Bill calls for public Q-and-A’s with governor - East Valley Tribune: News

Bill calls for public Q-and-A’s with governor

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Posted: Sunday, February 14, 2010 1:51 pm | Updated: 3:33 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

  It might not be as entertaining as Parliament. But a southern Arizona lawmaker wants to force the governor to come to the Legislature at least twice a month to answer questions from political friends and foes.

 It might not be as entertaining as Parliament.

But a southern Arizona lawmaker wants to force the governor to come to the Legislature at least twice a month to answer questions from political friends and foes.

Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, said the idea is borrowed liberally from the weekly “question time” sessions the British government uses where the prime minister faces off against the political opposition.

Paton said, though, he does not envision the same kind of rowdy behavior in Phoenix that entertains C-SPAN viewers watching sessions of Parliament. He believes it probably would be closer to the televised session President Barack Obama had late last month with congressional Republicans.

He also doesn’t envision it as a “gotcha” opportunity to trip up the governor. But Paton said if the governor happens to stumble in giving an answer, so be it.

And the same is true if lawmakers come across looking less than statesmanlike.

Paton, however, doesn’t see this as humorous.

“This would be a good thing for our Legislature because it accomplishes a lot of things,” Paton said.

“It kind of guarantees that the public gets a chance to see their leaders in action, both legislative and the executive branch, in an environment where there’s an exchange of ideas,” he said. “And, secondly, they kind of get to judge their ability: how well prepared they are, how well-spoken they are.”

Instead, he said, it’s a chance for lawmakers to get some answers from the state’s chief executive in a session that would be open to television.

And if the governor happens to stumble, so be it.

The same, he said, is true for legislators. Paton said the public deserves to see.

“People want leaders that can hold their own,” Paton said. “They want to know that when they’re meeting with other important people that they’re not going to back down, that they’re thoughtful people.”

His measure, up for debate Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would require the governor, on request from the lawmakers, to appear once every two weeks at the Legislature to answer questions.

Sessions, which would be no shorter than 30 minutes and no longer than an hour, would be alternated between the House and Senate chambers. And members of each party would get equal time.

So how does Paton think incumbent Gov. Jan Brewer would hold up?

“I think she’d do fine,” he said. “She’s pretty scrappy.”

At this point, Brewer apparently is not taking the issue too seriously. Asked for a comment on Paton’s plan, press aide Paul Senseman’s only response was, “Would legislators be required to wear a powdered wig and buckles on their shoes?”

Brewer’s practices, though, show a reticence to answer what could be pointed questions in group settings from a potentially unfriendly audience: On taking office a year ago, she scrapped the practice of her predecessor, Janet Napolitano, of having press conferences nearly every week where questions of all sorts were entertained. Instead, reporters with questions have to try to catch her after one of her public appearances.

Richard Cosgrove, a retired history professor at the University of Arizona, with whom Paton consulted in crafting the legislation, said whoever is the governor might be in for a rough ride.

“The British system is rough and ready,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready to take some heckling and whatever.”

Cosgrove said the system has the speaker alternating questions between the two parties.

“So, of course, from the party in power there are all nice little softball questions,” he said. “Then, of course, from the opposition comes the hard questions.”

Paton said he has no problem with that.

“That’s the way life is,” he said.

Cosgrove said there’s one other difference that might make the British practice difficult to mimic in Arizona.

He pointed out that the speaker of the House of Commons, who is in charge of moderating question time, is not a partisan but more of an administrator who does not even have a vote. In Arizona, the House speaker is — as is the Senate president — someone who is a member of and chosen by the majority party.

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