A year ago, first-term Sen. David Schapira surprisingly cinched the position of Democratic leader.
Getting the post was the easy part. Leading one of the smallest Senate Democratic causes ever at a time of big decisions and keeping his colleagues relevant is where the true challenge of the job lies.
The state is reeling from the worst economic recession and like everybody else, Democrats have ideas about how to solve the deficit. But Republicans, who have a supermajority control of the Legislature, don’t really need their input or support.
Now in his second year as minority leader, Schapira is considering another challenge — running for Congress. In this interview, Schapira reiterated he won’t resign from the Legislature should he join that race and assured his constituents he can ably multitask.
From the minority’s point, how exactly is the ouster of Russell Pearce good this session, if you agreed with that assumption?
Well, I think, hopefully, it will cause a little bit more of a change in the tone. Steve Pierce has certainly been willing to meet with us (and) been willing to talk with us to this point. And I’m hoping that as time goes on, he’ll continue to do that.
While on this subject, let me ask you: What do you make of the fact that the two Senate leaders chosen by Republicans caucus at the beginning of session last year…
…are both gone. I think it certainly speaks volumes about the types of leaders that the Republicans elected into this chamber choose. I think it’s fortunate that they chose to ask Mr. (Scott) Bundgaard to move on and I’m glad that that happened early in the session, so it at least lessened somewhat the distraction.
You said it speaks volumes about the types of leaders that they’ve chosen…
…in the past. But I think going forward, I’m optimistic. Again, I think Steve Pierce is someone who is not an extreme partisan (and) someone who is not against working across the aisle. (Majority Leader) Andy Biggs is a guy, who, although he is pretty far from me ideologically, is logical and reasonable and, hopefully, will work with us as the session goes on.
How do all those changes impact the way the minority deals with the majority?
I think it will definitely be a change. I mean, I’m already seeing some differences and I hope that those things continue.
Differences like what?
Well, differences like the open-door policy in the president’s office (and) his willingness to hear all of our concerns and hopefully address them.
Is there any assurance that this open-door policy… would extend to the budget?
I hope so. I think this president is more open to a process that includes both sides and, hopefully, we will have that. My one concern is that he has been quoted many times so far as saying that the (budget) surpluses are “already spent.” And, you know, that’s a little concerning that he has not consulted any of his colleagues in the Legislature, at least on our side of the aisle, and to my knowledge, any of his colleagues, to find out what the rest think about what should happen with the surplus.
I’m sure there are many things you’d like to see restored (in the budget). Can you pick one item that you feel is most important to be re-funded at least back to a reasonable level.
Well, one thing that’s really important to me and one thing I’d been pushing for a lot is a reinvestment in building renewal for schools. We’ve not funded SFB (School Facilities Board) essentially for the last few years and we have crumbling schools. We have schools across the state that are decades old. We have some schools that are a century old and are in desperate need of repair. What that does is it does a couple of things: One, it makes our schools a safer environment for our students to go to, but it also creates jobs. The construction industry has been hurting, and by putting some money into building renewal we can actually create jobs in the state (and invest) in infrastructure.
Do you still see your role as watchdogs here at the Capitol? And I ask the question because it’s sort of, no matter how hard you barked in the last go-round, it seemed like the majority simply wasn’t listening and I wonder, in this session, how you go about trying to influence legislation.
Well, you said it yourself. I mean, we have a relatively small caucus… but we’re a scrappy bunch. And, so, we are certainly willing to hold folks accountable publicly, if need be, especially when it comes to some of the more extreme legislation that’s been proposed in the last couple of years. If those things come back — like guns on school campuses — we’re certainly going to hold them accountable publicly and try to convince our colleagues to vote against them and try to convince the governor to veto, if need be. But (we will) also get the word out to the state about what’s happening here.
Kyrsten Sinema has resigned to run. Obviously, you’re someone who is also considering running for Congress. But I understand you won’t be resigning even if you do run for Congress. Explain to me why not.
My plan at this point is not to resign. I was elected to a two-year term by my constituents to serve in the state Senate. (It’s my) very first term in the Senate. I’ve only served a year of that term, and I was elected by my colleagues in the Democratic caucus to serve as their leader, and that’s also a two-year term. And, so, I feel obligated and responsible to follow that through.
How can you be effective at being a Senate leader while essentially attending to the demands of a potential Congressional campaign?
For one, I don’t foresee this session butting up against either the primary or the general election… That being said, I’ve always had a lot of things on my plate the whole time I’ve been in the Legislature. I’ve taught at ASU. I’ve run a business. I’ve had other responsibilities and have been able to balance (them) in the past. And so I think that I’d be able to do that going forward as well.
I asked you the same question before. I’ll just ask you again. Let’s say you have a fundraiser and the president of the United States is headlining it… But you have a budget vote down here and you’ll have to choose whether you’re going to your fundraiser or voting on the budget.
We can guess at what kinds of scenarios are going to come up. I don’t think that one is going to come up in particular.
But you see my point.
But yeah, I do see your point, and at the end of the day, there are very important issues that are happening here. There are important things that come up for a vote, including budgets. And I’ve done everything in my power in the past to be here for those important votes and I’ll continue to do that in the future.