The near-passing of SB 1062 should tell us something about lawmaking in Arizona

Henry Fountain Ashurst, the Flagstaff Democrat who represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate for the first few decades of statehood, may have put it best when he reportedly said, "When choosing to vote with the people or the special interests, I choose the special interests. They always remember. The people forget."

This bit of wisdom goes a long way toward answering a question on the minds of many Arizonans. Namely, how exactly did a bill like SB 1062, which had little public support and did nothing to advance the economic development of the state or the health and safety of its residents, become a priority for the Legislature while other issues are ignored? It turns out that this is actually just an example of a larger problem in the Legislature.

SB 1062, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate based on the purported religious convictions of their owners, was, of course, vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer after widespread outcry from both the organized business community and thousands of average people.

In her veto message, the governor expressed frustration that reform of Child Protective Services, the issue in all the papers at the beginning of the legislative session, was still awaiting action while this bill seemed to address a problem that did not exist. While we think that members of the Legislature should be able to walk and chew gum simultaneously, the truth is that the majority leadership pushes for the session to end quickly so that members can start campaigning for Congress or whatever. So even important issues, especially complicated ones like CPS reform, are often ignored in the name of expediency, and any time and effort spent on an item like SB 1062 means that something else is not getting heard.

This is why the argument of SB 1062 supporters that the bill did not really do anything is particularly damning. To a great extent, they were right. The bill did very little of substance, and what it did do was unlikely to survive a court challenge. This means that, by their own admission, supporters wasted a lot of everybody's time to make a bold (and disgusting) statement that was ultimately irrelevant in terms of policy.

The affair has focused attention on the outsized power of Cathi Herrod and her Center for Arizona Policy, which lobbies for right-wing social causes. Herrod has faced criticism over SB 1062 and the fact that she is treated with more deference at the Capitol than some elected officials.

Actually, lots of lobbyists operate like Herrod. She just seems particularly offensive because of what she lobbies for (bigotry) and the fact that, unlike, say, the mining industry, no one's paycheck depends on the issues she argues for.

Actually, this is unfair to Herrod. She is concerned about her own paycheck. Her positive cash flow depends on scaring the hell out of the folks on her mailing list. She needs to maintain a sense of crisis in order to meet payroll. This may explain why Arizona banned same-sex marriage multiple times in the course of a decade and why a bill like SB 1062, which addressed a nonexistent problem, became a priority.

But none of this alone explains why Herrod and other unelected lobbyists have become so powerful. Some folks dismiss it as merely a matter of money, but that is far too simplistic. The truth is that the Legislature, as an institution, creates a bubble around itself that insulates the members from the people they are supposed to represent. Money plays a role in this simply because legislators attending a fundraiser in Fountain Hills or having dinner at a fancy steakhouse in Phoenix are not at home talking to their constituents. Generally, there is a class of lobbyists who work hard to seem indispensable, making sure to always be around and to monopolize the time of legislators. In this environment it is easy to see why the agenda at the Capitol seems alien to most Arizonans.

In fairness, lobbying is an important part of the process. Folks such as Herrod have every right to petition the Legislature as aggressively as they see fit. The problem arises when, as in the case of SB 1062, legislators let these people have the run of the place, whether out of laziness, expedience or simple small-mindedness. Maybe rather than complain about lobbyists, we need to elect a Legislature that does not let this sort of thing happen.

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