Ariz. Lawmakers Give Conservatives Plenty to Cheer

Friday, 30 Apr 2010 06:25 PM

 

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Across the country, they are known as the conservative lawmakers who are taking illegal immigration into their own hands.

But the Arizona Legislature adjourned this week with a legacy of new laws that put it at the forefront of the nation's growing conservative movement.

There's the law that allows adults to carry a concealed weapon without the permit, background check or training course that was previously required. And the declaration that the federal government has no right to regulate light bulbs or guns manufactured entirely within the state. Lawmakers also restricted the use of human embryos in scientific research, and made it illegal for a school district to have any courses that promote a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity.

Finally, there is the law that has gotten the most attention: Crack down on illegal immigration by requiring police to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally, and making it a state crime to be in the United States illegally.

"We are so far ahead of the other states that they can hardly see us," said Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills.

Others see it differently.

"We have raised the bar on the definition of crazy and ridiculous," said Democratic Rep. Ed Ableser.

The immigration law will become effective in late July, three months after the legislature adjourns, unless opponents succeed in blocking it with a referendum or lawsuits.

Arizona has always been a Republican state, but the ascent of a Republican governor, the creation of publicly funded campaigns, and a lack of competitive legislative districts have combined to make the Arizona Legislature a national pioneer in advancing conservative causes.

Other measures championed by conservatives made it out of one chamber but not the other, such as a bill to require presidential candidates to prove their citizenship to get on Arizona's ballot and a measure giving priority in adoptions to married couples.

In the past, business people largely bankrolled Republicans' campaigns, electing lawmakers who focused on business priorities more than expanding gun rights, fighting illegal immigration and restricting abortions.

But Arizona's decade-old Clean Elections public campaign finance system has given more conservative Republicans an even playing field to compete with business-backed candidates in GOP primaries. All they have to do is collect $5 contributions from 200 voters.

"We've always had fringe candidates around here," said Sen. Ken Cheuvront, a term-limited Phoenix Democrat who spent 16 years in the Legislature. "Before, the business community was able to control them. Now they can't."

For six years, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano's veto pen largely checked the Legislature's conservative agenda.

And while Napolitano crafted compromise state budgets by courting support from Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans, conservatives responded by voting out key GOP moderates in primaries.

Conservative Republican Rep. Warde Nichols of Chandler said he watched the 60-member House move to the right as up to 14 GOP moderates gradually dwindled to just a handful over the past decade.

"The voters are tired of people who are not solid in what they want to do and are jumping both ways," he said.

And just last year, Napolitano's resignation to take a federal Cabinet post gave the governor's office to Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican with strong conservative leanings on social issues and gun rights.

The new Republican governor gave conservatives hope that their priorities would get signed.

"Success begets success," said Rob Dalager, a former senior Senate aide. "People like to be successful, and if they see bills going through and getting signed, they're more likely to join in on them."

Legislative boundaries redrawn after the 2000 Census also have given conservatives a leg up.

The federal Voting Rights Act's protections for minorities led to creation of some districts that concentrated minority Democrats, leaving Republicans with big registration edges in other districts.

But the final product of the Legislature's 2010 session still left some conservatives dissatisfied.

Many lamented the passage of a ballot measure on a temporary sales tax increase and bills allowing state agencies to raise fees.

"Every Republican in Arizona runs as a conservative, but in reality, when they get down here they don't seem to govern like a conservative," said Republican Sen. Ron Gould, among the Senate's most conservative members.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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