Moderates vs. conservatives as Republicans scramble in East Valley’s LD12

Ben Giles//August 8, 2016

Moderates vs. conservatives as Republicans scramble in East Valley’s LD12

Ben Giles//August 8, 2016

GOP boxing gloves

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs’ decision to run for Congress has had a domino effect in Legislative District 12, as Republicans scramble to fill the Senate seat left vacate by the 14-year lawmaker.

It’s also seen as an opportunity by some East Valley Republicans to elect more “pragmatic” GOP leaders than those who’ve served LD12 for the past four years or so.

Rep. Warren Petersen, a two-term Gilbert Republican, is leaving his House seat to run for Biggs’ spot in the Senate. Meanwhile, a sitting GOP senator, Mesa’s Bob Worsley of nearby LD25, has recruited candidates to run for Biggs’ seat and the one left vacant in the House by Petersen. That’s why Worsley found Jimmy Lindblom, a candidate much like himself: A businessman who has never before run for office, hoping to win his first race and become a senator.

Lindblom’s reasons for running, and Worsley’s decision to recruit him, reflect a growing disenchantment with the current slate of legislators in LD12, according to Tyler Montague, Lindblom’s campaign consultant and cousin.

“There’s a huge simmering undercurrent of dissatisfaction in Gilbert with the cabal of Biggs, (Rep. Eddie) Farnsworth and Petersen,” Montague said. “There’s a big overlap in policy, but there’s just a little too much of one thing.”

By that, Montague said he means the three are too ideologically entrenched, sticking with their one-sided views on issues such as school choice without giving any thought or merit to another stance.

Worsley said that ideology rears its head with Petersen’s view of the role of government, an issue that has become a flashpoint within the Republican Party in the East Valley.

Constantin Querard, a political consultant for Petersen, said the split among Republicans in the East Valley – ideological versus moderate – is nothing new, but Worsley and others are mistaken if they think voters in LD12 are unhappy with their legislators, including Petersen, who he billed as true East Valley conservatives.

East Valley voters want a limited-government conservative, he said, not someone who claims the conservative mantel only on issues that suit them.

What voters want

“You say, ‘Well I’m pro-life, so I’m conservative.’ No. Conservative is a relatively consistent philosophy that should extend through the vast majority of the issues,” Querard said. “In this case, you do have moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans, and it’s pretty standard fault lines out there for most of their primaries.”

Lindblom said while Petersen has legislated with the best intentions, he and other lawmakers representing LD12 have lost sight of what the voters of their district want and need.

It’s not so much a matter of disagreement over policies as an issue with the way Petersen legislates, he said.

“The most common thing I hear amongst local community leaders is, we need a voice, and we don’t feel we have one right now,” Lindblom said. “We feel like those that currently represent our district are down there doing what they feel is best, but they don’t represent what our community needs are.”

As an East Valley native – born in Mesa, raised in Gilbert, where he now runs a construction company – Lindblom said he is in better touch with the needs of a community he claimed is more pragmatic about government than Petersen.

What voters in LD12 want, he said, is a balanced approach to government, not the blanket “no government” concept that Petersen endorses.

“Overall, we’re starting to hear more that this ‘no government’ concept is really not the voice of the people. People recognize government and its value to creating a stable economy and a safe place to live – they just want to see it fair and reasonable with the burden it places on people,” Lindblom said.

Petersen did not return multiple calls for comment.

‘Pragmatic Republican’

With Biggs, the Senate president and tone-setter of the chamber for the past four years, leaving to run for Congress, Worsley saw an opening. He said he helped recruit Lindblom to run for the Senate, as well as Gilbert Republican
LaCinda Lewis to run for the House.

“We felt it’d be nice to have some folks in Gilbert in that particular legislative district that see the world a little bit more like we do in our party,” Worsley said.

Lindblom better fits Worsley’s description of a “more pragmatic Republican” than Petersen, who Worsley described as a more ideologically-bound Republican in the mold of Biggs. Petersen has a negative view of the government’s role in cities, public schools and on the issue of immigration reform, Worsley said, as does Biggs and their LD12 seatmate, Farnsworth.

The district is particularly divided on the issue of education, where a war between charter schools and public schools in the East Valley has taken a nasty turn.

“I’m for a balanced approach, and I think you had a group of three over there that were all about charter schools” at the expense of public schools, Worsley said.

Montague pointed to the Maricopa County Republican Party’s blanket opposition to all school bond and override measures in 2015, a view he said hems closely with more Petersen-like beliefs on school funding. Voters in Gilbert Unified and Higley Unified school districts in LD12 approved extra funding in the 2015 election.

In addition to receiving the endorsement of a majority of the town council members in Gilbert and Queen Creek, Lindblom is backed by three school board members from the Higley Unified School District.

Ideological opposition to such funding measures can be chalked up to a “tribal element” of the hardcore, Tea Party movement that Petersen is a part of, Montague said.

“The local schools and cities don’t like (Petersen) and have embraced (Lindblom),” Montague said. Put another way, “they like (Lindblom), but it’s also a referendum on (Petersen).”

Calling themselves conservatives

Though Lindblom boasts the endorsements of many local elected officials, Querard said Petersen is no slouch either when it comes to the support of Gilbert and Queen Creek leaders. It’s just that Petersen’s endorsements represent those towns at a much higher office.

“They both have local endorsements,” Querard said. “I think Matt Salmon is pretty darn local, and Andy Biggs is pretty darn local.”

Petersen also has the endorsement of Gov. Doug Ducey, several members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and many business and lobbying entities at the Capitol. Querard said officials like Petersen understand the will of the voters better than some local elected leaders, who have a different, more expansive view of government – a big government philosophy, Querard said.

When it comes to the difference between lawmakers like Worsley and candidates like Lindblom versus a lawmaker like Petersen, “it’s moderates and conservatives, it’s not really two types of conservatives,” Querard said.

“Of course they would call themselves conservatives,” he added. “Every Republican running for office calls themselves a conservative. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be called conservative.”