Monday, May 24, 2004

The Moderates Win One, For a Change

My column ran, for some reason, on Monday instead of Sunday. I was supposed to be paired with Tom Patterson and the Goldwater Institute view of the world, but I guess they couldn't ghost-write it for him in time. The newspaper version is available here for the next 30 days or so.

Battle of the Budget
Right-wing exclusion of GOP moderates drove them into an alliance with Dems

East Valley Tribune, May 24, 2004

The good guys finally won at the state Legislature. The House GOP leadership, always rather detached from reality, lost control of the process, and when last Wednesday’s session ended, they’d accomplished something even the Diamondbacks bullpen hasn’t managed: Blow an 18-run lead.

The House has a 39-21 GOP majority, but a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats assembled a moderate majority to pass the 15 budget bills over the ineffectual protests of House Speaker Jake Flake, Majority Leader “Not So Fast Eddie” Farnsworth, and the rest of the Far Right-East Valley crowd.

The budget passed with support of some 15 Republicans and 20 Democrats, so naturally conservatives are upset about (gasp!) bipartisanship. Every time Rep. Carole Hubbs voted for the budget, Rep. Linda Gray took her picture, for use against Hubbs in the upcoming GOP primary. See, when Republicans complain about “partisanship,” what they really mean is “insufficiently Republican.”

Yes, that Rep. Gray -- who heads the House Education Committee, who led the fight against all-day kindergarten. Only in Arizona would the chair of the Education Committee oppose more education.

The moderate "R's" didn’t let the conservatives down. It was the conservative leadership, hamstrung by their own ideology and bullheadedness. Two weeks ago, the moderates proposed a budget $40 million under the Senate version, but leadership wouldn’t even talk. By refusing to negotiate, leadership instead got a budget $33 million higher than the Senate’s. Playing hardball badly cost the ideologues $73 million -- and their authority.

Flake and Farnsworth don’t negotiate; they’re both so convinced they’re right, they don’t understand why they should bother. Now they’re both lame ducks; Flake’s term-limited, so crossing him carried little risk. Farnsworth lacks the votes to return as Majority Leader, and might not run again just to be a backbencher next year.

Essentially, Flake and Farnsworth got deposed by Acting Speaker Tom O’Halloran and De Facto Majority Leader Pete Hershberger. Flake had stripped them of their committee chairs earlier in the session for the mortal sin of working with a Democratic governor. Flake and Farnsworth keep their titles, but by mistreating much of their own caucus, lost their power.

These wackos don’t learn, either. Last year, a few moderate "R’s" forced leadership into a budget compromise with Gov. Janet Napolitano. This year, instead of talking to the moderates constantly and making them key players -- in politics, you keep your friends close, and your enemies closer -- House leadership excluded the moderates and Democrats from everything. So the mods and "D's" used all that free time to work out their budget plan and tactics.

And their plan worked perfectly; they didn’t just run over leadership, they left tire tracks on their shirts. House rules required having a session Wednesday, which leadership kept delaying to start because they lacked the votes. But the mods and "D's" got their 31 votes on the floor -- and under the rules, the session had to start.

Flake holed up in his office with Stan Turley, Jeff Groscost, and Ken Bennett, but even those ostensible luminaries couldn’t put Flake back on this horse. It took until 3 a.m. to pass the 15 bills, because each time the acting chair (Rep. Tom Boone, a Flake guy) would rule against the majority, forcing a vote by division, and then a roll call, before anything could happen. But all the mods -- except for Rep. Philip Hanson and Rep. John Nelson (a real disappointment; John Nelson didn’t used to be a wimp) -- hung tough, and by 3 a.m., the bipartisan moderate budget had passed.

Congratulations to the moderate "R’s". Maybe at the legislature we’ll start seeing the real majority start getting its way more often.

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