After two decades of legislating, Bob Burns is calling it quits.
Burns presided as Senate president during the worst of times. Lawmakers under his leadership battled multibillion-dollar deficits and were forced to make painful choices, dramatically cutting programs and even mortgaging state assets.
He got off to a rocky start by enforcing a strategy to hold bills until the budget was complete. His relationship with the governor, who demanded lawmakers pass legislation to raise taxes, was imploding. At the same time, he was feuding with members of the Senate leadership team.
So he made adjustments in the second year. He dropped the bill moratorium. He appointed a new president pro-tempore. Senate Republicans also elected a new majority whip.
Meanwhile, the governor made changes to her leadership team. And when Burns decided to support the sales tax referral, his relationship with the governor vastly improved.
Perhaps best illustrating Burns’ success this year was an early end to the legislative session. Lawmakers adjourned sine die on April 29, making this session one of the shortest in decades.
Burns, who will turn 72 at the end of this month, sat down for an exit interview on May 11 with the Arizona Capitol Times.
<strong>Senator Pamela Gorman was one of your strongest allies when you decided to seek the Senate presidency, but she later resigned her leadership post over differences with you. Do you have regrets about what happened?</strong>
Well, I mean, it’d be nice if things had worked out a little differently. But it just didn’t work that way.
<strong>Have you repaired your relationship with Senator Gorman?</strong>
I haven’t had a chance to talk with her or met with her. I haven’t seen her actually for a number of months.
<strong>You criticized the governor last year over her decision to veto some of the budget bills. How did you patch things up?</strong>
Well, I guess she changed some. I mean, obviously, when she came out with her latest budget — that was a considerable shift from where she had been before that.
But my relationship with Jan Brewer goes back before I was in the Legislature. I lobbied her when she was a freshman House member.
<strong>And you were lobbying for?</strong>
Child care. We were still in the child-care business at the time, and I was a volunteer lobbyist. I did not get paid for all my troubles.
<strong>Did the governor’s decision to let go of Chief of Staff Kevin Tyne help ease things?</strong>
Well, when that shift was made, I think the relationship between the executive and the legislative body improved significantly for whatever reason.
Now I knew Eileen (Klein). Eileen and I worked together in the House. She was a House staffer when I was over there.
<strong>Why is your relationship with the governor better this year? Some people in the House felt you were carrying the water for her, and that’s exemplified by your decision on the jobs bill.</strong>
Well, I don’t know that I was carrying the water. I took a position that I believe was the best position for us or the best track for us to follow, and we happened to be much more in agreement this time around.
I changed direction on the one-cent sales tax. Originally, I was very much opposed to that and I still have serious problems about it. I think it just kicks the can down the road again.
But when I realized that we were not going to be able to get the Legislature as a whole to make significant reductions — even though we did make significant reductions, we’re still not there — when that wasn’t going to happen, then I said, “Fine, let’s let the voters decide.”
<strong>Would you still have wanted to be Senate president if you had known the state’s finances and economy were going to tank?</strong>
Probably. I was concerned and I’m still concerned. The debt is still here. The structural deficit is still here.
I think we were able to accomplish a great deal based on the circumstances that we were working in. But I’m still not ready to go out and say, “Wow, we really fixed things.” I mean there are still a lot of problems. I think there’s going to be problems for the next few years.
You know, I first came into this process as a precinct committeeman and as a volunteer lobbyist trying to change things at this level. And every step of the way, you realize that the higher up, the more involved in it, the more decisions you are able to make (and) the more impact you have.
So I started out by talking to my legislators in my district as a precinct committeeman. I went from there to district chairman. I then ran for the House. Once I got in the Legislature, it was a lot easier to get things done than it was from the outside. But still, if you weren’t leadership — I spent the first four years over in the House without a committee.
<strong>One thing eluded you this year — your proposal to cap the state’s debt. That didn’t go anywhere. Do you feel like it was in retaliation to your holding, if you will, the “jobs” bill?</strong>
Well, I wasn’t really holding the jobs bill. I was trying to get votes for the jobs bill, and the votes weren’t there.
<strong>On the jobs bill, would you have acted differently on that bill if you were coming back to the Legislature?</strong>
That didn’t affect my decision-making in this at all. I mean I looked at the issues and decided one way or the other, and it had nothing to do with whether I’d be back or not.
<strong>How closely did House Speaker Kirk Adams work with you on that before it came over from the House?</strong>
I think he did a lot of work with people outside, off campus, which is something you’ve got to do.
That is part of it, but in my opinion the weak link was within the on-campus lobbying, if you will.
<strong>Put another way: He lobbied outside groups more than he lobbied lawmakers?</strong>
Well, you have to do that as well. I mean the outside lobbying effort can help because outside interests come here and express their support or displeasure with something, which has an impact on the members. But there is a certain level of internal lobbying that is necessary as well, and I think that was possible where maybe there was a (weak link).
That’s not meant to be any criticism of anybody. I mean that’s just one of those things. It’s hindsight.