State Republican lawmakers moved swiftly after the Nov. 7 election to pick their new leaders for the next two years, even though the outcome in a handful of races could change when the last ballots are counted.
Barring an unlikely break with tradition, Sen. Tim Bee of Tucson will be the new Senate president and House Speaker Jim Weiers will keep his post when the Legislature convenes in January. But new faces in other leadership posts could
determine if the next Legislature is more cordial or contentious with Gov. Janet Napolitano, other Democrats and factions within the Republican Party.
Bee served with outgoing Senate President Ken Bennett as the floor leader or GOP second-in-command for the past two years. Bee is so low-key that some people still confuse him with his brother, Keith, who served in the Legislature before him. The first Senate leader from Tucson in more than 30 years, Bee already has pledged to push for more attention to issues unique to southern Arizona, including the role of Fort Huachuca in military intelligence. But Bee is expected to follow Bennett’s example in seeking common ground with Napolitano rather than confrontation over policy differences.
Bee will have plenty of support from his two lieutenants, Sen. Thayer Verschoor of Gilbert as Republican floor leader and John Huppenthal of Chandler as the GOP whip. Verschoor and Huppenthal are conservative standardbearers, but they also have shown patience in working toward real accomplishments instead of putting on political shows.
Meanwhile, Weiers has developed a gruff, sometimes grumpy, leadership style that has hurt his ability to work through his disagreements with others. The House Republican majority will shrink next year, and Napolitano has lots of political capital, so Weiers needs to focus his colleagues on issues that resonate best with the public. The new House Republican floor leader, Tom Boone of Peoria, will help as the one of the Legislature’s foremost experts on school funding. House Speaker pro tem Bob Robson of Chandler and incoming Republican whip Bob McComish of Ahwatukee Foothills are respected as lawmakers who can keep negotiations going when tempers flare.
On the Democrat side of the aisle, House minority leader Phil Lopes of Tucson is one of the most liberal state lawmakers who will gain a little extra leverage with more colleagues from his party. But his agenda probably will be moderated by the selection of Rep. Jack Brown of St. Johns as Lopes’ assistant. With more than 30 years of legislative experience, Brown has a long history of preferring compromise over partisan showdowns.
Senate Democrats are scheduled to pick their leaders next week, but they will be in the weaker position because Republicans will have at least a 18-12 advantage.