Sen. Anna Tovar led the Senate Democratic caucus in 2014 under uncomfortable circumstances, having helped lead a coup of the old leadership team in October 2013. That vote left some bad blood among members of the minority party in the Senate, and the awkwardness of a failed vote to put back in place some of the old leadership team, led by Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, in April.
Tovar also found her party in the familiar position of having little to no influence in budget negotiations, with Republicans once again finding agreement on a spending plan amongst themselves.
What happened to that bipartisan dynamic that worked so well for Democrats in 2013?
Last year, with the Medicaid expansion it was a unique circumstance where the governor was leading the charge on the Medicaid expansion, and that was something that parties came together on for the betterment of Arizona families. I do still anticipate us coming together in regards to CPS, but starting off this session, I think it was a chance for opportunities and priorities that were again missed. We could’ve started off the session with CPS and worked on that initially, and I think that was a misplaced priority, a missed opportunity as well. So last year, the Medicaid expansion was a unique circumstance on why we came together in this bipartisan fashion.
When in particular did you realize you’d have no say in the budget, as is tradition?
I think we knew that coming into the session where our members, our bills weren’t being heard, when there were issues in regards to the budget that we gave a priority list and it seemed like they (Republicans) were narrowly focused on a certain amount of money, and they didn’t want to go beyond that amount. We knew from when initial talks were being held that they were pretty stern on a certain amount, and didn’t want to exceed. That didn’t deter us from presenting what our priorities were and moving forward for what we think is best for Arizona families.
Were there any issues in particular where you felt Democrats had some influence?
There’s particular bills that I know we came together on to defeat. A lot of those anti-Common Core bills, I know that we came together to unite for trying to move our standards forward, making sure that was funded. We worked with Republican members as well, either to defeat those bills or make sure that our Common Core standards remained intact and got funded. Also, with the business community, they were very active and proactive in making sure the Arizona readiness standards — whatever they’re called, the Common Core standards — were kept intact. I would say that’s one place we made sure we moved our education system.
Talk about the impact of SB1062 on the session.
I think once the 1062 gained that national attention, I think that was an indication that we need to focus our priorities on and not be passing bills that are discriminatory or set Arizona back in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. For Democrats, we knew going in that 1062 could potentially be an issue or a bill that blew up the whole session and that was the focal point of the session itself. I know we tried very hard to stop it as well. But there was that miscommunication on others that felt this isn’t what it intends to do. We were firm on what it will do.
Did it impact the way people acted for the rest of the session?
I don’t think so. The gun bills came after that, the ESA bills, the abortion bills were pushed after that. There was quite a bit after 1062. So I don’t think it stopped people going after extreme issues… again, misplaced priorities and missed opportunities.
What was it like assuming a role in leadership mid-term, particularly given the coup that led to your ascension to minority leader?
Our leadership team did a great job of having the door open for all our caucus members. Was it a difficult task? Yes it was. It was something that happens here at the Legislature, where there is a change of leadership. But I think our new leadership team did the best job that they can do in making sure that we moved forward in January when we came in, that we started with our Democratic priorities… we did our best to work together as a team. Granted, we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I think professionally we handled that within our caucus here in making sure that we presented the priorities that Arizona’s families and children wanted. We were elected to come here and do a job. Moving past what happened, we did good moving forward.
Did the attempted coup of your own leadership team in April impact the caucus?
I don’t think it impacted us in moving forward. At that time there was the budget that was getting near to pass, and we wanted to make sure that we had our proper amendments and priorities moving forward. From a caucus standpoint, I know that there were three individuals that weren’t, that voted for different leadership, but I would say that a majority of our caucus was just moving forward. We did our best to work together with all members.
With you and Senator Steve Gallardo moving on, who fills the minority leadership void in the Senate next year?
I believe there are leaders within our own caucus right now. I think anyone within our caucus could essentially step up and take a part in our leadership role. It just depends on what a majority of our caucus members want in moving forward in the next session. Depending on how all the races come out, you might get people from the House here as senators, and they’ll be experienced as well, too. In moving forward in the next session you have a well-rounded group of Democratic senators that will represent our priorities.
You won’t run for any elected office this fall. Would you ever consider coming back to the Legislature for more?
My service for elected office is not over. I will have the opportunity to serve again in the future. For me, it’s a very rewarding job in knowing that I am trying to push for Arizona’s families to have a better future. For me, I know that this is just a pause.”