Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
Arizona Democrats have big plans for the new legislative session — and with a Democratic governor to back them, those plans have a better chance of being implemented than they have in recent memory.
“In past sessions, this press conference served as a counterweight to a Republican governor’s state of the state speech delivered to a Republican House and a Republican Senate,” said House Minority Leader Andrés Cano, during a Monday media session to overview Democratic goals.
Cheers from union members and Democratic lawmakers resounded at Cano’s announcement that the midterm election changed the political dynamic at the Capitol.
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The Democratic plan, dubbed the Blueprint for a Better Arizona, touches on several priorities, including reproductive justice, education, water conservation, the housing crisis and equity. Arizona’s problems are manyfold and complex, Cano said, but Democrats are ready to begin working to resolve them.
And, unlike some far-right conservatives, Democrats are focused on the future, not on rehashing old grievances, he added.
“The challenges facing the state are immense: rising cost for housing, prolonged drought, chronically underfunded schools and divisive culture war attacks on our democracy and our most vulnerable communities,” Cano said. “Your Democratic caucuses are united with our eyes on the horizon — not in the rearview mirror.”
The Blueprint for a Better Arizona advocates for equitable access to vaccinations and more aid for low-income and marginalized communities, which have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s economic downturn. Democrats promised Monday to allocate the remaining federal funds in the American Rescue Plan towards communities that are the most in need.
The plan also slams the Republican-led expansion of school vouchers, and promises to put forth a permanent solution for the aggregate expenditure limit, a looming school spending cap that threatens to force schools to make nearly $1.4 billion in end-of-year budget cuts. Democrats vowed to fight for higher teacher wages, smaller class sizes, universal pre-K, money for full-day kindergarten and more mental health support for students.
Senate Minority Leader Raquel Terán said that a divided government will likely lead to some chafing, but insisted Democrats were steadfast in their priorities — especially given the narrow majority Republicans must contend with. The GOP holds just a one-vote majority in each legislative chamber.
“We know that this session will not be easy, but we recognize that we are shy of just half of the representation in the state legislature,” Terán said. “Our caucus is filled with experts dedicated to the betterment of our state, and our strengths are not going to be pushed aside.”
While both Cano and Terán noted that extremist bills would find no support among Democrats, they added that bipartisanship would be a necessary hallmark of the new session.
“We are ready and committed to come to the table with our colleagues from the other side of the aisle,” Terán said.
Bipartisanship will be critical to passing some of the party’s top priorities, including the much-hoped for repeal of the 1864 near-total abortion ban. A promise from Gov. Katie Hobbs to hold a special session to do just that was walked back, amid a court ruling that holds it at bay, and likely due to a lack of support from Republican legislators. A continued dearth of Republican votes might scuttle future attempts to repeal the law, but Terán refused to discount their support altogether.
“It will be challenging,” she said, “But we all know the message that Arizona voters sent this year is that extremism on any issue — and that includes abortion — is bad.”
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