11/8/2012 3:15:00 PM Pierce out, Biggs in as GOP picks new legislative leadership
At left, newly elected majority whip Adam Driggs and majority leader John McComish discuss priorities for the upcoming legislative session Wednesday with reporters. Sen. Andy Biggs (right), R-Gilbert, was selected Wednesday by his Republican colleagues to be the new Senate president. (Capitol Media Services photos by Howard Fischer)
Newly elected Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff (District 6), left, is welcomed Wednesday to the organizational meeting of House Republicans by Rep. Rick Gray of Sun City. The caucus, during a closed-door session, elected Gray as majority whip. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
PHOENIX -- A smaller Republican majority in the Senate ousted incumbent president Steve Pierce of Prescott on Friday, replacing him with Andy Biggs from Gilbert.
The 9-8 vote behind closed doors came on the heels of several Republicans being less than pleased with Pierce who had formed his own political action committee to spread around financial help. But that committee got involved in some GOP primaries and then did not support several Republican nominees locked in tight races.
Republicans maintain control of the Senate, but with only a 17-13 edge and not the 21-9 they had before.
Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, was vocal about how some senators who did get elected felt about all that.
"There are three missing people here,' he said: incumbent Frank Antenori and challengers Tyler Mott and Joe Ortiz. Antenori and Mott are from Tucson; Ortiz is from Casa Grande.
"All three of them should have been in that room (where the leadership was chosen) if the Victory Fund had been properly spent,' Melvin complained. And he said that was designed to put Pierce's interests above that of the GOP caucus.
"It seemed to me a calculated effort for a smaller majority that might go one way rather than a larger majority of 20 that would have been good for the party,' he said.
Pierce would not discuss any of that after leaving the meeting, other than to say he had showed up Wednesday with the necessary nine votes in his pocket.
"Someone lied to me,' he said.
There was no such major shift in the House, where it appears that Democrats also picked up at least two and possibly as many as four seats: The Republicans who remain the majority reelected Andy Tobin of Paulden to run that chamber for the next two years.
Biggs is generally perceived to be somewhat more conservative on fiscal issues than Pierce. But the new president was loath to spell out how things will be different under his leadership, other than to say he will consider the views of all elected Republicans.
"What my intention is that we want to be very inclusive with our members,' he said.
"We have fewer members as you know,' Biggs continued. "We have disparate districts that we represent. We want to make sure that everybody can have a say and participate.'
Biggs also said he was not adverse to working with the somewhat stronger Democratic caucus, saying he has "an excellent relationship with most of the Democrats that have been there.'
That presumes, however, that bipartisanship will be necessary.
Newly elected Senate Majority Leader John McComish of Phoenix pointed out that he was in the House when the Republican edge was just one more than the 31 needed to approve legislation. He said those closer margins force Republicans to cooperate more with each other, saying the smaller edge is "back to business as usual.'
McComish also sought to minimize any belief that the election of Biggs signals a move toward the right in the GOP caucus.
He pointed to his own election, replacing Antenori who was considered far more conservative, as well as the selection of Adam Driggs, also of Phoenix, as majority whip. Both aligned themselves with more moderate elements of the caucus, notably when they helped beat back efforts to enact new measures aimed at illegal immigration.
But Driggs said that does not mean internal conflicts.
"It's going to be a unified team,' he said.
McComish said he's not expecting any major changes in the GOP agenda.
"The priorities are going to be what they have been: the economy, jobs, education, health care, not in any particular order,' he said.
Tobin, who handily defeated Steve Smith for speaker, echoed a similar theme. He said whatever the Republican-controlled Legislature had been doing so far, in cooperating with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, seems to be working, with the state moving from near last in the rate of job creation to near the top.
David Gowan of Sierra Vista was selected to be House majority leader, with Rick Gray of Sun City elected to the whip position.