Republicans select Gowan as Arizona House speaker

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PHOENIX (AP) -- Republican selected leaders for the Arizona House and Senate on Wednesday, a day after voters added to their controlling majority in the Legislature.

GOP representatives elected Rep. David Gowan of Sierra Vista as the new House speaker to replace Andy Tobin, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress. The House majority leader will be Rep. Steve Montenegro of Litchfield Park, and Rep. David Livingston of Peoria will be majority whip.

In the Senate, majority Republicans are keeping Sen. Andy Biggs of Gilbert as the chamber's president. GOP senators chose Sen. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler as majority leader and Sen. Gail Griffin of Hereford as majority whip.

The new leaders start their respective terms at the beginning of the 2015 regular session in January after a formal vote of the entire body.

The Senate's leadership becomes decidedly more conservative, with moderate lawmakers who help the No. 2 and No. 3 slots in the 2013-2014 session either leaving the body or not running for re-election.

Current Majority Leader John McComish won a justice of the peace seat on metro Phoenix and Adam Driggs chose not to go after his leadership post. Driggs was unlikely to win because he and McComish angered conservatives in 2013 by supporting Gov. Jan Brewer's Medicaid expansion plan.

Tobin's exit left an opening for Gowan, who has been House majority leader, to move up. Tobin was a business conservative who was forced to shepherd Medicaid expansion through the chamber despite his opposition. Biggs had the same challenge in the Senate.

The current Senate split of 17 Republicans and 13 Democrats remained intact, although three seats now held by Democrats remained too close to call Wednesday. Democrats appeared to be holding all three. Another Senate race pitting a Republican against a Democrat also was too close to call.

"I'm pleased that we were able to keep all our senators in the face of this massive right-wing headwind that we faced last night across the country," said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

In the House, Republicans appeared poised to pick up two and possibly three seats, but those races also were too close to call. Gowan was counting on at least two victories.

"It's exciting to know that we have a couple more, and maybe three more," he said. "I think it's going to help us. It shows what the people want in this state."

Gowan said the leadership team he assembled is designed to reunite the caucus after the major fractures that appeared between moderates and conservatives during the last two years. Regardless, the new team will face an immediate fiscal crisis, as the current $9.3 billion state budget is now projected to have a $500 million shortfall and the budget for the year that begins July 1 a $1 billion deficit.

Gowan said tax increases aren't an option, but declined to tip his hand as to what cuts may be on the table.

"I'm going to get my team together, we're going to put all that in front of us and we're going to look at the vision," Gowan said. "And I have to get together with the Senate, and the new governor-elect, which I'm very pleased and happy about, and we'll start plotting and planning."

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