MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE LOBBY
SLOUCHING toward adjournment, the 40th Arizona Legislature is a dispirited beast. Many of the 90 men and women sitting in yet another marathon session hate their jobs, and it shows.
Republicans war among themselves, and a Republican House clashes with a Democratic Senate. Both chambers have given up hope that the governor can lead them anywhere. The state budget, mother of all bills, is stalled, and little has been done about prison overcrowding, education reform or protection for the state's few remaining free-flowing streams and rivers.
This is a terrible session," says Senator David Bartlett, ten-year legislator from Tucson and Senate Majority Whip. It's difficult to see what substantial is coming out of it."
Whatever else may come out of it, many believe the session marks a low point in state governance, and its legacy will probably be the greatest legislative turnover in history.
Unable to lead and lacking anyone to follow, a record number of state legislators are deciding to get out of the way.
Already almost 30 senators and representatives have said they will step down at the end of this term. Some are pursuing other offices, but most want out of the game altogether.
Add to that the probable defeat of some incumbents in this fall's elections, and it is likely that the next legislature will include about 40 new faces-the highest turnover ever.
With dozens of years of experience walking out the door, lawmakers and political observers fear, the already chaotic legislature is about to become amateur hour.
You're losing a lot of good people that are very knowledgeable on both sides of the aisle," says 14-year veteran Republican Senator Bob Denny, who is stepping down. A certain amount of turnover is good, but you're losing the wrong people."
Poised to capitalize on the vacuum that will be created by the exodus, many believe, are the political players who never seem to leave-hundreds of lobbyists, some of them former lawmakers themselves, who will know the legislative process better than almost half of those serving in the two chambers.
The institutional memory is gone and the lobbyists stay forever," says outgoing Representative Karen Mills. The lobbyists don't come and go...and it will take new people years to figure out what is going on. People don't understand how big our government is, and how many things are hidden."
After recent fitful efforts to break free from the grip of special interests, the legislature is at a turning point, insiders say. Perhaps an infusion of new blood will end the dominance of paid lobbyists over the two chambers once and for all.
More likely, the insiders fear, is the prospect that a fractured, inexperienced legislature will be even easier work for the lobbyists than past sessions have been. We give them chaos, and they will work in chaos," says first-term Phoenix Representative Lisa Graham. It's fine with them."
COME SUMMER'S HEAT, lawmakers are supposed to be gone from the capitol. The legislature is designed to meet for 100 days at the beginning of each year, finish its business and go home. Of course, it has been a while since it actually worked that way.
For the past six years, the elected bodies have been in a downward spiral. Scarce times have transformed the crafting of a state budget from political art to alley fight. Three successive weak governors-Evan Mecham, Rose Mofford and J. Fife Symington III-have done little to make the process move along.
Last year AzScam threw lawmakers for a loop and caused seven lawmakers to leave the legislature. With the appointments that followed AzScam, the 40th Legislature already had a large freshman classÏ14 of 30 senators and 19 of 60 representatives.
For many years now, the federal government's retreat from programs has dropped more into state legislative laps, leaving the legislators to grapple with an increased role in issues such as healthcare, the environment and prisons.
As a result, each year's legislative session threatens to be longer than the last. If this year's regular session ends by July 1, as many hope, it will be almost two months overdue and still won't match the record of 172 days set in 1990.
We are a weary bunch," says Senator Alan Stephens, who is leaving the legislature and plans to run for Congress. We've been in session for most of the year, either in special or regular session. We have problems that seem to be almost irresolvable. We've got a lot of legislators who are just plain tired. We're a tuckered-out bunch."
But Arizona, like many states, still embraces the concept of a citizen legislature. Lawmakers are paid only $15,000 a year, plus a per diem for the time spent in session. Many say it is no longer worth it.
I think a vast pall has descended on the institution, much of it undeservedly because of AzScam," says Secretary of State Dick Mahoney. These sessions are longer, they're meaner and a lot of people are tired."
With each passing marathon, the mood of the legislature has grown worse, members say. Camaraderie has vanished, agreements to disagree have been supplanted by a determination to squabble and the system has increasingly spawned deadlock rather than compromise.
It's become more meanspirited, more ideological, less friendly," says five-term House member Jack Jewett. It's always been crisis management, but it seems we're in permanent crisis now."
