Big Red's Back

The official word is that Governor Jane Dee Hull was hospitalized for a week in March with a kidney infection, but I think I've learned the truth.

The doctors were really implanting a backbone.
How else to explain the governor's personality change? She went into the hospital as Granny Hull, the meek little old lady who's gingerly led our state for 18 months, and emerged (theme music, please) as her alter ego, Big Red--putting lawmakers in their places with a single press release, able to wield her veto pen like a sword.

After months of waiting and hoping and yawning, it was refreshing to see her restored. But the pesky question remains: Are Big Red's newfound powers too little, too late?

Consider: Just days after her release from the hospital, Hull showed up unannounced at the monthly luncheon meeting of the County Supervisors Association. County supervisors and staff from all over the state were eating lasagna when Hull staffers Francie Noyes and Scott Celley, along with the governor's security detail, appeared in the doorway. The gathering was told that Governor Hull had something to say.

The topic was the lawsuit the counties have filed against the state, looking for what they say is their rightful share of the tens of millions of dollars that will soon come to Arizona, thanks to the multistate tobacco litigation settlement.

"She comes flying in. It was awesome," recalls one observer who talked on condition of anonymity. "She launches, right off the bat--'I want to talk to you about tobacco, and I don't want to mince words.'

"She wasn't yelling, but she was very firm. She had the authoritative tone in her voice. This was not going to be a question-and-answer session. This was definitely a lecture. They all sat there quietly, respectfully. . . . At the end, she just said, 'My old friend Burton Barr once told me, "You don't get mad, you get even."' And she sort of pointed her finger, and then she swept out of the room. It was fabulous.

"It was the full exercise of the weight and power and ceremony of her office. She did the whole thing; it was totally orchestrated. She was completely aware of who she was, the power she wields, the respect people have in general."

This observer obviously is a big fan of Big Red. While he travels in county government circles, he says he's noticed that Hull's powers have increased at the Capitol, too.

"The old girl's got her groove back. They're afraid of her now," he says of legislators. "They pissed and moaned about her a lot, if you'll remember. Nobody says shit now."

He pauses. "Of course," he concludes, regarding his own turf and the tobacco lawsuit, "we're still suing."

Hull and her staff did indeed talk tough in the final weeks of the legislative session. Big Red's back, no question about that--but to what end?

To be fair, some good did come out of this legislative session, and a share of the credit should go to Hull and her staff. There's the much-heralded extra $20 million in the budget for education; Hull helped lead the charge for that.

When legislators whined that they couldn't put a stadium deal together, Hull laid down the law and said she'd veto any bill that excluded any of the interested parties. Lawmakers forged a compromise.

She showed up in the House gallery during a debate over funding to preserve Spur Cross Ranch. The bill immediately passed.

Hull pushed hard for the extension of vehicle-emissions testing.
"She found my phone number--that was nice," Senator Chris Cummiskey, a Phoenix Democrat, says with a chuckle. "It was an important message for people to get, that there's actually an occupant on the ninth floor."

And there were smaller--but no less important--battles that you never heard about. Sandy Bahr, lobbyist for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club and one of Hull's harshest critics, grudgingly admits that she was impressed when the governor's staff stood up to business lobbyists, refusing to support a bill that would have weakened water-protection standards. Hull also pushed for--and got--a $4.4 million boost for mental health services.

But the session had its failures, and I can't help but wonder: What would have happened if Big Red had shown up sooner?

HMO reform was narrowly defeated.
The Legislature failed to define where the tobacco settlement cash--the first check, for $177 million, could arrive as early as this fall--will go. That leaves it vulnerable to raids.

And, critics observe, that $20 million for education had to fall in line behind more "important" spending, like millions in tax cuts for the mining industry.

As of press time, the governor's deadline for signing or vetoing bills hadn't passed. The expectation is that because she didn't show a lot of muscle earlier in the session, Hull will veto many bills she possibly could have killed earlier in the process or worked to make more palatable.  

As usual, Phoenix Republican Representative Susan Gerard is the only one who will say out loud what others at the Capitol are mumbling behind their hands: that overall, Hull's staff performed poorly this year, and that's the real reason the governor vetoed so many bills.

At the end of the session, Gerard was so irked that she ran to Capitol reporters to complain about Hull and her staff before Hull could veto any of Gerard's bills.

"I wanted them to know ahead of time so it wouldn't just be sour grapes," she says.

