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An outsider’s view from the inside of Arizona politics

Ed Bunch’s Senate career is remarkable not only because he was appointed to the Legislature at perhaps the worst time in state history but also because he vowed not to use the position to gain a foothold at the Capitol.

Indeed, it is rare for someone to seek power and responsibility only to give them up after tasting them. But Bunch has followed through on his promise to avoid seeking election in District 7.

Appointed to replace Jim Waring in February, the Scottsdale businessman hardly had time to reflect on what he got into before it was all over. He started voting on legislation at the committee level on the very same day he took his oath of office. Within a month, the Legislature voted out a budget whose impact, good or bad, would be felt for years to come.

Bunch was born in Texas, grew up in northern California and Arizona, and enrolled at Arizona State University in 1975. He initially studied political science, but later shifted to the business program and then to ASU’s law school.

He co-owns B. Bunch Co., which manufactures printing equipment.

In this interview, he gives an outsider’s view of the inside of the Capitol.

You have been a state senator since February. What do you take away from this experience?

From the outside looking in, it is really easy to cast stones. From the inside looking out, you find yourself deflecting those stones. And so I think what I take away is that it’s a much harder job than I thought it was from the outside and that there are a lot of tireless, good people who are working in government who sort of get disparaged more than they should in a lot of cases.

What are the things you like about the process?

I like the give and take of the process. I like the fact that somebody can come up with an idea about something and maybe take it to the extreme, and through the process it gets tempered back to where it probably should be. And I think the process works really well for that.

I saw multiple times with different bills that at first glance you would read them and you’d kind of scratch your head and say, “What in the world are they trying to do here? What are they thinking? Look at all the unintended consequences.”

For me, hallway discussions were much more important than any other formal things that we were doing.

Hallway discussions?

Hallway discussions were much more important than anything else. Informal chit-chat: “Hey, I’ve got a question about this. What are you trying to do here?” That was much better.

I didn’t find caucus useful quite frankly. I mean it just seemed like, I don’t know, it just wasn’t that useful for helping to talk things through. The way our caucuses run, at least it seemed that it was the process of getting through as opposed to the process of trying to understand more about stuff.

A lot of times people have a good idea (about a bill) but like I said, they just haven’t thought it through totally and so in these informal discussions we were able to sort of flesh things out and just help, you know, in ending up having a better bill, and then the amendments end up making it even better.

What you are saying is that the process blunts the sharp edges of legislation?

You know, you’re absolutely right. You take rough stones and hopefully make them into diamonds. And it gets to go through two houses. It gets to go through multiple committees. It gets to go through multiple caucuses, multiple reads. So by the time it finally gets down to what it is, it is either a good bill or a bad bill and if it’s a bad bill you don’t vote for it and if it’s a good bill, you do vote for it.

And if it’s a marginal bill, you hold your nose. (Laughs).

They say it’s a good process for killing bad bills.

I believe that is absolutely true. One of the other things that amaze me about this is that a bill would make it out of the Senate — you know, 27 to 2 or something — and go over to the House and get killed. Or a bill would come over from the House, 58 to 2, and come over here and get killed.

Without going into the specifics or anything, some of these bills would come through that you’d think, “What were they thinking?” And it would get killed over here because somebody points out something that in the whole process either we didn’t catch over here or they didn’t catch over there.

I come away from the process appreciating a bicameral process. I think our founding fathers in the federal government and in the state, the way we sort of copied that in the state, were very wise in doing it the way they did.

And what does your wife have to say about all these things — you getting into the Senate and you spending hours and hours here?

I think she is proud of it. Quite frankly, this was an all-consuming job. And literally from the moment that I was sworn in, my life changed in an instant. It was really funny because it changed so dramatically and so quickly and then the minute that it was over, it was over. It went back exactly pretty much the way it had been before.

Law school was a very intense time for me and I felt like I threw three years of law school into three months. You had the first year, which would have been the month of February. You had the second year when I was really kind of beginning to understand and thought, OK, this isn’t so bad. That would be March. And then April was that intensive time up to graduation and then boom! We sine died. It is all over and then you’re scratching your head saying, “Wow! That was fast.”

