Incoming Senate President Andy Biggs, a conservative Republican from Gilbert, promised to be inclusive and immediately refrained from weighing in on some of the biggest issues facing Arizona without first consulting his caucus.
Biggs, who unseated Prescott rancher Steve Pierce following a meeting with fellow Republican senators in Phoenix, ventured to say he would reach out across the political aisle, reminding reporters he had tried to hammer out a budget deal with Democrats in the last session.
“We have fewer members as you know. We have disparate districts that we represent. We want to make sure that everybody can have a say,” he said.
“I also have an excellent relationship with most of the Democrats that have been there, and so I’ll be reaching to the Ds,” he said added.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McComish, R-Phoenix, was chosen Senate Majority Leader while Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, was selected as Majority Whip.
But in choosing Biggs, Republicans clearly picked a fiscally conservative and more ideological leader.
Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, doesn’t think the differences between Biggs and Pierce are big.
But he added, “Steve is probably a little more supportive of government engagement in trying to do things to improve the business climate. Andy has perhaps somewhat… a little more resistance to the activist government role.”
This view presupposes that Biggs is more inclined to agree, for example, with broad-based tax changes that benefit more people rather than to push for targeted incentives that only benefit some companies.
This could have significant implications on economic proposals that the Senate will prioritize next year.
But as president, Biggs’ power is also limited by his caucus — a point he had alluded to in previous interviews.
He told the Arizona Capitol Times several times that he won’t block legislation he personally opposes if his caucus supported it.
Biggs won the presidency following a late and aggressive lobbying by Republican activists from county parties for senators to dump Pierce, and House Speaker Andy Tobin.
It’s impossible to tell if the activists’ late push influenced the outcome of the race.
But at least one member, Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrook, raised the issue during the meeting.
“As we started off, I said, you know, there are three missing people. There are three people that should be in this room with us right now,” Melvin said, referring to Republicans who lost to Democrats in contested races.
Melvin blamed decisions by a political committee with ties to Pierce for their defeat, arguing the Republicans could have won if they received help from the group.
“It seemed to be a calculated effort for a smaller majority that might go one way, rather than a larger majority—20 (Republicans elected)—that would have been good for the party,” Melvin said.
He was referring to the claim by some that the Republican Victory Fund, whose money was raised by Pierce, helped candidates who would support the current president’s bid to keep his post.
Pierce rejected the speculation, saying he didn’t have a say in how the committee spent its funds.
Pierce, in fact, was the favorite to keep his position, but the contest between him and Biggs also hinged on the result of last night’s election.
And when several candidates who were expected to support Biggs lost, many expected Pierce to seal the deal.
Two sources close to Pierce also the president was ahead by one vote.
It now appeared they miscalculated the support for Biggs within the caucus.
The leadership selection is just as significant as last night’s election results. The president helps shape the Legislature’s agenda and will ultimately negotiate the final budget with Gov. Jan Brewer, and the House Speaker.
Biggs, in particular, will have a disproportional influence over how Arizona deals with the federal health care law, especially whether to establish a state-run health exchange and expand Medicaid here.
Biggs is opposed to setting an Arizona-operated health care exchange.
But he will be presiding over a shrunken caucus. Strategists anticipate the slimmer 17-to-13 G.O.P. majority would impel Republicans to reach across the aisle.
He will also lead a caucus that has fewer members but is still divided over ideology and other controversial issues.
A lawyer by training, Biggs is an eloquent speaker and a conservative stalwart. Ideological allies often take his cue on constitutional issues.
He’s also a fiscal hawk and is viewed as a major force in steering the state budget back to balance.
But he clearly understands that his power comes from his caucus, and he has promised not to block legislation that a majority of his party-mates support.
Biggs went into today’s meeting with less baggage than Pierce, who took heat over decisions by the Republican Victory Fund to wade into an intraparty contest and spend money against Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, but not help several GOP candidates, including Pierce’s own whip, Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson.
Pierce had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the committee, but he and the committee’s chairwoman maintained the president has no say in the group’s spending decisions.
That, along with a few other grievances, spawned a “revolt” from party activists that began in the Pinal County Republican Party and spread to several county-level G.O.P. parties.
The activists who are upset with Pierce and House Speaker Andy Tobin had warned of political repercussions if lawmakers didn’t heed their message to dump the two leaders in favor of Biggs as president and Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, as Speaker.