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Reagan backs challenger Petersen over two incumbents

Sen. Michele Reagan (left) and Jennifer Peterson (Photos from campaign websites)

Sen. Michele Reagan is taking sides in Scottsdale’s contested Republican primary for the House of Representatives, despite an earlier pledge that she would stay out of the race.

Reagan, R-Scottsdale, today endorsed political newcomer Jennifer Petersen over the tea party-backed Rep. Michelle Ugenti and longtime Rep. John Kavanagh in the Legislative District 23 House race.

The endorsement could be seen as a blow to Ugenti, a freshman lawmaker who appeared at a fundraiser with Reagan in June. Early on in the race, Reagan openly supported Ugenti and Kavanagh, but when Petersen launched her campaign, and the primary became contested, Reagan vowed to stay neutral.

“I was intent on staying out of the legislative race, but I decided I do have an opinion and it was time I shared it. Petersen would be an excellent addition to the Legislature,” Reagan said today.

Reagan said even though she considers Kavanagh a good friend, the two lawmakers have never endorsed each other or sought the other’s endorsements.

She said she changed her mind about her self-imposed “moratorium” on endorsements in LD23 after being repeatedly asked by constituents about what she thought of Petersen.

“If people were going to be calling me and emailing me and asking me anyway, I figured, ‘Well, I’m already saying it, so why don’t I say it publicly?’” she said.

Reagan said she appreciates Petersen’s “reasoned approach” to solving problems, and saw it first-hand at meetings she attended with Petersen, who is a Scottsdale Unified School District Board member. While the two have disagreed over school-related issues, Reagan said their working relationship was productive and positive.

Ugenti did not return a message seeking comment.

While the race has struck a civil tone thus far, there seems to be no doubt that Petersen’s campaign believes Ugenti is the most vulnerable of the incumbents in the race.

Petersen’s campaign is in the midst of a $25,000 TV and radio campaign, branding her as a “common sense” Republican. Her TV ad lists examples of what she believes are the misplaced priorities of the Legislature. The ad flashes phrases like “birther bills,” “guns on school campus,” “Arizona Capitol riddled with lobbying and bribery scandals” and “state representative makes overtly sexual comments.”

The last reference was a jab at Ugenti, who made a public comment about a legislative colleague having a date with his “right hand.” The YouTube version of the ad is tagged with the words “Michelle Ugenti.”

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