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Court’s exit spurs race for majority leader

Rep. Steve Court (File photo)

House Majority Leader Steve Court’s announcement that he won’t be seeking re-election quickly fueled the Republican rumor mill over who might take his leadership spot.

Speculation over who would be jockeying for the position began even before the news this week of Court’s exit, as the Mesa Republican was facing a tough primary battle.

Many names have been floated as potential candidates for the position, but some are more committed than others.

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, is one who is always mentioned when a leadership position opens up, and he ran for majority leader last session. This year, he would only say that he’s keeping his options open.

“At this juncture, I’m not ruling anything out,” he said. “I’m not officially hot or cold.”

For now, Robson said he was only looking as far ahead as November.

“I have to get re-elected first, that’s the interesting dynamic to all this speculation,” he said.

Robson said he and other senior lawmakers, like Reps. Eddie Farnsworth and John Kavanagh, are often assumed to be running despite whether they have actually committed.

But Kavanagh said there are only two posts he would consider.

“For me, it’s either speaker or (Appropriations) chair,” he said. “Those are my two areas of interest.”

And since House Speaker Andy Tobin said that he would be keeping Kavanagh as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Kavanagh said he would stay put.

But other lawmakers have already made up their minds.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he’s “absolutely” going to run, citing as qualifications his experience behind the scenes as a legislative staffer and his tax bills from this past session.

“I think I could be a good spokesperson for the caucus, and I’ve got a great relationship with most of the caucus members,” he said.

Although he acknowledged that he’s only been a lawmaker for less than two years, Mesnard said that most of his colleagues don’t consider him a newbie. Seven years in the Senate as a legislative staffer gave him a leg up over the other freshman lawmakers, he said.

“In some cases, I was helping guide them through the process,” he said.

His time at the Capitol also means he has seen six majority leaders, he added, which means he has a good idea of what the job entails — a big time commitment, a lot of work, and a willingness to check your ego at the door.

“There’s no question that as majority leader, my priority would be to help others with their legislation,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I neglect my district, and to the extent that I have constituent issues, I can address that. But I also have a seatmate and counterpart senator who can address those.”

Another freshman, Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said his background as a senior research analyst at the Arizona Tax Research Association means he isn’t completely green.

“That does come as a strength because I am familiar with not only the process of getting legislation through but also the ins and outs of being around the Capitol for quite some time,” he said.

But beyond that, Olson said he has the fire that someone in leadership needs.

“You need a vocal advocate for issues so that when (Minority Leader) Chad Campbell gets up and complains about the efforts we’re pursuing, that we have someone as majority leader to take that on and articulate why we’re taking that tack,” he said.

There may be another leadership post to go around if House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, decides to run for majority leader. Although the rumor mill has her pegged as a candidate, she told the Arizona Capitol Times in a voicemail that she’s undecided.

Some lawmakers have complained that Lesko has seemed more concerned with her own priorities than with serving as a member of leadership, but others say the criticisms are overblown and that if she decides to run for whip again, she will probably be safe.

Despite the number of names being floated as potential replacements for Court, some lawmakers suggest any speculation now is premature.

“… Seriously, with people with hotly-contested primary seats and the new districts, to even concern yourself with anything else is short-sighted,” said Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, another rumored leadership candidate.

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