On several occasions, the Senate majority leader voted with the losing side — and against the majority in his caucus.
Those occasions are a stark reminder that the man Republicans picked as caucus leader is a fiscal conservative with a libertarian streak, who backs or supports measures depending on how they hew to or diverge from his reading of the U.S. Constitution.
Actually, Andy Biggs’ ideological moorings are similar to the legislator he replaced. In fact, even before Biggs joined the leadership team, Senate leaders were already voting against fellow Republicans’ bills.
Biggs’s ascent, in many ways, merely reaffirmed what Republicans already decided following last year’s election: They want a leadership team that is rooted in constitutional fundamentalism.
Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, stepped into the role of majority leader in March after Sen. Scott Bundgaard, R-Peoria, became embroiled in controversy following a physical altercation with his then-girlfriend in February.
Mounting calls for Bundgaard to relinquish his leadership position led Republicans to remove him and select a new leader.
Biggs emerged as the replacement following two closed-door meetings in which legislators discussed Bundgaard’s status as a leader.
A veteran legislator, Biggs is well respected on both sides of the political aisle.
Longtime Capitol observers said he knows budgeting as well as anybody could. Biggs was also chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee this year. Prior to joining the Senate this year, he served on the House Appropriations Committee – including two years as vice-chair – since becoming a legislator in 2003.
“He didn’t just have passing familiarity with the budget. He understood it in detail,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association.
Colleagues, meanwhile, describe him as fair in his dealings, smart, and consistent.
“I don’t agree with his policies,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, a liberal Democrat from Phoenix. “(But) you’re able to approach him. You’re able to talk things out. He’s willing to listen.”
Gallardo said Biggs, unlike some GOP colleagues, is loath to limit people’s testimony during committee deliberations.
A retired attorney, Biggs has no qualms about bucking his party if he believes going along will violate his conservative credo.
He criticized and voted against legislation that would have allowed the city of Glendale to forcefully and more immediately annex property owned by the Tohono O’odham tribe.
The measure, which passed, was meant to preempt the tribe’s plans to build a casino on its property. But for Biggs, that precisely was the problem with the legislation — it is the tribe’s land.
It wasn’t the last time he would clash with fellow Republicans.
He also opposed the Arizona Competitiveness Package, which made sweeping corporate tax cuts, despite its support from Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican legislative leaders.
The legislation included a slew of tax cuts for businesses and created a new agency, the Arizona Commerce Authority. But Biggs was among the small minority of Republicans who argued the tax cuts weren’t broad enough and took too long to go into effect, and that lawmakers have little oversight over the new public-private Commerce Authority.
Biggs’ perennially balks at legislation that allows boards and commissions to continue operating or proposals that add regulations.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who served with Biggs in the House, said he consistently votes with what he says his philosophy is.
“Andy is probably one of the most principled conservatives I’ve ever met,” Sinema said.
As a member of the leadership team, many credited Biggs for eschewing an accounting maneuver that would have helped balance the $543 million deficit in fiscal year 2011 with borrowed money.
Instead of taking out a one-day
$330 million loan from an early childhood agency funded by tobacco taxes, the final budget plan allows the current fiscal year to end $332 million in the red.
Doing so is more transparent and honest, Biggs said.
As a rank-and-file member, Biggs was freer to challenge his caucus’ positions, which he publicly did on several occasions this session.
Moving forward, the challenge for Biggs will be balancing his ideology, while still advocating for the interests of his members, even if it clashes with his philosophy.
Leadership, after all, always offers a conundrum to those who assume the role. It has its perks, but it also both diminishes and increases a legislator’s influence at the same time.
So far, Biggs has found ways – similar to the methods of Senate President Russell Pearce – to publicly oppose some measures while letting others go.
Biggs said he has been more judicious in his opposition to bills.
“I was much more circumspect in my speaking out against certain policies and issues. I try to discuss those issues directly with the sponsor,” Biggs said.
“If I was not in leadership, I probably would have stood up on a half dozen bills and said, ‘Here’s why I think this is antithetical to the Republican platform,’ or, ‘This is why I think it’s antithetical to a good conservative member or the principles upon which our nation was founded,’” he said.