It’s not gone completely. I spent my first year in office hewing to the party line – speaking out against my Republican colleagues with fiery speeches on the floor, throwing bombs from the comfort of the Democratic corner of the floor, and avoiding contact with them after debate. I faithfully fulfilled what I’d been taught was my job as a member of the minority. And I was miserable.
After that session, I dumped the line I’d been taught and did what felt natural and right to me. I made friends with Republicans and Democrats alike. Life changed dramatically – I found myself happier, more engaged in the work, and most importantly, more productive. Some of my ideas and proposals received hearings and support from Republican colleagues. I found ways to get things done, even in the minority. And I formed meaningful friendships that will endure beyond our short stints at the Arizona Capitol.
Some of the hype about the return to hyper partisanship is just that – hype. The truth is, some of us do get along with each other just fine. And those friendships make a difference in some of the work that we do. On just the second day of session, I worked with my Republican colleagues in both chambers to usher through legislation to protect the grieving families from hateful protesters. My emergency legislation passed unanimously in record time. I firmly believe this would not have been possible without the trust and mutual respect that we have for each other.
Now I’m working on legislation to support military families and veterans, and to crack down on drophouses. This legislation is supported by my Republican colleagues and I expect to pass these ideas into law.
Some of the hype, however, is in actuality very real. While I am grateful for the friendships and relationships that I have with my Republican colleagues, it would be naïve to pretend that those friendships will change the way that major policies are enacted in Arizona.
Republicans own a supermajority in state government, controlling both chambers and the Governor’s office. They have shown already their clear intent to fully utilize that supermajority. From plans to dismantle our Medicaid system to attempts at redefining the Fourteenth Amendment and questioning our President’s citizenship, the extreme right’s agenda is right at home in Arizona politics. Some would say we’re the poster child for the new radical right. They’d be correct.
Unfortunately, the genuine relationships and friendships that some of us have developed across the aisle in recent years does not translate into a willingness to seek compromise, consensus, or middle ground on the major challenges facing our state. The extreme ideology of the self-styled Tea Party legislators in Arizona absolutely rules the day. In major policy debates, moderate Republicans and Democrats are left behind. With a conservative supermajority, Republican leaders don’t “need” us. And that is strikingly clear in actions of the Arizona Legislature today.
I am not sure how to translate the good that we do have (friendships) into the good that we need (moderate policies). For now, I think that pragmatic, practical solutions for Arizona’s problems are off the table. All of Arizona suffers as a result.