Democrats wary of post-Napolitano Capitol - East Valley Tribune: News

Democrats wary of post-Napolitano Capitol

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Posted: Sunday, November 23, 2008 5:30 pm | Updated: 11:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The prospect of Gov. Janet Napolitano departing for a job in President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet has some Democrats reeling as the party ponders how it will move forward in a drastically different political landscape.

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And Republican lawmakers plan to seize the moment if Napolitano is selected as the nation's Department of Homeland Security secretary.

With Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, in line to assume the governor's office, Democrats are faced with the reality of serving in an irrelevant role for at least the next two years when it comes to crafting a state budget and helpless to stop a GOP social agenda ranging from gun control laws to abortion.

The political realities of the state are much different from the ones envisioned by Democrats a only a short time ago. In the weeks leading up to the elections, Democrats in Arizona were confident they would seize control of both houses in the Legislature for the first time in decades.

But those dreams were smashed on election night when Republicans, who currently control the House and Senate, added to their dominance and picked up additional seats. Now, with what seems like Napolitano's looming exit, a worst-case scenario for the Democrats is playing out.

"I'm getting ready to take down that heart-framed picture I have of the governor hanging on the wall of my office," said Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe. "I'm still hoping she won't leave, but if she does, that will break my heart."

Ableser, like other Democrats, said that if Napolitano takes off the party would be in its worst shape in years. The move would have far-reaching consequences not only on the types of laws passed by Legislature, but it would also completely shake up the dynamics of the 2010 gubernatorial race - a race Democrats will need to win if to reclaim some prominence on the state level.

Although Democrats have been the minority party at the Capitol for years, having their governor in office has meant party members have a voice when putting together a state spending plan. But just as important, Napolitano also served as a back line of defense to kill bills Democrats couldn't stop in the Legislature.

In her six years in office, the governor has vetoed 180 pieces of legislation, more than any other executive in the state's history. Many of the bills dealt with social issues that are certain to return under a Brewer administration.

Brewer served in the Legislature from 1983 to 1996, rising to the prominent position of Majority Whip in the Senate. During her tenure, she also earned a reputation as a tough partisan infighter with strong conservative credentials.

Within that context, Republican lawmakers such as Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler, have said they plan on reviving a host of bills that have been vetoed by Napolitano.

Earlier this year, Nichols crafted legislation making it harder for an underage girl to get an abortion without the consent of her parents. That bill successfully passed of the Legislature only to meet the governor's veto stamp.

Nichols said that bill will almost certainly be reintroduced next year and he anticipates Brewer will sign it if she's governor.

"My knee-jerk reaction is absolutely, I think she supports this bill," he said. "Based on her conservative record, of course I think she'd be more than likely to sign it."

Likewise, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, vowed that he'd bring back legislation easing restrictions on handguns. In the past, the governor has rejected a number of gun-related measures including a controversial bill that would have allowed gun owners to take their weapons into bars.

Rep. Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, one of the longest serving Democrats in the Legislature, said much of Napolitano's work would be undone under Brewer. Rios, who was elected to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, served with Brewer in the Senate and described her as a very capable and thoughtful lawmaker.

But he expects Brewer to be very partisan. He also sees Democrats as "being reduced to bomb throwers" who give long-winded floor speeches in an attempt to blow up GOP-backed legislation. "But in the end, there's nothing they can do," he said.

That leaves Democratic lawmakers with the choice of throwing bombs or quietly working behind the scenes with Republicans to get legislation through. And for Democrats who choose that route, it means working bills through a long and taxing process with little or no recognition.

Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, said he's already started working with Republicans on issues regarding education. Currently he said he's crafting legislation with Mesa lawmaker Rep. Rich Crandall on bills that would reform AIMS testing as well as issues related to education finance.

"My party is going to be at a great disadvantage without (Napolitano) in the governor's office," he said. "We have to be better at working across the aisle and make good progress for our state."

There does seem to be some hope for bipartisanship as incoming Speaker of the House Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, has pledged to be more open and work with the opposing party.

Other leadership changes portend a tough session for Democrats.

Incoming Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, known to be a tight-fisted fiscal conservative, wants lawmakers next session to place all legislation on hold while members deal with a severe budget crunch - a shortfall expected to be greater than this year's $1.2 billion deficit.

But shutting out Democrats could have negative consequences in the next election cycle, some Democratic political operatives said.

"That would be a severe misread of the election results," said David Waid, former Chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. He said voters across the country and in Arizona want an end to bitter partisan fighting on every level of government.

But if Democrats want to win back the state's top elected office, they've got their work cut out for them. Not only will Democrats be facing an incumbent, but Brewer will most like avoid a long and costly primary that can inflict serious damage on a candidate.

"As always, campaigns depend of the quality of the candidates," said Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill. "It certainly helps the Republicans because the advantages of the incumbent are enormous."

Currently, the voters of Arizona don't know Brewer, Merrill said. But as governor, she'll have the next two years for Arizonans become familiar with her. And unless she's a complete bust, Merrill said, she'll have a huge advantage heading into the election.

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