Home / Capitol Insiders / Relationship strained? Special session fiasco may be sign of things to come

Relationship strained? Special session fiasco may be sign of things to come


After back-to-back legislative sessions in which Gov. Jan Brewer and GOP lawmakers appeared to put their differences behind them, work as a team and strive for a common agenda, the failed special session on unemployment benefits threatens to poison a relationship that has already seen its share of discord.

Emotions are still raw over Brewer’s vetoes of bills on gun rights, school tuition organizations, health care and tax breaks, among others, and the special session only exacerbated the tension. Some legislators said Brewer failed to communicate with them and simply expected them to be a rubber stamp for her unemployment bill, while others accused her of setting them up to fail while she reaped the public relations benefits.

The Legislature’s decision to end the session without even introducing, much less passing, the bill Brewer wanted evoked memories of the bad old days of 2009, when Brewer vetoed the Legislature’s budget and immediately called them back for a long but fruitless special session after they refused to ask voters to consider a temporary sales tax increase. After a year of fighting, Brewer won the showdown and her relationship with the Legislature quickly improved.

But that relationship might not heal as easily this time.

“The Senate, the House and the governor have all drawn lines in the sand, and I believe there will be more of that,” said Marty Shultz, who has worked as a lobbyist at the Arizona Capitol since the 1970s.

Even before Brewer called the special session, it was clear that she and GOP leaders didn’t see eye to eye. On June 7, the day before the governor formally asked lawmakers to return to work, House Speaker Andy Tobin made a surprise visit to the Capitol press room and said Republicans in his chamber weren’t supportive of extending the unemployment aid — unless Brewer capitulated on measures aimed at stimulating job creation that she had vetoed only weeks earlier.

The governor immediately rejected the idea.

Things didn’t get any better once the special session began. Some lawmakers complained about the way they were called back to the Capitol at a moment’s notice, forcing some to cut short their vacations and trips.

And after the disastrous first day of the special session, Brewer insinuated that Pearce reneged on a deal when she said she’d reached an agreement with him to extend the benefits.

When the special session ended unceremoniously on June 13, the Governor’s Office and many lawmakers tried to downplay the tension. But the anger was palpable.

Some GOP legislators, along with a few Democrats, sharply criticized Brewer, saying they were treated shabbily. Many said Brewer did a poor job of communicating and reaching out to lawmakers, an echo of the criticism after she vetoed a slew of Republican bills in April.

“She’s had plenty of time to try to line up votes for this and try to come to a compromise that would get the votes, and there has been no effort to work on that. All it has been is an exercise in bullying to try to get exactly what she wants with no compromise,” said Sen. Rick Murphy, a Peoria Republican. “The Legislature is a co-equal branch of government, and we expect to be treated like one. We are not a subcommittee of the Governor’s Office and we do not rubberstamp everything she wants the way she wants it.”

Sen. Ron Gould accused Brewer — who wrote a column in The Arizona Republic urging an extension of the benefits and called the Legislature “cruel” when lawmakers refused to do so — of calling them into special session to spite them.

“She’s created a bunch of grief for us by calling us into a special session that had no deal, on 24 hours’ notice, (on) the day before the (benefits expire), so she could throw us under the bus on Saturday morning,” said Gould, a Republican from Lake Havasu City.

Rep. Doris Goodale, R- Kingman, said Brewer exhibited little leadership during the special session and was pessimistic about the future of the Legislature’s relationship with the executive.

“I think that we’re going back to the days where things were more strained,” she said. “I really hope that this is not a foreshadowing of what our session will be next year.”

And if Republicans’ rejection of Brewer’s unemployment bill was payback for the vetoes, former Rep. Bill Konopnicki warned that that pendulum swings the other way too.

“I think the governor turns out to be the winner in this situation. I also think she has a long memory. I don’t think she’s just going to wholesale veto bills. But if you want key bills to get passed, key bills to you, you have to play ball with the governor, whether you like it or not,” said Konopnicki, a Safford Republican who left office in 2010.

Unsurprisingly, the Governor’s Office, Pearce and Tobin downplayed both the extent of lawmakers’ anger and the possibility that the bad blood would linger. Pearce likened the special session to a family squabble.

“Good people can disagree,” he said. “We sometimes can disagree in families (with) those you love the most. The point is, we have a disagreement. We’re working it out.”

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor never intended to make the Legislature look bad, and would not have called the special session if she didn’t believe she had the votes she needed. He also said the governor expects the relationship to bounce back, much as it did after the protracted budget battle of 2009.

“It’s perfectly natural that, from time to time in the relationship between the Legislature and the governor, you have bumps in the road. But … she and this Legislature have a lot more in common than they have not in common, and she believes that they’ll continue to be able to work together,” Benson said. “It’s easy to read too much into something like this as something that bodes ill for the relationship. But, really, the governor is confident that these folks are going to be able to continue to work together.”

Lobbyist Mike Gardner said a lack of communication between the Governor’s Office and the Legislature, along with Brewer’s vetoes, strained the relationship between the two branches of government. In addition, Brewer is still getting used to new House Speaker Andy Tobin’s leadership style and demeanor, which Gardner said is much more forceful than that of his predecessor, Kirk Adams. But Gardner predicted that the relationship would be better next session, when they’ll have to cooperate more for the sake of the 2012 election.

Gardner said Brewer’s proposal for a possible special session later in the year to revamp the state’s personnel system could even provide a golden opportunity to mend fences. While many Republicans opposed the extension of federal unemployment benefits, Gardner said most GOP lawmakers agree with Brewer’s plan to dramatically alter the rules that govern state employees.

“It’s common ground. It’s something they can all agree on,” he said. “It’s something that all the Republicans, from the Governor’s Office and the House and the Senate, want to make happen this year.”

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