Arizona Speaker Must Be Reminded He Needs Members’ Support

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers

The Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives are in disarray only weeks before the opening of the 2021 legislative session.

Those folks that pay attention to what is happening at our state legislature and those who care about the future of our state are watching in dismay as mayhem unfolds at the House of Representatives.

If there is a time when Republicans can afford the luxury of squabbling and infighting, this is definitely not the time.

A perfect illustration of this behavior is the exchange that recently took place between Speaker Rusty Bowers and Representative Bret Roberts.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that Roberts, along with 14 other Republican legislators, requested that Maricopa County conduct a hand count of votes based on the provisions of AZ Revised Statute 16-602.

The issue here is not whether such hand count would have affected the results of the election. The 15 legislators were perfectly correct in pointing out the discrepancies between the statute and the Elections Procedures Manual. This is a discrepancy that must be corrected during the upcoming session.

The real issue is the way that the Speaker reacted to the actions of Mr. Roberts and the other 14 legislators. Regardless of who is right or who is wrong, the Speaker’s response was totally inappropriate and very counterproductive. Blackballing and withholding of committee assignments are not likely to foment unity and cooperation, just the opposite.

It may not be clear where the Speaker is getting his advice, but what is perfectly clear is that someone should remind him that he has only a one vote majority over the Democrats. If he has an agenda favoring the will of the majority, he needs a 100% rate of support in his caucus. Let us take a closer look at what he is facing.

The split in the House of Representatives is 31 Republicans and 29 Democrats. In order for any bill to pass, it must have a majority of the whole chamber, not a majority of those voting. That means 31 YES votes. Assuming a partisan split, which is often the case with controversial bills, the Speaker must have all 31 Republican votes. If only one Republican decides not to vote, the bill will not pass. That gives veto power to every one of the 31 Republican members. Under those circumstances, and if the Speaker wants to advance the Republican agenda, why would he even consider alienating anyone in his caucus?

Perhaps Mr. Bowers will see the light and reconsider his position regarding the withholding of committee assignments and other measures against the members that disagree with him on this topic. Those of us who care about the future of our state are hoping that he does so.

For our readers convenience, here is a copy of the exchange between Mr. Bowers and Mr. Roberts, as submitted to the AZ Daily Independent.

From: Russell Bowers <RBowers@azleg.gov>
Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2020 12:01 PM
Subject: Setting the record straight

Dear Colleagues:

I write to you to set the record straight regarding the greatly mischaracterized account that Representative Roberts yesterday Tweeted about an exchange we had regarding his letter that called for a hand recount and audit of all votes in Maricopa County. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read what he wrote here: https://twitter.com/BretRbrts/status/1329197703675273218 and here: https://twitter.com/BretRbrts/status/1329197704442900480.

I want you to know what I know, and that is that Mr. Roberts came into my conference room during a leadership meeting I was holding with Representatives Toma, Cobb, and Nutt, and members of senior staff.

Only minutes earlier, I had been handed his letter and I asked our general counsel to come in to review it with us. Inaccuracies were identified. I suggested to Mr. Roberts that if he and any caucus members wanted to sign and publish the letter, he ought to first ensure it was accurate.

Mr. Roberts disagreed there were inaccuracies, saying he had consulted with unnamed attorneys and had also run it by the House Rules Attorneys. (Let me say, I strongly caution members against using the non-partisan Rules Office for political purposes.)

I expressed that we should let the legal cases currently pending in the courts play out and be decided before making judgments ourselves. I also said that, while legal, it was inappropriate to include the signature of a member-elect on an official member letter.

I told Mr. Roberts that while I would not sign the letter, he was free to do as he wished, as could others, but my opinion was it would be ill advised of him to proceed.

Mr. Roberts then changed subjects and said he had originally come to talk to me about committee assignments. I told him that I had already talked to the committee chairs, vice chairs, and other members, and I would issue my assignment list shortly.

It is unknown to me why Mr. Roberts felt it was necessary to go on Twitter and publicly mischaracterize our discussion, especially since it was witnessed by others. If it was in reaction to my decision regarding committee membership, it speaks to a matter of temperament and confidence, which I must assess in my selection of these positions of power.

Russell W. “Rusty” Bowers
Speaker of the House
Arizona House of Representatives
602-926-3128 – rbowers@azleg.gov

On Nov 20, 2020, at 10:27 AM, Bret Roberts <BRoberts@azleg.gov> wrote:

Members,

Some of you know this and some may not. I come from a background where integrity means everything. I assure you I carry it with me every day. I will be happy to discuss with any of you the conversation and the chain of events that led up to it on Monday, individually or in a caucus meeting.

The accusation of mischaracterizing while simultaneously mischaracterizing is a tactic I have become used to seeing from the likes of Pelosi, AOC and just about any other member the party we refer to as the “Other side of the Isle”. I suppose we will need to get used to the idea of it coming from within as well.

The insinuation of retaliation in response to committee assignments escapes me. The Speaker and his staff may live in a world where decisions on policy and whether to speak out on that policy are driven by such petty concerns, I do not.

Frankly, if this were about retaliation, which it is not, why would it be directed towards the Speaker at all? I think we all know he is not the one making the decisions. Don’t we?

Election integrity and the public’s confidence in our election system should be issues that supersede partisanship or any single election outcome. It is clear to me that there are a massive number of Arizonans who think there was a problem with this election. Have we held any caucus meetings to discuss this? No. Have we even contemplated holding a hearing to look into this? No. I believe our constituents deserve answers – even if those answers are not the ones they want to hear. Burying our collective heads in the sand and hoping this will all blow over is short-sighted and an abdication of our duty. I do not want to see that happen and I do not think you do either.

Regards,
Representative
Bret M. Roberts
Member, 54th Legislature
Legislative District 11
1700 W. Washington
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Room 344
T: (602) 926-3158
E:  BRoberts@azleg.gov