Welcome to the first Capitol Watch. In this series, we’ll take you into the halls and offices of the Arizona Legislature—the legislators, the issues, and the bills affecting tribal communities making their way through the process. In future Capitol Watches, legislators will speak about their issues and bills, tribal bill progress will be tracked, and community members will talk about their issues.
The 45th Arizona Legislature proves to be especially intriguing, as one-third of its 90 members are new. The term limit law prohibits a legislator from serving more than four two-year terms in one office. However, this does not prohibit a legislator from switching houses, including former Representative John Verkamp (R-Flagstaff), who won a Senate seat.
Districts 2 and 3, which serve the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab-Paiute and San Juan Southern Paiute lands, saw a large turnover this year. In District 2, veteran legislator John Verkamp will be joined by freshman Representatives Jim Sedillo (D-Flagstaff) and Tom O’Halleran (R-Sedona). District 3 Senator Jack Jackson (D-Window Rock) and Representative Sylvia Laughter (D-Kayenta) will have fellow Navajo Albert Tom (D-Chambers) as a legislative partner.
The Capitol Watch has already spoken with five of the six District 2 and 3 legislators, and will be in contact with them throughout the session. All the legislators contacted expressed interest in working with tribal communities to enact bills that will enhance health, transportation, education and other issues on tribal lands. Rep. Tom, speaking with Capitol Watch at an Indian Town Hall meeting, is especially keen on helping all five Indian tribes/nations in his district.
Senator Jackson and Representative Laughter have already pre-filed (filed before the start of the session) several bills favorable to tribal issues.
The 45th Legislature also has new leadership, with Senator Randall Gnant (R-Scottsdale) taking the helm as Senate President and Representative Jim Weiers (R-Glendale) serving as House Speaker. The Senate is now split 15-15, which may prove to be helpful for tribal bills. Also, President Gnant formed a coalition of all 15 Democratic and six Republican senators. The House saw its Republican majority reduced to 36-24. All these factors, along with the disastrous alternative-fuel scandal, should make for an interesting session as legislators wrangle with increased public scrutiny.
How can tribes influence the Legislature?
Experts in legislative matters recommend these steps to help your bill or issue get a fair hearing at the Legislature:
Get to know your legislator. You don’t have to be a professional lobbyist or lawyer to talk with legislators; lawmakers want to hear from their constituents. Call or write them, catch them on the street, or attend events where a legislator is scheduled to be, and you’ll find them easy to approach.
Know your issue. You are the expert on your issue. You know about conditions in your community better than anyone else. Use this knowledge when you speak with your legislator.
Make your point in five minutes or less. Legislators are very busy people, and the faster you can explain your issue, the better chance that your issue will be acted upon.
Follow through with another phone call, letter or email. If your legislator knows that you care enough about your issue to make repeated contacts, they won’t forget your issue.
Get at least four other people to contact the legislator. Capitol Watch has found that as few as five phone calls, letters or emails will bring an issue to the attention of a legislator. The more contacts, the better the chance of your issue being heard.
Follow the progress of your bill. This is not as hard as it seems; several agencies have bill tracking services. The Commission of Indian Affairs (ACIA) tracks bills on its Web site, GOTOBUTTON BM_1_ www.indianaffairs.state.az.us, as well as the Legislature and the Arizona Capitol Times.
The Legislature creates a new Indian Affairs Committee
On December 28, 2000, House Speaker Weiers announced in Window Rock that he would create an Indian Affairs Committee to hear tribal-related bills. This committee replaces the old Rural and Native American Affairs Committee. The committee will be chaired by Rep. Laughter, and the formal announcement will be made on January 11 during Indian Nations and State Legislative Day in Phoenix.
Indian leaders hail this new committee as another sign that the Arizona State Government is serious in working with tribes, as Governor Jane Dee Hull stated in a December 1999 interview with the ACIA Newsletter.
How to contact your legislators
Send mail to all legislators at:
Arizona State Legislature
1700 W. Washington Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Senator: John Verkamp
Represenatives: Tom O’Halloran
Senator: Jack Jackson
Representatives: Sylvia Laughter
ACIA assists community members and tribes with technical assistance in bill passage. Call us at (602) 542-3123 or see our Web site at www.indianaffairs.state.az.us.
Next week: a wrapup of Indian Nations and State Legislative Day, an over view of current tribal bills, and an interview with Albert Yazzie of Wide Ruins Community School.