By Eric Burk
SAFFORD –Arizona State Representative Drew John was the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the Graham County Republican Party committee, Friday. About 30 people were present at the lunch at the Manor House, including a number of local leaders from towns and cities in Graham and Greenlee counties.
After the committee leadership discussed a few business items, John spoke about his experiences in his first two months in the Legislature. Following his speech, he answered questions and spoke with attendees. John served as a Graham County Supervisor until 2016, but in January he began his first term as a legislator, representing Legislative District – 14 in southeastern Arizona.
In his speech, John said he was surprised at the lack of cooperation between Republican and Democratic representatives, with House votes consistently split along party lines.
“There’s 35 Republicans and 25 Democrats, and if you’ll ever just flip through the bills, you’ll see votes: 35-25, 35-25; I mean, it’s unbelievable,” John said.
Even on seemingly non-partisan bills, John said there was little cooperation between parties, especially in his first seven weeks. John is trying to work across the aisle when he can, focusing on the unique needs of his mostly rural district. He is a former Democrat, who served four terms as such as Graham County District One Supervisor. He switched his party affiliation to Republican in 2014, creating the only time the three Graham County Supervisors were all Republican. Democrat Paul David was elected to John’s former seat last November, edging out Republican candidate Jarom Lunt. The current other two Supervisors, Jim Palmer and Danny Smith, are Republicans.
John wants to limit the amount of new legislation passed by the Legislature, and takes pride in the number of bills he votes against. John showed a list of six legislators he counts on to help him defeat bills, calling them his “hit list.” He added that since he sits right in front of several Democrats in the House, he often also coordinates with them to defeat specific bills.
He related a story about helping to defeat Republican-led HB 2325, which would redefine greenhouses larger than 100,000 square feet as personal property, potentially driving property values down. John knew that by calling “division” after a vote was taken, a legislator could force a standing role call vote to be taken, placing greater pressure on other legislators and nullifying the previous vote. He said he turned to a Democratic legislator seated behind him to enlist her support to kill the bill.
“I turned around to my little firecracker behind me, a little short Mexican gal, cute as a bug,” John said. “I call her my little firecracker, and I turned to her and I said, ‘Hey, little firecracker, holler division,’ and she did. She stood up and hollered, ‘Division.’”
When the standing role call vote was taken, the bill failed, 30-26, with four representatives not voting. Nine Republicans voted against the bill, including John and his fellow LD-14 representative, Becky Nutt.
In a conversation after the meeting, John said his days at the Legislature are packed, leaving him little time to watch the news. He was surprised when Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner contacted him to discuss the multiple I-10 detours through Greenlee and Graham counties. The Arizona Department of Public Safety ordered the detours in response to poor visibility on I-10 caused by dust from fields near Bowie.
Last year when similar detours occurred, John was especially concerned about the effect on communities like Bowie and San Simon.
“People think, ‘Wow, we’re bringing all this traffic through here, it’s causing the hardship on the road,’” John said. “Well, what they forget about is a place like Bowie, Arizona, in my district, that has no cars, and what happens to their businesses if it lasts a week? There’s some businesses hanging on day to day, and all of a sudden their traffic stops.”
This year, safety with the heavy semi-truck traffic is an additional concern. As the vice-chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John is well placed to work on the problem. He is talking with the Arizona Department of Transportation to find specific solutions that they can implement and recommend to Governor Doug Ducey.
John says that kind of personal, district-focused work is what he enjoys most about his new job.
“It is really neat to be able to represent your family, your schoolteachers, your coaches, your neighbors, people you grew up with,” he said.
“It is so neat to know that I can call Jerry Fink in Benson and say, ‘Jerry, what do you think about this?’ Or I can call Kathy in Bowie and say, ‘How’s this affect you?’”
Attendee Lolene Brandau expressed optimism about John’s ability to work for LD-14 in the Legislature.
“He’s got the character to stand up,” she said.
Brandau added that with John and Nutt working together, the region should benefit.
“Now I think things are going to get a little bit better,” she said.