Arizona Legislature bucks blue, Republicans remain in power

While many political observers anticipated a blue wave overtaking Arizona last Tuesday, the GOP held on to control at the state Legislature.

Maintaining the majority did not come easily for Republicans. Races were particularly hard fought this election cycle, party leaders and strategists said. Big money from outsiders fueled Democratic campaigns, threatening to topple the longstanding Republican stronghold in both legislative chambers. 

Karen Fann

“It was nothing short of a miracle in some respects,” newly re-elected Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) told reporters after the election. 

House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa), who also was re-elected, echoed those sentiments Tuesday. 

“I’m in some amazement,” Bowers said. “And one reason is because of the dump truck loads of money that were brought into these races. Millions of dollars.”

Rusty Bowers

Democrats may have outspent their opponents, bringing in an estimated $10 million from outsiders, but Republicans “outworked” them, Bowers said.     

“To have that kind of money against you, (independent expenditures) and dark money, I know my colleagues were working and working and working,” he said. “And, hey, I’m in favor if you want to spend your money in Arizona. Great. But I want to know who you are.”

Status quo good sign for business and industry

For Arizona business and industry, the Republican victory at the state Capitol brings greater certainty.   

State lawmakers have steered Arizona into one of the biggest economic success stories in the nation, said Garrick Taylor, executive vice president for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Ensuring that there is a strong majority of pro-jobs, pro-growth legislators is more essential than ever as we’re still seeing job losses and small business closures related to the pandemic,” Taylor said. “The Chamber endorses candidates from both parties. We’re less concerned with partisan affiliation than we are with ensuring the Legislature is committed to strengthening the state’s competitiveness.”

Team work, planning won in the end 

Chad Heywood

Chad Heywood, of political consulting firm Camelback Strategy Group and a top political operative for the Republican Party, agreed that the GOP was largely outspent by Democrats this election cycle. 

But a well executed battle plan appears to have prevailed. 

Much of the credit goes to Karrin Taylor Robson, Heywood said. Robson successfully coordinated a team effort as chair of the Republican Legislative Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to keeping Arizona leadership “pro-business, pro-education and pro-safe communities.” The group was formed to fight the growing influx of money from progressive out-of-state groups pushing their agenda here. 

“What was remarkable about the efforts in 2020 was the way that business groups and the team that Governor Ducey assembled coordinated a center-right coalition to make sure that folks were not duplicating efforts and targeting different voters,” Heywood said. “The work of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, NFIB, Realtors, Free Enterprise Club, Rock Products, AFP, etc. worked in concert in ways we haven’t seen in quite some time.” 

Clear message from voters

The Republican victory is a clear message from voters who are happy with state lawmakers’ pro-growth approach, Heywood said. 

“The message that resonated in every district in the state was, ‘Keep Arizona, Arizona.’ People love the momentum and quality of life here,” he said. “Voters don’t often realize it is the pro-growth, small government approach that Republicans and the business community have worked so hard to create that gives us such a positive environment for business and a high quality of life.”

Republican leaders Fann and Bowers also focused on big picture issues rather than “getting mired in the issues that changed from week to week,” Heywood said. 

“Legislators won their re-election on big issues. Taxes, education, jobs, economy, and a strong belief that the status quo is pretty good. The Republican Legislative Victory Fund didn’t spend a single dollar fighting about mask wearing, the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, and special sessions.” 

Republican leadership assigned in both houses  

The Republican caucus returned both newly re-elected Fann and Bowers as President and Speaker of their respective chambers for the next legislative session. In the Senate, Republican senators Rick Gray and Sonny Borrelli will also remain majority leader and majority whip. Sen. Vince Leach (R-Saddlebrooke) will be the president pro-tempore.

In the House, the GOP caucus chose Ben Toma (R-Peoria) as majority leader and Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) as majority whip. Travis Grantham ( R-Gilbert) will serve as speaker pro-tempore. 

Dems leading in presidential, few other races 

Incumbents from both parties overwhelmingly were winning their races at all levels in Arizona Tuesday. No blue wave emerged as projected, though Democrats did land some upsets. A few races were still too close to call. 

As of Tuesday night, president Donald Trump and Democratic opponent Joe Biden were neck and neck in the state returns with Biden leading by about 12,813 votes.  

Democrat Mark Kelly beat out Republican Martha McSally for the U.S. Senate seat, making this the first time in 67 years the state will have two Democrats in the Senate. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema was Arizona’s first female to go to the U.S. Senate when she was elected in 2018. 

The race for Maricopa County Board of Supervisors District 1 between Republican Jack Sellers and Democrat Jevin Hodge remains too close to call. The outcome of the race will determine whether the Republican majority will remain 4-1 or become 3-2.

Late Tuesday, former teacher of the year and Democrat Christine Marsh held a narrow lead of about 600 votes over Republican incumbent Sen. Kate Brophy McGee in District 28 that encompasses North Phoenix and Paradise Valley.

When all is said and done, dollars coming in from Democratic groups like the Forward Majority did little to help Democrats paint the state awash in blue. 

Trump energized voters

Meanwhile, it’s important to give credit where it’s due to President Donald Trump for creating one of the highest voter turnouts in the history of the state and nation, Bowers said. 

“It’s amazing how President Trump energized everywhere he went and, like him or not, vote for him or not, the energy he brought to the campaign in Arizona was phenomenal.”

To see how the votes are tallying up, visit: Arizona election results

Victoria Harker

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