Conservative Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon will not seek re-election this November, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. He endorsed state Senate President Andy Biggs as his replacement.
Salmon, 58, has been a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the rebellious group of conservative lawmakers who frequently defied GOP leaders and helped push former Speaker John Boehner to leave Congress.
Almost immediately, Biggs announced he would run to replace Salmon and that the congressman would serve as the chairman of his campaign committee.
“As a state legislator, and as Senate president, I have consistently demonstrated my ability to be a conservative leader who can build the necessary coalitions to pass meaningful reforms. I am ready to take my proven 14-year record to Washington and be that strong conservative voice for the East Valley,” Biggs, 57, R-Gilbert, said in a written statement announcing his candidacy.
In his own statement, Salmon said he was proud of his votes to cut federal spending.
He first served in the House in the 1990s and unsuccessfully ran for Arizona governor in 2002. He was re-elected to the House in 2012.
Salmon’s congressional district in the Phoenix suburbs is heavily Republican and is expected to remain in GOP control in the fall elections.
Most observers expect there will be a crowded field of Republicans seeking to replace Salmon.
Biggs’ decision to run for Congress and leave the Legislature two years before he reaches term limits in the Senate leaves a void in leadership. Biggs has served as Senate president since 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, and Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, are both interested in the post. Lesko said Thursday morning she’s “definitely interested,” but will first speak with Yarbrough before making a decision about whether to pursue the Senate’s top post.
“(Yarbrough’s) tried to run in the past over in the House, and he’s the majority leader, so I want to see what he’s doing,” Lesko said.
Biggs’ departure has already led to an agreement between the two representatives from Legislative District 12. Gilbert Republican Rep. Warren Peterson announced he’ll run for the district’s Senate seat, with the support of his colleague, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth.
“My passion has been to protect your liberties and small businesses from government over reach. I promise to continue to do that if I am fortunate enough to be elected to the Senate,” Peterson said in a statement on Facebook.
Biggs said in his statement that he’s running to ensure Salmon’s conservative record continues.
“I never envisioned running for Congress, but Matt’s decision to return home leaves a void that must be filled by the kind of strong, conservative voice that the people of Arizona’s 5th District have come to expect and that they deserve,” Biggs said.
Biggs has wielded considerable power in Arizona as Senate president, a post he won after leading an effort to oust then-Senate President Steve Pierce. He battled with former Gov. Jan Brewer over Medicaid expansion in 2013 and was almost overthrown as president by a coalition of Senate Republicans and Democrats who backed the expansion.
He has played an important role in crafting tight state budgets, pushing school choice measures and bills targeting abortion providers.
As president, he controls what legislation gets hearings or votes, repeatedly ensuring that Democrat-sponsored bills and measures like texting-while-driving bans never materialize.
Salmon’s endorsement will be a boost for Biggs but likely won’t prevent other Republicans from jumping into a rare open seat in the heavily GOP district, said Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican political adviser who ran Brewer’s campaigns.
Christine Jones, a Republican who ran for governor in 2014 and whose name is often mentioned as a potential candidate when opportunities arise, said she wasn’t interested in running.
Biggs has hired a campaign firm that includes Salmon’s former chief of staff, political operative Sean Noble and others with ties to Gov. Doug Ducey. Salmon will chair Biggs’ election committee.
Includes information from Associated Press writer Bob Christie and Arizona Capitol Times reporter Ben Giles