Lawmaking is a balancing act for speaker-elect - East Valley Tribune: News

Lawmaking is a balancing act for speaker-elect

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Posted: Saturday, November 15, 2008 6:17 pm | Updated: 11:37 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Above all that informs the political, the professional and the personal sides of state House Speaker-elect Kirk Adams, there is John Adams the boy. And then there is John Adams the president.

The boy was the towheaded 11-month-old fourth-born child of Kirk and JaNae Adams. He died Feb. 6, 2006, after pulling a painter's ladder down on top of himself at the family's north Mesa home.

"I found him," Kirk Adams recalled as he stood in his front hallway gazing at a framed photo of the child, one of dozens around the house. "The whole family was here."

A month later, Adams was appointed to the House to fill the District 19 vacancy left when Sen. Marilyn Jarrett died and then-Rep. Chuck Gray moved over from the House.

"I was a zombie down here for most of that session," Adams said. "Nothing matters after the death of a child."

Though he'd been planning a run for the House that year, he considered turning down the appointment. He realizes now that his new role as a state legislator helped him cope with his grief.

"At the time I wasn't sure I really wanted to, but I thought that I should," Adams said.

"It got me back into the game," he said. "It really forced me back into the swing of things."

Baby John Adams was named for the second president, who has been a huge influence on Kirk Adams' political style and temperament as the 35-year-old father of five tries to balance his devotion to family with his commitment to the betterment of his community.

Adams said he admires President John Adams for the sacrifices he made for his country, and recognizes the internal conflict he felt leaving wife Abigail to manage the family farm.

"It's a constant struggle," Adams said. "I really like being at home."

JaNae and Kirk divide and conquer to get everyone to school on time, after the family starts the morning together with prayer and breakfast.

Kirk takes the oldest boys, Glade and Dallin, to school while JaNae gets 8-year-old Emma and 6-year-old Ben ready to go. Ben studies for a spelling test and Emma shows a visitor her mom's memory book, in which JaNae had written about kissing a neighbor boy when she was 5 years old. It was Kirk Adams, and his kindergarten picture is carefully pasted on the page.

Kirk gets back, grabs 10-month-old Parker (named for legendary local football coach Jesse Parker) and JaNae drives off with Emma and Ben. Parker hangs with dad while he gets ready for work, then gets handed back to mom when she returns.

"It's been a rough couple of weeks," Adams says. "I haven't seen them much."

Adams is dark-haired and round-faced, affable and even-tempered. With his brother and another partner, he runs the Adams Agency, a property and casualty insurance company founded by his father.

He is a fiscal and social conservative, a fifth-generation Arizonan, a Mormon and a 1991 Mesa Mountain View High School graduate.

And he is in for one of the toughest budget years the state has ever seen, with a $1.2 billion current-year deficit and another $1.2 billion gap looming in the next fiscal year.

"There are going to be some excruciating decisions," Adams said Friday, between meetings at his Capitol office. "No one will be happy with the product."

Adams is perhaps best known for a series of hearings he ran last session with Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, on Child Protective Services following the deaths of three Tucson children.

He and Paton shepherded four bills through the process against long odds, earning bipartisan support and accolades for tackling an issue that most lawmakers wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

Two days after winning his second term in the Nov. 4 election, which saw Republicans pick up two seats in the House for a 35-25 majority, Adams scored a stunning upset over current Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, and won the chamber's top job with just one vote to spare.

Adams campaigned for the speakership in an efficient, methodical, straightforward manner that sets the stage for the way he intends to run the House.

He issued a 21-page document detailing his plans, called "Rebuilding Our Republican Majority," complete with a table of contents, mission statement and appendix.

Proposals include empowering the majority leader, majority whip and committee chairs, opening the budget process to include rank-and-file members and the public, and streamlining the whole place so that members, including the speaker, can invest more time in their families and their careers.

"I don't believe that power should be concentrated in any one office. We need to share the workload," he said. "We are still a citizen legislature. We all still have lives and jobs outside of what we do here."

He's also calling for an outside management consultant, educational sessions for lawmakers, better online research tools and regular speaking engagements for members.

Adams wants to put House Republicans back in play, after two sessions that saw them frozen out of budget negotiations.

And while pledging bipartisanship, he is keenly aware that he's in a position to wield more influence than any speaker in recent memory thanks to conservative GOP gains over moderates, who in past years had teamed with Democrats and Gov. Janet Napolitano.

That influence will only increase if Democrat Napolitano leaves for a job in President-elect Barack Obama's administration and GOP Secretary of State Jan Brewer ascends to the governor's office.

"We have a responsibility to push good Republican policy. That does not mean it's our way or the highway," Adams said. "We have to be fair, we have to be open and we have to treat each other with respect."

Adams moved quickly during his first transition week, hunkering down in his small first-floor office to plan the administrative and political changes that will come with his move to the speaker's spacious second-floor suite.

On Friday, he worked with new chief of staff Victor Riches, who held the same job in the Senate, to winnow down the number of committees - from 18 to 14 or 15 - and select committee chairs.

He held back-to-back, one-on-one meetings with House members, and met with the governor in between. Assistant Karen Bumcrot juggled phone calls, travel arrangements and booked an increasingly hectic schedule.

More staff changes will be announced early this week as Adams names his communications director and other top advisers to replace the staff who worked for Weiers.

"We're making a clean break," Adams said. "This is a good time, especially for Republicans."

Lawmakers and others who've worked closely with Adams say they aren't surprised at his rapid rise.

"I think he's an amazing guy with a huge future ahead of him," said Paton, who just won election to the seat vacated by Senate President Tim Bee.

"If there's ever a guy who you want in your foxhole, it's him," said Paton, a U.S. Army reservist and Iraq war veteran. "He's got that kind of calm demeanor. It's nice to have someone who keeps their head and thinks rationally."

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, the incoming assistant minority leader, said House Republicans made the right choice. "Kirk is very pragmatic and practical and willing to make changes," she said. "We have a history of working well together."

Sinema predicted that House Republicans and Democrats would find more areas of agreement than disagreement on the budget. "Our challenges in Arizona are so big that we don't have time for petty games," she said. "We're not going to pretend like a pile of money is going to fall out of the sky."

JaNae Adams knows that, no matter how pragmatic and efficient her husband may be, he's going to be spending less time at home. Supporting him, she says, is one way she can support her community.

And she will have help, from eight sisters and both sets of grandparents who live nearby. The children, too, understand that they're going to have to do more, she said. "I think they feel satisfaction in doing their part," she said. "None of us can do it alone."

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