Arizona lawmakers finished one of the fastest sessions in recent memory this April, but still found time for behavior that amazes, amuses and sometimes embarrasses the state’s legislative body.
Few topics are off-limits, although toilets are barred from offices in the House of Representatives.
And the embarrassment doled out this year is merciless and bipartisan, affecting both Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol. Here are some of the best moments by which to remember the 2014 regular session.
Hanging with Mr. Cooper
Sen. Al Melvin braved cable news airwaves by appearing on “Anderson Cooper 360” while Gov. Jan Brewer weighed whether to sign or veto the controversial “religious freedom” bill. The SaddleBrooke Republican was repeatedly pressed by the openly gay newsman to answer whether hypothetical scenarios of discrimination would be legalized under SB1062. Melvin responded by refusing to answer, and claimed on camera that Cooper was “trying to set me up, and I’m not going to stand for it.”
Cooper’s favorite hypothetical was about a Catholic loan officer who refused to provide a loan to a single mother or divorcée, citing the Catholic faith’s views on premarital sex and divorce.
“I don’t know where you’re getting your hypotheticals from, sir. Who would be against an unwed mother? I wouldn’t be against a divorced woman… You’re taking discrimination to the nth degree,” Melvin said.
He called Cooper’s scenarios “far-fetched” and blamed the media for starting “a cottage industry of perceived discrimination” that was driving many, some of his Republican colleagues included, to urge Brewer to veto the bill.
“I don’t know of anybody in the state of Arizona who would discriminate against a fellow human being,” Melvin said.
When Cooper mentioned that he knows of folks in New York who would discriminate based on religious beliefs, Melvin welcomed the CNN host to come to the desert: “Maybe you ought to move to Arizona. It’s more friendly, apparently.”
Required reading: How to act more gay
A futile attempt at a leadership coup in April also revealed Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford’s thoughts on Sen. Steve Gallardo’s sexuality, when she declared that he should “act more gay.” During a closed-door meeting of the Senate Democrats, Cajero Bedford questioned Gallardo’s integrity and suggested he resign from his position as the Senate’s minority whip while he was running for Congress.
Cajero Bedford exclaimed multiple times that Gallardo should “act more gay,” he said, much to the shock of the rest of the Senate Democrats.
“She said that I should be more gay and she questioned my integrity. She said she was glad I came out (of the closet), but that I should be more gay,” Gallardo said. “What the hell that has to do with anything, I don’t know.”
Cajero Bedford later said her comments about Gallardo needing to “act more gay” were an attempt at humor.
“I said, ‘You ought to act more gay,’ and he said, ‘I can’t,’” Cajero Bedford said. “It was an attempt to be sort of neutral. I’m fine with him being gay or not.”
Gallardo said he was embarrassed that his sexuality became a matter of contention in his own caucus.
“Apparently, there is a book that I have failed to read to learn how to be more gay. No one told me there were classes I needed to take,” Gallardo told KTAR.
Story time with Cliven Bundy
Rep. David Livingston spent one memorable day in April using his allotted time to explain his vote on dozens of bills to regale the House with tales of a trip to Bundy Ranch in Nevada. The Peoria Republican traveled to the ranch during a standoff between the Bundy family and its armed supporters and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which had been sent to round up the ranchers’ cattle.
In an almost poetic retelling of the weekend’s events, Livingston started by describing the “dusty, rocky” ranch with a “small river running through it.”
“This event was not about a ranch, this event wasn’t about cattle, it wasn’t about the trail, it was all about power. It was about showing who had the power,” Livingston said.
The standoff between the federal BLM and the armed militias who descended on the area to defend the rancher could have led to bloodshed, he said.
“The BLM would have been massacred in that valley… Why one bullet wasn’t fired, I do not know… It was God’s grace,” he said.
Livingston’s grandstanding drew the ire of his colleagues, including House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who blasted Livingston for praising Bundy and the armed militias who’d set their sights on federal workers.
“This is crazy… These are not patriots, these are cowards,” Campbell said.
House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Prescott, eventually chimed in and said the House had a lot of work to do, and asked lawmakers to stay on topic. But that didn’t stop Livingston, who insisted he was within the rules and he had five minutes per bill to explain his vote however he chose.
The pro-immigrant-rights Citizens for a Better Arizona earned plenty of chuckles for a mid-session gimmick — a toilet given to Rep. Carl Seel to dramatize the organization’s opposition to his proposal to criminalize accessing of “any public resource” by illegal immigrants.
The group tried to deliver the brand new toilet to the Phoenix Republican’s office at noon on
Feb. 11, but the lawmaker’s assistant refused to accept it. CBA field director Beto Soto said Seel deserved the toilet, which he said is an “award” for Seel’s emulation of former Senate President Russell Pearce.
“The [Russell Pearce Extremist] Award… is reserved for people who want to bring shame to Arizona,” Soto said.
CBA claimed that Seel’s HB2192 would make it a crime to use a public restroom without proof of citizenship, as the bill defined the use of public resource to include “driving on a public road or highway, accepting any public benefit, attending a public school or using the services of any public entity in this state.”
Violating the bill’s provisions would have been a Class 1 misdemeanor, but a second offense could lead to a felony charge. Soto noted that CBA spearheaded the successful effort to recall and later oust Pearce in 2011.
“The citizens of Arizona spoke about what happens to politicians that are too extreme [and] want to divide our state,” he said.
Soto, however, refused to comment when asked if CBA would support Seel’s primary opponents.
As it turned out, HB2192 died without getting a committee hearing.