Veteran Mesa lawmaker Russell Pearce will take the helm of the Senate in January after being elected by his Republican colleagues on his promise to run the chamber with a Tea Party philosophy.
"We are going to focus on states' rights and we are going to focus on fiscal responsibility," Pearce told Capitol Media Services. "And we are going to focus on the things that I think made this country great."
What that means is lower taxes and smaller state government. He also wants to focus on private property rights and parental rights "and all those God-given rights we thought our founders protected that government has encroached upon."
Pearce said his new position doesn't mean he's giving up his perennial fight to pass new state laws to curb illegal immigration. But one of the first acts will be for the Senate, where Republicans increased their margin from 18 to 21, to take up a package of tax cuts and incentives.
The House approved such a plan earlier this year crafted by Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, to slash individual and corporate income taxes and business property taxes, with an eventual price tag of $950 million. But it stalled when current Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, refused to let it be considered.
Burns said at the time he could not support the proposed massive reduction in state revenues while the state was still digging its way out of a multi million-dollar hole.
The deficit still exists and now could be approaching $900 million after voters rejected two ballot propositions which would have given lawmakers access to some special funds. But Pearce said that, unlike Burns, he's not deterred.
"It's time to roll things back," he said. "That's what the Tea Party movement's about: Less government, more freedom." He said the key to fixing Arizona's economy is getting government out of the way.
"Government consumes wealth; private industry is what produces wealth," he said. "And we're going to focus on private jobs."
Pearce brushed aside questions about how to deal with the immediate gap between revenues and expenses.
"Nobody has the magic wand," he said. "But we're going to kick-start it (the economy) as fast as we can."
Even if Pearce is now on the same page as Adams, just reelected speaker on Wednesday, that doesn't mean clear sailing. Gov. Jan Brewer also has said she isn't interested in a package of across-the-board tax cuts until the state's fiscal situation improves.
Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, newly elected to the Senate, said the choice of Pearce by the 21-member caucus should be no surprise.
"I think voters made it pretty clear what they want to see us working on - on jobs and on the economy," she said. "If Russell does what he has pledged to do, which is allow those of us that are interested in job growth and job attraction to be working on that, and he's supportive of it, then I'm fine."
Pearce, who has been a legislator since 2002, said he recognizes that taking the position of the Senate president is "a different role" than simply being one of 90 lawmakers. But he said that doesn't require him to give up his own agenda.
In the past, that agenda has specifically included laws aimed at illegal immigrants, ranging from a voter-approved 2004 measure to deny them benefits, to a 2007 law which allows state judges to suspend or revoke the business licenses of firms that knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Most recently, Pearce gained national attention with SB 1070 which contains a series of provisions designed to put state and local police in a front-line role in the fight. That includes a mandate that officers check the immigration status of those they have stopped if there is "reasonable suspicion" they are in this country illegally.
A federal judge in July enjoined the state from enforcing some of those sections. But that is on appeal. And Pearce said lawmakers from 34 other states have contacted him in their bid to enact copy-cat laws.
The next item on Pearce's agenda is crafting a law that will challenge federal court rulings that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees U.S. citizenship to those born in this country, even if their parents are not here legally.
"It's an unconstitutional application of birthright citizenship which was never intended," he said.
Pearce also disputed the idea that his fight to enact state laws aimed at illegal immigration is in any way controversial.
"America supports this, three to one, across this country," he said. More to the point, Pearce called Arizona "the model for this nation" in how to deal with the problem.
"We have a debate going coast to coast," he said. "And Arizona is on the front of the parade in almost every one of those debates."
Pearce's new position gives him a great deal of influence over the entire legislative process.
He gets to pick who will run the various committees through which all bills must pass. And then he decides where to assign each of those bills, with the knowledge that the makeup of a specific panel can guarantee approval or doom it to failure.
And the senate president has the ultimate power to decide whether to bring any legislation to the floor for a vote.