In Arizona, the biggest loser on Tuesday night wasn’t Donald Trump or Martha McSally. Rather, it was the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Chamber has long controlled the levers of power in this state. Glenn Hamer, the Chamber’s CEO, is Gov. Doug Ducey’s biggest cheerleader. By most accounts, he’s also the most influential voice in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
But as the demographics shift in our state, and in particular in Maricopa County, the Chamber has found itself in the uncomfortable position of playing defense during campaign season.
This year, the lobbying organization faced multiple challenges to its dominance in state politics. Both legislative chambers had competitive races that could have flipped control to the Democrats in the state house or created a tie between the parties in the state Senate.
A Democratic majority would deal a huge blow to the Chamber’s agenda, one that emphasizes tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals and the privatization of public education.
The Chamber may have fended off that possibility. As of Friday morning, Republicans are leading in close races and are on pace to maintain control of both the state House of Representatives and Senate. But even if those leads hold, the organization suffered other, more damaging losses on Tuesday night.
Proposition 208, the Invest in Education Act, has won. The initiative represented the greatest threat to the Chamber’s interests. Not only does it levy a tax on high-income earners, it’s also expected to generate nearly $900 million annually for public — and only public — schools.
The group brought out its big guns — former Superintendents of Public Education who are closely aligned with the organization’s pro-privatization and anti-tax leanings — and its big bucks: more than $8 million spent to defeat the initiative.
Adding insult to injury, the organization also worked to defeat Proposition 207, an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, by dumping cash into the opposition campaign and writing opinion pieces about the so-called “damage” it would bring to Arizona’s economy — which was, by the way, the same argument they used against Prop. 208 and almost every other previous initiative it has opposed in recent years.
Despite the fear-mongering and the infusion of cash, Prop. 207 passed by a large margin.
You can bet the sting of those two losses will motivate the organization to do whatever they can to avoid more embarrassing defeats in the future. In fact, the Chamber has already choreographed its next move.
Four years ago, when the Chamber failed to defeat the ballot initiative that increased the state’s minimum wage, it responded with multiple attacks on the citizens initiative process.
The Chamber’s successes to date include laws that made it illegal to pay petition gatherers per signature and required strict, instead of substantial, compliance, making it easier to toss signatures for technical violations.
Because the average citizens group cannot afford the higher cost of collecting signatures, defending court challenges (usually paid for by the Chamber) and running a robust messaging campaign, the result of chipping away at our state’s constitutional right to direct democracy has been to effectively limit the number of initiatives that end up on the ballot.
Unless Democrats manage to pick up one additional seat in the state House or Senate, which would create a partisan tie, expect the group to roll out multiple legislative “fixes” that will further complicate and curtail the initiative process as well as additional efforts to expand private school vouchers and cut taxes for wealthy corporations and Arizonans.
Because majority rules at the legislature, there may be little Democrats can do to prevent those types of bills from passing. However, Democrats would do well to remind Chamber lobbyists that it’s unlikely they’ll be in the minority for much longer, and what goes around, comes around.
Arizona voters have already rejected the Chamber’s agenda. Arizona Democrats should be confident in doing the same.