Gerard and others are concerned over Hull's vetoes of "omnibus" bills, which can include dozens of provisions for each state agency, everything from technical corrections to funding for programs. A single undesirable provision can kill a complex bill. Gerard maintains--and many others agree privately--that if Hull's staff had monitored those bills effectively and had been there in the closing days of the session to hammer out the details, it wouldn't have been necessary to get so tough in the end.

The scarcity of Hull's staff was a constant criticism throughout the session. Gerard says Hull will turn around and explain her vetoes by complaining that lawmakers failed to keep her informed.

"The reality is," Gerard says of Hull's staff, "they're nowhere to be found, and that's their strategy, so then they can say, 'We weren't consulted,' and use that as an excuse. . . . [Hull Chief of Staff] Rick Collins saying that you never returned his phone calls when he never called you--that kind of crap."

Collins, who acknowledges that he's clashed with Gerard, says only, "Sometimes in the heat of battle, things are said that shouldn't be said, and that's unfortunate. But I would just say, 'Look at the governor's record.'"

By the way, Collins is widely credited with prompting the quick Granny Hull-to-Big Red makeover. Many say he, not Hull, runs the show on the ninth floor, that she's not around much and doesn't make the big decisions.

He denies that, of course.
"As much as I might love to take credit, she's her own person," Collins says.

But then, he won't even concede that Hull changed her stripes late in this session.

"I would contend this is the same lady that was there last year," he says.
Once Hull has yeaed or nayed the session's bills, the war stories will soon follow, Gerard promises. "Probably after all these vetoes are done, you're going to get yourself some good stuff," Gerard tells me.

Americans in Paris, Arizona-Style: Buoyed by their relative successes in the Legislature this year, Democrats are looking forward to November 2000 with the anticipation of winning more seats. Ironically, party activists haven't learned anything from the elected officials, whose unity enabled legislative triumphs.

When last we left the state Democratic party, chairman Mark Fleisher had been reelected in an ugly battle that pitted the relative newcomer against a cabal of old-time Dems that includes John and Lorraine Frank, Sam Coppersmith, Rick DeGraw, Earl Katz and others.

Disgusted with Fleisher, the Franks, et al., have decided to take their party elsewhere, as it were, by forming an exclusive new group to raise money for Democratic candidates. They've joined ranks with trial attorney Dan Salcido to create what is now being called the Udall Caucus, according to state Senator Chris Cummiskey. (Salcido was out of town and could not be reached for comment.)

Cummiskey, who tries to stay above such frays, chooses his words carefully.
"I think that there is a confidence problem right now with raising significant sums of money and having it at the control of a few people at the state party," he says.

Cummiskey says the Udall Caucus wants to raise $2 million, primarily to focus on winning a majority in the state Senate (they'd need only two more seats) and gaining more seats in the state House. He says there's also talk of creating a nonprofit research organization, sort of the Democrats' version of the Goldwater Institute.

Fleisher says he's never heard of the Udall Caucus, and is making it his own goal to elect more Democrats to the Legislature. He does admit he's heard that his naysayers have broken off to raise money independently.

"As long as they elect Democrats, that's fine with me," he says. Has the breakaway hurt party fund-raising? "Nope," says Fleisher.

That claim stretches credibility, but this spring's fund-raising reports haven't yet been filed, so I'll have to take Fleisher's word for it.  

In the meantime, both parties are lining up candidates for 2000. Fleisher says he's trying to convince Paul Johnson, Karan English and Ed Ranger to lower their political sights and run for the Legislature. Somehow, I can't see Johnson giving up his lucrative telecommunications business to hoof it around the state Capitol.

The eternal optimist, Fleisher hasn't given up on winning Congressional District 6, even though conventional wisdom says that after Steve Owens flubbed two tries, the seat is J.D. Hayworth's for life. Fleisher's got his sights set on two possible candidates: Apache County Attorney Steve Udall and Gila River Indian Community Governor Mary Thomas.

My favorite spot to watch is still Congressional District 1, where Matt Salmon swears he's stepping down, and just about every resident of the district--I'm the only exception I can think of--has considered running.

On the Dem side, former seatholder Sam Coppersmith and former Tempe mayor (now state senator) Harry Mitchell are reportedly considering a run. From the life-imitates-broadcasting category comes the most intriguing possible GOP contender, KNIX deejay W. Steven Martin.

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address:

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