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Opinion

Fear and Loathing in the Arizona Legislature | Opinion

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by Jim Small, Arizona Mirror
January 26, 2023

The Republicans who run our state legislature are terrified.

They’re terrified that their policy proposals are deeply unpopular. Terrified of facing even a tiny bit of accountability. Terrified of anyone knowing what they’re doing or who they’re talking to. 

They’re terrified of being forced to work with Democrats. Terrified of compromising even a little bit with Gov. Katie Hobbs. Terrified that, if they stubbornly refuse to do so, some pragmatic GOP lawmakers will broker a deal with Hobbs and the Democrats in a repeat of 2004, when Republican leaders were rolled after months of deadlocked budget negotiations.

Republicans are terrified that their nearly 60-year stranglehold on power in the legislature is coming to an end, and they’re desperately trying to maintain control.

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That fear is the driving force behind staggering new rule changes passed this week in the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives that stifle debate, muzzle Democratic objections, exempt legislators from the state’s public records laws and greatly expand the power of the top Republican leaders in an effort to preemptively crush any revolt against their rule.

Rather than stand tall in the marketplace of ideas that they supposedly champion, Republicans are running from it with their tails between their legs. Debates on the House and Senate floor will now be limited to 30 minutes, with no exceptions, before voting begins. GOP Rep. Travis Grantham, the House speaker pro tem, decried lengthy debates as a “weapon” of Democrats, which is definitely the position of someone who has confidence that Arizonans agree with his positions and not a thin-skinned politician who can’t stomach criticism of the extremist measures his party rallies around.

The same partisans that howl about a need for more transparency in schools have declared, “Sunshine for thee, but not for me!” as they guarantee that legislators’ emails and calendars will swiftly be purged, ensuring that their constituents will have little chance to keep tabs on what they are up to at the Capitol. Apparently, when the Arizona courts repeatedly rule that the legislature is bound by the state’s public records laws and can’t weasel out of turning over thousands of embarrassing emails and text messages about the phony “election audit,” the solution is the nuclear option: Exempting yourself entirely

These changes are the cynical last gasps of an increasingly desperate Republican majority that recognizes its grip on power at the Capitol is slipping, but is unwilling to deal with that reality.

But the most consequential change is one that eradicates any chance of a rebellion from GOP legislators by requiring that the House speaker and Senate president — the top Republicans in each chamber — be in the majority on any vote to change or suspend the chamber’s rules. 

That means there is no risk for them if they dig in their heels and refuse to negotiate with Hobbs on anything, including the state budget — even if it means driving the state headlong into a government shutdown. Where once there was a risk of an uprising from more pragmatic Republicans, who could independently cut a deal with Hobbs and Democrats and then suspend the chamber’s rules to force a vote, now GOP leaders can stake out extreme positions with absolutely no fear of reprisal.

Any expectation that provisions with the support of a majority of the House or Senate, even if opposed by GOP leadership, could advance on their merits is now dashed. The speaker and president will rule over what measures receive votes with an absolute iron fist.

These aren’t changes made from a position of strength. They’re the cynical last gasps of an increasingly desperate Republican majority that recognizes its grip on power at the Capitol is slipping, but is unwilling to deal with that reality. They don’t have a mandate from voters — tiny one-vote majorities in each chamber and a Democratic governor — but want to govern as though they do.

It’s not what voters want, and you can bet they’ll notice when Republicans insist on driving the state government straight off a cliff. For now, they can try to govern with impunity. But accountability is only an election cycle away.

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Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.