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Pierce, Tobin seek higher legislative posts

Yavapai County's influence in the Arizona Legislature could take a step up if local members have their way.

Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce of Prescott is seeking the top job of Senate president next year, while House Majority Whip Andy Tobin of Paulden is seeking to move up a step to majority leader, the second-highest post in the House.

Current holders of those positions are leaving. Senate President Bob Burns is retiring and House Majority Leader John McComish is seeking a Senate position because of term limits.

While Tobin so far is unopposed in his quest for the majority leader position, Pierce is facing competition from at least three other legislators: Senate Appropriations Chair Russell Pearce, House Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yarbrough (also facing House term limits this year) and McComish.

Of course, all of them also must first win in the Nov. 2 general election, and the Republicans must retain their majorities in both houses, which is highly likely.

While Pearce has 10 years of legislative experience, some fear he will put too much emphasis on his trademark illegal immigration issues. He is the author of the well-known SB1070 law.

And while McComish and Yarbrough have more legislative experience than freshman Pierce, it would be nearly unprecedented for the Senate caucus to elect someone who has not yet served in the Senate.

The Republican caucuses in both houses will choose their leaders immediately after the Nov. 2 general election.

Pierce and Tobin agree that their leadership positions already have benefited rural Arizona and Yavapai County, and they hope their influence will only increase with higher positions.

They both said their positions have helped rural and local water issues.

"Just flexing those muscles forced the urban community to the table," Tobin said.

For example, Tobin said he held a bill that the Salt River Project wanted to pass this year, so he could force SRP to the table with Prescott over issues related to Prescott's plan to use Big Chino groundwater that supplies the Upper Verde River. SRP has major Verde River water rights.

SRP ended up dropping its court battle with Prescott and signing an agreement to cooperate instead.

Tobin and Pierce also shepherded a bill through the Legislature to advance several points in the Prescott-SRP agreement.

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