/ Modified nov 10, 2012 10:29 a.m.

AZ Week: Moderation May Come to State Politics

Election results could mean less conservative ideology, policy analysts say

Arizona politics and policy making could move away from staunch conservative stands and moderate somewhat as a result of the new legislative makeup, several policy analysts say.

Four analysts from across the political spectrum appeared on Friday’s Arizona Week broadcast, and they were asked to reflect on how state public policy debates and decisions will change based on this week’s election results.

Two of the four said there’s a possibility that the Legislature could move away from the conservative ideologies that have dominated state policy making under the two-thirds majority Republicans held in both chambers.

“You know in the Senate leadership you have Senate Majority leader John McComish, who is a moderate, a very business-minded moderate,” said Joseph Garcia, director of the Latino Public Policy Center at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.

“He is in a very key role now, whereas the last time he was in the Legislature looking for a position, he couldn’t even get on a committee with Russell Pearce as Senate president,” Garcia said. “It shows a change in the Legislature … So I think there is a moderation when it comes to the Legislature somewhat.”

George Cunningham, chair of the Grand Canyon Institute, which describes itself as a centrist think tank, agreed, saying that a smaller GOP majority in the Senate is the key. The Senate, now 21 Republicans and nine Democrats, will be 17 Republicans and 13 Democrats come January.

“That is a major change," said Cunningham, who is a former Democratic state senator. “And the election of the Senate president was a 9-8 vote, in the sense that the more conservative elements elected Andy Biggs, but it was by one vote. The moderates led by Steve Pierce lost by one vote.

“It has a major moderating influence on what happens,” he said. “ … Democrats are going to be looking for one or two or three Republicans who are willing to go with them when there’s something on the floor that’s objectionable."

Starlee Rhoades, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, said there is an expectation of moderation, but it may not come about.

“I think a lot of people were expecting things to moderate a little bit in both the House and the Senate based on who would be elected,” Rhoades said. “I’m frankly not sure if we’re going to see that. … The Senate did choose Andy Biggs as the Senate president, and he’s quite conservative, of course, from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. I’m not sure that things will moderate much.”

Each of the four analysts highlighted specific issues that they thought would come to the fore in the political process next year:

-- Political leaders must deal with an ongoing “structural deficit” that will take a balanced approach of tight spending, revenue enhancements and attention to the economy, said policy analyst E.J. Perkins of the Morrison Institute.

-- Latino voters showed more strength in the election than in the past, but isolating their influence is a mistake, Garcia said: “You can’t separate the Latino issues from the Arizona issues, because they’re one and the same. “

-- "The defeat of Proposition 204 does not eliminate the problems we have in underfunding for K-12,” Cunningham said, referring to the failed proposal to extend the one-cent sales tax for school funding. He said educational shortcomings should serve as a catalyst to finding better funding mechanisms.

-- Organized labor groups that targeted moderate Republican legislators in their election bids might find the legislators reintroducing bills that would “reign in unions” by requiring secret union organizing ballots and eliminating automatic dues checkoffs, Rhoades said.

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