Session Wrap 2014: UpClose with Senate President Andy Biggs

Ben Giles//May 28, 2014

Session Wrap 2014: UpClose with Senate President Andy Biggs

Ben Giles//May 28, 2014

Senate President Andy Biggs (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Andy Biggs (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A year after being rolled by Gov. Jan Brewer and key members of his own caucus, Senate President Andy Biggs found himself in the yes column, voting for a budget that he helped guide through the Legislature by first introducing it himself.

What was initially viewed as a unilateral maneuver eventually became the groundwork for a budget agreement between House and Senate leadership and the Ninth Floor, though it took nearly four weeks of back and forth negotiations to finish the job.

On a scale of 1 to ten, rate your effectiveness as Senate president.
I’ve never liked the thermometer scale of polling, so let me just say that we as a body were able to get a lot of bills over a wide variety of issues — some of them even important and good — and we did it really in a short period of time. We got a budget out that is balanced on the balance sheet for 2015 and we moved the structural imbalance in the right direction, and we were able to get that done very rapidly. We kept a lot of collegiality amongst members, even when we had a couple of lightning rod issues, I still think people were able to work together.

Will you run again for Senate president?
I am running again for Senate president next year. I like working with the members, I really do.

The chamber seemed to have recovered, mostly, from bitter feelings over Medicaid expansion and the rough 2013 legislative session. How?
It reflects on the idea probably of our members being professional and saying OK, we had a problem, and we still may have a problem, but we are required professionally and probably ethically to say what’s in the best interest of the state, and the best interest of the state is that we work together, we try to find policies that are conducive to economic growth, conducive to successful educational outcomes, CPS and public safety. I think people just said, ‘Look, we’re going to set aside personalities and the recent past and work together.’

What’s the source of all the frustration and head-butting with the House, as we saw the last night of session?
I wouldn’t characterize it as that. The speaker and I talk regularly, and we generally have the same objectives and goals. And I think the fact that we got as much out as we did kind of supports the notion that we can work together, and we did work together. I mean, there’s always a little bit of chafing here and there, and personalities do get in the way sometimes, but I thought we had a nice working relationship.

But there were lawmakers in the Senate who said they felt railroaded by the House and their tactics for approving Senate bills.
There’s always people who approach things just a little differently, just have a different point of view of how to get things done, but it’s certainly odd to see an innocuous barber board continuation bill come back with 11 continuations when you’ve got four or five bills in the House that would continue all those agencies, all stacked on one, you know, it chafed people as much as anything. You know, what are you doing here? The reality is, in the end, is that worth killing each other over? And it wasn’t. You’ve got personalities and you’ve got opinions and you’ve got objectives, but I don’t think that little speed bump there is any indication that we didn’t work well together.

How did you manage to sine die so quickly?
You just got to keep pushing, keep the timelines, and get people working hard. They all want to work hard. And you’ll get it done.

Is it frustrating, as the leader in the Senate, to watch Arizona get blasted locally and nationally for bills like SB1062?
The bill itself was mischaracterized, so that’s really the only frustration. I’m open with people criticizing and having dissent. I just think the bill was mischaracterized and continues to be mischaracterized. Leaving that aside, I never like to see the state portrayed in a bad light, and I think the mischaracterization portrayed it in a bad light. I wish that we had ended up focusing on positive things happening in the state: the economic environment, the job growth projections, the three of the top 10 rated high schools in the country in our state. Nobody else has that. I guess when I saw that, I was, well, I’m not sure why this has blown up. That was my bad for not anticipating it.

Before you became Senate president, you were always one of the ‘no’ guys — voting no for the budget. How have you reconciled that with the need to lead your caucus?
When I was in the House, I think people would say you have four knuckleheads, and I was one of the four knuckleheads, and we typically would vote no on the budget. Now there were times when we would vote yes on a budget, if the budget was structurally balanced and cash balanced, and we’d vote yes on that budget. But then by the time it was through it was no longer structurally balanced and cashed balance and it’d be out of whack and we’d stand up and say, “We’re going to have a problem.” In 2008 and 2009, our projections turned out to be right. There was a problem. What I’m trying to do now is, you have to deal with the executive’s demands. You’ve got to deal with the demands of your members and the House. And you still have to try to balance that out with where you’re going.