Hot mic captures Arizona GOP lawmakers’ frustration with colleagues
Arizona House Republicans were caught on a hot microphone on Thursday discussing how to penalize two of their colleagues for not going along with the state budget.
An audio clip of the meeting, obtained by The Arizona Republic, features multiple members of the House GOP suggesting bills from two lawmakers not get hearings next year.
The hot mic incident comes after weeks of tension among Republicans at the legislature, where a budget plan has stalled out as multiple GOP lawmakers held out their votes over issues they wanted addressed.
Sens. Paul Boyer and Heather Carter, in particular, seem to have angered their Republican colleagues.
The clip also suggests that some lawmakers could be interested in pursuing an ethics inquiry involving Boyer and Carter, which was confirmed by a lawmaker present at the meeting.
Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said there needed to be “repercussions” for Boyer and Carter opposing the budget. There’s another legislative session coming next year, he said, which is sure to include bills and other requests from Boyer and Carter.
Toma chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
“I guarantee, I’m in no mood to hear a Carter bill ever in a Ways and Means world, or a Boyer bill for that matter, or anybody else who sticks with them on this,” Toma said.
“I’ve got kids, you guys know that. Once you give in and there are no repercussions, you’ve encouraged all kinds of bad behaviors. There has to be repercussions of some kind.”
Toma told The Republic he was upset by how the budget process has been hung up with non-budget bills.
Boyer, a Phoenix Republican, has refused to vote in favor of a budget unless the legislature increases the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits.
“It is highly unfortunate and really irresponsible and really selfish for Sen. Boyer to make this non-budget issue a budget issue,” Toma said.
Toma said despite his comments in Thursday’s meeting, he would decide issues based on policy in the future.
Still, he added, “To the extent that there are priorities for individuals that have abused their position, that might influence my decision on whether or not I support those priorities.”
He doesn’t hold grudges, he said, and he expects tensions to cool.
“As much as I might have, in the heat of the moment, talked something big, I think it was more bluster.”
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Ethics violation discussed?
The audio clip picks up in the middle of a conversation during a GOP caucus meeting closed to the public on Thursday. The clip includes a brief mention of an “ethics violation,” although it is not clear from the audio that the lawmakers under discussion were Boyer and Carter.
“If we were going to do an ethics violation, I think the thing to do would be to point out that part in the statute and take it to them personally first and give them that opportunity to address the issue, to fix the problem without making it public, but let them know that that is the next step,” Republican Rep. Michelle Udall of Mesa said.
Udall did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, confirmed that lawmakers discussed an ethics complaint against the two GOP senators.
She said before the part of the conversation caught on the recording, some lawmakers were talking about filing an ethics complaint against Boyer and Carter. Townsend said she was trying to “soften” the conversation.
Bill battle divides lawmakers
The debate over Boyer’s statute of limitations issue has grown sour, with a separate bill being introduced by House GOP leaders that did not meet Boyer’s preferences.
Carter has sided with Boyer, saying the Legislature needed to address the issue before she would approve a budget. But she separately has said the budget did not include several items she had expected to see, including funding that had previously passed favorably through the Senate appropriations committee.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, aligned with Toma on blocking Boyer and Carter bills in the future.
“I think we have a chairmans’ revolt,” she said during the closed meeting.
Chairmen of committees could refuse to hear the bills, Townsend said, which would be the “greatest leverage” lawmakers have available.
“I don’t think it harms us in the press,” she said.
Asked about her comments, Townsend said blocking another lawmaker’s bills would penalize them in an “effective way” that wouldn’t damage the lawmaker.
“I’d hate to see us cannibalizing each other or turning on each other,” she said. “If they’re going to do something, this is more viable.”
She added that she wasn’t sure if anyone came up “with the appropriate answer” in the closed-caucus meeting.
Townsend herself has said she would vote against the K-12 budget bill if a separate measure she revived, which would punish school districts for political speech, doesn’t pass.
Townsend defended holding out for that measure.
“I’m not holding anything hostage in that I’m trying to get millions of dollars for something,” she said.
Boyer: It’s like junior high
Boyer told The Republic he’s already seeing some of the behavior discussed during the closed meeting. He has a bill related to funding for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind that’s been stuck.
“I guess it shows how desperate they are and how petty they are,” Boyer said.
He said if his bills get blocked, it’s not harming him personally; it’s harming constituents. He said he’s not yet thinking of how he will do his job next year, but blocking his bills could hinder his ability to work.
“If they block it just because of the name, that’s petty beyond belief,” Boyer said. “It really feels like junior high. That’s probably an insult to junior highers.”
For her part, Carter said she plans to keep doing her job.
“It’s really unfortunate that some people are choosing to make this personal,” she said. “I like to focus on policy. I’m focusing on policy now and I’m going to continue focusing on policy.”
Lawmakers want to move budget
Several lawmakers in the meeting expressed frustration with the budget process and seemed ready to finish the session, with or without the Senate.
“Let’s do our jobs as a team and pass this freaking budget, and send it to the Senate to do their job,” Rep. Walter Blackman said.
Rep. Mark Finchem threw out a potential tactic: Just start moving budget bills.
“If we begin to move those bills, Carter and Boyer are going to look at each other and say, ‘Holy crap, what do they know that we don’t know,’” he said.
After more than six minutes of conversation, lawmakers figured out there was a hot mic in the room where they were meeting.
“OK gang, somebody’s got a mic on in the room,” House Speaker Rusty Bowers said.
The feed was subsequently cut.
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