The 2012 Election has brought about changes everywhere, and Arizona is no different. Several factors have changed the political dynamic in Arizona. How these changes will affect agriculture in remain to be seen as there are several factors at play in the next Arizona legislative session.
While healthcare and education will dominate the debate, water supply is increasingly becoming an issue of major focus. Given the complexity of the issues facing Arizona, redistricting and contested Republican leadership races stirred up a battle that will be interesting to watch over the next two years.
The redistricting that occurred in Arizona’s legislative districts has resulted in a loss of the Republican supermajorities, as both the Senate and the House lost four members of their caucuses. The loss of supermajority status doesn’t really change business at the Capitol since the supermajority vote power was never used. However, it does make the leadership more reliant on the fewer members that they have. This will be an interesting scenario given the leadership races in the House and Senate were heavily contested.
On the Senate side, Senate President Steve Pierce lost his reelection bid to retain his post as leader of the Senate. In a very close vote, former Majority Leader Andy Biggs prevailed and will serve as the next Senate President. While Senator Biggs is definitely seen as a more hard-line conservative, his new leadership team includes Senators John McComish and Adam Driggs, both much more moderate than their predecessors.
In the House, Speaker Andy Tobin did retain his leadership post. However, he had significant opposition from Senator-turned-Representative Steve Smith. Rep. Smith, who was the sponsor of Arizona’s build your own border fence law, was running for the post on the basis that he would be more conservative. Smith ultimately lost, but the competing dynamics within the Republican Caucus are already creating ripples.
While Arizona experienced a reprieve from anti-immigration antics following Russell Pearce’s ouster in the 2011 recall election, leadership changes in the Senate could once again bring back the anti-immigrant sentiment. In a time when most Arizona politicos are looking at revamping the Republican Party’s stance on immigration to attract more Hispanic votes, the Arizona Legislature could be retreating to its old ways.
Education, healthcare and water supply will dominate the 2013 Arizona legislative session. On the healthcare front, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has officially declined to create a state-run exchange as contemplated by the federal Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). While the governor and her staff had been researching and preparing preliminary plans for a state exchange, many Republicans were already steadfast against it, including the newly-elected leadership in both the House and Senate. The fight that would have ensued would have required her to utilize all of her political capital to get it done. At the end of the day, she decided it’s not a battle she wants to fight. She has other priorities she wants to focus on in her final two years, mainly education.
While the governor did oppose the ballot measure extending the one cent sales tax for education and transportation, she has made it very clear that she believes that the state needs to begin restoring education funds that were cut in the recession. Moreover, she has made it clear that the business tax cuts that were passed in 2012 have provided enough of an incentive for new growth and she is not interested in additional tax cuts in 2013. On both fronts her position differs from that of legislative leadership and it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next five months.
Water supply issues have been on the back burner in recent years given the lack of growth during the recession, but the potential for new home building has reignited the debate. Homebuilders and developers are feeling the pinch of Arizona’s 100 year adequate supply requirements, which are among the most stringent in the nation. As a result, several different groups have been working on a regional water authority bill that would provide enabling legislation for local bureaucrats and related entities to engage in regional water policy, an area that has been solely regulated by the state up until now. While the bill would provide funding to enhance local water supplies, the idea of unelected and unaccountable citizens being given the authority to make major water policy decisions is an issue of concern. What comes of this idea remains to be seen but at this point it is a huge concern for Western Growers.
Though the politicians and issues in Arizona are certainly in flux, agriculture is in a very positive position going into 2013. Senators Steve Pierce and Gail Griffin, along with Representatives Frank Pratt and Brenda Barton, are the respective chairs of the agriculture-related committees. All of them represent rural areas and have a stake in the future of agriculture in Arizona. Western Growers staff looks forward to working with them to protect the interests of our members in the coming year.
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