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Rookies at bat.

The Arizona Legislature tried some thing novel this year: wrapping up its business in record time.

Within 100 days.

Skeptics said it couldn't be done. Somehow the words "legislature" and "record time" didn't belong in the same sentence-especially given the institution's recent history. Although the rules call for 100 days, lawmakers went on for 171 days last year, 160 days the year before and 172 days the year before that.

Thus, when Senate President John Greene and House Speaker Mark Killian--both first-time leaders of their chambers--swore last fall they would shepherd the state's business through the legislative labyrinth in 100 days, few believed them. But they did. The 1993 Legislature adjourned sine die in the early morning hours of April 17-after just 97 days.

It was the shortest session since 1969.

"I had my doubts right up until the end," confided Killian. "But we had members who very much shared this goal ... so in the end we were successful."

Indeed, one of the reasons lawmakers were able to meet their self-imposed deadline was the huge number of freshmen this year. There were other reasons to be sure--not the least of which is the fact that both legislative chambers and the governor's office are controlled by Republicans. But having fully one-third of the 90-member body--40 percent if you count the six House members who won Senate seats last fall--brand new and unencumbered by old expectations was a big plus.

Unlike the experience in some other states, this freshman class displayed a willingness to follow the path set before it by leadership and seemed to want to get in and out of session quickly. The new members had three key things in common:

* First, a generally positive political outlook. Few exhibited the anger and hardball focus that often characterize challengers who have unseated incumbents. Small wonder. Only six incumbents lost their seats in 1992. Most of the newcomers won seats that had been vacated by lawmakers either seeking higher office or choosing to retire in the last year in which they could take leftover campaign funds with them.

* Second, a deafness to the we-always-do-it-this-way mentality that can make basic reforms--such as adjourning in 100 days--difficult to achieve.

* Third, a shared desire to improve the Legislature's public image, which fell to all-time lows in the aftermath of the 1988 impeachment and ouster of then-Governor Evan Mecham and the 1991 AzScam bribery scandal.

"This class just wanted to come into office, do its work and go home," observed House Majority Whip David Schweikert, himself a product of the 1990 elections. "That's exactly what they did."

The newcomers, the largest freshman class since the U.S. Supreme Court reconfigured Arizona's legislative districts for the 1966 elections, are a disparate bunch. They range in age from 30 to 71. One is a retired boilermaker from an eastern Arizona mining town. Another is an ambitious 30-year-old Phoenix attorney who thinks he's already behind schedule in attaining a congressional seat. Twenty-one are Republicans; nine are Democrats.

The impact of the freshmen was most obvious in the House GOP caucus. Of 35 members, 17 were freshmen--nearly half. It was clear from the start that the newcomers would toe the party line. Even when it hurt.

Only one GOP freshman broke ranks and voted against a bill Governor Fife Symington rammed through the Legislature in March to ban casino-style gaming on Indian reservations. The measure, now the subject of a citizen-led referendum, was controversial because of its impact on attempts at economic development on reservations and because it outlawed the "casino nights" that have become the bread and butter of many large charities off the reservation. The bill was designed mainly to strengthen the state's bargaining position over the interpretation of the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act--a somewhat intangible benefit to many lawmakers.

In the end, Representative John Verkamp was the only Republican freshman to vote no. He called the measure "hypocritical" because it outlawed reservation gaming and charity casino nights, but not the state lottery or parimutuel wagering.

Representative Winifred "Freddy" Hershberger was the only Republican freshman to go against leadership on a bill expanding optometrists' scope of practice. The measure was a priority for Killian and Majority Leader Brenda Burns. Opposing ophthalmologists thought in April they had lined up six freshmen against it, but Hershberger was the only one who came through.

"It was clear from early on that this freshman class, the Republicans, anyway, caved in to partisan politics," complained Senator Chuck Blanchard, a Democrat.

It was true that this was not a class of bomb throwers. Angry floor speeches were rare; caucus outbursts almost unknown. "There definitely was less infighting this year," observed Killian. "That was a big difference and a real positive impact."

With so few veterans, several freshmen earned immediate notice.

Senator John Huppenthal and Representative Bob Edens wielded uncommon influence through their co-chairmanship of a joint appropriations subcommittee that included oversight of the state's health care program for the poor. Senator Marc Spitzer spoke out regularly on tax issues and already is described by some veterans as leadership material.

Overall, the volume of legislation was down 30 percent from last year--a statistic attributable, at least in part, to the number of clean-slate freshmen who were eager to see the Legislature get in and out quickly. Fewer bills were introduced. Fewer bills were passed.

Lobbyists seemed to have less influence with this crowd, legislative staff more.

The number of new members and the tight time frame of the 100-day session prevented lobbyists from striking up the personal relationships with freshmen that are tools of the trade. The lobbyists' plight was compounded by the fact that this was the first year they were banned from contributing to lawmakers' campaigns during regular session.

Freshman Senator Larry Chesley's view of lobbyists seemed typical: "When I was elected I came here to support the view of the little guy, and I think lobbyists are here mainly to support the other side."

By contrast, staff members grew in clout.

Budget committee staffers wielded more influence in the appropriations process than usual. At one point, Killian held a special meeting for new members in the House basement simply to explain the budget's acronym-ridden alphabet soup. And one veteran staffer nearly single-handedly brokered a complex measure through the Legislature in the wee morning hours of April 17: It puts a small tax on businesses on public land as a way to avert a larger tax from being imposed by the courts.

Such a large freshman class can pose problems. Freshman naivete almost got the whole session off on the wrong foot. Representative Jeff Groscost, an appropriations subcommittee chairman, sought in January to cut off lawmakers' questioning of witnesses after five minutes. His move came, not surprisingly, after a particularly long series of questions from a Democrat on the panel.

The blowup prompted the panel's four Democrats to storm out of the meeting, leaving the Republicans just shy of the number needed to continue and four state agencies without a forum to explain their budgets.

Killian had to meet later with House Minority Leader Art Hamilton to sort things out. He blamed Groscost's mistake on "inexperience." Fortunately, it didn't seem to poison relations between the two parties.

The big question, of course, is whether the freshmen will be as cooperative --even docile--next year.

Probably not. As the new lawmakers become more familiar with the process and more confident of their abilities, they will probably feel more emboldened to speak out on certain issues. That's good, even if it means slowing down the process or going against leaders.

"It took a lot of us a while to feel comfortable and to be ourselves," said freshman Representative Sue Lynch. "I think next year will be different ... and we'll be more outspoken about our concerns."

But any increase in independence may be offset by the desire to get out of session quickly. Legislative leaders are sure to want to repeat their 100-day success in an election year.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of State Legislatures
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Willey, Keven
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:1332
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