UpClose with Kevin DeMenna
a major project is being pitched to lawmakers,
Kevin DeMenna and his lobbying firm usually
are involved in some capacity.
DeMenna is regarded by many as one of Arizonaís
most successful lobbyists, which he says is
due to his knowledge of state politics and
the legislative process. In his 30 years at
the Capitol, DeMenna has helped convince lawmakers
to support financing the Phoenix Civic Plaza
expansion and create the financing mechanism
to build a rock-and-roll theme park in Eloy.
He started out in 1980 as an intern on the
Senate staff, and he eventually became chief
of staff for Republican Senate President Robert
DeMenna spoke with Arizona Capitol Times
on Jan. 18 about his experiences, his fleeting
aspirations to run for Congress and his Civil
You toyed with running for Congress
to replace John Shadegg in Arizonaís 3rd Congressional
District for a good 48 hours - maybe 72 hours.
Only 16 to 24. Then I toyed with how to extricate
myself from the situation for the rest.
OK, so why are you not going to run?
Because I love what I do. This is all I have
ever done, either as legislative staff or
as a lobbyist. I have a family. I get to work
with my oldest son every day. I really, really
love what I do. I love seeing my wife, seeing
Secondly, we have some really good candidates:
(Sen. Jim) Waring, (former Shadegg chief of
staff) Sean Noble. The other names I hear
are, I donít want to say of equal quality
to those two, but theyíre of a level that
makes me look like a pauper.
You mentioned your time on the legislative
staff. Youíve been at the Capitol since the
early 1980s, right?
I stepped on to the Capitol in July of 1980
for a special-project internship in the Senate.
I had three (Senate) internships, at which
point the job of Finance Committee analyst
opened up. I got married, and it was just
great. I was Senate economist after that,
which was really the job I enjoyed most, and
then Senate staff director - chief of staff
is what everybody refers to it as now.
Real estate was terrible at the time.
During the S&L scandal?
Yes. We had to help draft one of the largest
tax increases in the history of the state,
which was close to $300 million. I saw the
writing on the wall and said, ďIíve had an
office in the basement. I donít want to go
that route again.Ē So, I joined a (lobbying)
firm that Bob Robb was heading up. I quickly
became a partner. I still get mail for Robb
You left right before Democrat Pete
Rios became Senate president, right?
My resignation was actually effective on the
day of the primary election. I could say that
was symbolic, but it was actually serendipity.
It was evident.
We Republicans continue to use the same playbook
from about 1943, which is the far right maintains
a position that they consider principled,
leaving not enough votes in the Republican
caucus to put something together, and the
Democrats leverage that. So, what went from
being a rather modest tax increase became
a rather large one.
The end result of that principled stand was
to go and get Democrats.
It was 11 Democrats and five Republicans
- two retired, the other three were defeated.
It was like a bullet fired from miles away
that you could see coming.
Itís sad, because Republicans continue to
do that to themselves. But how else do you
organize a caucus?
What is the biggest change youíve
seen in the Legislature in the 30 years youíve
been down here?
The arrival of computers. The arrival of automation.
Technology. The process has sped up to the
point where information arrives at a pace
that is almost impossible for (lawmakers)
to keep up with.
Technology has driven us to take what used
to be a shelf-and-a-half of statutes to virtually
three full shelves.
How has the Internet changed the
way the Legislature operates?
It allows them to consume information at a
pace that they set.
Information used to arrive when the fact
sheet did. When I was Finance Committee analyst,
we drafted bills and amendments with lots
of photocopies and Scotch tape and legal-pad
writing. Some of them looked like fourth grade
Now, you not only can download statutes from
other states, but members can Google everything.
The ability to access information, I think,
has created a baseline of truth. You darn
well better have your facts straight, because
if you donít think you can be contradicted,
It has also, except for the Senate caucuses,
made the Legislature far more accessible.
You can watch hearings online. Iíve been in
hearings where the chairman has asked me a
question based on an e-mail.
How have things changed politically
The single most governing principle is the
Voter Rights Act. So long as the minority
populations in Arizona remain synonymous with
the Democratic Party, we will be compelled
by the Department of Justice to pack districts,
which means youíve taken Democrats that you
could otherwise spread throughout the state
and packed them into districts to guarantee
Weíve not found a way to redistrict around
that. You canít. You end up with maybe three
or five competitive districts. Itís guaranteed
Republican governance of the Legislature.
It came to be after the redistricting of 1980,
and was the most significant development since
One Man, One Vote.
Thereís always talk about how the
respect has gone out of the legislative process.
Have you seen that?
Not really. I think itís always been roughly
the same. Term limits has changed the ability
for long-term relationships to develop. There
will never be another Burton Barr.
The relationships and the respect still exists,
but it has become a function more of the staff
and the lobbyists. I will be here well past
the eight-year terms of most legislators.