Jewett, a Tucson Republican and the House Majority Whip, is one of those who will be calling it quits after this session. We've lost sight of what public service ought to be about," he says. We've lost sight of the real basic principles of the public trust. The rigid ideology, the inability for us to do the right thing. Those are the contributing factors."
After 14 years, serving in both the House and Senate, Maricopa County Republican Senator Bob Denny agrees with Jewett, and Denny also will be quitting after this term.
I'm just fed up with the system," he says. And I see it getting worse. Last year I was waking up in the morning toward the end of the session and I'd tell my wife, `I really don't want to go to work.'"
Four-term House member Karen Mills says the legislature is not a place you feel good about being in. You start wondering who you can trust down here."
The same themes repeat themselves when lawmakers talk about their institutionsÏlack of leadership, a failure to face the reality of hard times and just plain meanness among politicians fighting over scraps.
It is mean, and I don't know why," says freshman Graham. No one wants to give anyone else credit for coming up with something, so the way we achieve things down here is to point a finger when somebody fails. I don't understand it. It doesn't make any sense to me."
Freshmen like Graham complain that the legislature tries to deal with too many bills each session, does not have enough staff to help it analyze what it is debating and lacks a unified vision of what it is trying to do.
The resulting gridlock, lawmakers and observers say, has produced a legislature that is incapable of acting on many major issues facing the state. It's no wonder so many want to walk away from the process, says former Senate minority leader Alfredo Gutierrez, now a principal in the lobbying firm of Jamieson and Gutierrez.
The tools, the capacity for bringing people together, seem to be gone," he says. There doesn't seem to be a shared view of what we are going to do this session. Without that you have 90 political entrepreneurs. There really isn't a unifying theme."
IF THERE IS opportunity in chaos, however, Gutierrez is one of those poised to take advantage of it. His firm represents, among others, America West Airlines, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona, Phelps Dodge Corporation, Browning-Ferris Industries and the Retail Grocers Association of Arizona.
Gutierrez is a past inside master of the legislative art. As Senate minority leader when Bruce Babbitt was governor, he was part of what some still characterize as the most efficient legislative machine in recent Arizona history.
Out of elected office for six years, Gutierrez candidly acknowledges that the high turnover taking place at the statehouse plays to the advantage of lobbyists.
What you do is shift the tutorial [role], the institutional memory, the knowledge of how to pull things together, to a group of outsiders," he says. [Lobbyist] influence grows-I don't think there's any question about that. I don't think that's bad, but I think it at least begs a question."
Gutierrez is hardly alone as a former lawmaker now working the higher-paying side of the street. For example, former representative Jim Skelly, longtime chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, now lobbies for several clients, including the state County Attorneys and Sheriffs Association, the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
The question of just how much influence lobbyists have over the Arizona legislature is an open-ended one. From time to time, national studies point out that Arizona has substantially more registered lobbyists than any other state. The most recent such survey showed Arizona with 28 lobbyists for each legislator, compared with eight lobbyists per legislator in California and nine per legislator in New York.
The figures are misleading, lawmakers and lobbyists agree, because the state's lobbyist registration law tends to include hundreds of people who would not fit the customary definition of a lobbyist in other jurisdictions.
Large law firms, for instance, register all their employees as lobbyists just to ensure the firms will not run afoul of the law. Many utilities, and some large companies, also register everyone who might have even the remotest contact with legislators, says Sam Vagenas, assistant secretary of state.
Arizona does, however, still seem to have a surfeit of lobbyists. Another way to measure lobbyist abundance is to count the number of principals"Ïthose companies, associations or special interests for whom the lobbyists work. There are 936 principals" registered with the Secretary of State's Office, Vagenas says, or more than ten per legislator.
Lobbying arrangements link the most powerful companies and prominent law firms in the state. Phelps Dodge Corporation, for example, lists on its lengthy lobbying payroll three of Phoenix's most prominent law firmsÏBrown & Bain, Fennemore Craig, and Lewis and Roca. And Fennemore Craig lists almost 100 other clients whom it represents at the state capitol.
A high-powered lobbying firm like Quarles & Brady & Fannin carries a blue-chip list of clients ranging from Aetna life insurance to greyhound racers, Mobil Oil to Miller Brewing.
The result, says freshman Phoenix Senator Chuck Blanchard, is an interlocking power grid that exerts inordinate pressure on the lawmaking system.
