Red Scarce

Thanks to gubernatorial neglect, Hull's ambitious agenda is going nowhere

It's now or never. Bow to their pressure, and you're Granny Hull--Big Red's caretaking, cookie-baking mortal self--for the next four years.

"This is the session where we're going to determine what kind of mettle this governor really has," says one veteran legislator. "This is her litmus test."

Along with coalition-building, Big Red needs to do three things to get her job done. She needs to beef up the schmooze factor on her staff. She needs to take her agenda on the road. And she needs to consider the power of the veto.

First: The staff.
Most of the legislative players I spoke with complained that they haven't seen any Hull staff presence at the Legislature. When Hullites do show up at committee hearings, they're invariably cowed. The legislators, smelling blood, are teasing their prey.

Last month, House Appropriations chairman Bob Burns actually refused to let a Hull staffer testify before his committee on the governor's pet issue, revenue bonding for school funding. Senate Appropriations chairman Russell Gnant has been tough on Hull staffers in committee, too, cutting them off repeatedly during hearings.

Big Red wouldn't take that crap. Granny Hull is.
The problem, observers say, is in the personalities. Deputy chief of staff Ted Ferris gets high points for his knowledge of the issues and process, but that's not what it takes to get the job done. Many legislative players say they actually wish the governor would hire Barry Aarons, the Symington lobbyist who twisted arms and actually kept a bullwhip and handcuffs on display in his office; they say Aarons was better than Ferris & Co. at getting his boss's agenda through.

"The effort that they're putting forth is not enough," says the veteran legislator. "And it's a problem of not having a good chemistry. Barry Aarons, for all of his problems, did have a good chemistry mix with the Republicans he had to lobby.

"Ted Ferris is the consummate rational man, which would work a helluva lot better in a research laboratory."

Hull needs someone who's more "member friendly," says Cummiskey, someone like George Weisz, her criminal justice adviser, who once served in the Legislature and can work the crowds.

"Kind of what Clinton did with Dale Bumpers in the U.S. Senate," Cummiskey says. "Somebody that can speak the language, knows the personalities, has kind of got that folksy thing going, can cajole."

Another option: Go tough, à la Symington henchmen Jay Heiler, Chuck Coughlin, Wes Gullett--and Aarons. Hull may have already thought of that; Scott Celley, former press secretary to U.S. Senator John McCain, is working for Hull as a county and federal relations lobbyist. He's been spotted at the Legislature recently, though, and with his reputation as a head-knocker, could be just what Hull needs.

Hull has yet to wield her public-approval-powered stun gun. A poll conducted last month by the Behavior Research Center put Hull's "excellent" and "good" ratings at 65 percent. Compare that to the Legislature's ratings in the same category: almost half that, at 37 percent (though that's the highest the Legislature has been rated this decade).

Word has it that Hull is making the rounds to the business community, asking for support. But that's not enough.

It's time for Big Red to don her cape and hit the road, to take her initiatives to the people. She should carp about legislators giving her a hard time, balking at funding for education and health care, trying to starve the universities and bulldoze Spur Cross Ranch. She should tell them to call their legislators.

And finally, there's the veto: the legislative weapon of mass destruction. If the Legislature's self-imposed budget deadline of March 16 rolls around, and Big Red's still in hiding, she can still pull out her veto pen and write off the Legislature's budget, sending lawmakers back to their desks with the thought of a 100-day session out the window. But Hull has to be careful with the veto, or even a threat of a veto. If she uses it, it could come back at her.

Take the example of former governor Rose Mofford. Mofford didn't like the budget the Legislature sent her during her first year in office, in 1989. But instead of line-iteming parts she didn't like, she took the bold approach (a rare move for Rosie) and vetoed the whole thing.

The legislators were so peeved, they held the budget until June 28, two days before the start of the next fiscal year, then sent the exact same budget back to Mofford. She had no choice but to sign it, or risk being the woman who shut down Arizona government.

Jane Hull remembers that scenario all too well. She was Speaker of the House at the time.

But Rose Mofford was no Jane Hull, and Jane Hull--that is, Big Red--is capable of passing initiatives for Arizonans and making wayward legislators behave, all in a single bound and without mussing that 'do.

She just needs to get to it.

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