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Q&A with Jim Waring – Phoenix Councilman and former legislator

Q&A teaserAfter losing to Ben Quayle in a crowded congressional race in 2010, former Republican legislator Jim Waring bounced back to win a seat on the Phoenix City Council in 2011.

Suddenly, he found himself in the minority and in the thick of the fight to end the city’s food tax and halt pension spiking. He also voted against a pay raise for City Manager David Cavazos, who later announced he was leaving the job for a similar position in Santa Ana, Calif.

Adjusting to the new realities was initially frustrating, Waring says. But in this Sept. 25 interview, he says he and his allies are shaking things up at the City Council.

What do you like more — the City Council or the Legislature?

I really enjoyed the Senate. People are surprised when I say that. I really enjoyed the work. Maybe, there are just more people, you know? And you’re together more. You don’t spend tons of time with your colleagues here at the city. It’s not a campus like it is at the Legislature… I missed that part of it a little bit.

Do you have more time for your twins now that you’re on the City Council than you would if you were still in the Legislature?

The Legislature is, as I would tell people, not family friendly. You’ve got the 4 a.m. [marathon] sessions and I got to chair a few of those, as you remember. Here, I wouldn’t say it’s 9 to 5 because that’s not accurate, and I still do the door-knocking and the campaigning… But you don’t have the 4 a.m. [sessions]. I think the longest meeting we’ve had is about five-and-half to six hours. People here were really upset, and I was like, “We used to do a couple of those a day.”

On a range of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, how would you rate the work environment on the City Council?

I think the work environment is a 10… I can’t think of anything to complain about at the city. The one difference that I think is key is the staff doesn’t really work for you. They work for the city manager. It’s just a little bit different, given that council members come and go. Mayors come and go, but we’ve only had about three city managers in about 40 years. So there are a lot of people who had been raised in this system, and it’s hard to change hearts and minds when that’s the case. I think it took some work on their part to get used to me, and frankly, to the idea that I would vote no [on a pay raise] and that I didn’t have any ill-intent. They might tell me things, but that didn’t necessarily mean I had to vote their way. And I think that was a shock. The first six months was a real feeling-out period.

Would you prefer that the mayor or the council or both have a greater flexibility in hiring and firing staffers here?

Yes. The city charter precludes it, but absolutely. I’ve had several staffers here tell me there had been several screw ups and [they’ve told me]: ‘Well, you can just blame it on us.’ No, I can’t. It’s my name on the signs. I can’t force people to fix potholes. I can’t force people to fix streets. I can suggest. I can take them out there and show them the streets, but if I just say, ‘I need that fixed,’ they might take a look at it. If it fits in the general plan that they have, they might actually do it. It just depends. But they’re not automatically going to put stop signs because I say so. I’m not saying that they should. I’m just saying I’m the one who has to respond to the public. It’s me who’s out knocking on doors.

So who’s in charge?

Well, the city manager is really in charge, when you get right down to it. We can hire and fire the city manager with a vote of five members. But obviously, five people have to agree. I’m, of course, in the minority on the council… However, I like to think that myself, Councilman (Sal) DiCiccio and Councilman (Bill) Gates — we’ve got a little coalition going. Now the votes aren’t nine to nothing. Now, they may be five to four. That’s an eye opener because now if one of these elections goes a different way, all of a sudden things change. During the first six months, I was a little frustrated. We won a couple of battles, but overall, you didn’t get the immediate change, the immediate gratification of your bills passing [like] in the Legislature. And so I was debating how long I would want to do this, and Sal convinced me. He said, “No, no, no. We are definitely making changes. Remember when you started? You get your board packet every week for the council with all the stuff we were going to vote on.” There was just a lot of stuff — the lounge chairs… He said, “Six months hence, we’re not doing that as much.”

Do you feel like your entry in the council has helped to shake things up?

Yes, I guess that sure sounds like [I’m] patting  myself in the back, but yes, I do think it is absolutely shaking things up… Really, I think we’re winning on a lot of the issues.

Is another congressional run on the horizon for you?

I don’t know. Got the kids now. Obviously, it’s not just me. We just had the twins when I had that run… Whether I could do it again would really depend on the circumstances with the kids and so forth. Congressman [David] Schweikert is a tremendous congressman. I would obviously never challenge him. So this will all be dependent on him leaving.

If McCain retired and Schweikert ran for the U.S. Senate, and that seat is vacant, would you run for it?

Well, Senator McCain just said he hasn’t made any kind of decision about his own future, so it’s hard to predict.

But if that seat is vacant?

If Schweikert’s seat was vacant — you know, I don’t know. If we’re talking about 2016, the kids would be six years old. I don’t really have an expectation there because like I said, the one person to focus again, Senator McCain, just said I think last week — it was in The Republic, “I haven’t decided and I won’t probably decide for a couple of years.” Which is fair because it is three years away… I guess we’ll take it up — If it comes up, I’ll worry about it then.

One final question: What’s more difficult: persuading fellow council members to support your ideas or trying to get your twins to eat vegetables?

Ah — you know, they actually sort of like vegetables. They’re not big on green vegetables. We’re excited. There is a product called Green Machine at Costco. So that’s been a good thing. They like that it’s a drink and they like to drink. Since they like vegetables, I would say probably [it’s harder persuading my] colleagues.

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