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Editor’s Thought Bubble: GOP leadership is powerless, and their members know it

By: - May 27, 2021 3:03 pm

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Late yesterday evening, Republican leaders saw their plans to speed a state budget through the legislative process fall apart. The deal with Ducey was announced last week, the bills were introduced Monday, rushed through committee Tuesday and the whole package — including a flat income tax proposal that would slash state revenues by $1.9 billion a year — was intended to go before the full House and Senate on Wednesday.

The plan was ambitious, as it was clear immediately after the framework of the deal was revealed last week that there were several Republicans who weren’t on board. And with one-vote majorities in both chambers, there is literally no room for error if GOP leaders insist on ignoring Democrats.

But what started as only a few Republican lawmakers holding out their vote ballooned in recent days as legislators realized the truth of the situation: Each and every one of them has the power to stop the budget from moving forward unless their particular needs are met. All it takes for that to happen is the fortitude to withstand the pressure and arm-twisting the GOP leaders (and maybe, at some point, Ducey) apply behind closed doors.

In recent years, it’s a strategy that has been effectively employed by so-called “moderate” Republicans to force their colleagues to address pet issues. But this year, the conservatives have copied that playbook and are now digging in their heels, telling their leaders to pound sand if they won’t change the agreement with Ducey.

This is the absolute worst nightmare for legislative leaders, whose authority rests almost exclusively on the myth that they actually have any real power in the process. The reality is that the emperors have no clothes and only minimal power to cajole their colleagues to do anything, and little to no ability in the modern era to force them to do much. Republican lawmakers are increasingly willing to embrace that reality, leaving leaders in a precarious position and few meaningful options to break the impasse.

So, the result is that the House announced yesterday that it won’t return until June 10, and the Senate today reached the same conclusion — a full two weeks from now, and just three weeks before the fiscal year ends and the state faces a budget crisis.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.