud of the legislators’ courage in making some difficult choices. I think there are a lot of people who thought we would never make those kinds of choices.
Is the state better off for the budget that was passed this year?
Yes. While our problems are not resolved yet — not by a long shot — we took significant steps toward fiscal stability. When you compare what this Legislature’s had to confront, you can’t find another in the history of Arizona that’s had to confront such deep issues.
As much as this session was about the budget, it was also about jobs, especially for you. What was the big downfall in your bill, H2250?
I guess I’m not too interested in doing a play-by-play of why it didn’t pass, but I will say that, for whatever reason, there wasn’t the leadership support outside of the House for the package, or even individual components of the package.
It was a very significant piece of legislation and, oftentimes, significant pieces of legislation take more than one session to get done.
So why try to eat the elephant all in one bite instead of compromising and getting only, say, 30 percent of what you were looking for, even if it wasn’t the tax cuts?
There was significant compromise on the bill. In fact, the only entity that offered up compromise was the House — in our opinion, anyway. That was the Senate Finance striker. We were willing to make even more compromise.
But the whole premise of the bill would have been busted up had we thrown overboard one portion of the bill or another.
What could you have done differently? Has hindsight revealed any missteps?
I’ve thought about this a little bit. It would have been helpful if we could have gotten full engagement from the Governor’s Office and the Senate prior to the budget being done. We were unsuccessful in doing that.
I think the other big issue for the year, as we’ve seen over and over in the national media, is S1070. Did you expect to see the kind of national backlash that the bill has created?
No, I did not. I don’t think anybody expected it to this degree. I expected there to be a lot of gnashing of teeth, but to say that this would become an international story? I don’t think that anybody foresaw that.
When the bill came over from the Senate, there were significant issues with it. It took a while to get an amendment for it that could produce the votes. To me, it was one of the best examples I’ve seen in my tenure down here of legislators taking a serious approach, working together, negotiating — sometimes in difficult circumstances — to improve a bill. You have multiple members with fingerprints on this bill, as they were working to fix things they were concerned about. This bill was vetted inside and out. You had people on the moderate side of the caucus and more conservative members working together to try to figure it all out. You had the bill’s sponsor who was very flexible and open to negotiation.
When we finally had it all done and we were ready to vote on it, I told my leadership team that the worst thing about this bill was not actually what it said, but what people would say that it said. But I had no idea the degree to which it would be grossly mischaracterized. It actually is shocking to me to hear some of the things that are said about the bill on the cable news networks. To liken this bill to Nazi Germany and the Gestapo are so beyond the pale of reasonableness, I don’t even know how you respond to that.
After sort of being shocked by that, the response I’m taking is aggressive — we’re going to punch back. Calling Arizona racist, calling the people who voted for this bill racist, saying Arizona is now like Nazi Germany, it’s so far out there that it makes you question the motives of those people.
At a certain point, perception does become reality. We’re seeing it in the boycotts and things like that. This bill is having a negative economic impact on the state, isn’t it?
I think it is incredibly unfortunate that you have cities like Boston and San Francisco, which are so far removed from the problems that we’re facing here on the border, boycotting Arizona. Frankly, I find it offensive. I can promise you that, if the type of violence that’s happening in Arizona was happening in Manhattan or Boston, the East Coast elites would be declaring a national emergency. But because this is happening in fly-over country in Arizona, they don’t give a damn. They don’t understand.
For President Obama to say that they might not take up comprehensive immigration reform because it’s been a tough session — well, boohoo! Give me a break! They should try to actually balance a budget and make the hard cuts and choices, then tell me it’s a tough session. But don’t tell me that it’s tough to work on this because they’re kind of tired, while the border is a complete sieve and police officers are being shot. I know I’m channeling my inner Russell Pearce here, but this stuff literally has to stop.
What does it say about the Republican Party nationally that this is becoming a litmus test in a lot of ways for Republican candidates running for seats across the country?
I think what it says is that the American people, despite what they hear on the cable news networks, support what we are trying to do. How many weeks has it been of us being battered in the national media? And the latest Rasmussen poll still shows 61 percent of Americans support 1070.
It’s really a statement on the federal government. They’ve failed to secure the border. Arizona is doing something about it, so (Americans are saying), “Bravo for Arizona.”
We all should be concerned about how the opponents of this bill have mischaracterized it and scared Hispanics and minorities that we are going to apply this law in a racist manner. Shame on those opponents. It is fear mongering at its worst, and it’s absolutely despicable. I don’t know of a single person in this Legislature that approached this bill in any way from a racist view point. The notion is absurd on its face.
Let’s talk about the other bill that put Arizona in the national spotlight: the “birther” bill.
There was no birther bill. There was a minor election bill that was amended on the floor that included language to check candidates’ proof of citizenship. I think, in hindsight, if the bill had been amended to not begin until 2014, as opposed to 2012, it would have been an entirely different reaction.
I went in February to sign my son up for Little League. I had to bring his birth certificate to prove his age. On its face, the bill is not radical. It was asking for proof of citizenship.
But it speaks to a radical part of the political discussion.
That’s because of the environment we are in. It’s a strange environment, and everything is sort of off-kilter. I think this was a made-for-television, talk-show sort of an issue.
Let me make this clear: I believe that President Obama is a citizen of the United States, was born in the United States. I think there’s ample evidence to prove that. As a matter of fact, I’ve never questioned it. To me, it’s always been a non-issue.
Did it reinforce the national view that Arizona is on the fringes politically?
No, because I don’t think we’re on the fringe. Nothing we did — not even S1070 — puts us on the fringe. It may put us on the fringe with the elites in Manhattan and Los Angeles, but it doesn’t with the average voters all across the country. Arizona is a mainstream American state. We just have some unique issues relative to immigration that the others don’t.