Wrap up with Steve Yarbrough

Ben Giles//May 29, 2018

Wrap up with Steve Yarbrough

Ben Giles//May 29, 2018

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

After 16 years as an Arizona state representative, then senator, Senate President Steve Yarbrough is calling it quits. The Chandler Republican guided the chamber for the last time this session, and though he leaves the Capitol with a long list of legislative accomplishments, 2018 also leaves him a little bitter that one of his legislative priorities didn’t get through.

Cap Times Q&AIt’s that time of year when I ask you to rate yourself. On a scale of one to 10, how’d you do this session?

Maybe an eight or a nine. Higher marks than I’ve given us in the past.

Why so high?

Cause I’m leaving! I’m trying to set the standard for the next poor bloke who comes into this job.

This was your 16th and final year as an Arizona legislator. Was it worth it?

Oh yes. I mean, it was painful at times to say the least, and enormously fatiguing at times, as you well know because you were there sitting through most of those crazy long nights when we would do those kinds of things, but worth it? Yes.

Any highs or lows over those 16 years?

I just was looking — Marsha (his assistant) was putting this together for me, I think I have 95 bills that made it all the way through and got signed by the governor over the last 16 years, and certainly among them are some really significant measures, in my mind.

Any regrets?

Oh yeah. Had a big one the last night. I was really invested in that IRC (Independent Redistricting Commission) reform, and was disappointed and surprised to see it not be successful back here in the Senate, because I was completely persuaded that the four things that measure would do indeed would make the process more fair and more bipartisan and better for Arizona. So yeah. That one kind’ve went, what in the world is going on here?

How about Gov. Doug Ducey throwing a curveball with his overhauled budget proposal. Did you see that coming?

I had had conversation with the Governor’s Office, and we were actually going to meet on that Friday and see what we could sort’ve fashion in the way of a substantial proposal that could hopefully make the general K-12 education community much happier. And that was going to happen in a day or two, and then, boom. Out of the blue comes the press conference. So I was surprised but not surprised. I knew we were going to try to go there, and that was going to be something that we were going to be working on. But I would have preferred to have those conversations before the press conference. That would’ve been my preference.

How big a twist was that?

It was a big deal, it was a big change at that moment. Not that we weren’t going to get there —  I really think there was a pretty good chance we would have gotten there regardless. But I just would’ve preferred a little bit different process.

Was it difficult to reset and get the caucus on board?

It presented some challenges. More of them were from the right side of my caucus than from the left, as you might suspect. So it took some concerted effort for a period of time to get to a point where we had 16 (votes). But we were able to get there.

What was the cause of the pushback?

Well, the dollar amount, and where was the money coming from. And of course it got quickly wrapped into the VLT (vehicle license tax). That became sort of tied to the process, even though separate. And as you may recall, I think maybe all but four of the folks in my caucus weren’t thrilled by what has turned out to be a potentially even more substantial increase in vehicle license tax for people. That presented challenges.

The teachers movement – can it have an impact going forward? Or will it?

I don’t know. It’s hard for me to predict that. I think it would be disingenuous to suggest that wasn’t obvious and wasn’t being noticed. I personally hold to the position that the strike didn’t really move the needle. The needle was moved at that point, and it was just a matter of getting the process accomplished. I never really thought that the strike was appropriate. I thought it was in fact inappropriate, I thought it was unlawful, I thought it was frankly something that teachers should not have been doing. I understand them wanting more money. Who doesn’t want more money in their paycheck. But I think at that point it was going to happen, and however many days that they decided to go out and strike and all the hours and instruction that kids lost and those that were preparing for AP tests and a lot of things, that really troubled me. I just didn’t think it was helpful.

Is this the start of a trend of more activism at the Capitol?

I hope it was a fairly special circumstance. I’m not the least bit anxious to see correction officers on the Capitol lawn with the prisoners left home by themselves. Once you start down that path, there are risks attached to that that may not be in the best interests of the public.

Thinking back on your decision to retire, now that the session is over, was that the right call?

I made the decision obviously completely independent of this particular session. There were things about this session that would make me think, wow, I wouldn’t mind staying in the fray. But you know, we have term limits in Arizona, and at the time we adopted them I actually thought they were wise. Of course now I’m less convinced. I think that you have a certain responsibility to the Constitution, and even though we can serve eight years in one house and go and do eight in another, I just am not a person who felt like going back to the House and starting the clock again was really keeping faith with the constitution.

Do you have plans to remain politically active?

I don’t know the answer to that I guess. I certainly have no reluctance to stay in the fray from some other vantage point, so I probably will try to have some influence in some way just because these 16 years have taught me how little I really know, and how much more there is to learn. And so I really don’t want to quit learning stuff, so I’ll be around. I don’t know where or how, but I’ll be out there.

Any advice for your successor?

The likelihood of whoever comes into this office next, they’ll probably know their way around this place. You don’t typically get tapped for this job if you don’t, so they’ll know that it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of stuff that you don’t learn about being president or speaker until you are. I do want to say on the record that I was blessed with an extraordinary staff here on the second floor.