Veteran lobbyist says ‘giants’ have been missing from the Legislature for decades

Chris Herstam predicts who will be the next senator from Arizona

By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer

If you’ve been around the Arizona Capitol for any amount of time or are a frequent Twitter visitor, you’ve probably met Chris Herstam.

Herstam has been active in Arizona politics for more than 30 years, including as chief of staff and director of communications for Governor Fife Symington: serving an eight-year term on the Arizona Board of Regents, was Director of the Arizona Department of Insurance, and was elected and reelected for eight years to the Arizona House of Representatives.

Herstam, an avid Diamondbacks fan, is a frequent commentator on local television and radio shows to discuss public policy and political issues.

He is employed as a registered lobbyist by the Lewis and Roca firm.

We conducted an email interview with Herstam on Feb. 15.

Chris Herstam

With the plethora issues today in government and politics, it’s hard to decide where to begin, but let’s begin in reaction to school mass killings. Democrats have called for gun controls for decades, yet Republicans fight the issue to stalemate. What can possibly get things off the dime, at, least to the point of banning assault weapons?

The NRA and other gun rights groups own the Republican Party. GOP incumbents realize that if they support gun control measures, they may face primary opposition in the next election. Apparently, many Republican incumbents put saving their political lives above saving human lives. It’s simple, the United States has more guns per person than any other developed country in the world. And our nation’s death rate from shootings is the highest. The states with the strictest gun laws see the fewest gun-related deaths. This isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense. But raw GOP politics often trumps common sense.

You served on the Arizona Board of Regents and no doubt dealt with the on-going annual debates on funding for education. Does “throwing money” at education actually affect the learning process and skills development?

“Throwing money” at K-12 public schools (I prefer the term “investing in public education.”) will result in raising Arizona teacher salaries, which is critical in a state that ranks dead last for teacher salaries and now has the worst teacher shortage in the nation. Without dramatically raising and spending more money on K-12, we will never be able to raise teacher salaries enough to overcome the shortage. Massive amounts of unfilled teacher positions throughout the state is unfair to Arizona public school students.

K-12 funding remains $1 billion under its 2008 pre-recession level. So let’s “throw lots of money” towards public education. Arizona’s future depends on it.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Who will be the next U.S. Senator from Arizona and why?

Kyrsten Sinema will be the next U.S. Senator from Arizona. She is the smartest candidate running for the position, a superb fundraiser and a charismatic politician. She plays the “centrist, bipartisan” card too much for me these days. But, hey, she’s a winner. The only stronger Arizona Democratic candidate would be astronaut Mark Kelly. Hopefully down the road Kelly will run for office. Arizona needs him.

Who will win the National League West and how?

If free agent J.D. Martinez remains a D-back, Arizona can upset the Dodgers. If not, a Wild Card spot will go to the D-backs. I’m hopeful for meaningful baseball games in August and September. Play ball!

You’re a prolific user of social media. Why?

Not really. I’m not on Facebook, or Snapshot, or Linkedin. I just tweet. Intellectually, all I can handle are 140-280 characters. For me, Twitter is a quick news source. At 68 years old, I’m beyond “networking.” I hate that term. “Networking” is faking friendliness in an attempt to put money in your pocket. No thanks.

Let me follow up on that. A gadfly is defined as an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism. Are you a gadfly?

Sometimes.

In what ways has the Legislature changed since you were a member?

When I was a legislator 30 years ago, I was privileged to serve with giants – Burton Barr, Stan Turley, Alfredo Gutierrez, Art Hamilton, Jones Osborn, Jack Jewett. Today’s state legislators can’t hold a candle to those giants. I can’t name one “giant” at the state capitol today. Not one.

The awful Supreme Court decision Citizens United turned the political world upside down. Corporate campaign contributions, often undisclosed, have infected our political process. Many legislators today cast their votes simply to avoid a corporate sponsored opponent in their next primary.   Political fear, as opposed to one’s conscience, too often rules the day.

Getting people to register and getting out the vote are given by Democrats as ways to become legislative and congressional majorities. That makes sense tactically but how better does the party explain what it stands for and what does it stand for in 2018?

In 2018, the Democratic Party stands for maintaining DACA, supporting traditional, neighborhood public schools and our underpaid teachers, expanding the usage of renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuels, reducing Arizona’s horrific poverty rate, reforming our regressive revenue system to make sure it properly funds necessary government services and our basic infrastructure, and the protection of human rights.

Arizona’s changing racial demographics will soon (in 5 to 10 years) change our politics dramatically. Today 19% of the 65+ Arizona population is non-white. 60% of Arizonans under 18 are non-white. The GOP has lost any chance of capturing the “minority” vote for at least a generation or two.

Anything you’d like to add?

As of December 31, 2018 I will be departing from the wonderful Lewis and Roca firm after 22 years. I’ll no longer be a registered lobbyist. Free at last!

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