Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, a Republican from Paulden, withstood an attempt to topple him by Sen. Steve Smith, a Republican from Maricopa who was drafted into running for the position by his county party.
Tobin, who became speaker in 2011 after serving as the House majority leader for two years, won the approval of the overwhelming majority of his caucus in a closed-door meeting to select leadership on Nov. 7.
The vote reportedly was 32-5.
In the secret ballot, House Republicans also chose Rep. David Gowan of Sierra Vista as the majority leader over Rep. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler.
“I want to bring leadership to the caucus, make sure we’re on the right path, make sure we continue on the way we were going,” Gowan said. “We need to make sure we stay in line with our constituencies.”
Rep. Rick Gray of Sun City won the vote for majority whip over Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista.
Gray said he wants to get the Republican caucus to set a long-term plan and take a holistic approach to improving the business climate in the state, as well as protecting K-12 education.
“We’ve got some great minds down here and if we can begin to strategize and say ‘Where do we want Arizona to be in five years?’ We have the minds down here to be able to come together and help us get there,” Gray said.
Smith got into the race after Sen. Al Melvin of Tucson proposed a motion before the Pinal County Republican Party to endorse Smith to run against Tobin. Melvin claimed the speaker had let several conservative measures die in the House last year and that he was involved with the Republican Victory Fund independent expenditure committee’s spending against fellow Republicans in the primary election. The motion carried unanimously.
Tobin has maintained he didn’t have any say in the committee’s spending. He said the measures that didn’t make it out of the chamber didn’t have the support of the caucus.
“I like Andy Tobin, I have nothing against Andy, but when you have five counties and the state chairman coming out against him, I have to listen,” said Smith, who was elected to the House on Nov. 6.
As a sign of goodwill, Tobin even seconded Smith’s nomination, which was proposed by Rep. Carl Seel of Phoenix.
“I felt that Mr. Smith didn’t have a lot of support for the effort he was moving, and I wanted him to feel that he was welcome to the caucus no matter what,” Tobin said.
Although the two men may have come to friendly terms, the fact that Tobin faced a challenge illustrates the deep fissure within the Republican Party.
In all, party leadership from five counties — Pinal, Maricopa, Gila, Navajo and Santa Cruz — along with GOP state Chairman Tom Morrissey, came out against Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce retaining their positions. Pierce lost the position in a 9-8 vote by Senate Republicans, who favored Sen. Andy Biggs.
Their argument often focused the Republican Victory Fund’s spending to support moderate Republicans who were seen as supportive of the current leadership, and not supporting candidates seen as more conservative.
They also repeated criticism that Tobin had killed several conservative measures, including a bill from last session that would prohibit public employee unions from deducting dues from members’ paychecks.
Tobin has long asserted he doesn’t have any control over how the Republican Victory Fund was spent, and that he wouldn’t have authorized the committee to wade into Republican primaries.
He has also maintained that the public employee union bill didn’t have the support of the majority of the members, so he held it from a full vote. Tobin said even former Senate President Russell Pearce had qualms about the government telling unions where they could automatically donate money from their paychecks, as he wrote to the Mesa Chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters in an undated letter.
“After reviewing the bills targeting police officers and fire fighters, I concluded that the government has no business telling public safety personnel where they can directly deposit their money,” Pearce wrote in the letter.
Tobin calls the notion that he isn’t conservative enough absurd, saying the gains conservatives in the Legislature have made under his leadership have been unprecedented.
He said he can’t take all the credit for the gains conservatives have made in the House in recent years. But he notes that in his four years in leadership, including two as speaker, he has fought for smaller government, fiscal responsibility, border security, pro-life issues, tort reform and Second Amendment rights, among other goals.
But Pinal County Republican Party chair Stephen Kohut dismissed Tobin’s argument and warned incoming members that if they did not oppose Tobin and support Smith in the internal election, there would be repercussions in two years.
For T.J. Shope, an incoming freshman Republican from Coolidge, in Pinal County, the risk was worth it. He was openly supporting Tobin for the position he said, despite the threats that the party would recruit someone to run against any lawmaker who supported Tobin.
“I guess we’ll just have to see what happens in two years,” he said before the vote.