Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, appears to have locked up the votes to become the next speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.
Fifteen Republican representatives and six candidates who are likely to win in November, an almost certain majority of the 2017 House GOP caucus, have publicly committed their support to him for speaker.
Mesnard has been locked in a hotly-contested race with Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, for the House’s top post. That race will be decided by Republican representatives in a closed-door, secret-ballot election on the day after the general election.
Mitchell did not immediately return a call for comment.
Mesnard, who also sought the speakership in 2015 but was defeated by current House Speaker David Gowan, said he is honored “to have the trust of so many of my colleagues, who expressed support of me unconditionally.”
The speaker controls almost every aspect of life in the House, from the roof down to the carpet.
He has authority over the chamber’s $13 million budget, the ability to hire and fire any employee in the building and the power to unilaterally kill any bill.
Mesnard recently sent a 27-page booklet outlining his vision for his speakership and for the chamber to all of the winners of the House Republican primary races, and his vision seems to have resonated with the caucus, as several of his supporters said that document pushed them off the fence and into Mesnard’s column.
In the document, Mesnard promised to empower the Republican caucus and revamp the rules of the House to ensure that the state budget is crafted by rank-and-file lawmakers.
The document outlines Mesnard’s goal of “caucus-driven leadership,” and promises to empower rank-and-file Republicans after two years of frustration from the caucus about Gowan’s top-down leadership style.
“Members should not be treated like sheep, kept wondering what’s on the day’s agenda and what will happen next… Leadership should not operate in a bubble, yet we have seen this occur more and more,” he wrote.
He promised to return the power of the budget to the lawmakers themselves, through Appropriations subcommittees and empowering the House Appropriations Committee to “mean something.”
“Recently, development of the budget has become a top-down affair. While leadership in the past has always been involved in the budget process, the current reality is that construction of the budget has largely been usurped from the caucus, with members of leadership at times focusing on their own priorities without regard to – or even at the expense of – the caucus priorities,” Mesnard wrote.
Republican Kevin Payne, who won his Republican primary race for the House in his heavily Republican district, said Mesnard’s document outlining his vision for the caucus put him over the top in his support for Mesnard over Mitchell.
Republican Rep. Tony Rivero seconded that, saying the promise of Appropriations subcommittees, specifically, inspired him to join Team Mesnard.
“(Having subcommittees) is a big deal. I think members, for the last two years, were just not happy with the rubber-stamp process for the budget,” he said, adding that the subcommittees will provide oversight on government bureaucracy in a way that the Appropriations Committee doesn’t.
With the exception of a handful of truly competitive seats and the possible Election Night upset, the next batch of representatives was essentially decided in the August 30 primary election. While the general election is still on the horizon, only one of Mesnard’s supporters is expected to face a tough general election race in a competitive district, while the rest are considered locks in their general election races, if they even face one.
Mesnard, a former Senate policy analyst who has spent the past six years as a representative from Chandler, has served on the House Ways and Means Committee for six years, on the Commerce Committee for four years (and as chairman of that committee for one year), and on the Judiciary and Elections committees for two years each.
In 2013 and 2014, he served as the speaker pro tempore, a leadership position that essentially made him right hand man to then-Speaker Andy Tobin.
The 21 Republican representatives and candidates who have committed to supporting Mesnard for speaker are:
Rep. Rusty Bowers, Legislative District 25
Rep. Paul Boyer, LD20
Rep. Noel Campbell, LD1
Rep. Heather Carter, LD15
Rep. Regina Cobb, LD5
Rep. Doug Coleman, LD16
Republican candidate Mary Hamway, LD28
Republican candidate Drew John, LD14
Rep. David Livingston, LD22
Rep. Phil Lovas, LD22
Rep. J.D. Mesnard, LD17
Republican candidate Paul Mosley, LD5
Republican candidate Kevin Payne, LD21
Rep. Tony Rivero, LD21
Rep. Bob Robson, LD18
Sen. Don Shooter, LD13 (running for the House)
Rep. T.J. Shope, LD8
Rep. Kelly Townsend, LD15
Republican candidate Michelle Udall, LD25
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, LD23
Rep. Jeff Weninger, LD17