PCDS Next Generation Politics Chapter Meeting with Arizona Senator Kate Brophy McGee, November 30, 2017, 4-5PM

Earlier this week, the Phoenix Country Day School Chapter of Next Generation Politics met with Arizona Senate member Kate Brophy McGee for a student forum. Having heard from a Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives at its last event, the chapter decided to expose its members to new perspectives, this time meeting with a Republican member of the Arizona Senate. Answers to some of the chapter’s questions to the Senator are below.

[Note: All notes are paraphrased except where quoted.]

Question: What’s been your experience in political transition from the Arizona House to the Senate?

Answer: It was a huge culture change.  Everything in the Senate moves more slowly, but the people there are much more experienced.  The House is much more chaotic and lends itself to “ramble-style operations.”   The one good thing I found out right away: The Senate is not much into “speechifying,” while the House could go for hours and hours.  

Question: Are party lines more defined in the House?

Answer: The Senate seems more collegial.  As a moderate Republican, I feel that there are overall very few of us, and things are very polarized.   People seem like they spend more time being angry with each other than not, and that’s been a big disappointment.  In the 1980s, there were a lot of bipartisan votes, and there are far fewer today, and this trend has been moving from the federal to the state level.  I was one of the Medicaid expansion Republicans, for example, but this was controversial, because neither side wants the other side to get a win.

Question: What was your role in the Medicaid expansion? [Medicaid Restoration and Expansion to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare]

Answer: We were given the option to expand coverage within the state to 138% of the federal poverty level.  Most of my conservative colleagues were dead-set against any “expansion of Obamacare.”  However, I knew that we stood to lose coverage of Arizona’s poorest.  It became clear that the intent was to get out of session without ever considering the matter.  Governor Brewer called a special session and included expansion of Medicaid in budget bills.  These eventually passed with little Republican support.  My participation made a lot of my Republican friends very angry with me.

Question: What are some of the differences in responsibility between being a state Senator and Representative?

Answer: The impact and power of your vote doubles in the Senate.  My decisions have been much more high-stakes than I’d realized they would be.

Question: I’ve lived here since the 1980s, and I’ve known your name that long, but that’s when term limits were introduced.  What have term limits yielded?

Answer: I thought term limits were a good idea at first, but I’m not so sure anymore.  There’s so much turnover in the ranks of House and Senate that leadership doesn’t have the sway and the discipline that they once did.  There’s got to be a better compromise, maybe a term limit of more years, because without institutional knowledge and leadership’s control of the members, “it can be Dodge City very quickly.”  I also thought the “Clean Elections” initiative was a good idea at first, but that’s also where the extremes started to come in on both sides, inviting “way far-out ideologues” among both Democrats and Republicans.

Brophy continues: I started out on the Washington Elementary school board, and that’s the way I got into politics initially.  I got a taste of policy and decision-making, and I found that I really enjoyed it.  But when I saw the things “raining upon us from on high” (like the “No Child Left Behind” Act) I decided I needed to go one step up in influence.  With experience on the school board and on a Homeowners’ Association (HOA), I was accustomed to looking at things from a policy perspective, rather than a strictly partisan one.

Question: What made you join the Republican Party?

Answer: It was the way I was voting, and it was confirmed with my first paycheck, with all that was withheld in taxes.  My biggest interest is in the welfare of kids, and frankly, I think Republicans have better ideas in terms of education.

Question: Do your beliefs align with Betsy DeVos’s?

Answer: I’m not sure what her beliefs are, but you have to look at what the statutory and financial structure is locally, and it’s “hard to apply Betsy to that.”  Our financing structure right now is very flawed and antiquated.   Nobody, including me, understands it.  A better use of experts’ time would be to make it simpler.  Our statutory construct was last re-written in the 1980s, before there was any classroom technology to speak of.  We are very good at school choice in Arizona, and Betsy DeVos does support that.

Question: Do you find it hard to push education reform, with all the political disagreement?

Answer: It’s “darn-near impossible.”  I got deeply involved in re-writing the child safety statutes, and that was a huge undertaking.  Education is even tougher, because everyone has a different idea about how to fix things.  I think we’re making progress, because I was considering all the dollars we’ve managed to put back into education, and it’s pretty significant since the 2008 recession began.

Question: Do you believe that the Democrats and Republicans in Arizona agree or disagree about educational policy?

Answer: Education funding and financing is a big problem and a big source of disagreement.  The biggest fight is over how to pay teachers, in part because the Democrats are so tied to the Teachers’ Union, and thus to the public schools.

Question: If we were to give you a magic wand, what would you do for education in Arizona?

Answer: I just started back on the education committee.  What I’ve decided is that it is so complicated and convoluted.  I would simplify our educational system, and then I’d fund it to “a certain level per student.”  I think that would eliminate the fight over vouchers.

Question: Where would you choose to take money in order to fund education?

Answer: We have a lot of people in the Senate who don’t want to raise taxes, but Proposition 123 has helped.  There’s talk about renewing Proposition 301, a 0.6% sales tax that is soon to expire.  I’m also working on another concept.  If the tax cuts take place at the federal level, it will free up revenue at the state and local level.  [Note from Reynolds: I think this is what she said, but I’m not sure, and I’m not sure how she arrived at this conclusion.]

Question: What are your feelings on vouchers?

Answer: I don’t think Arizona needs them, because we have so much school choice now.  I call charter schools “brick and mortar vouchers.”  I wouldn’t mind it if the different choices—district and charter schools—were funded differently.

Question from McGee for students: What made you all join this club?

[Students answer: Passion about politics, interest in “learning the other side,” etc.]

McGee continues: I talked with a student who was upset about the DACA decision.  But that student didn’t understand where DACA came from originally.  I was trying to teach the value of problem solving, but the only way to address a problem is to understand how the problem came to be.  (In the case of DACA, it was an executive order by Barack Obama that was never approved by Congress, and is being challenged in the courts.)  My advice is don’t bring to the table things that make you angry.  Instead, bring knowledge of the issues that can be agreed upon.

Question: How do you feel about the issue of net neutrality?

Answer: My very conservative son thinks that the law that’s up for a vote is a good thing, because he doesn’t want corporations to control the flow of information on the internet.  My younger son, who is generally less conservative, agrees with Ajit Pai’s plans to deregulate the internet.  “It seems to be a politically-aligned issue.”

Mr. Guthrie interjects: Perspectives seem to be based on “first principles.”  Either a person believes that any government regulation is bad for innovation and efficiency, while free enterprise is good, or vice versa.  [However, McGee’s sons seem not to fit this mold.]

Question: The severity of climate change seems to be agreed upon just about everywhere in the world, regardless of political loyalties.  What sets the Republican Party in this country apart from world opinion on climate change?

Answer: I wouldn’t typify it as “the Republican Party.”  There are arguments to be made about it on both sides.  [At this point, McGee says there is a “tie-in” with climate change and religion, but was unclear to me what she meant.]  From a very parochial viewpoint, there are many problems that are afflicting Arizona and the United States.  While climate change is a problem and ongoing, in my worldview it is farther down and not as important as other issues.  I just think there are other problems that are more pressing.

Question: When it comes to problem solving, when a new issue comes up for you, how do you learn about it?

Answer: There are Senate staffers and legal staffers.  I call all the interests that I believe will be impacted by a bill, I give them a copy, and I try to identify who will be impacted, get them into the room, and work with them to “pull together a solution.”  I like consensus bills.