A lot of issues are resolved by what I'll call interest-group bargaining, where the different interest groups that can afford lobbyists get in a room and work out `The Deal,'" Blanchard says. They bring `The Deal' to a legislator or to a committee and say, `We've worked out our differences, ratify this.' In a lot of instances, the legislature will ratify `The Deal.'"
The best example of lobbyists' reckless self-interest this session, Blanchard and others say, was the gutting of a bill to protect the state's riparian waters. The legislation, offered by Governor Symington, was an attempt to protect the state's remaining free-flowing streams and rivers from development.
At the outset, even environmentalists were willing to concede that the bill, borne of a yearlong task-force study under Mofford, was a step in the right direction.
But by the time it passed, says environmental lobbyist Michael Gregory, the bill was worthless. [The legislature] managed to completely strip the bill of anything in the way of protection."
That bill was basically killed by the special-interest groups," Blanchard says, even though a recent study showed that 74 percent of state residents favor protecting the environment at the cost of development. That to me reflects a legislature that is out of touch with the public," Blanchard says.
Representative Chris Cummiskey, a freshman Democrat, says he learned quickly just how prominent the lobbyists are when he took his seat last year. You can't walk more than two feet in the halls down here without running into someone who's compensated for influencing legislation," he says. They camp out full-time."
In the past two years, the legislature has tried to rein in lobbyist influence, Chuck Blanchard and others point out. Limits have been set on campaign contributions, and, beginning this year, lobbyists may no longer make political contributions while the legislature is in session.
This fall, for the first time, new reporting rules will require lobbyists to report how much money they are spending entertaining lawmakers, and a $10 cap has been placed on the value of gifts lobbyists may give legislators.
But those reforms, some fear, do not address the most valuable commodities in which lobbyists trade, the ones which may make next year's novice legislature susceptible to undue lobbyist influence. Those commodities are information and experience.
ALLAN STANTON is a heavyweight lobbyist. He has been at it for 24 years, and his clients include American Express, the Arizona Medical Association, Southland Corporation and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad company. Several lawmakers describe Stanton as a true professionalÏhe pitches his clients' point of view but doesn't lie.
Still, others say, reliance on lobbyists like Stanton characterizes the worst of the legislature.
Even the lobbyists assume it's perfectly proper that when people want information, they have to turn to lobbyists," says outgoing Senator David Bartlett. That's inherently wrong."
Wrong or not, Stanton views the education of legislators as part of his job. We are the best sources of accurate information on the subjects they are going to make decisions on," he says. The less informed people are, the more they have to rely on lobbyists."
Stanton and others point out that the unethical lobbyists do not last very long. One too many lies or artifices will ruin a lobbyist's good graces with lawmakers, so the business naturally weeds out its embarrassments.
But Chris Cummiskey says even the best-intentioned lobbyists skew" the system. Because they are always present-monitoring legislation and ready to jump in on their clients' behalf at a moment's notice-the lobbyists are going to have an advantage," Cummiskey says.
When you have someone who's here full-time watching out for the interests of any interest or group, they're better equipped to respond," he says.
With upheaval in the ranks headed their way, Cummiskey and other freshmen are looking for a silver lining. Perhaps a large bloc of freshmen, unwedded to lobbyist money and independent of thought, will be able to shake off special interests, they say.
The younger members, like Blanchard, are talking basic reform. They want to limit the number of bills each lawmaker may introduce, and guarantee that every bill will get a full hearing and floor vote. That, they say, would force the legislature to get its priorities straight.
Blanchard, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and others are also discussing steps to open up the legislative process to the public by requiring conference committees to meet and conduct their business in open sessions.
Such reform could dilute lobbyist influence, Blanchard says, and the changes are sorely needed. I think it's unacceptable to let it continue, and there are things we can do to make the process work a lot better," he says.
Representative Catherine Eden, another first-term legislator but a veteran of capitol politics, says an infusion of new blood may help the moribund body. My attitude is, I acknowledge it's broken but I'd like very much to fix it," she contends.
One obvious source of leadership during the coming upheaval could be the governor's office, but members note they are not sure Symington will be able to overcome the disarray in his own house and effectively steer the process.
Symington's recent appointment of Peter Hayes, an experienced utility lobbyist with legislative insight, as his third chief of staff may signal a more effective lobbying effort by the governor, some members say.
But they note that Chris Herstam, the previous chief of staff, was a former legislator himself and that Symington's programs still met with limited success.
Most of the diagnosis over here seems to be that [Symington] himself is the problem," says Eden.
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