Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Friday, November 1, 2013

Senate Democratic leadership transition, continued

Just a couple of days ago, we learned that Arizona Senate Democrats made a significant and controversial change in leadership.

We know from reports in local media outlets that a vote of the 13 members of the Arizona Senate Minority Caucus removed now former leader Leah Landrum Taylor from her leadership position. The caucus meeting was initially called to elect an assistant leader because Linda Lopez had resigned (from the position, not from her senate seat).

However, reports indicated Sen. Steve Gallardo (LD30), after the meeting was called to order, moved to elect a new leader. In a secret vote, Landrum Taylor (LD27) was replaced by then Minority Whip Anna Tovar, who represents LD19, by a vote of 8-5. Suggesting she was blind-sided, immediately following the vote, Landrum Taylor made shockingly childish and inappropriate statements accusing her colleagues of racism and sexism.

Multiple sources confirmed to me that Landrum Taylor had been given notice that this was being planned, in hopes that she would choose to save face.

Cut to Thursday. The Associated Press reported
The new leader of Arizona Senate Democrats said Wednesday her predecessor refused an offer to retain a lesser leadership role before she was ousted.
Minority Leader Anna Tovar told The Associated Press the offer was made to give Leah Landrum Taylor a way to retain a title as she runs for secretary of state in next year's election.
"There was the option for her - we gave her the option for her to resign and carry a leadership title, and she refused," Tovar said.
Landrum Taylor lost her top leadership job on an 8-5 vote Tuesday and lashed out at the decision, calling it racist and sexist.
She apologized for those remarks Wednesday, saying they were made in the heat of the moment and "regrettable."
"In no way do I feel the disrespect given me by some members of the Senate caucus relates to sexism or racism," she said. "I believe the decision was based on politics rather than my ability to lead the Democratic caucus in the most successful year we've ever had."
Landrum Taylor also said there are just three leadership roles, and none was offered.
"They did mention about honorary something or other but that is really going far and beyond," she said.
Tovar said rifts in the Democratic caucus had been in place since the current two-year Legislature began its work in January, despite a united front Democrats showed as they teamed with a handful of Republicans to pass Medicaid expansion over the opposition of most GOP lawmakers. That fractured Republican majority left Democrats appearing more powerful, something that's now not so apparent.
Tovar said she knows the move to oust Landrum Taylor, the only African-American in the Senate, left hurt feelings in the 13-member Democratic caucus that will take time to heal. But she said she hopes they'll reunite to back Democratic efforts when the Legislature returns in January.
"Essentially we put those feelings aside. Ultimately we're here to work for our constituents and our families that we represent," Tovar said. "There's crucial issues that are coming up for Arizona Democrats, for our families, for our schools, and ultimately we're here to represent them, all pettiness aside, all personal disagreements aside.
"We will move forward united as a caucus in January," she said.
Landrum Taylor said the same.
"I intend on standing alongside our caucus, while spending more time visiting the four corners of our state campaigning for secretary of state," she said.
To summarize, Landrum Taylor currently does plan to run for Secretary of State. She walked back the statements she made when she was angry about having been ousted. Now, instead of racism or sexism, it's about politics. Tovar alluded to political concerns when telling the AP that there had been rifts from the start.

Landrum Taylor did acknowledge having been approached about the transition at some time prior to the meeting at which she was voted out. But characterized the offer differently than Tovar (and multiple other sources I had spoken to on the condition of anonymity on Tuesday) did.

The two versions of the advanced notice LLT had looked to me like a high stakes game of chicken. The Yellow Sheet Report did some more digging and put it in Poker terms, headlining its report on Thursday with "Sometimes, the other guy isn't bluffing."
One Dem source with knowledge of the plan to oust Landrum Taylor said Ableser approached the former leader roughly a week and a half ago and asked her to resign as minority leader, rather than be ejected by the caucus. As a consolation prize, the plotters offered Landrum Taylor an “honorary leadership position,” but the source said she didn’t believe they had enough votes to pull off the coup. “Basically Leah said, ‘Take a hike,’” the source said. Even going into Tuesday’s meeting, Landrum Taylor thought she had enough votes to keep her position, and she might have a good reason to think so: The source said Meza told her he would support her, Begay said he wouldn’t join the plotters, and she expected Gallardo’s backing as well, although he didn’t return her calls. And though Tovar did not answer a text message asking whether she would support the ouster, she prayed with Landrum Taylor over the phone the night before the meeting for Tovar’s sick uncle, who was in the hospital, which the source said led Landrum Taylor to believe Tovar wouldn’t go against her. “This is Steve Pierce all over again,” the source told our reporter. The source fingered Gallardo as the “ringleader” of the coup. While Tovar isn’t completely innocent of the plot, the source described her decision to vote against Landrum Taylor as “[just going] with the flow.” The source surmised that Gallardo blamed Landrum Taylor for not getting Brewer to veto Laws 2013, Chapter 209 (H2305: election revisions; violations). 
"Steve Pierce all over again" refers to the fact that Senate Democrats had it within their power to keep Andy Biggs from becoming President of that chamber. Doing so would have seriously reduced the drama surrounding passage of the Medicaid Restoration Bill. A united Democratic caucus (13 votes) needed only three Republicans to vote with them to keep Steve Pierce on as President. Given the fact that three Republican senators voted with the Democrats to pass the Medicaid bill, it is highly plausible that they could have kept Pierce on a President.

