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Major makeover for Senate, but still quite conservative

Half of the Senate is being replaced next year, but its tone and ideological temperament aren’t likely to change much from the group that was elected two years ago.

The chamber will remain decidedly conservative, assuming those who won their primaries in districts where they have significant voter-registration advantages win their general election in November, according to political insiders and longtime Capitol observers.

“The makeup is not a whole lot different than the one we had before,” said Steve Voeller, president of the conservative, pro-market Free Enterprise Club.

And while term-limit laws have forced veteran lawmakers out of the Senate, the 30-person chamber is likely to gain experienced members from the House.

On balance, it would be a seasoned group of policymakers, although some of the institutional memory from lawmakers like Senate President Bob Burns and veteran senators Debbie McCune Davis and John Huppenthal will be missing.

Many say the ideological balance for both Republican and Democratic caucuses won’t visibly shift either way.

Consider this: Republican activist Lori Klein beat out Sen. David Braswell in Legislative District 6 and will face Democrat Pat Flickner in the conservative district. But Klein is regarded to be just as conservative as Pamela Gorman, who vacated the LD6 seat earlier this year to make a run for Congress.

Indeed, this is repeated elsewhere across the state: The expected crop of new senators holds ideological leanings that hew closely to those who are leaving.
One obvious explanation is that many of the incoming senators will come from the House, where their views have been vetted through the years and proven to reflect their districts’ political leanings.

Rep. Andy Biggs, who is expected to take the place of outgoing Sen. Thayer Verschoor, is one of the most conservative lawmakers in the Capitol, but he has to be. Legislative District 22 is decidedly Republican and particularly conservative, both socially and fiscally.

Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is seen as more liberal than outgoing Sen. Ken Cheuvront, who is a moderate — even a conservative sometimes — on fiscal issues. But the two lawmakers agree on most other issues.

Another explanation is that the legislative primary races produced no startling upsets.
“What surprises me is that nothing really surprised me,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake, who faced a strong challenge from Rep. Bill Konopnicki of Safford, won her party’s Senate nomination.

Konopnicki is regarded as a more mainstream, pro-business Republican. His victory over Allen would have produced a more visible change in the new Senate’s potential makeup.

But Allen’s triumph — assuming she also wins in the general election — keeps the conservative wing of the Senate Republican caucus pretty much intact.

On the other hand, more moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Manny Alvarez of Elfrida and Sen. Amanda Aguirre of Yuma, are expected to retain their seats.

However, differences in style and maybe even strategies are likely.

Sen. Rebecca Rios, the Democratic assistant leader, said her caucus will get an infusion of “young, energetic, passionate members from the House.”

Indeed, Sinema and former Rep. Steve Gallardo, two of the most outspoken Democrats at the Capitol, are expected to join the Senate next year.

At the very least, they would light up the floor debates next session.

But part of the reason why no obvious ideological shift is expected in the Senate minority caucus is that Democrats from both chambers have largely been more united than Republicans.

“With a few exemptions, the House and Senate caucuses over the last few years have stuck together on a lot of issues,” Sinema said.

A widely-shared sentiment at the Capitol is that much of the Senate’s tone and focus next year — and by extension the Legislature’s — will depend on who gets elected as Senate president.

“I do think that the Senate president pretty much sets the tone for their caucus and in terms of how the Senate operates,” said Senate Minority Whip Linda Lopez, adding that she hopes the next Senate president would reach out to and be open to input from Democrats.

Four lawmakers are eyeing the presidency: Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa, Sen. Steve Pierce of Prescott, Rep. John McComish of Phoenix and Rep. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler.

It appears that the primary election didn’t give any of the presidential hopefuls a clear edge.

“It’s up in the air,” Hamer of the chamber of commerce said.

The election appeared to have given Pearce, for example, mixed results: Some of those he endorsed won, including Klein. But others, like Rich Davis in Legislative District 11, lost.

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