Arizona lawmakers' annual session starts with hard edge
Associated Press
Feb. 6, 2006


The Arizona Legislature's annual sessions typically begin slowly, with a gradual heating of tempers and rhetoric only as lawmakers focus on budget issues or other big items left for the end.

Not this year.

Instead, the election-year 2006 session that began last month has been contentious from the outset, with front-loaded acrimony over controversial topics like improving programs for students learning the English language and illegal immigration.

Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and majority Republicans have gone head to head over how to comply with a federal court order on the English Language Learning issue and over Napolitano's use of her veto power on that issue and others.

Democratic lawmakers complain that Republicans are playing hardball by deep-sixing even more of the minority's bills than usual. Republicans accuse Napolitano of making an unconstitutional power grab through a line-item veto of a provision in a pay raise bill.

"It's an armed camp," said Sen. Robert Cannell, a Yuma Democrat now in his sixth year in the Legislature. "It's the most political session I've seen."

Republican Gov. Jane Hull's final year in office saw her and the Legislature frequently at odds, recalled Republican Sen. Dean Martin of Phoenix.

"There was not a lot of love but that was nothing compared to what we're seeing now," he said. "Normally it is not this antagonistic this early."

Cannell said Republicans made "a really bad decision" early on to include a private school tuition grant tax credit in the English Language Learning legislation but Napolitano's use of her line-item veto authority exacerbated the situation.

Martin said Napolitano appeared to go out of her way to antagonize lawmakers with vetoes and other tactics to make no-cost campaign points in the press but he acknowledged that Republicans have hardball tactics of their own.

"This is by design, just as we pass up an immigration bill she's going to veto," said Martin.

Whatever the outcome on the ELL issue, things may not cool down at the Legislature because the budget will be divisive as Napolitano and the 90 individual legislators all voice their own priorities for spending the state's $1 billion budget surplus,

"There's 91 different positions," said Barry Aarons, a lobbyist who served as Republican Gov. Fife Symington's chief liaison to the Legislature.

On the bright side, lawmakers have a motive to end their session sooner rather than later, Aarons said. "They all want to go home and campaign."


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