Arizona lawmakers have been fighting for years for a land swap bill expected to pass the House this week. But it’s a relative newcomer, freshman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), whose name is atop the legislation, and that attention might pay dividends as he prepares for a tough re-election battle in 2012.
Earlier this year, the Arizona GOP House delegation unanimously decided Gosar should carry the torch on the legislation, and Republican leadership OK’d the call.
Gosar introduced the bill May 13, and the decision was in line with historical precedent. Save for a brief period when former Rep. Rick Renzi (R) was enmeshed in allegations for corruption, lawmakers representing Gosar’s district have championed the legislation, since it will facilitate the construction of a copper mine there if passed. The state’s other Republican Members, Reps. Trent Franks, Jeff Flake, David Schweikert and Ben Quayle, all signed on as co-sponsors the same day it was introduced.
After winning a close race against then-Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) in 2010, Gosar likely faces another electoral challenge next year. He won last year with 50 percent of the vote to Kirkpatrick’s 44 percent. New Congressional lines proposed by Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission would make the district more Democratic, if they hold.
But if Gosar has a legislative victory, such as delivering on a longtime priority for Arizona’s copper mining interests, that is one more weapon he can deploy on the campaign trail.
The measure is even something Gosar and Kirkpatrick see eye to eye on, as she championed the land swap bill during the 111th Congress. The bill also has the advantage of fitting in to the jobs message that Republicans are looking to facilitate. And copper has a special place in Arizona lore, as the mining industry provided an early economic backbone for the state reaching back to its territorial days. The star in the middle of the state flag is copper, for instance.
The latest filings with the Federal Election Commission show Kirkpatrick raised $232,000 during the third quarter while Gosar raised $201,000. Kirkpatrick also has an edge in cash on hand over Gosar by more than $100,000, and she has no debts.
Add in a series of embarrassing troubles Gosar has had with staff turmoil, and there’s a definite case for Republicans to give the first-term lawmaker a big win on the House floor.
Meanwhile, Gosar has voted with GOP leadership on a series of tough votes, including on raising the debt ceiling and on a stopgap spending bill that was defeated on the House floor.
With top-ranking GOP lawmakers saying Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) is looking to reward Members who cooperate with leadership on tough votes, Gosar’s high-profile floor victory this week is the type of thing you might expect to see as a leadership “carrot.”
“The Speaker again has chosen the prudent course and said, ‘Look, we’re not gonna punish them, we’re not gonna make martyrs out of them, but maybe if there’s some major piece of legislation, maybe they’re not the person leading the floor fight on that major piece of legislation,’” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) told Roll Call.
But Gosar vehemently denied that his willingness to back Boehner had anything to do with being chosen to lead the floor fight on a major piece of legislation, calling that idea a “fabrication.” And GOP leadership aides also said the timing of the floor time had nothing to do with Gosar’s cooperative spirit. “It’s a jobs bill,” one source said.
Allies say it’s Gosar’s hard work that’s behind the legislation succeeding now. “This is a guy who goes 500 miles per hour,” said one political consultant who’s been pushing the legislation for six years.
“I think he’s doing very well as a freshman Member,” Franks said.
The legislation still faces major hurdles, including fierce opposition from Congressional liberals and negative appraisals from the administration.
“There’s no net return to the taxpayer,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said, noting additional concerns about environmental reviews and consultation with local Native Americans.
Grijalva noted that Republicans had worked to boost Gosar’s profile with the legislation, but he predicted it would backfire.
“Kirkpatrick backed it, too. It didn’t help her at all,” Grijalva said. “He ran as a fiscal hawk. When taxpayers figure out what deal they’re getting here, he’s going to have some explaining to do.”
Proponents say the bill is a common-sense way to produce jobs in Arizona.
During House floor debate on the rule for the measure Tuesday, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the United States imports copper from several South American countries and could be using its own resources instead.
“We can either create jobs there or we can create jobs in Arizona,” Bishop said.
“This is an extremely important measure for the state of Arizona,” Flake said Tuesday on the House floor.
Grijalva and other opponents have noted that Resolution Copper, the company slated to construct the new copper mine if the bill is signed into law, is foreign-owned.
Grijalva offered an amendment in the Natural Resources Committee in July that would have required the company to hire only Arizona citizens to work at the mine, according to Cronkite News, an Arizona-based news website.
“How about BMW in South Carolina, for example? They only employ foreign workers? No!” Flake said in response to the argument. “Try to tell someone that finally has a paycheck to take home that that is not a real job.”