The most challenging task for Democrats at the state Capitol is to stay relevant in a place where you’re greatly outnumbered.
That job fell to Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, whose caucus shrank to only nine members following the 2010 elections.
That means the minority cannot stop bills or advance legislation without Republican support.
Early on, Schapira decided on a strategy: Keep up the pressure on Republicans by letting the public know what they’re up to.
Schapira said he believes Democrats succeeded, and the public pressure, which they helped to create, led to the defeat, for example, of a slew of anti-union bills.
The minority also sought to exploit fiscal disagreements between the governor and GOP lawmakers. That led to a brief but ultimately aborted budget talks between the minority and some Republican leaders.
In this May 16 interview, Schapira assessed his job as leader in a year when he’s also running for Congress.
On the last day of session, you told me this session could have been worse. What did you mean by that?
Well, there were some bills that weren’t signed into law that might have been signed into law. There were some bills that didn’t even make it to the governor’s desk, and certainly, the budget could have been worse than it was.
The budget could have been worse in what sense?
They could have made cuts as opposed to not really restoring the amount of money that they should have, especially in education (and) KidsCare. Those were some negative things, but it could have been worse.
Was there anything you liked about this session?
Yeah, absolutely. The change in leadership. The change in leadership in the state Senate was really night and day from (Russell) Pearce to (Steve) Pierce. The new Pierce was far more reasonable than the last President Pearce and willing to work with us, whether it’d be on the rules on the floor or the budget (and) bills.
What do you think Steve Pierce’s impact was overall — and Russell Pearce’s departure — on the session this year?
Well, we certainly saw a change in tone. You know, Steve Pierce says he tried to stay out of the news, and I think he did. He was pretty successful at that. He also really didn’t spend a lot of time lecturing us on the Senate floor like Russell Pearce would. For the most part, the tone was very different.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment this year?
I would say our biggest accomplishment was putting enough public pressure on to stop the anti-labor bills. Those bills were on the fast-track from the beginning of session, and the fact that we were able to keep them from the governor’s desk was, I think, quite an accomplishment.
The governor stopped a lot of bills from becoming law. Many of those bills you opposed yourselves. What do you make of her veto record?
Well, she vetoed my bill just two days ago. I think the governor has vetoed some pretty bad bills, so I was pleased with some of those vetoes. In fact, most of her vetoes I was pleased with. I think there were a few that I think were more about her personal relationships with people or partisanship than they were about policy and so I’m certainly disappointed in those vetoes.
What do you mean by that?
Well, there’s a few members here who the governor, I think, doesn’t have a great relationship with, and so she vetoes a lot of their bills regardless of whether the bills are good policy. I probably include myself in that group. I’ve certainly stood up to the governor quite a bit in the last two years as leader.
Are you suggesting that part of the reason she vetoed your bill might be the fact that the two of you didn’t get along?
I think maybe more than suggesting it, I’m probably outright claiming that that’s the case. I believe absolutely that the governor vetoed my bill because I was the sponsor, and because the author of the bill, a young man named Jevin Hodge, a student from McClintock High School, is actually the co-chair of the governor’s Youth Commission, and she found out after he became chair that he was a Democrat and then appointed a Republican co-chair.
I think because of Jevin’s partisan affiliation and mine — I think those are part of the reasons that she vetoed the bill (SB1066: schools; governor’s community service citation).
By saying that the governor vetoed bills not necessarily because of policy but because of personal differences or personality issues, you’re actually lumping yourself together with Republican Senator Frank Antenori.
I know that. That’s true.
Can you point to any legislation that was introduced or made headlines that you think will help Democrats win more seats next year?
I think there’s a few issues that are likely to have an impact on the election. I think certainly the ‘war on women’ bills are going to energize women voters coming to this election and men who believe that shouldn’t be the focus of legislative action. I think also the fact that we are now for the second year in a row — and this would be the first time we have an election after defunding KidsCare — we are the only state in the nation that doesn’t fund a SCHIP program (a federally subsidized health insurance program for low-income children), and I think that the voters recognize that that’s something that really should be a priority.
Speaking of races, do you think you were effective as leader of your caucus while you were running for Congress?
I know you asked me at the beginning of session: If you have a conflict between your campaign and between the legislative session, which one will you choose? And I said, well, I have (a job) that I’m constitutionally obligated to do, and I feel like I had a very good record of not just being here to be on the floor to vote, not just being here to be in committee to vote, not just standing up and being a leader from my caucus in those formal settings, but also being here to be a leader behind the scenes, being here in our caucus meeting, being here for our strategic decision-making and being here at the Capitol to be a watchdog for the people of the state. I think we were very successful at doing that. In fact, I think this is probably one of our most successful sessions when it comes to holding these guys publicly accountable.