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House Democrats unveil policy agenda

Having shrunk in number, Democrats are more forcefully positioning themselves as the public’s eyes and ears at the Capitol.

“The bottom line is that House Democrats are going to fight to hold Republicans accountable in everything they do down here at the capitol,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, the House Minority Leader.

“We may be the minority party but we are the watchdog for the people of this state,” he said.

This effort isn’t new for Democrats, who have been in the minority in the Legislature for years.

In the past, Democrats successfully pushed for or opposed policies by hammering on their potential impacts to the state. That’s how they helped convince the Legislature last year to restore a health insurance program for children, which the Republican-led Legislature eliminated.

But the minority further shrank after the 2010 elections, which only served to diminish their influence on the legislative process.

The House Democratic caucus’ first media briefing on Monday is an attempt to reassert that role.

Their policy proposals are aggressive. For example, they said they want to “take on the politicians at the capitol who have jeopardized our future by repeatedly slashing funding for our local public schools.”

Democrats said they would focus on three areas — jobs and the economy, education and public safety.

Many of their ideas are not new. The minority, for example, has been pushing for years to close so-called tax loopholes to generate revenue and help balance the budget.

They also sharply criticized Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal, calling her Medicaid waiver request “ill-advised.” They said her budget plan contains gimmicks but no long-term solutions.

Rep. Steve Farley, the House Assistant Minority Leader, panned Brewer’s proposal to eliminate the health care coverage for 5,200 seriously mentally ill persons.

“These are the people we know could pose a danger to themselves and society, and this budget is tossing them out into the street with no care,” he said.

Farley also alluded to the shooting rampage in Tucson that killed six people and wounded many others, including US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“Given the nature of this crime, being done by someone who appears to me to be seriously mentally ill — and I guess professionals will have to decide that — to announce a budget less than a week later that cuts 5,200 already identified seriously mentally ill people off of health care is something I have a very, very hard time understanding,” he said.

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