On Election Night last week, as I was gathered with colleagues watching the returns come in, I was thinking about what would have people talking the next day.
The GOP takeover of the U.S. House would be the big headline nationally, but here in Arizona, folks might be buzzing over the Republicans winning a supermajority in the state Legislature.
Or maybe we’d be talking about the ballot measures. Budget hawks would likely be discussing the failure of Propositions 301 and 302 and contemplating what kind of fiscal gymnastics legislators would have to perform to get the state out of the red.
But I will freely admit that I did not think the big story that would have Capitol railbirds chattering after Election Day would be the election of a new state Senate president.
The election of Sen. Russell Pearce to helm the Senate may have been a surprise to many Capitol observers, but his election comes with an opportunity to set the state on the road to fiscal stability and economic prosperity.
For Sen. Pearce, a successful first year as president will be one that tackles the issue that is most pressing for our state: job creation.
Arizona has lost nearly 300,000 jobs since the recession began. Despite the good news of national job growth last month, it’s not enough to put a dent in our state’s stubborn unemployment rate. Job one for the Legislature and governor has to be to get Arizona back to work.
The jobs bill that passed the House last session but stalled in the Senate presents Senate President-elect Pearce an opportunity to preside over passage of a bill that could kick-start Arizona’s economy back to prosperity.
By shepherding a bill that cuts our state’s uncompetitive corporate income tax and business property tax rates without putting further near-term strain on the budget, the president-elect will solidify his reputation as a lawmaker committed to a fiscal policy that attracts business to Arizona and encourages job creation.
For those who doubt the president-elect’s commitment to policies that aid job creators, consider his scores from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where he earned a 95 percent rating in 2009-2010. He’s been a reliable supporter of the chamber’s top agenda items at the Capitol. In the last Legislature, Sen. Pearce sponsored key labor-reform legislation, SB1242 (employer protections; labor relations) to improve the state’s competitiveness before it stalled in the House.
I know that the corporate income tax and the business property tax are not the cornerstones of Sen. Pearce’s reputation at the Capitol and I acknowledge that my organization and other business groups that represent the state’s business community often disagree with Sen. Pearce on the topic of immigration. The president-elect has sent mixed signals of late over how prominently immigration will figure into the next legislative session, causing the business community to speculate on what’s at the top of his agenda.
But there’s no guesswork required when it comes to knowing what’s at the top of voters’ agenda. This year’s election was less a repudiation of Democrats and an endorsement of Republicans than it was a call to shake up a status-quo of being underemployed at work and underwater at home.
According to a post-election analysis by reputable pollsters Public Opinion Strategies, 54 percent of voters identified jobs and the economy as the most important issue, while only 10 percent of voters identified immigration as the most pressing issue.
By spending her political capital on health care legislation, Nancy Pelosi found out the hard way what happens when legislative leaders pursue an issue that isn’t a priority to voters.
So I urge the president-elect to make economic recovery the driving issue in the next Legislature. The Supreme Court will consider the issue of state-level sanctions on employers for immigration violations, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is grappling with SB1070. Let’s let the courts have their say and provide some guidance on what states can and cannot do in the area of immigration, and instead make 2011 the year Arizona begins its great recovery.
Times like these build legacies. By presiding over the Senate when Arizona passed once-in-a-generation job creation legislation, we could look back years from now and credit Sen. Pearce for his steady hand in guiding the state Senate through one of the most pivotal times in Arizona’s history.
But if the president-elect instead focuses on issues far outside the interests of Arizona families, then his term as president will be remembered for its missed opportunities. The choice is his.
— Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.