House Speaker Kirk Adams had quite the final year in the Legislature, authoring a major overhaul of the state’s public pension system and finally accomplishing last year’s goal of passing a bill aimed at making Arizona more business-friendly.
Adams, who resigned shortly after the session to run for Congress — a departure that he said leaves him with “mixed feelings” — discussed his accomplishments of the session in a May 4 interview, boasting not only about policy successes, but realizing his goal of finishing the session in 100 days.
Excerpts from the interview are below.
Why did you want to finish in 100 days?
For me, the memory of 2009 was stuck in my brain, where we were in session every month of the year, for some time, except for October.
The statutes contemplate that the Legislature would finish its work in 100 days. That’s tough to do. It felt like 200 days for us because we put in so many hours and worked so hard and so fast. But this is still a citizen legislature. And I think the morale of the body, the ability to think and interact with each other and the executive, is vastly improved when we finish our work quickly and send everybody home.
What did that take on your part and on the Senate president’s part?
It takes a daily conscious effort of moving people. Not just membership, but staff as well. And again, this is something I learned from the 2009 experience: you can very quickly lose days on the calendar, unless you are very methodically and actively pushing people towards the final result of getting that budget passed.
In fact, the week before the budget passed, I camped out in the Governor’s Office from 10 o’clock to about 10 o’clock at night and politely told them that I didn’t plan to leave until we had finished the budget. And that was the day — and the president joined me — that was the day that we made the most progress on the budget.
It seems like you’re certainly going out with a bang. Do you consider this one of your most successful sessions?
Yes, and I consider this a culmination of my legislative career. There are other items in the budget that were included, that I had been working on since I had arrived here in the Legislature. For example, the reforms that we did to the state benefit system for state employees and legislators, to most closely reflect what happens in the marketplace and save money.
When I first came to the Legislature, I proposed a corporate income tax cut. That never got anywhere. We got it done this year as part of the jobs bill, which to me was probably the most important policy measure that I’ve been able to work on as an economic policy standpoint.
How did you get the votes on the pension reform bill? You could almost see the temperature in the Legislature change as time went on with that bill. There was a lot of skepticism in the beginning, even in your caucus. But by the end, they came around.
I was approached by a member of the caucus the day before the vote, to tell me that there were 13 people off, and to save myself the embarrassment, I shouldn’t bring it to the floor. And there clearly was an attempt by some in the caucus to keep that bill from getting to the floor.
I just met with the members one-on-one, individually, went through their questions, answered any concerns or issues that they had, and at the end of the day we had 36 out of 40 Republicans to pass that bill.
The fact that there were so many compromises on it, and it was amended, and there were changes made to it — do you feel like that took away from it at all?
No, I’ll tell you that when I started putting the legislation together, I knew that this was going to be a difficult fight to get it across the finish line. And I knew that there was going to be a lot of give-and-take in the process.
But the process had to play itself out, and frankly, the stakeholders in the process had to understand that we were serious, that we weren’t just playing around on this, that we weren’t just getting media coverage on this, that we fully intended to reform the system. And if I were to start with the end result, we never would have gotten to the end result.
In terms of bipartisanship this year, do you feel like there was a bigger divide between the two parties?
One of, I think, the big disappointments to me is, during my speakership, I was never able to convince them to come forward with a detailed budget plan. I really think that would have been productive to the process had they done that, and we could have had a genuine debate over two ideas of how to solve the budget, as opposed to one side presenting a proposal and the other side finding everything wrong with that proposal.
But arguably, you’re the majority party. You’re the speaker. It seems as though it would be part of your responsibility to take the lead, to go to them and say, “tell me your ideas.”
And that’s exactly what we did. What I would not do with them is engage in a debate when they did not have their cards on the table. And they never really put their cards on the table. That’s not an honest debate.
Going back to the vetoes, I know a lot of people are wondering what happened. How did this many bills get all the way through the process without a sense of the governor’s approval?
Well the governor has a standing policy not to comment on bills as they’re working their way through the process. It’s rare that she will weigh in on a bill, and typically it’s a bill that we are jointly working on.
So long as she has that policy, there’s going to be some vetoes. And frankly, that is her right.
So, how much are you going to miss the state Legislature?
I will miss the personal relationships. This is really like a team, you feel very much like you’re part of a team, and teams have good moments and bad moments together, but you develop a bond.
What I’m not going to miss is the burden of leadership. It is a real burden.
You don’t get a lot of sleep at night. You get a lot of phone calls, a lot of text messages, a lot of emails, a lot of concerns, and a lot of judgment calls that you have to make. I won’t miss those sleepless nights during session.