The leader of lobbying powerhouse Center for Arizona Policy insisted that her group is stronger than ever despite the defeat of its flagship legislation, SB1062, and even though only one of the three bills it drafted was enacted in the recently-concluded session.
CAP president Cathi Herrod said seven out of 10 bills the organization supported passed, but she acknowledged that her group played a secondary role in six of them, leaving an anti-abortion bill, HB2284, as the only successful legislation that CAP wrote and spearheaded.
But despite the disappointment, which emanated from the veto of CAP’s two other highest priority proposals, the furor surrounding the rejection, and the demonization of the center, Herrod maintained that the organization is undeterred.
“Our opponents certainly tried to put us out of business. I have news for them — we’re stronger than ever, we’re expanding and we’ll be as active as we’ve ever been,” she said.
Herrod pointed to the group’s recent fundraiser, which attracted more than 1,000 attendees, who, she said, reflect the values of CAP and a greater percentage of Arizonans.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed the abortion bill, which allows the Department of Health Services to conduct unannounced inspections of abortion clinics, but Planned Parenthood of Arizona and the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights have already promised to challenge the new law, which takes effect July 24. State health inspectors are currently required by virtue of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2004 to get an administrative search warrant and be accompanied by police in order to show up unannounced.
Meanwhile, Brewer, who is in her last year in office, vetoed HB2281, which would have exempted from taxation any property that is leased to a religious institution by an educational, religious, or charitable organization and is used primarily for religious worship. HB2281 also would have reduced the tax assessment ratio on properties leased by any other entity to a religious institution to 1 percent.
That veto came two months after Brewer rejected SB1062, which would have expanded religious rights and given businesses the ability to defend themselves against lawsuits — or make a claim — on the grounds of free exercise of religion.
Herrod said the two bills were CAP’s priorities.
“We’re still grateful the abortion inspection bill passed,” Herrod said.
SB1062 reached the governor’s desk, too, but within a day of its passage, critics, including LGBT activists, swarmed the Capitol with protests and successfully pushed the narrative that the proposal would give business entities the ability to deny service to gays and other groups of people. That put Arizona in the middle of national media frenzy.
Chris Herstam, a lobbyist and former GOP lawmaker, said CAP is on the wrong side of the LGBT civil-rights issue, but the controversy probably helped the group’s fundraising efforts.
“There have always been moralists paid to protect us from evil, but their definition of ‘sin’ — whether it be gambling, divorce, school sex education or homosexuality — should not be imposed on everyone via state law,” Herstam said. “Family values are personal beliefs. That’s fine, but (Herrod’s) value system should not become a political litmus test.”
Herrod said the defeat of SB1062 came at a price to everyone.
She said it was a vocal minority that threatened an economic boycott of the state and whose voice the business and tourism community took seriously.
“Well, what’s going to happen the next time when another vocal minority has the ability to threaten a boycott and it’s an issue the business community wants or some other group wants?” Herrod said.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who sponsored the abortion measure and is a key ally of CAP, said SB1062 was destined for a veto no matter who sits in the Governor’s Office.
Lesko said CAP’s future success will depend on who is elected to the Legislature and Governor’s Office in November.
Herrod serves as informal adviser to GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey’s campaign, and the prevailing sentiment at the Capitol is that his victory will give her a direct line to the Ninth Floor.
Lesko said Herrod will never back down from her beliefs, but she’s also smart enough not to try and push through legislation that will fail.