I was elected to the Arizona State House of Representatives in 2010. I entered office with a lot of ideas, fortified by a similarly long list of principles. The following two years have taught me what happens when ideas and principles meet head-on not just with competing beliefs but also with individual self-interest, whipped into a frenzy by forces armed with money and power.
In some ways, Arizona’s 50th legislative session has much to be proud of. Hard decisions were made that will have long ranging positive impacts on social, judicial, and economic policies. No question, our greatest achievement was, for the second consecutive year, we delivered a structurally balanced budget under our Republican leadership. I am especially gratified that the budget increases our investment in education by nearly $200 million, while also putting $450 million into a rainy day fund.
Allow me a moment to take note of the legislation I sponsored that became law. House Bill 2644, recognized as the one of the top ten pro-business bills by the National Federation of Independent of Business, stipulated that the state of Arizona cannot accept federal funds if, as a condition of accepting those funds, preference must be given to hiring union labor.
House Bill 2826, which consolidates local candidate elections to coincide with our fall, statewide election cycle, will not only cut down on the never-ending rotation of electioneering signs cluttering our front yards and streets (I have nothing against planting signs for a few months before each election – mine will soon be up! – but not as a permanent part of the landscape), it is also being heralded as the public’s best weapon against special interest group influence in selecting our officials. When voter turnout is low – as in the 2011 Phoenix mayoral election, when only 27% of voters bothered to show up at the polls – those with money and a special interest in the outcome can easily sway the outcome. Consolidating elections also reduces, and by hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost of staging them.
The history of this bill is instructive. It probably seems to you that this idea is not only nonpartisan, but overflowing with common sense. Simplify the process, save taxpayer money, increase turnout, creating a more representative government – all the basic things we all agree on. Scottsdale, already on the state schedule, has enjoyed considerable savings from the move, and experienced increased voter turnout from 30% to as high as 85%. Polls showed that republicans, democrats and independents overwhelmingly supported it.
Despite that, opposition to the bill was fierce and unyielding, driven by a mix of personal posturing within the legislature, that had nothing to do with the bill and more about settling scores, and incessant lobbying outside, driven by the League of Cities and Towns, which would surely face a loss of power if the bill passed. This utterly nonpartisan issue became entirely partisan, with all Democrats voting against it, and almost all Republicans voting for it.
But that’s the way it goes. As Bismarck is credited with saying, “Laws are like sausages – it is better not to see them being made.”
Regardless, I am grateful for the chance to serve in the House. The Republican Leadership named me Chair of the important Government Committee, making me one of only three first-termers to be appointed chair of a House committee. In addition to that post, I also served as Chair of the Sub-Appropriations Committee, in the course of which I spent months in the trenches helping draft the framework for not only the current budget, but also for future budgets.
I hope that my constituents find me faithful to the cause of a smaller and more efficient government, while preserving our rights and freedoms. I look forward to another opportunity to serve the people of my district and of the state of Arizona. It is an honor, a privilege, and a duty like no other.
-Rep. Michelle Ugenti, District 23