At 9:00 pm Thursday, the Arizona Senate adjourned until Tuesday after having passed a series of budget bills for Fiscal Year 2014. Despite early reports of potential divisions among the Senate Democratic Caucus, the members remained steadfastly united throughout floor debate and Third Read votes.
There were ample portions of "drama" on the video feed broadcast online, but none of it was from or about weak links among the 13 members of the Minority (Democratic) Caucus. Shortly after adjournment, Democratic political consultant and former Arizona House Minority Leader John Loredo summed it up.
Tonight Senate Democrats along with a handful of courageous Republicans passed a reasonable, responsible budget. Dems learned that when you have serious leverage, you can hold out for some pretty amazing victories - if you don't throw in the towel too early. Dems held their votes on Medicaid until the R[epublicans] agreed to remove permanent cuts to public education, stop the voter suppression BRB [SB 1493, the elections ominous bill], removed a sweetheart deal for Arpaio and passed several other amendments.By the way, the $1.5 million the GOP proposed for Arpaio had no specifically stated purpose. It was "just because." Thankfully, Senate Democrats saw to it that the brown nosing the hardline Republicans had in store for the Maricopa County Sheriff was stopped dead in its tracks. Much like Arpaio will once the recall petition signatures are officially filed.
The drama witnessed online was all about whining by Senate President Andy Biggs and his extreme right-wing colleagues. Ultimately, the 13 Democrats, together with a coalition of a handful of Republicans made this happen. Earlier today, floor debate took place. Notably, Biggs introduced a dozen or so amendments to the Medicaid expansion bill. Most of those amendments died as a result of 12-18 or 13-17 votes.
Biggs tried to attach a "Prop 108" clause to the Medicaid bill (SB1492), which if he had succeeded would have required 20 votes in the Senate and 40 votes in the House for the bill to be enacted into law. Self-enrichment attorney and Sen. from Chandler, Steve Yarbrough read a long and prepared statement that sounded like a legal brief or pleading he might file in a court. But this was not a court, it was a political arena. The motion to add the Prop 108 clause failed by a 12-18 vote.
The significance of that potential amendment looms large. SB1492 passed on Third Read 19-11. With a Prop 108 clause included, it would have still been one vote shy of passage.
As it was, Biggs and friends threatened litigation. Additionally, on Third Read, Yarbrough in tremendously dramatic fashion declared "Mark my words!" He went on to say that the federal government (which he did not explain would actually be Congress, IF it happens) would "renig" on the promise to provide 90 percent of the funding to cover those eligible by way of the expansion. He also, apparently believing himself to be a prophet or something, said that when the feds back out of the promise to provide the enhanced match rate, there will be no political will in Arizona to rescind the coverage for expanded Medicaid eligible population.
Which brings me to another point of the drama. At the end of his time introducing and trying to win adoption of his floor amendments, Biggs also tried to wax prophetic.
The Arizona Republic characterized the situation:
Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, a steadfast opponent of the governor’s proposal, fought unsuccessfully to kill it with a slew of amendments, including requiring a two-thirds vote for approval, eliminating a hospital tax that will help pay for expansion, converting all state employee health insurance to Medicaid and repealing expansion if even one Medicaid patient is found to be an undocumented citizen.
“This is the most important policy decision that we’ve encountered in a generation,” Biggs said during a rambling floor speech that included lessons about why the federal government — “a dubious partner” — should not be trusted.
I'll agree that this is (among) the most important policy decision(s) we've encountered in a generation. And I absolutely agree that Biggs floor speech can be fairly characterized as rambling, among other things.
But he also emphatically claimed that by 2018 there would be an additional 600,000 Arizonans eligible for Medicaid. I'm not sure anyone else picked up on that. Sure, it might have been hyperbole but he DID SAY it. Now, perhaps the most important policy QUESTION that should be asked in a generation is, "WHY would there be 600 thousand ADDITIONAL Arizonans eligible for Medicaid?"
For that to actually happen, wouldn't there have to be a mass employer exodus OUT of Arizona... more than are already leaving (like US Airways, which is merging with American Airlines and moving its headquarters to Dallas)?
WHY would such a mass exodus take place? Can you say, extreme right-wing austerity? If the GOP ever succeeds in regaining a supermajority in the Arizona Legislature, you can safely bet they will decimate K-12 and Higher Education. That's just for starters.
By the way, in an attempt simply to frustrate the prevailing side in today's floor debate, Sen. Rick Murphy was going through a series of motions at the end trying to get the (possibly two dozen or so) failed amendments reconsidered and subject to roll call votes.
After the sixth such motion, Rich Crandall, one of the rebellious Republicans made the motion to call the previous question, which put a stop to Murphy's (and Biggs') shenanigans. Biggs had to take a couple of minutes to consult with Senate staff to find out if he could declare that motion out of order. He then summoned the Senate Rules attorney to further inquire.