Such a move would not have been unprecedented. In an audio interview posted to the Arizona Memory Project, former Sen. Pete Rios described the thought process in selecting Republican Sen. Randall Gnant as President of the Senate in 2001.

I don't have any more details about the plan to keep Pierce on than that, but have heard -- again, from multiple sources -- that it was LLT and her closest one or two confidants who nixed, for whatever reason, the plan to thwart Biggs' ascension to the throne. Whatever quid pro quo may or may not have been for LLT, she did not carry offer about Pierce to her caucus.

That in itself tells you that the unity displayed by Senate Democrats at the end of the legislative session was in spite of, rather than as a result of leadership provided by LLT.

I can also report that in June Democrats in both chambers believed they could prevent passage of the Voter Suppression Bill (HB2305). If, as YS reports, LLT shouldered at least some of the responsibility for the bill being passed and then signed by Brewer, it represents a serious deficiency in leadership.

Setting aside the IFs, speculation by LLT that the votes were not there to remove her shows she was not leading her caucus. Both Black and Latino community leaders should demand a full accounting from Leah Landrum Taylor of her role in all of this -- BEFORE they decide to support her for statewide office. Cory Booker she is not. Donna Edwards, she is not. By the way, I also find it troubling that the Black community in Arizona is unable to find a quality leader who can effectively represent it in lawmaking or executive government functions.

Anyway, here's what YS reported next.
Landrum Taylor strongly denied having been asked to resign. “That is absolutely untrue. As a matter of fact, I wished that Tovar or Gallardo, who made the motion, would have done so,” she said, saying that would have been the “dignified way” to do it. “It still would have been disrespect, but it would have been disrespectfully dignified.” She said she only found out that something was afoot when she and the others sat down for the meeting. What did occur, she said, is that Tovar asked for her help in getting Lopez’s vacated assistant leader position. She said she readily pledged her support and “made many calls” to members on her behalf. In fact, Bradley originally wanted to be the one to replace Lopez, too, but he backed down to keep the caucus unified and instead eyed the whip position, Landrum Taylor said. The only kernel of truth to the rumors, she added, was that the Tovar supporters offered her a “vague” leadership role during Tuesday’s meeting.
Since LLT acknowledged that she had been approached prior to the day of the vote, her claim now that she wished they have given her a dignified way to do it is implausible. What possible payoff for the Senate Minority Caucus would there be for causing a controversy when they could have effected a leadership transition without stirring up a hornet's nest in the process? And though she claims to want to make amends, she is STILL calling the members of her caucus liars. That is not leadership.

On the issue of the childish name calling she engaged in on Tuesday, YS reports further,
Landrum Taylor walked back her earlier comments that her ousting was motivated by sexism and racism. The Associated Press reported that the former leader apologized for her remarks, calling them “regrettable.” “In no way do I feel the disrespect given me by some members of the Senate caucus relates to sexism or racism. I believe the decision was based on politics rather than my ability to lead the Democratic caucus in the most successful year we've ever had,” she told AP reporter Bob Christie. In a conversation with our reporter this morning, Landrum Taylor said she’s open to healing the fracture in her caucus, but quickly added that the new leaders have their work cut out for them. “There’s a lot of damage when you do something this destructive. How do you put that back together? It’s like the Humpty Dumpty story,” she said. Landrum Taylor said she’s curious to know how the new leaders will go about doing so. “To do something that extreme, they should have a plan” for putting the caucus back together, she said. Finally, she said she’s also curious to know about what the new leaders’ vision and direction is. “A ‘new direction’ – what does that look like? And the concerns of [us] not being as boisterous or aggressive – a lot of people do not seem to have a problem with statesmanship, because that’s what we were promoting,” she said.
Once more, LLT blaming the members of her caucus for "there's a lot of damage when you do something this destructive. How do you put that back together?" Then she claims SHE was promoting STATESMANSHIP? Oh, please.

Maybe two days out from having been ousted from her position as Senate Minority Leader is too soon to expect her to be capable of setting aside her personal emotional injury. But I cannot help but look at the record and wonder how -- IF her leadership was so doggone successful -- did she not see this coming and/or how did she so badly miscalculate how to deal with what she was warned about.

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