Republican Rep. Carl Seel started making waves during his few first months in office in 2009 when he walked off the House floor during a speech by Gov. Jan Brewer because she was pushing a one-cent sales tax increase.
Since then, he says he has been persona non grata in the Governor’s Office. He has had a hard time getting his bills — which mostly focus on government reform, illegal immigration and tax cuts — through the Republican-led Legislature.
“(Walking out on the governor’s speech) wasn’t exactly the wisest thing to do as a freshman member of the Legislature,” he said. “And since then, the governor has threatened to never sign any of my bills.”
In four years of representing the old Legislative District 6, Seel has introduced more than 100 substantive bills, and only one of them — a bill designed to keep the state from defaulting on paychecks at the height of the recession — was ever signed into law. But that doesn’t mean Seel is going to stop trying.
“Upon being re-elected this November, I’m going to go full-tilt at these reforms,” he said. “If I only get one more term in public office, it’s going to be fireworks.”
Seel is running for re-election in the new Legislative District 20, which covers north Phoenix, south of the Loop 101 and north of Thunderbird Road, between about 67th Avenue and Cave Creek Road.
Also in the race for the district’s two House seats are Republican Paul Boyer, a first-time candidate who previously worked in the House, Jackie Thrasher, a Democrat who served in the House from 2007 to 2009, and Democrat Tonya Norwood, a first-time candidate.
The district has an 8-percentage-point Republican voter registration advantage, and the split is even wider when historical voting trends are taken into account, but Democrats are hoping to pick up a seat by targeting Seel and running a seasoned candidate in Thrasher.
Despite Seel’s low batting average for getting his bills signed into law, he has garnered a lot of attention during his time in office.
His “birther bill” requiring the Arizona secretary of state to check the birth certificates of presidential candidates before allowing them on the ballot in Arizona made national headlines — and when he met with businessman Donald Trump on the issue, he again put himself and Arizona in the spotlight. He has appeared on “The Daily Show” discussing photo radar in Arizona, and has been crowned the “king of the kooks” by Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts.
Although he may be well known in some political circles, Seel faces a name ID problem in his new district, which only includes a small portion of his previous one. Seel came in second place in the three- way Republican primary in the new district — ending up more than 3,200 votes behind first-time candidate Boyer.
Although this is Boyer’s first run for elected office, he’s not a newcomer to Arizona politics. For the past few years, he has been working behind the scenes in a variety of capacities, including as a House policy analyst and as the communications director for the House GOP.
Besides his time in the House, he has also worked as the legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Corrections, and is now the communications director for the Mesa Public Schools. He said his diverse background in several important aspects of public policy has allowed him to gain the knowledge and experience to be an effective legislator.
“I didn’t want to have to learn on the job,” he said. “The whole point is you get on-the-job training with something that impacts everybody’s lives in the state. I feel like I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t get that experience.”
Boyer pulled in almost $24,000 in campaign contributions as of the last campaign finance reporting period, and has been boosted by more than $21,000 in independent expenditure spending from conservative groups.
If elected, Boyer hopes to serve on the Appropriations Committee, and his policy wonkiness and ties to the House speaker may help him land the coveted spot.
He said he would like to create a job training fund that businesses would pay into on a volunteer basis, and offer more job creation incentives such as corporate rebates on employees’ withholding taxes for new hires.
Because Boyer did so well in the primary election, and because of the hot button legislation that Seel has sponsored, Thrasher is setting her sights on Seel and aiming to take him out in the general election.
“Why is he there? What really is his record he can stand on?” she said. “He hasn’t done anything for jobs and the economy and he hasn’t done anything for kids.”
Thrasher was a teacher for 30 years and she worked in the Washington School District, which overlaps LD20. She has run in the past five elections in the Republican-leaning District 10, and won a single term from 2007 to 2009. Despite the voter registration disadvantage for Democrats, she said she thinks she can win.
“Timing is everything,” she said. “I think after this last legislative session, people are more aware of what’s going on at the Legislature, and they don’t like it. They’re fed up, they want to do more for our kids.”
Education funding and restoring money to slashed programs like KidsCare and all-day kindergarten would be some of her priorities if elected. She believes the programs could be paid for if lawmakers reviewed and closed many of the tax loopholes and exemptions that Democrats have been complaining about for years.
She also supports Proposition 204, the permanent extension of the one- cent sales tax. As a former lawmaker, she doesn’t mind that the Legislature wouldn’t have control over how that money is spent.
Her mailers feature candidate comparisons with Seel, who she says is embarrassing the state with his birther conspiracy theories.
“The bar has been set so low that I think I can get in,” she said.
What is hurting Thrasher’s chances more than anything, according to some Democrats, is Norwood.
Norwood, a former Arizona Game and Fish Department program manager who is currently unemployed, got into the race partly because she has been going through financial troubles — including a recent bankruptcy and foreclosure — and knows a lot of other people in the state are facing the same problems.
She said the district is a good fit for her because she is a conservative Democrat who got an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, and believes in smaller government.
“Just because there’s a D after my name doesn’t mean I embrace all D activity,” she said, declining to specify where she disagreed on policy with the party.
But some Democrats, like Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix, are calling her a spoiler.
Gallego said he and other Democratic lawmakers asked Norwood not to run because having Thrasher run as a single-shot candidate could help her win in the Republican-leaning district.
“I and a lot of other people are only supporting Jackie Thrasher,” he said. “There’s just a lot of problems with the candidacy of Tonya Norwood, and I could never unravel all of them, so I decided not to get involved in that campaign or help out in any way, because she’s not going to win.”
Norwood said that Gallego had earlier encouraged her to run.
“Gallego said, and I quote ‘(You are) the best candidate out there,’ and that my problem is that I don’t follow orders,” Norwood said.
One of the problems Democrats have with Norwood is that she is claiming a high-profile Democratic endorsement that she doesn’t have.
Her website boasts an endorsement from former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, although Sinema’s campaign manager said Norwood never got Sinema’s endorsement and they have asked her to remove it from her website, to no avail.
Norwood said she and Sinema, who is running for Congress, have been friends for years and Sinema verbally gave her the endorsement, but if things have changed, she’ll take it off the website. Norwood said she’s never been contacted to take down the endorsement.
She realizes the Democratic Party doesn’t want her to run, but she entered the race before Thrasher and said she has a right to run for office like everyone else.
“I’m not there for the Democratic Party,” she said. “I’m there for the people in my district, for the children in my schools.”