After hours of heated discussion, the Maricopa County Republican Committee passed a resolution Thursday night opposing the continued leadership of the current Arizona Senate President and House Speaker.
Committee members cited alleged misuse of independent expenditure money and the perceived derailing of a handful of conservative bills during the past legislative session as the basis for their discontent.
They claimed Sen. President Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, spent money from the Republican Victory Fund to help Republicans who would support their continued leadership instead of helping Republicans generally.
In one case, the independent expenditure group spent money attacking Republican Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, in his bid against Republican Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa.
Fillmore claims the move was made because he wouldn’t support Pierce for Senate President this upcoming session.
Pierce has denied that he has any control over the spending decisions made by the independent group, for which he has led the fundraising. Those officially in charge of the spending decisions said they considered Crandall the incumbent and they were reflecting the desires of the fund’s contributors.
One Republican at the meeting, Ron Ludders, called the spending an abuse of power by the leadership.
“Power. Raw political power. That’s what we’re seeing done by these gentlemen,” Ludders said. “It’s doggone sinful.”
Other Republicans, like Legislative District 8 senate candidate Joe Ortiz, said his competitive race, as well as others, could have been aided by outside spending but that money was withheld from candidates who would not support the existing leadership.
Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, said Tobin admitted to her that the outside spending was withheld from those who would not support the current leadership.
Tobin denied that he had such a conversation with Klein.
Joe Hobbs, a Maricopa County Republican Committeeman at large from Legislative District 12, summarized the mood of the meeting.
“I’m mad as hell about this. I’m one of those Arizona Republican Party people that have deep concerns,” he said. “I never want to see this happen again.”
Some Republicans at the meeting expressed anger that some conservative bills, such as a pension reform bill, a border militia bill, anti-union bills and immigration bills, did not pass through the Legislature.
The initial resolution considered by the committee would have formally chastised Pierce and Tobin over specific complaints and would have put their backing for the Legislature’s top positions behind Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who is seeking a House seat this year.
But after weighing the potentially negative impact the original resolution’s language could have sent, the committee members amended it to a much shorter, though still bold expression of opposition to Pierce and Tobin:
“Be it resolved that due to their lack of support of key Republican principles by withholding key legislation and the misuse of the Republican Victory Fund, the Maricopa County Republican Committee (MCRC) does not support the reelection of Andy Tobin as Speaker of the House or Steve Pierce as Senate President,” the amended resolution read.
The resolution was passed by a vote of 24-4.
Fillmore said the resolution should send a message to the leadership.
“What this does, is it sends a clear warning shot, that this money that the Republican Party should have had control of from day one, that is being raised by the President and Speaker, and they are utilizing it for their own slush funds for themselves to get reelected, is not right, it’s not beneficial to the Republican Party,” he said. “It’s destructive to the Republican Party.”
Tobin responded by saying he considers himself a deeply conservative legislative leader who has received accolades for his work.
“I can’t do anything to make some people happy,” he said.
Tobin also said he thinks Republicans should be primarily concerned with the upcoming election, not with picking intra-party fights.