As the primary election draws near, Democratic and Republican candidates for public office in Arizona are preaching the importance of voting in the primary election. It decides the fate of most of Arizona’s elected offices and designates the party’s representative for the general election in competitive races.
But a review of the voting history of candidates running in contested partisan primaries shows that many seeking their party’s nomination in August have little to no history of voting in primary elections themselves.
What’s more, many of the candidates are new to the party that they are seeking to represent, and were members of opposing political parties in the recent past.
LD8 – Casa Grande, San Tan Valley
You wouldn’t know it from listening to Republican Legislative District 8 House candidate Darla Dawald speak, but she used to be a Democrat.
Dawald is a Tea Party candidate, and organizer of the national movement, who is running against two incumbent Republicans, Reps. T.J. Shope and Frank Pratt, over the duo’s support for Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid expansion plan in 2013.
She has called them “traitors” to the party, and condemned them for “breaking ranks with the GOP.”
But when Dawald first registered to vote in Pinal County in August 2007, she was a Democrat.
She became a Republican just in time to vote in the 2008 primary election, but didn’t vote in the primary that year. She did vote in the 2010 primary election, but stayed home for the 2012 primary election, according to Pinal County Recorder’s Office records.
Dawald’s runningmate in the district, Wayne Bachmann, is running on the same Tea Party platform against the moderate Republicans. Bachmann said that by taking the vote in support of Medicaid expansion, the two gave up their “responsibilities to the Republican Party.”
But loyal Republican primary voters might think Bachmann has been negligent in his responsibilities to the GOP as a voter.
Records with the Pinal County Recorder’s Office show that Bachmann did not vote in the 2008, 2010 or 2012 primary elections.
If he votes for himself in the August primary, it will be the first time he has voted in a primary election in the county since he registered to vote there in April 2008.
LD23 – Scottsdale, Fountain Hills
Jay Lawrence is positioning himself as the “true conservative” in the four-way race for two House seats in LD23, which covers the Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.
With his strong Tea Party tilt and fiery right-wing rhetoric, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago, Lawrence was a registered Democrat. According to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, Lawrence switched his voter registration from Democrat to Republican in June 2012.
But Lawrence doesn’t think the kind of hard-core conservatives he’s courting will mind that he was a longtime Democrat before joining the party.
“Being a Democrat didn’t hurt Ronald Reagan,” he said of the president who switched from Democrat to Republican in 1962.
In that district’s Senate race, Jeff Schwartz is a moderate Republican attempting to unseat a potentially vulnerable conservative Republican in Rep. John Kavanagh, who is attempting to move up to the Senate after hitting term limits in the House.
In many ways the once-moderate district represents the changing face of the Republican Party into a Tea-Party infused blend, and Kavanagh and his seatmate Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti have led the transformation.
But despite his hopes to change the direction the party is heading, Schwartz did not vote in the 2010 or 2012 primary elections, in which the district elected Kavanagh over more moderate Republicans.
LD7 – Northeast Arizona
Democratic Sen. Carlyle Begay only registered as a voter in Apache County in July last year — less than a month before he was appointed to the Senate in LD7. Before that, he voted sporadically in Maricopa County, skipping the Democratic primary elections in 2008 and 2010 but voting in the 2012 Democratic primary.
One of his competitors in the three-way Democratic primary, which will determine the district’s representative in this heavily-Democratic northern Arizona district, has an even worse voting record than Begay. Eric Descheenie registered to vote in Apache County in 2013, but in his previous 10 years as a registered voter in Maricopa County, Descheenie never voted in a primary election.
In that district’s four-way Democratic primary for two House seats, Jennifer Benally has been registered to vote in Coconino County for well over a decade, but she didn’t vote in a primary election until 2012, according to county records.
LD5 – Northwest Arizona
Jennifer Jones is hoping that in the five-way primary for two House seats in LD5, Republicans select her to represent the heavily Republican district covering northwest Arizona. But Jones has only been a member of the GOP since 2011. Before that, she was registered as a Libertarian, according to La Paz County records.
LD14 – Southeast Arizona
Susan Syfert is challenging Reps. David Gowan and David Stevens in the Republican primary election — and is running as a moderate alternative to the two conservative incumbents in LD14, which covers Sierra Vista and the southeast corner of the state down to the border In 2006, Syfert was still a Democrat, according to records with the Graham County Recorder’s Office. That year, Syfert joined the GOP, and she has voted in every Republican primary election since.
LD16 – East Valley
Republican Taylor McArthur, an employee of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is running against Sen. David Farnsworth in the LD16 primary. McArthur has not voted in a primary election since registering in January 2008.
In 2012, he received an early ballot in the mail, but did not return it, according to Maricopa County records. The primaries have determined the heavily-Republican district’s representatives.
LD29 – West Valley
Denice Garcia is running in a four-way Democratic primary for the two House seats being vacated by Reps. Martin Quezada and Lydia Hernandez, who are competing for the Senate seat in LD29. Garcia has not voted in a primary election since at least 2006. In 2012, she requested an early ballot, but did not mail it back. The district is heavily Democratic, and the representation is decided in the Democratic primary election.