When Ben Toma won the contest to be speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, there was a sigh of relief at the Capitol.
The Peoria Republican is unquestionably conservative, but had built a reputation as someone willing to engage in good faith with those who hold opposing views — a person who could guide the razor-thin GOP majority as it navigated newly bipartisan political waters. And a Toma speakership meant that the fledgling far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus, which backed founding member Joseph Chaplik, wouldn’t hold the reins.
Two months into the session, it’s clear that Toma is little more than a figurehead and that the extremists in the Arizona Freedom Caucus are calling the shots, remaking the chamber — and the legislature as a whole — into a dystopia of anti-democracy policies that are a slap in the face to Arizonans.
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First, it was the sweeping rule changes that, most critically, neutered any possible attempt at forcing Republican leaders to negotiate sincerely with Gov. Katie Hobbs by guaranteeing they couldn’t be undercut by GOP lawmakers independently working with Hobbs or other Democrats. The threshold for forcing a vote on a bill — a parliamentary move reserved only for the most extreme circumstances — went from being a majority of the 60 members to a majority that also must now include Toma.
Not satisfied with that, the chamber on Tuesday imposed minority rule, setting new standards for Democrats even to have their bills considered that effectively mean none will be.
Immediately after lawmakers finished debating dozens of bills, Republican leaders approached Democratic legislators whose measures had cleared the debate step and handed them green sheets of paper listing the GOP legislators. Unless they could get 16 of the 31 Republicans to sign those sheets, affirming they backed the Democratic bill, the measure wouldn’t be put up for a formal vote, they were told.
The extremists in the Arizona Freedom Caucus are calling the shots, remaking the Arizona House of Representatives — and the legislature as a whole — into a dystopia of anti-democracy policies that are a slap in the face to Arizonans.
But as Democrats scrambled to comply with this new requirement, it quickly became clear what was happening: Republicans were largely refusing to sign the sheets. Some who voted on a bill in committee suddenly weren’t sure about the measure, or couldn’t remember what it did. Others promised they’d be the 16th signature, knowing the promise was empty because they had been “explicitly told not to sign the green sheets,” as one Democrat was told by Republican colleagues.
Republicans are insisting that the policy isn’t only for measures introduced by Democrats, as if that makes it any better. The un-American result is still that barely 25% of the elected officials in the House of Representatives have the power to kill any piece of legislation, even if it’s supported by every other member of the chamber.
This idea is one that has been spearheaded by the Arizona Freedom Caucus, which is so fundamentally opposed to even working with Democrats that it wants to ensure no one else can, either. The group’s political posture is so extreme that rock-ribbed Republican Congressman David Schweikert recently said he quit the congressional House Freedom Caucus because he was sick of voters believing he was a member of the local group.
The move to institute minority rule was previewed late last month by Rep. Alexander Kolodin, a Scottsdale Republican and Arizona Freedom Caucus member, who was upset that several bills easily won approval in the chamber without the support of 16 Republicans.
That prompted a response minutes later from House Minority Leader Andrés Cano, who said he was troubled by Kolodin’s remarks.
“Sixteen Republicans should not decide a 60-vote body,” he said, noting that moving to such a standard would send “a strong message to the people of Arizona (about) the partisanship that’s gridlocked this state.”
Cano laid out the absurdity of the unofficial rule on Tuesday, noting that even bills with the support of a supermajority of the chamber will die if enough Republicans decide to oppose them.
1️⃣ There are 60 AZ House Members— 31 Rs and 29 Ds.
2️⃣ To pass legislation, 31 votes are needed.
3️⃣ Today, the @AZHouseGOP told Dems they won’t consider Dem bills unless 16+ Republicans sign-on.
4️⃣ 29 + 16 = 45… a supermajority!
▶️▶️ House Dems say NO to this abuse of power.
— Andrés Cano (@AndresCanoAZ) March 1, 2023
Toma and his family escaped communist Romania when he was a child, and he speaks regularly about the evils of communism — and how American democracy is the best form of government.
Yet he’s overseeing a gross counter-majoritarian perversion of the democratic system he claims to love so much. Why?
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