Following the dramatic national Democratic shift on election day, Arizona’s Republican congressional members are trying to identify their roles in the new political scene.
When the 110th Congress is seated on Jan. 22, Democrats will comprise the majority party in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time in more than a decade.
“I’ve been washing Ed Pastor’s car all week and Raul Grijalva’s laundry, just hoping to be treated well,” said Republican Jeff Flake. “It’s a new world.”
It certainly is.
Arizona currently is represented by six Republicans and two Democrats to the U.S. House. That will shift to 4-4 next year.
Flake, a Mesa resident, serves in the majority party alongside J.D. Hayworth of Scottsdale, John Shadegg of Phoenix, Trent Franks of Glendale, Rick Renzi of Flagstaff and Jim Kolbe of Tucson.
Democrats Pastor of Phoenix and Grijalva of Tucson fill out the state’s lame-duck House delegation.
On Nov. 7, though, Democrat Harry Mitchell of Tempe ousted Hayworth, and Democrat Gabriella Giffords of Tucson won the seat being vacated by Kolbe, who is retiring.
The state’s Senate delegation remained unchanged as Republican Jon Kyl won reelection.
Still, Republicans already are finding themselves on the outside looking in.
It appears Congress may turn its attention to immigration reform and the minimum wage early next year, Flake and Kyl said. However, that’s merely their best guess.
Even determining the workload for the remainder of the current Republican-led session is difficult.
Democrats are likely to block any real action, preferring to wait until January when they’ll have the majority, Kyl said.
“For example, are we going to be able to deal with any immigration bill? Unlikely, but still hopeful. Are we going to do anything on death tax? Unlikely, but I still have hope,” he said.
The same holds true for Medicare and taxes, said Kyl, who on Wednesday was named GOP conference chairman, the No. 3 leadership position among Senate Republicans.
Congress may just push through some appropriations and housekeeping measures and call it a year, he said.
Border enforcement and immigration reform were among the top issues in races across Arizona and around the country, but Democratic leaders haven’t indicated how much emphasis those issues will receive next year.
“They’re now talking about environmental laws and minimum wage and some other things. They have all of these ideas and I haven’t heard much about immigration, but maybe they’ll agree that we’ve got to deal with it,” Kyl said.
In May, President Bush proposed a five-step agenda to deal with the topic. Then following a summer of massive pro-immigration demonstrations across the country, Congress stalled on it before elections.
Major provisions of Bush’s proposal:
• Increase border security with more manpower and equipment along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
• Create a guest worker program to fill jobs in the United States for limited periods of time.
• Enforce laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants and create tamperproof identification cards to eliminate uncertainty about job-seekers’ legal status.
• Offer a path to citizenship for the majority of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already living here.
• Honor the tradition of the American melting pot, which unites people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Republicans split on whether to enact Bush’s plan intact or just the border enforcement components. Eventually, Bush got just border enforcement legislation. Democrats generally favored the broader plan. They could take up the issue anew, said Flake, who cosponsored a House bill modeled on Bush’s proposal.
“I hope that this illusion that we were going to pass something substantive with just Republican votes is now gone. I think it was always an illusion, but it was one that some people believed. We know it’s got to be bipartisan, and now we’ve got a shot at getting a bipartisan bill,” Flake said.
In the meantime, Kyl would like to see a short-term, limited-scope guest worker program enacted that would allow foreign laborers to work agricultural fields in Yuma County.
“The idea is just to show that something like that can work, while at the same time providing a labor force that is absolutely essential in that area,” Kyl said.
Proposed legislation already is written, but Kyl is uncertain whether there is enough political desire to advance it. “I don’t know. I just don’t know,” he said.