As far as what my wife thinks, she liked it a lot. She was happy. We didn’t see too much of each other because I really did take it seriously and apparently this is a rare thing. But I actually read from cover to cover every single bill because I said I was going to do it.

And it was hard. It was a very hard process. It took a long time. The budget, I mean, was just unbelievable.

A lot of times, there seems to be an expectation from the public in general that if you’re a senator or if you’re a representative that you just know everything about everything. And I’m going to tell you, it turns out nobody knows everything about everything. I mean you’re lucky to know enough about something that you can make an intelligent decision.

I mean, they were using acronyms in the beginning that I didn’t have a clue what the acronyms were for. So I was spending time trying to find out. I said, ‘Is there a dictionary here that I can use?’ Because I didn’t know what JTED (Joint Technical Education District) was.

I am going to tell you that the first week I literally just did not sleep very much, and then of course I got sick and lost my voice for two weeks.

Did you form friendships with any of your colleagues?

Yes. Luckily, I share an office, a suite, with Senator (Barbara) Leff, and Senator Leff was extremely helpful and extremely gracious. When I would have questions about things, about having to do with institutional knowledge or something that you would have just to be here a long time to really know, I would ask her and she was always very good about getting me primers on it. And I think she’s very intelligent and picks up on things very quickly.

David Braswell, who came in two days before me and who never let me forget that he had two days seniority, (laughs) and I sort of went through the learning curve together. In a couple of things we found that we had similar ideologies about things and so we were able to effectively work on some things.

After about three months or so of legislating, what can you say about lobbyists?

As a rule, the lobbyists are performing a function. It’s a necessary function and I have to tell you that when I came in I wasn’t exactly sure what to think about lobbyists. The connotation from the press and elsewhere is that lobbyists are bad people who are just trying to, you know, do whatever they can to get as much money or get bills in their favor — they are really bad, bad.

And that’s not the case at all. The truth of the matter is in many cases they help to facilitate the process by allowing a better dissemination of information that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

While they are sort of hired guns and they are being paid to be here and paid to effectuate legislation, the truth of the matter is that often (these are) things that we need to have done. So they are great at having information that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

That said, like everything in life, they are also salesmen. Lobbyists are salesmen. And so you have to figure out, which part of what they are telling you is the fluff and which part of what they are telling you is the real meat, and which part of it is, like, something that you really don’t really want to rely on.

Do you preclude running for office somewhere down the road?

I’ve had a month or so to think about it and put it all into perspective, and I’m not going to rule out the fact that I might run for something or seek some other position in the future if I can be helpful.

I don’t want to become one of these people who are serial candidates for things because I don’t need it. You know, I just wanted to come in and help and I think it is important that we have a citizen Legislature and it is important that we have people with good, well rounded backgrounds who are able to come in and help.

Just to be clear: You’re not precluding a potential run in the future for a public office such as this one?

Right, I wouldn’t preclude that. In fact, I may very well do it. We’ll see. We’re having big redistricting (in 2012). And maybe there may be something else that would better fit my skills set than this. I don’t really know what that would be. I’m only 53. I’m hoping for a long life ahead of me and I think I still have some productive years, and luckily I’m at a point in my life when I can do something different like that.

UpCloser

Are you reading any books right now?

It’s funny you should say that. Who did I see last week? I saw Amanda Reeve, who is running for re-election, and she asked what did I do? She had been out campaigning. And I said, I read a book. I sat down Saturday and read a book and I finished it Sunday. It’s called the “Last Saddle Trump” and it was a story of a woman in 1954.

Would you rather be stranded on an island or in the middle of the desert?

Island. I love islands. I love Maui. I’ve been to Maui, I don’t know, at least once a year for the past almost 30 years.

If you can only choose between a zombie movie and a melodramatic TV soap opera, what would you choose?

(Laughs). Well, it’s funny you should ask that because my wife dragged me to some movie about three years ago that had zombies in it. And I said to her, after it was over, “Don’t ever take me to a zombie movie again.” So I guess I’m going with the soap opera.

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