Rep. Justin Olson jumped into the race on Wednesday to replace Republican Matt Salmon in Arizona’s 5th Congressional District, abandoning his previous plan to run for Arizona House speaker to seek election to an open seat representing the eastern Phoenix suburbs in Washington, D.C.
The Mesa Republican leads the Arizona House appropriations committee and plans to remain in that role through the end of the legislative session. The appropriations chair takes a leading role in crafting the state budget.
A formal announcement is planned on Thursday. The district covers Apache Junction, Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Mesa.
“I’ve been a demonstrated leader in the effort to reduce the size of government, reduce the amount that government is taking from hardworking individuals and the burden they are placing on our economy,” Olson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I have a burning desire to do what I can to make some changes in our country, to get us back on the right path so we can pass on a future that is as strong and as vibrant and as free as the country that we inherited from my parents and their parents.”
Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs announced he would seek the seat the day Salmon announced his retirement last month. Salmon endorsed Biggs, and the Gilbert Republican’s campaign says he has endorsements from 12 of 18 Republican state senators.
Olson, 37 and a married father of 6, is in his third term in the Arizona House and is a tax analyst by profession. He said that work separates him from others and that voters may not look kindly on Salmon’s endorsement of Biggs.
“I think if we’ve seen anything from this cycle, it is voters are turned off by the insiders’ game that politicians constantly play,” Olson said. “I have not been a career politician. I’ve been a citizen legislator who has worked in the private sector while at the same time serving my constituents in the Legislature.”
He said that has kept him grounded in the day-to-day challenges that voters have to deal with to support their families. “I’m excited to take that message to voters and ask for their support, and they’re the ones who are going to decide who’s going to represent them in Washington, D.C.” Olson said.
His announcement comes as others have declined to join the race, including state Sen. Bob Worsley. Other Republican candidates are still likely to emerge for a rare open seat in a heavily GOP district.