If you’re looking for proof of how much more conservative the Senate emerged after last year’s election, look no further than the selection of Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, as the chamber’s leader.
Pearce is often perceived as unmovable, uncompromising, even single-minded — traits that may be good or bad, depending on which side of the aisle you’re sitting. Many wondered what his presidency would look like and some speculated whether he would rule with a hammer.
But as this session showed, Pearce is settling well in his new role. As expected, he pushed for immigration measures, but when they failed, he didn’t punish those who voted against them by holding their bills or arm-twisting them into reconsidering their opposition. He allowed Democratic bills to advance. Actually, the very first bill the Legislature passed was authored by a Democrat.
Under his leadership, Republicans accomplished their main goals — passing a structurally balanced budget and approving a slew of tax breaks as a way of attracting and keeping businesses in the state. And all that took place in 100 days.
But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Pearce is a veteran legislator, well schooled in the art of politicking. A politician’s first virtue, after all, should be his ability to satisfy different interests. In this May 3 interview, Pearce said he isn’t obligated to vote for measures he disapproves, but he won’t stand in their way if they have his caucus’ backing.
What was the biggest adjustment that you have had to make transitioning into this new role as Senate president?
Good question. Again, the biggest role is I’m not just a party of one, who can do whatever I want to do or need to do. My role is to make sure that I serve this caucus and this entire body. And if you’ve talked to folks you’ll find Democrats that were extremely surprised that when they had good ideas and good legislation I went to bat for them like I did for anybody else.
On many occasions, I saw you voting against bills that a majority of your caucus supported. As Senate president, you could have stopped them since obviously that’s within your powers to do so. I’m wondering, why didn’t you?
Again, we’ve learned that people who gained positions of authority tend to exercise unrighteous dominion. I have always been very cognizant (of that) and I try hard to be fair and to treat people right — the way I would want to be treated.
Again, I’m not a perfect guy. Don’t expect that. They didn’t elect me to be a perfect president. But I do the best job I can and treat people fairly. And I think that through the years I have proven that I am fair.
Did you feel like you were inhibited from pushing your interests or from being more aggressive in blocking those things you didn’t like because you’re Senate president?
I don’t know that I feel inhibited. I certainly was cognizant of that responsibility and tried to be fair about that approach.
Let me use the mom-and-dad (analogy). I think there’s no better analogy. You have a whole family to consider, not just yourself. When you’re a single guy running around, decisions are a lot easier to make. Just like in the Governor’s Office, she’s a committee of one. We are a committee of 30 here and it’s my job to make sure that I respect the opinions of those folks.
Ultimately, somebody has got to make a decision. But I tried to put my responsibility as the president of the Senate first. My personal agenda, second. It doesn’t mean it’s not a close second. Certain things are very important to me and I think they’re important to the state of Arizona.
If you were to pick, for you personally, one very important accomplishment this year, what would it be?
I think the important accomplishment is the budget.
When I came here there were two things that had to be done. There were a lot of things that I’d like to see done, but two things that had to be done, and that is balancing the budget and kick-starting the economy. And I think we did those things.
We put out the largest tax decrease in the history of the state of Arizona. Soon enough? No, I’d like to have seen it sooner and I’d like even to have seen more. But it starts on July 1, 2013, and if you will, it’s fireworks in the sky that could be seen far off because it’s in stone now. This is what’s going to happen and that immediately sets in place movement on the parts of businesses that want to come to Arizona because it would be a business-friendly state.
Do you foresee the Legislature ever exercising its override powers against this governor?
Never say never. You know, my members have things that are pretty important to them, too, and again, I have a great respect for the Governor’s Office. I like the process, you know. It takes a supermajority to override the governor’s (veto). She’s one person and she may even be right. That’s not the issue. But sometimes, that’s healthy debate. And if there is something really important to our members, I can see that happening on certain issues.
There’s a price to pay when you have that fight. I would hope those kinds of issues don’t turn into a family feud. Just like she vetoes our bill, we need to get over it. We don’t need to fight over it.
If we were to override here, it should be the same kind of respect. Our members have a right to have an opinion, too.
It’s unusual for measures the president is personally involved with to fail, and even more unusual for those bills to go up on the board in the first place and then fail.
Well, let’s get the perspective right here, first of all. You know, first of all, I agreed that I would run those critical bills out after a budget.
So we were out of time for those bills to get a hearing in the House.
And here’s my concern. Let me be very candid here. My concern is we take that as if somehow that’s an indication of our failure in the Senate when this is the most successful session that anybody I know, including the governor who made her statement, can remember in history. So I don’t want to dwell on the fact that a couple of bills didn’t make it. There was only one of those bills that was mine — directly mine, SB1611. And I was disappointed in that as well as in some others (failing) because I thought they move us forward in a very positive way.
We just had a double homicide in Show Low…We just had two Buckeye police officers shot and (one was) killed. I get a little tired of people saying, “Well, let’s take a time out,” when the bad guys don’t take a time out. We have an invasion going across this border every day. They haven’t taken a time out. Jobs are taken from Americans every day. I don’t intend to take a time out on these issues until the problem is solved.