House Speaker Andy Tobin set his committee chairs last week, offering the first glimpse of who will control the flow of legislation through the House in 2013. Each chair has a vision for how the committee should function and what issues the committee should address. Jobs and fiscal measures are among the more popular topics.
Commerce — Forese
Rep. Tom Forese, of Gilbert, says the top thing his Commerce Committee will be focusing on is aggressively recruiting businesses leaving California.
“I think the number one issue for us in the state is the full exploitation of the California crisis,” Forese said. “Like (late businessman) Ray Kroc used to say, ‘If your competition is drowning, you stick a fire hose in his mouth.’”
While California has been raising taxes, Forese said, Arizona has been cutting them, working on tort reform and making itself more attractive to businesses looking to relocate. He said Arizona should be attracting California’s farming and food production companies to Yuma, technology companies to Chandler, and research and development facilities all over the state.
“We just need to put out a big enough net to catch those businesses that are flying across borders,” he said.
Tobin said he put Forese in charge of the coveted Commerce Committee because of his work last session on work force development.
“He spent a lot of time trying to introduce companies to the Legislature to give them their ideas quietly and introducing members to key companies around the state that don’t get a lot of attention,” Tobin said.
Ways and Means — Lesko
Rep. Debbie Lesko served as the vice-chair of the Ways and Means Committee in her freshman term in the House, before she became the majority whip.
She said her philosophy on running the committee will be conservative — meaning fewer bills and less government is sometimes better.
Lesko, of Glendale, said one of her main priorities will be to close tax loopholes, allow some of the tax credits to expire, and go for more broad-based tax relief. But in a political environment, she knows that’s not easy.
“That’s politically a hard thing to do,” she said. “Once an industry has a specific tax credit, closing it is very difficult.”
Health — Carter
Rep. Heather Carter of Cave Creek said she knows that running the Health Committee will take a massive amount of time and effort, but after two years as the vice-chair of the former Health and Human Services Committee, she’s ready for the challenge.
Carter sees health care as an economic stimulus for the state. She said she wants to see legislation that will strengthen the health care industry and help it expand.
“Health care brings high quality high paying jobs to the state, and that’s what we need to focus on,” she said.
But she wasn’t prepared to commit to whether the state should implement its own health care exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act or have the federal government set one up.
“I am very meticulous, I like to do my homework before I make a decision, and I don’t feel that I have the information I need right now to make a decision,” she said.
She struck a similar stance on whether the state should increase AHCCCS rolls to cover people at 130 percent of the federal poverty level in exchange for more matching dollars from the federal government, saying bills of that nature will probably be assigned to the Appropriations Committee. Still, she said she’s open to the idea.
“I think what the voters of Arizona want is to have somebody who will sit down at the table and look at all the options,” she said.
Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility — Olson
When creating the Federalism and Fiscal Responsibility Committee, Tobin wanted a panel to look at the effects on the state budget of federal policies on issues like taxes, education and health care.
Tobin chose Rep. Justin Olson of Mesa to head the committee, which Tobin calls “long overdue.”
Olson already has some ideas for the committee. Last session, he introduced several bills trying to safeguard the budget process so the state doesn’t spend faster than revenues are growing, he said. Though much of that legislation was unsuccessful, including a bill to put limits on the spending of rainy day funds and a bill setting a state budget limit, he said he hopes to rework those measures.
“I will continue to brainstorm if there’s an appropriate approach that might gain the support of the majority of the Legislature to put in place some sort of baseline (spending) limit,” he said.
Rules — Robson
Rep. Bob Robson was a natural choice for the powerful Rules Committee because he has served on it during each of the 10 years he has been in the Legislature and spent four years running it.
Every bill that moves through the chamber has to pass the Rules Committee to make sure it is constitutional and in proper form. That means Robson, of Chandler, will essentially have the ability to kill any legislation that comes before his committee.
The role comes with a lot of power, and Robson said that one of the reasons he was successful chairing the committee from 2005 through 2008 was because he always tried to be fair and judicious.
And, as the legislative gatekeeper, he was willing to take some heat for other lawmakers.
Tobin said Robson’s extensive experience on the committee, coupled with the fact that he can be trusted to be fair, made him an easy pick.
“It’s really a matter of lining up the chessboard,” Tobin said. “Mr. Robson isn’t going to hold bills that are important to the caucus — that’s not his function. His function is to make sure that these bills move.”
After failed coup, Seel and Smith get no House chairmanships
Notably absent from the roster of House committee chairmen is Rep. Carl Seel, a three-term Republican from Phoenix. He said he didn’t get a committee chairmanship because Speaker Andy Tobin made an example of him for supporting Sen. Steve Smith for speaker.
Tobin said he merely appointed the best people to chair the committees.
After Seel nominated Smith, a senator moving to the House, for his failed bid for speaker, Seel and Smith ended up as the only two experienced Republicans without House committees to call their own in 2013.
“If you stand up for what you believe in, and it’s contrary to what the leadership wants, the message is that they will take everything away from you that they can,” Seel said. “It’s kind of like playground politics.”
But Tobin said the decision wasn’t politically motivated, and he was just doing what is best for the state, the House and his caucus. Tobin noted that he seconded Seel’s motion to nominate Smith, and said that if Seel and Smith were chairmen, he would have to bump other, better- prepared lawmakers from their positions.
“It’s a political environment, but the truth is that we don’t sacrifice putting the best people in the right place just for politics… That’s not how I make decisions,” Tobin said. “We have a stellar group of lawmakers who have incredible resumes in their lives and we’re trying to make sure we put the best people we have in the best places.”
Smith said he didn’t have any hard feelings about not being put in charge of a committee, and he hopes to be useful on whatever committees he is assigned to in the House. But Seel, who was the ranking Republican on the Banking and Insurance Committee, maintains the only reason he didn’t become the chair of that committee is because he went against Tobin, who he said is now retaliating against him.
Still, Seel said he isn’t too disappointed. Without a chairmanship that the speaker could hold over his head and threaten to take away, he’s a free agent who can continue his quest to find wasted dollars in government, he said.
“I said before the election that the grenades are going to fly, and now there are going to be a lot more of them,” Seel said.