What's Wrong With This Picture?

State Senator Russell Bowers is best known for his archconservatism, his assault on environmental regulations and . . . his fine art?

"I love ripping clay," says Bowers, dressed in a work shirt, scuffed boots and jeans.

"The clay--it has a texture, and when you rip a piece off," he says, demonstrating, "you can feel it."

Though he has been a working artist for almost 20 years, Bowers still considers himself a novice. And he acknowledges that his style tends toward the conservative.

"I don't profess to have any abstract tendencies," he says. Still, he says he considers his art honest, and is critical of others who have opted for quantity over quality.

He calls his art his "salvation," especially when the Legislature is in session, and says he regrets that his other responsibilities often take precedence over it.

So why does he continue to run for office?
"I like it when we win," he says. "I like it when we get to look out for the underdog, for the little guy who's facing the possibility of losing everything--everything--because of some overzealous bureaucrat whose only interest is in holding on to his fiefdom."

Bowers is circumspect about how far he would like to go in politics, or how much longer he will remain active.

"Every year, I ask myself why I keep coming back," he says. "These should be my most productive years, artistically, but whenever we're in session, my art has to wait. It's frustrating."

Don't expect Rusty Bowers to confine himself to his studio anytime soon, though.

By political standards, he's still a young man. And there is ample indication that he enjoys his public life, and the collegiality it brings.

Bowers is well-known among his colleagues for the quick sketches he whips up during committee meetings. Often, they lampoon his fellow Republicans, or himself.

"They're uncanny," says Gary Richardson, a fellow Republican who sits with Bowers on Appropriations. "And I think everyone sort of secretly hopes that he thinks enough of them to do one."

Bowers is also one of Arizona's four "Singing Senators"--along with fellow Republicans Richardson, Tom Patterson and David Petersen--who have been known to spring up, guitars in hand, in an attempt to bring a little levity to the proceedings.

But don't mistake his antics for a lack of seriousness--or ambition, says Elaine Richardson, a Democrat from Tucson who served on the House Environment Committee with Bowers, and who also moved over to the Senate last session.

"I remember how stressed out he was at the beginning of last session, trying to get a handle on Appropriations," she recalls.

Then, Richardson remembers, Bowers went out of his way to sponsor a bill that sought to relax regulations on day-care providers. One of the bill's beneficiaries was fellow Republican and Mormon Representative Jeff Groscost, whose wife had come under fire for operating what was essentially an unlicensed day-care center in the couple's home.

The bill was eventually voted down by the Senate.
"He took that fight when he was so busy with Appropriations," Richardson says. "Do you think he would have done that if he wasn't ambitious?

"Rusty Bowers has always liked to keep his fingers in a lot of pots--and that means only one thing: control.

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