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Top AZ movers and shakers of 2010

2010 was Gov. Jan Brewer’s year, but here’s a list of the five other most significant people in Arizona politics this year.

Chuck Coughlin

Chuck Coughlin doesn’t have an office on the Ninth Floor, but it would be easy to forgive anyone who thought otherwise.

A trusted adviser to Jan Brewer, Coughlin became one of the most powerful figures in the state when Brewer ascended to the Governor’s Office. And when Brewer’s agenda went down in flames in 2009, Coughlin was often the lightning rod who absorbed the criticism from her detractors. But when her political fortunes rose to unprecedented heights in 2010, he was there every step of the way.

Coughlin, president of the lobbying and consulting firm HighGround, was the architect of Brewer’s wildly successful campaign and a point man for the policies that defined her tenure as governor.

He carefully stage-managed Brewer’s national persona as she became the face of Arizona and its fight to enforce illegal immigration laws, and worked behind the scenes for more than a year to assure passage of Proposition 100, the 1-cent sales tax increase that became the landmark victory of her first term. HighGround’s central Phoenix headquarters was the only campaign office Brewer had, and was the only one she needed.

While most advisers in his position opt for a low profile, Coughlin often takes center stage. The sharp-tongued lobbyist lashed out against Republican lawmakers who opposed Brewer’s sales tax plan, and he reignited unfounded rumors that her opponent, Attorney General Terry Goddard, was gay.

After three inmates escaped from a private prison in northern Arizona, Democrats unsuccessfully sought to turn Coughlin into a campaign issue by highlighting his lobbying work on behalf of the private prison industry.

Critics on both sides of the aisle portray the aggressive lobbyist as a shadow governor or sinister grand vizier. But with Brewer preparing for a full term, they may as well learn to deal with Coughlin, because his grasp on the Ninth Floor is not likely to ease for at least another four years.

Gabrielle Giffords

After the drubbing their party took in 2010, it’s tempting to say none of Arizona’s Democrats truly deserve to be included in a list of the most influential Arizonans. But the Democratic election catastrophe is exactly why U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords stands out.

Giffords emerged as the lone bright spot for Democrats in Arizona after fending off a surprisingly vigorous challenge from Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly in her bid for a third term in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. She was the only congressional Democrat — and nearly the only Democrat at any level — to win a competitive race in the state.

Giffords was already a star to Arizona Democrats, but by virtue of simply surviving she became the de facto leader of the party and perhaps the only one left in the bullpen for the next election cycle. Hopeful Democrats look at her as potential U.S. Senate or gubernatorial candidate, and any nomination is likely hers for the taking.

But Giffords’ influence extended beyond her mere ability to survive. She was instrumental in bringing $600 million in border security funding to Arizona and managed against all odds to use the GOP’s hot-button issue to her advantage.

Her Blue Dog credentials gave her credibility among the salt-of-the-earth ranchers in her Tucson-based district, while her dedication to liberal causes such as renewable energy and President Obama’s health care bill made her a hero to Democrats. She successfully lobbied to include energy-saving programs in a recent defense spending bill and helped craft proposals that were included in a bill aimed at training American workers for technology and science-oriented jobs.

Russell Pearce

Without Sen. Russell Pearce, 2010 may have been a quiet year for Arizona.

The international media frenzy, throngs of protesters and federal court cases that followed SB1070, Arizona’s landmark illegal immigration bill, all started with the Mesa Republican, who wrote the bill and ramrodded it past reluctant colleagues in the Legislature. Pearce was feted by illegal immigration hardliners who rushed to introduce identical bills in other states and excoriated by critics who filed several lawsuits to block the law from going into effect.

SB1070 dominated the election in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer rode the popular bill from an early three-way tie in the GOP primary to a dominating win in the general election, while candidates across the state touted their support for the bill on roadside campaign signs.

The law became a flashpoint for races in other states as well. In Nevada, for example, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle ran television ads lambasting embattled Democratic Sen. Harry Reid for his opposition to “Arizona-style” immigration laws.

The bill turned Pearce, who was already one of the most powerful politicians in the state, into a juggernaut. He parlayed his success into the Senate presidency after the election, and will use his newfound platform to push the envelope even further. In 2011, he and allies hope to end birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants with a bill that is intended to bring the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SB1070 was Pearce’s magnum opus. He pushed most of the bill’s provisions in prior years, and former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano made an annual tradition of vetoing them. Even when Republican Gov. Jan Brewer replaced her, he watched his anti-sanctuary city bill — which later became one of the main provisions of SB1070 — go down in flames in the last hours of the 2009 session when the opposition and strategic absences of several Republican lawmakers ensured its defeat.

Constantin Querard

When the 2011 legislative session begins, Republican consultant Constantin Querard will hold almost as many seats as the entire Democratic Party.

Querard, known for his conservative clients and his deftness with Clean Elections funding, had a banner year, even by the standards of the 2010 Republican tidal wave. Every one of his 27 clients in the general election won their races, and his candidates won 17 of 20 Republican primaries, pushing aside moderates in the long-running schism that divides the Arizona GOP.

Democrats, who will enter the 2011 session with a paltry 20 House seats and nine in the Senate, still outnumber Querard’s candidates. But with the conservative wing of the Republican Party emboldened and itching to flex its muscles, Querard’s clients will wield the kind of influence in the Legislature that Democrats can only fantasize about.

Querard’s clients won some of the state’s most bitterly contested primaries, despite having opponents who boasted the business community’s financial support and the endorsement of Gov. Jan Brewer. Conservative Sen. Sylvia Allen held her seat in the face of a well-funded challenge from Rep. Bill Konopnicki, a centrist Republican long reviled by the party’s right wing, while Tea Party challenger Lori Klein unseated incumbent Sen. David Braswell.

And all three Senate seats the GOP took from Democrats, which gave Republicans a supermajority in that chamber, were won by Querard’s clients.

The Goldwater Institute

Usually, there is one person within an organization who stands out as the most influential. The Goldwater Institute, however, deserves an exception.

Earning friends and foes, the libertarian think-tank expanded into a law firm and a news resource, and its combined power was in full force in 2010.

The Goldwater Institute’s litigation director, Clint Bolick, started off the year with a victory when the Arizona Supreme Court delivered a legal opinion that drew a clearer distinction as to when municipal governments can offer subsidies and other benefits to developers. Bolick filed the lawsuit against the city of Phoenix, an entity also forced by the institute to reveal its public records on a sales-leaseback arrangement with a downtown Phoenix hotel. Similar lawsuits dogged the city of Glendale’s hush-hush pursuit of finding a new owner for the Phoenix Coyotes and derailed a Congress school district’s attempt to stop parents from accessing public records.

However, the Goldwater Institute proved it was more than a force to be reckoned with when attorney Nick Dranias convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the 2010 distribution of matching funds to publicly funded candidates. The court’s order was hailed as an affirmation of free-speech rights of privately funded candidates, and stands as a likely omen that similar systems will be soon banned across the country.

Reporter Mark Flatten also pitched in with well-researched projects that detailed the underbelly of government property lease excise taxes and the various roadblocks that prevent the firing of malfeasant public employees.

Love them or hate them, it’s hard to argue that the Goldwater Institute’s team isn’t making its presence felt.

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