Home / 2011 State of the State / Q&A with House Speaker with Kirk Adams

Q&A with House Speaker with Kirk Adams

Speaker of the House Kirk Adams (Photo by Josh Coddington/Arizona Capitol Times)

Speaker of the House Kirk Adams (Photo by Josh Coddington/Arizona Capitol Times)

Kirk Adams begins his second term in the House’s top post with a host of challenges that range from a budget deficit of $825 million to getting a “jobs bill” through and the inevitable rancor birthright-citizenship legislation would bring, but much of his first week on the job was driven by the shooting in Tucson in which six were killed and 13 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Adams sat down with the Arizona Capitol Times on Jan. 12 to discuss leadership during a tragedy, pending legislation, redistricting and the budget. The interview came a day after the Legislature passed legislation restricting protests at funerals, a bill that came in response to a report that the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., intended to demonstrate at the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was slain in the mass killing.

In light of everything that has happened this week in Tucson, what have you had to do differently as a leader than what you do under normal circumstances?

Well, typically when you start a new session you plan, the first week especially, for quite some time. We had spent quite a bit of time planning an opening day ceremony around the centennial Legislature. I had invested a lot of personal time because I’m passionate about Arizona history.

We put a lot of time and effort down to the details of designing special commemorative programs and then I came down here Saturday about 10 a.m. to make the final arrangements and to write my acceptance speech for election as speaker. It was while on my way down here that I got the call. By the time I got here, the governor was already here practicing. She came into my office, we embraced and we talked for quite a while. We were here, as a matter of fact, together, when they announced that (Giffords) had died. We just talked about it and then we both immediately started making different plans for Monday. The change in approach was, I think you have to recognize in a moment like this that the way you typically were planning to do things has to change. It would have been, from my perspective, inappropriate to proceed with the same program while an entire city and families are suffering through a horrible tragedy.

Do you feel like as a leader it’s your job to help comfort and bring people through emotionally?

I don’t know that it’s so much of our job as it is our opportunity. I think sometimes politicians or political leaders don’t appreciate enough the power and the symbolism of the things we say and do and the impact that could have on people. I tried to be sensitive to that as we went through the opening day.

How are you going to keep your caucus together? Much has been said about the veto-proof majority, but you have a lot of people you have to keep united. How are you going to do that?

Veto-proof majority is a nice theory, but in practice it is . . . it is probably just a theory, let’s keep it at that. In terms of keeping our caucus together, the interesting thing about who is serving in the House right now is that there was very little difference in the issues that they ran on. There is a homogeneous policy platform that members ran on. The other thing I would note is the freshman class, they ran on these issues. Any time you have 40 people trying to come to an agreement on a major decision, you’re going to have differences and occasionally some divisions, but I think our chances of holding a cohesive caucus are pretty good considering the times that we’re in, the people who won, what they ran on and the commonalities that they have one with the other.

Let me ask you about a potentially divisive issue this coming session, which is the 14th Amendment legislation. You mentioned that many of the people who won ran on platforms that are mostly similar. One of them is a more hawkish approach to illegal immigration, and people won because they supported SB1070. It seemed to me they ran and won because people wanted them to do something about immigration and yet we have this potentially divisive policy.

I would take a little issue a little bit with the question because while immigration was a part of why people won and the popularity in the public of 1070 certainly helped a lot, but a lot of these people were already running before 1070 was ever passed and they were running on fiscal issues, they were running on less government spending and lower taxes. The core of the Tea Party movement, if you will, is fiscal responsibility and lower taxes. Clearly, immigration is a critically important part of what we have to do because it impacts our communities, it can impact our public safety and so forth, so we will continue to address the immigration issues down here.

Describe your relationship with Russell Pearce and Jan Brewer.

I have a good relationship with Russell Pearce. There’s probably a difference in style and how we approach leadership from time to time, but I’ve known him for a long time. I work well with him and I don’t anticipate anything different. In terms of my relationship with the governor, I consider that the governor and I have a very good relationship and we are able to converse and exchange and talk about joint challenges that we have and I don’t see that changing either.

How are you going to resolve some of the potential conflicts like the reduction in commercial property taxes? The governor has indicated several times that she is leaning against doing a reduction, at least an across-the-board reduction in that area. You have members who are pushing for it strongly.

There’s going to be a give-and-take, there’s no doubt about that. This is an area where we all agree that we need to make Arizona more competitive for businesses and so there is a lot of commonality there. Then when you get to the details of it, there is going to be some give-and-take with how you deal with the details and the specifics of it, when you do it, what form it takes, but the general principles, there is broad agreement. When you’re dealing in a situation where you’re principally in the same spot, it is easier to get agreement on details.

There’s the issue with the Independent Redistricting Commission and do you have a back-up plan in case you end up with the same list because the Supreme Court might not even take the case?

The Supreme Court is the ultimate back-up plan (laughing). Once that’s exhausted, we will deal with the cards that we’re dealt with. We believe we have a very strong case before the Supreme Court that the three candidates are unconstitutionally qualified and if the court rules for some reason they are constitutionally qualified, then they will at least bring a sense of clarity to this process and the future process, the next 10 years. It will be a significant decision in terms of redistricting and establishing what it means to hold public office.

How do you solve an $825 million deficit? Borrowing for example, are we going to see the use of budget gimmicks? I spoke with Russell Pearce and he said we’re probably not going to be able to cut as much as we would like because of how big it’s gotten.

That’s the dilemma that we face — the math doesn’t work. Quickly, you cut all of state government except health care, education, public safety. You’ve heard this, about $820 million, right, so we’re a little more than halfway through the fiscal year; if we eliminated everything including the Senate, the House, the Governor’s Office, we wouldn’t get $400 million. The deficit is $820 million, so the fact of the matter is we have to look at all options on the table. I think you’ll see (a fiscal 2011) approach that will do that very same thing. It will be all options on the table utilizing pushing and pulling all the levers. However, (in fiscal 2012) you’re going to see a budget that will be based primarily based on permanent reductions.

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