Two new lawmakers arrived at the Legislature this summer to fill vacancies in the Arizona Senate, potentially altering the dynamics of a chamber that left the Capitol bitterly divided on the issue of Medicaid expansion.
Republican Dave Farnsworth was sworn in as the state senator representing Legislative District 16 on Sept. 8, weeks after Sen. Carlyle Begay was sworn in as the newest Democratic senator from Legislative District 7.
The new lawmakers must learn their way at the Capitol on the fly — although Farnsworth acquired some legislative experience, having served one term in the House in the mid-1990s. They will be finishing the terms of the outgoing senators they were appointed to replace: Rich Crandall, the Mesa Republican who left for Wyoming, and Jack Jackson Jr., the Window Rock Democrat who now works in Washington, D.C.
Each new senator has the potential to add a new wrinkle to the chamber in ways their predecessor may have not, particularly Farnsworth, a stark contrast to the more moderate Crandall.
LD16 precinct committeemen reviled Crandall, who was removed from office by Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, after Crandall repeatedly delayed his resignation date after moving to Wyoming to begin his new position as director of the state’s Department of Education. GOP officials in the district viewed Crandall as a RINO, a “Republican in name only,” a notion that was solidified with Crandall’s vote for Medicaid expansion, viewed by fellow Republicans as inviting Obamacare into Arizona.
Adding that vote to Crandall’s poor attendance record — a frequent complaint among precinct committeemen as they moved swiftly to replace Crandall — meant that officials were more than ready for a fresh start with a conservative more to their liking.
“It’s addition by subtraction, that could be,” said lobbyist Chuck Coughlin. “It’s not to say anything hard about Rich, but down there, over time, relationships calcify unless they’re watered continually… there’s been a lot of conflict, and Rich has been at the tip of all that.”
Had Farnsworth been in the Senate this past session, he most certainly would have been a no vote, the Mesa Republican said. His opposition to Medicaid expansion reflects the political values he subscribed to while at the Capitol as a Snowflake representative: a proponent of small government with a desire to eliminate what he viewed as wasteful government programs.
While Farnsworth said his viewpoint has stayed mostly the same since he last served in office in 1996, he does feel like he’s got “a more clear picture” of the political system, having been there and back again.
“When I was here before, I was quite intimidated by the system,” Farnsworth said. “I feel much more confident and aggressive and ready to hit the ground running.”
Farnsworth finds himself in the unique situation as the lone Republican in the Senate who didn’t participate in the bitterly fought battle over Medicaid expansion, in which his predecessor did. Four other Senate Republicans, including influential Senate leaders Sen. John McComish and Sen. Adam Driggs, broke ranks and helped approve a budget without a Republican majority.
If some wounds from the fight take too long to heal, Farnsworth may find himself choosing sides in a divided GOP. If that were the case, the new senator seems to be more aligned with Biggs than some of the more moderate lawmakers in his caucus.
“He doesn’t have much of a legislative history, but he’s a relatively conservative guy,” said lobbyist Barry Aarons. “Any one of the three (LD16 Senate nominees) were all clearly right of center, and I don’t think those precinct committeemen would have nominated anyone they thought would be a thorn in their side.”
But Aarons and other political consultants downplayed the rift in the Senate GOP given the circumstances of the upcoming session.
Medicaid expansion was a once-in-a-blue-moon policy debate, said lobbyist Gibson McKay, who doesn’t see any issues coming up in January that would be divisive enough to split the party. It’s also an election year, which could make for a short, relatively uneventful Legislative session.
“They’re all going to want to get the hell out of there,” McKay said. “Sometimes you don’t have a lot of time for a fight.”
Even if there is some divisiveness left over, Farnsworth seems well equipped to handle the drama, Coughlin said — he’s articulate and thoughtful in forming his positions on policy.
“That’s the kind of guy you want, not somebody who’s buried in ideology and is inflexible on ideas,” he said.
Farnsworth said he’ll be quick to remind his like-minded colleagues of the Republican beliefs that guide their votes.
“I think if some of our members stray away from those beliefs, we should sit them down and try and find common ground and bring them back into the fold,” Farnsworth said. “I for one am not going to be looking for differences. I’m going to be looking for consensus.”