The people of Congressional District 8 had a no-lose vote before them on the Nov. 4 ballot. They had two high-quality candidates vying to serve them in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It’s a shame both candidates couldn’t win, as both have proven themselves to be excellent public servants. Of course, there could be only one victor. The voters returned Democrat Gabrielle Giffords for a second term.
But her opponent deserves a huge measure of public gratitude for all he’s done.
State Sen. Tim Bee, a Tucson Republican, has been a voice for reason and common sense in a Legislature sorely lacking in both. He was a strong advocate for and protector of the interests of southern Arizona.
Believe me when I say we’ll feel the loss soon. When the House and Senate held their post-election meetings last week, no lawmaker from this region was selected to fill any of the majority party leadership roles in either body.
Bee was elected in 2000 and elevated to majority leader in 2003. For the last two years, he has served as a Senate president and proved himself unafraid of shaking up the status quo. As one of his first acts as president, Bee fired four senior Senate staffers because they were wielding more authority than some of the senators.
In 2007, Bee took the unprecedented step of bringing Democrats to the table early in the budgeting process. It brought a temporary halt to the annual routine of the Republicans in the Legislature passing a budget with few if any votes from Democrats, followed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoing said budget, leading to a final round of name-calling before all parties finally forged an acrimonious compromise.
“I thought, ‘this is ridiculous,’” Bee said in an interview last week. “We should have everybody working together from the very beginning.”
This year, when Republicans in the Legislature couldn’t come to agreement among themselves on a budget, Bee crossed the aisle, along with a handful of other Republicans, to pass a budget with the Democrats and prevent a shutdown of state government.
He has supported increased funding for education at all levels, sponsored legislation benefiting victims of domestic violence and put forth the legislation that made human smuggling a state crime.
Bee’s advocacy for southern Arizona has been unrivaled in its effectiveness.
He supported state funding for trauma centers, including University Medical Center. He was a sponsor of the legislation that made possible southern Arizona’s major transportation improvement initiative, the Regional Transportation Authority.
He pushed the tax increment financing legislation that will keep hundreds of millions of state sales tax dollars in Tucson to develop downtown. He supported the appropriation of more than $500 million (over several years) for bioscience research and infrastructure at the University of Arizona and the Translational Genomics Research Institute.
When Maricopa County tried to hijack money headed to southern Arizona for a $17.7 million regional crime lab, Bee prevented it from happening. He sponsored a successful bill committing the state to spend $10 million on a state veterans’ home in Tucson.
Bee fought off multiple attempts to close the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at UA, telling Phoenix legislators that if they’re so hell-bent on consolidating the state’s poison centers they can close the one in Maricopa County.
“You can’t get these things done if you’re not in a position of leadership,” Bee said.
Some Arizonans (myself included) were disappointed that Bee sponsored the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that was referred by the Legislature to the ballot and passed by voters last week. But it would be unfair to dismiss his long list of accomplishments based on that alone.
Bee, who closed his printing business to devote himself full time to the Legislature, said he’s been too busy to give much thought to what he’ll do after his Senate term concludes at the end of the year.
“My desire,” he said, “is to continue to help southern Arizona and use my expertise and knowledge of state government to help us be successful in getting these southern Arizona initiatives (moving) forward.”
Bee made it clear he’s not done with politics.
“I definitely would consider running for office again at some point in time,” he said, adding that he hasn’t ruled out a repeat run at the District 8 seat or a run for governor in 2010.
Regardless of where Bee’s political fortunes take him, we in southern Arizona have been lucky to have him fighting on our behalf.
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.