Arizona lawmaker's widow sworn in; no sign of special session - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona lawmaker's widow sworn in; no sign of special session

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Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 3:15 pm | Updated: 7:13 pm, Thu Nov 11, 2010.

The widow of Jorge Garcia said Wednesday she hopes to continue his work now that she has been sworn in to replace him.

But it remains doubtful whether Maria Garcia, a Democrat from Tucson, will get the chance. There is no indication the governor will call lawmakers in for a special session between now and Jan. 10 when her late husband’s term would have ended anyway.

Maria Garcia, who formally became a senator after taking the oath of office Wednesday, said her husband, who died last month, “left a good legacy.’’ He served in the House from 1992 to 1996 and was elected to the Senate in 2002.

Garcia used the opportunity of the swearing-in ceremony at an informal session of the Senate to talk not only about her late husband’s work but also to try to advance some of the ideas he pushed, ideas that usually were rejected by the Republican majority. Those, she said, involved funding for education and health care.

The Republican-controlled Legislature, facing deficits in the $1 billion range for the last two years, has cut spending in both areas.

“It broke my husband’s heart to see the rules enacted,’’ Garcia said, referring to the budget. She urged the lawmakers in attendance Wednesday to exercise compassion.

Others in attendance expressed similar sentiments.

Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, said she recognized that Jorge Garcia was ill before he died last month. But while there was a medical cause for the death of the 57-year-old senator, Aboud said he “died of a broken heart’’ because of all the spending cuts.

There also were some words of praise for the late senator from his political foes.

“He was ever vigilant in advocating for his constituents and beliefs,’’ said Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria. “But (he) also took a global view in promoting policies that he felt served the greater good of this state.’’

Members of both parties said that Garcia, while compassionate about his causes, always was willing to talk about compromises in hopes of getting at least some of what he felt was necessary. That included his decision to support a plan to ask voters for a temporary one-cent hike in state sales taxes, a measure that supporters said would help stave off even sharper spending cuts.

Maria Garcia said a special session remains possible following the decision earlier this month by voters to reject two proposals advanced by the Republican-controlled Legislature to balance the budget.

One would have scrapped the First Things First early childhood development program and given lawmakers access to the accumulated funds and future proceeds from the 80-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes voters first approved in 2006.

The other would have overturned a requirement for lawmakers to set aside $20 million a year to preserve open space and turned over the balance in that account to legislators to plug budget holes. Together they would have provided an immediate $450 million.

Now, with the failure of both, the official deficit for the current fiscal year is estimated at $825 million, though there are projections it could grow.

Burns, whose term in office also is up in January, has suggested that lawmakers get started on fixing the problem as soon as possible. But incoming Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who was not present for Wednesday’s informal session, wants to wait until the legislators elected Nov. 2 take office.

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