Upon realizing that Crandall's motion was fully appropriate for the situation, and took precedence, Biggs had to allow a vote on it. Crandall's motion passed 18-10, after which Biggs was (according to observers there in person) noticably upset, banged his gavel hard and declared the Senate to be at recess for 45 minutes. They didn't reconvene for two and a half hours.
Here's the Friends O'Farley update:
Howdy, Friends O'Farley,
Here's the brief update I promised you during the last Farley Report:
I have served seven sessions in the Legislature. I have never before experienced a day like today. Together with five brave Republicans -- Majority Leader John McComish, Majority Whip Adam Driggs, Rich Crandall, Steve Pierce, and Bob Worsley, we 13 Senate Democrats amended and passed budget bills to invest in Child Protective Services, K-12 and Higher Education, State Parks and Arts Commission grants, Adult Education and Literacy, and above all, the Governor's Medicaid restoration plan to cover 300,000 more people in poverty, save our hospitals and boost our economy. The bills now move to the House for consideration.
The drama was immense, as this coalition proved our strength in vote after vote and reconsideration after reconsideration as we held firm together, across party lines. Through it all, we stood tall for all our constituents.
This is why I got into public service in the first place -- to create bipartisan, common-sense solutions to make Arizona a better place. Tonight, we actually accomplished that on the floor of the Arizona Senate. After seven years in the minority, losing vote after vote, it was a revelation to be part of a bipartisan moderate majority adopting good amendments, and voting for good budget bills that pass.
This is the type of work the people of Arizona have been waiting for -- we put the partisan games aside to do what is right. I hope and believe that this is a glimpse of a better political future for our state.
Have a wonderful evening. I'm heading back home to Tucson.I'm thankful for and proud of ALL 13 Democratic senators (especially the one who represents me, Ed Ableser) as well as the five Republican senators (listed above) who did the right thing today. I should mention that most of the bills passed on Third Read by at 19-11 margin. The 19th vote came from Michele Reagan (R-Scottsdale).
Thanks for your faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts noted and thanked those who did the right thing this evening, both on azcentral.com and facebook. Of course, Roberts has consistently disrespected elected Democrats in the legislature as having no significance, even as far as being quoted in the Guardian (UK) (just after last fall's general election):
The Republican advantage in the senate shrank to 17-13, giving Democrats some muscle in looming fights over Medicaid expansion and the state's much-criticised immigration laws.
However, in a tight vote, the surviving Republican senators on Wednesday promptly dumped their president, Steve Pierce, whom some had blamed for the senate's failure to pass additional bills against illegal immigration.
They replaced him with the harder-line Andy Biggs, reflecting an ideological split between moderates and conservatives. Moderates gained some leverage with the election of John McComish as majority leader and Adam Driggs as majority whip.
"Biggs' win suggests that the ideologues will run amok at the Capitol next year. However, the wins of McComish and Driggs suggest that some see the value in a more balanced crop of leaders, so there is hope yet," wrote Laurie Roberts, an Arizona Republic columnist.
She doubted pragmatic Republicans would be able to restrain their more radical colleagues. "Why … do I feel like de-kookification just took a major hit?"
Recall that Ms. Roberts was among the journalists expressing the most emphatic (and certainly hyperbolic) indignation over the strong stand Legislative District 26 Democratic legislative candidates took against Republican Jerry Lewis in the 2012 general election.
Should we ask Ms. Roberts how much more easily tonight's outcome would have been if the Senate had 18 Republicans and only 12 Democrats.
But I digress.
Let's close with some feedback from chief kook/tea party activist Wes Harris who expressed his "appreciation" for the stand the rebel Republicans took.
“Not one of them deserves the position they occupy. Sorry, but expansion of Medicaid just creates huge budget deficits and benefits no one, least of all the, so called, poor. We will spend 2.5 Billion to get back 10 cents on the dollar from Washington...why is Washington involved anyway. It is totally unconstitutional.”Harris left this comment on Roberts' facebook post (linked above). I then posed this question for him, "Wes, how in the world can you even say that Medicaid expansion "...benefits no one, least of all the, so called, poor." Do you have even the most minute grasp on reality?
Not surprisingly, Harris chose not to answer the question.
Another person posed this for him, "last time I checked SCOTUS ruled the Affordable Care Act constitutional. So Wes how can a law be unconstitutional when the SCOTUS ruled otherwise...?" No response from Harris.
Isn't it wonderful that Wes Harris is such a reliable foil? He has, after all, made so many off-the-wall statements, not to mention that he is the first named plaintiff in the GOP lawsuit that challenged the legislative district maps.
Anyway, that's the view from where I sat to observe Thursday's drama in the Arizona Senate.
At the moment, it appears the budget bills will be on House Speaker Andy Tobin's desk when that chamber reconvenes on Tuesday. All of the work it took to get the budget (and Medicaid expansion) through one chamber will begin anew next week. And since there are twice as many Members of the Arizona House, it's fair to say the process will be at least as complicated as it was this week in the Senate.