Bills die for a variety of reasons at the Arizona Capitol, but none go down in a more explosive manner than when personal politics outweigh the merits of legislation in the eyes of bill sponsors and lawmakers who vote on the measures.
Bills that draw widespread support can die at the whims of one or more powerful lawmakers, House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, acknowledged.
“The House and Senate manage bills differently, so sometimes bills get over the finish line, sometimes they don’t, and it has nothing to do with their merits,” Tobin said last month when asked why a conference committee hearing was canceled for a fifth time.
The hearing for HB2305, scheduled for April 24, was expected to vote on a comprehensive amendment that included measures sponsored by Sen. Michele Reagan and Rep. Michelle Ugenti, two Scottsdale Republicans who’ve developed a not-so-private feud this session stemming from an election spat last year, when Reagan endorsed Ugenti’s opponent in the primary election.
While Tobin didn’t say whether the infighting among the Republican lawmakers was the cause of the cancellations — and perhaps the death of both Reagan and Ugenti’s respective bills — the speaker did acknowledge that something more than a dispute over policy was afoot.
“It’s about the politics, and that’s certainly not unusual down here,” Tobin said.
Policy, not personality
The personal spat between Reagan and Ugenti exemplifies a common problem for lawmakers who can take things too personally at the Capitol, said Ron Gould, a former Republican lawmaker from Lake Havasu City.
Gould’s votes and actions in the Senate often drew strong, “retaliatory” actions from his fellow lawmakers, he said.
“They shouldn’t take it personally but they do,” Gould said. “I had to remind Senator Reagan that when I tore her bills apart in caucus that it wasn’t personal. I’m just not a crony capitalist. I think after she figured out that it wasn’t personal, that I didn’t have any hatred for her, she was OK with it. She was under the impression as most of the House members were that I was a nasty individual, but that’s only people who’ve never had one-on-one dealings with me.”
If lawmakers are serving properly, they’re voting based on policy, not personality, Gould said.
“But that’s not how the real world works,” he said. “People vote [to retaliate] if they can get away with it.”
Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, has tried for two years to pass legislation aimed at hastening the adoption process for foster children seeking permanent homes and families. But he claims that those efforts have been blocked by Tobin, who Murphy said is retaliating for the senator’s sponsorship and support of several anti- union paycheck deduction bills.
Murphy’s own retaliation has taken many forms. Last year the senator joined forces with an independent expenditure committee targeting Tobin and wrote letters detailing how the speaker killed every one of its bills.
This year, Murphy’s holding up 21 judicial nominations that need to be approved by his Senate Judiciary Committee. Murphy said he’s trying to use the nominees as leverage against Tobin, who he claims has stopped his adoption bills from reaching votes on the House floor.
“I realize they’re not [Tobin’s] nominations, they’re the governor’s, but at the same time, I’m not willing to go through another off- session with adoptive kids looking for permanency that have to wait because they’re being held hostage because of political gamesmanship,” Murphy said.
A cherry on top
Hearings on HB2305, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth’s bill that makes changes to initiative petition filing requirements, was canceled for a sixth time on May 8. A 43-page amendment, including three of Reagan’s own election reform bills and a Ugenti bill aimed at consolidating election dates, was floated three weeks ago, and was ultimately blamed for the cancellation of several scheduled hearings.
Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, has given up trying to help Reagan and Ugenti in favor of saving his own legislation, rather than watching it get caught up in the fight, observed Sen. Katie Hobbs, who serves on the conference committee.
“What I had heard before was that Farnsworth was done trying to put their bills on his bill because it was just causing too many problems,” said Hobbs, D-Phoenix.
Reagan has repeatedly told reporters she has no idea what’s happening with her bills in the House — the senator was replaced on the conference committee by Senate Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix.
Reagan said there’s no tiff between her and Ugenti, and whatever issues are being worked out on the conference committee are beyond her at this point. Plenty of other bills are languishing in both chambers at this point in the Legislative session, Reagan said, suggesting that timing has more to do with her legislation’s struggles.
“I fail to see where any of the drama is, because there’s no tiff between the two of us,” Reagan said in an interview. “She has some good legislation, I’ve supported some of her legislation, and there’s no ill will on anything on my behalf.”
Ugenti did not respond to requests for comment.
Democrats are eager to see Reagan’s bills die in the battle.
Lawmakers and Latino voting groups had criticized two of her bills,
SB1003 and SB1261, claiming that they would discourage voter turnout and disenfranchise Latino voters.
Hobbs said Democrats would prefer to work on Reagan’s bills more next year.
“I’m happy if the bills die, and if they die because of Republican spats with each other it’s a cherry on top, because I think that highlights some dysfunction,” Hobbs said. “But we have time to work these bills out and make them better bills, so all groups are included and it doesn’t look like they’re trying to disenfranchise voters.”
The canceled meetings have left election officials at a loss, according to Rep. J.D. Mesnard, who also serves on the conference committee. The amendment proposed to HB2305 would have included what Mesnard, R- Chandler, called “must-haves” for election officials who are trying to improve the state’s election process.
Gould said lawmakers should be able to get past the personal and focus on the merits of their legislation, then have an honest, open debate about the bills.
“A lot of times these legislators are personalizing these bills, and if you speak against the bill it’s like you’re speaking against their child or their pet. They need to take a step back,” Gould said. “It’s policy, it’s not personal.”