Legislative Whirlwind Begins: Tours & Meetings, Oh, My! (Part 1)

Pamela Powers Hannley

Since Dec. 1, newly elected members of the Arizona House have received a whirlwind of invitations for meetings, trainings, luncheons, dinners, tours, coffees, workshops, receptions, BBQs, caucus meetings, briefings, orientations– and more. For half of December, I was out of Tucson — with multiple trips to Phoenix and a field trip to Yuma. On the street, supporters ask me when I start working. Even though the inauguration isn’t until next week, I have been working for weeks as your “representative-elect”.

Instead of publishing a lengthy article on “how I spent my Christmas vacation”, I’m breaking up my December tales into five parts: meetings (not as boring as it sounds), the ADEQ field trip to a defunct gas station, and three segments about the Yuma agricultural tour (92,000 cows, lettuce and birds, and migrant farm workers).

Here is the first installment in the five-part series.

New House Member Orientation

Pamela Powers Hannley, Kirsten Engel, Winona Benally, Kelli Butler, Athena Salman, Becky Nutt, Michelle Udall, Isela Blanc, Mitzi Epstein
New members of the Arizona House, Dec. 2016

Most of the 23 new Republican and Democratic members of the Arizona House attended an orientation at the Capitol in the beginning of December. We comprise one of the largest (if not the largest) Freshmen classes, since several of us beat incumbents. (Maybe… just maybe… we could break the gridlock mold because we are such a big group.)

We had many briefings about the legislative process, the budget (yikes!), and more. We also had a day of role-playing committee hearings and a floor session. This was extremely helpful. We also had many informal ways to meet, talk, and get to know each other.

I had many good conversations with other new House members– both Republicans and Democrats. Many of the new Republicans were elected on a platform of helping small businesses– common ground with me since I campaigned on helping and growing local businesses through low-interest loans via a public bank.

I had exciting synergistic conversations with Clean Elections Progressives from Maricopa County on topics such as public banking and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which has already been introduced for this session. I also had surprising conversations with some returning Republican leaders about corporate welfare (although the GOP doesn’t call it that). Both the new Progressives and these staunchly Conservative Republican leaders complained to me about corporate welfare and the big-money giveaways. One GOP Senator who is a friend of mine said [paraphrasing], “I don’t think giving money to those big corporations helps small businesses.” (Right on! I agree!) Another told me that Google and Microsoft got the most money from Arizona in recent years, “and they don’t need our money.” I shook his hand and said, “I agree. We should be helping small, local businesses.” (Local First Arizona!)

Anyway, I thought that this was a auspicious beginning to my Legislative career: Progressives and Conservatives do have common ground on some economic issues. I promise to keep talking and to keep asking questions. 🙂

Todd Coldfelter, Kelli Butler, Kirsten Engel, Mitzi Epstein
Reps-elect Todd Clodfelter, Kelli Butler, Kirsten Engel and Mitzi Epstein watch the big board in Arizona House with staff at New Member Orientation, 2016.

Democratic Caucus Meetings

Democratic Caucus Leadership
Tucson’s own outgoing Rep. Bruce Wheeler (far right) chaired the Election of the Democratic Caucus Leadership. From right to left after Wheeler are: Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, Minority Whip Charlene Fernandez, Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Randy Friese (and others who vied for leadership Reps. Ken Clark and Diego Espinoza). This photo was taken in the old House Chambers. What a great room.

The Democratic Caucus also met twice since the election in November. Early on, we met to elect our new officers: Rep. Rebecca Rios (Minority Leader), Rep. Randy Friese (Assistant Minority Leader) and Charlene Fernandez (Minority Whip).

Later in December, the Dems met for strategy meetings and informational presentations by Progressive activists and organizations supporting some issues (like public schools, universities, reproductive choice, and access to healthcare) and opposing others (like mass incarceration). The Republican Caucus met at the same time, according to the Capitol Times (see House retreats feature 2 approaches: Fun for GOP, frugal work for Dems): “while Democrats hunkered down to discuss policy, Republicans just wanted to have fun.” Their retreat– fully funded by lobbyists– cost thousands of dollars, while ours featured a board room at the AEA office and sandwiches. (OK, to be fair, on the first night, we did have cocktails and “heavy hors d’oeuvres” at a local restaurant, and that was funded by a Phoenix lobbying firm. But still– there’s a difference between funding a two-hour happy hour or funding two days of events including room and meals. BTW, I didn’t realize that our happy hour was being funded by a lobbying group when I initially RSVP’d. After a few weeks of invitations, I now assume that every event is funded by one or more lobbying groups because the state doesn’t pay for much beyond our salaries, staff, and office space.) Below is a photo of our retreat. I’d like to see the photos from the GOP retreat!

Arizona Democratic Caucus Retreat, 2016.
Arizona Democratic Caucus Retreat, 2016.

The Democratic Caucus is meeting again this week for additional strategy sessions.


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