What do you think about term limits?
Do they promote good governance?
Itís the single most detrimental change that
has been made over the course of my tenure
down here. Imagine your business, where a
reporter becomes top of his game, but his
eight years is up and he has to be fired.
Itís also created this bizarre connection
to the elected officialsí retirement system.
You hit your limit in one chamber, hit it
in the other. That leaves you with virtually
nothing under the retirement system, so you
run for justice of the peace and make $70,000
or $80,000 a year, and thatís how you top
out. Itís perverse.
Iím not even sure we should have an elected
officialsí retirement system. With term limits,
weíre supposed to be turning them out. A retirement
system incentivizes them to stay in politics.
The founding fathers expected people to leave
their plows behind, make some laws - about
farming - and then return.
Term limits makes the difference between
good lobbyists and bad lobbyists important,
and it makes it harder to learn the process
because youíre in a sprint.
What drew you to lobbying?
Itís so well designed for those with short
attention spans. This year, Iím doing bills
on film studios. Two years ago, I did a rock-and-roll
theme park. Two years before that, we got
the Legislature to pony up for 50 percent
of the Phoenix Convention Center expansion.
Just today, Iíve gone from meeting with subcontractors
to the T. Boone Pickens company to talk about
natural gas, later Iíll go to work on rental
car issues. Itís stimulating.
The other thing I like about it is it gives
me choice. Weíve been blessed to be able to
choose our clients. I donít represent a single
bar, I donít represent tobacco companies.
We get, for whatever opportunity, to be a
part of the bigger projects. I enjoy developing
the strategy, developing the tactics and seeing
what works and what doesnít.
But I still havenít figured out what I want
to do when I grow up. When I do, youíll hear
Whatís the most significant thing
youíve been a part of in your 30 years at
That would be persuading the Legislature to
pay for half of the Civic Plaza expansion
- $300 million in a time when revenues were
We found the candle maker in Sedona.
Let me explain: This is all we do. We donít
do divorces in the off- season. We do grassroots.
For the Civic Plaza, what happens when a convention
ends on a Thursday or Friday? People fly home?
Then why do all these hotels have racks with
(brochures) on Sedona and the Grand Canyon?
We sent our staff out to collect those, then
we contacted the businesses. They said, ďDouble
the size of the conventions? Where do I sign?Ē
A friend of mine was in Sedona, at Tlaquepaque,
and she brought me back the card of a candle
maker, and he got engaged in the process.
We were able to demonstrate that the economics
of how it worked all the way around.
What advice would you give to a new
If they havenít been on legislative staff,
get a job on staff to determine how the process
works. I read every bill. I hate it. But how
else do you know?
DeMenna on Civil War swords:
I collect presentation swords. Iím allowed
about one a year.
Tiffany & Co. was one of the larger retailers
of the swords, but you typically had to be
an officer to get one. I just brought this
one in, because itís far and away the pinnacle
of my collection. This sword belonged to the
captain of Shermanís guard. Itís inscribed,
and you can see it was presented July 1864.
The war was ending by then. Today you get
plaques - back then, it was presentation swords.
The interesting thing about this is the (certificate
of presentment) is signed by Stanton, who
was the Secretary of War. In the ink that
remains, it was signed by Andrew Johnson,
because Lincoln had been shot.
I represent one company that does behavioral
health, so I get psychiatrists through here
all the time. They give me all sorts of observations
about this collection.
DeMenna on lobbyists:
Because of the Internet and shorter terms,
people work much harder to weed out the truth.
Theyíre very interested in having their own
channels to find facts.
It is becoming more diverse ethnically. On
gender, itís still dominated by males, but
itís only a matter of time. People have become
more sophisticated about it.
DeMenna on Mormon faith and politics:
There is no ďMormon mafia.Ē The notion of
such a thing is that you have a group thatís
just more homogenous. Weíre just much more
strict about the principles that we follow.
People, therefore, think there must be some
collusion. If only it were so.
DeMenna on Decades, the rock and
roll theme park:
I never thought the thing would work. I figured
weíd get Kansas to lend their name. But getting
Aerosmith? Maybe. Fender took an interest,
and we represent them, though they need virtually
DeMenna on the failed 1990 MLK Day
ballot campaign he managed:
We got Tagliabued, which was, if you donít
do it, youíre not getting a Super Bowl. (Editorís
note: The NFL commissioner at the time was
Paul Tagliabue. When the ballot measure failed,
the 1993 Super Bowl was moved from Phoenix
to Pasadena.) Whatís interesting is that Iím
not sure it entirely accounted for the loss
when we did the follow-up polling, which would
have left ethnic issues as the second choice.
DeMenna on pro-business lawmakers:
Among the most pro-business legislators we
have right now are Democrats. I donít know
if Russell Pearce is considered pro-business.
Thatís a subjective thing.