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Small group of Republicans buck their party, vote their conscience

The following story is the fourth of five to be published over two weeks based on voting data the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting pulled for the 2017 legislative session. The nonprofit group analyzed the number of floor votes that each lawmaker cast the same as every other lawmaker. The result is a first of its kind look at voting patterns between Arizona legislators, revealing alike votes and disparities – some known anecdotally, others not seen before – between lawmakers, at times regardless of party affiliation. Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting set a minimum threshold of 230 alike votes in the House of Representatives and 435 alike votes in the state Senate to gauge how often lawmakers vote alike with one another.

The threshold could be expanded or shrunk, but think of the analysis like a microscope: zooming in too close, or not far enough, won’t reveal anything of interest. Finding the right magnification, or in this case, the right threshold of alike votes in each chamber, produces significant results and visualizes alike votes among legislators.

No man is an island, they say.

Tell that to Sen. Warren Petersen and Reps. Eddie Farnsworth and Rusty Bowers.

These Republicans certainly don’t vote alike with Democrats, according to an Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting analysis. They also have the distinction of being the most likely to buck their own party.

The three East Valley Republicans have an independent streak, the analysis shows, a tendency to vote no on bills that the rest of their Republican colleagues approve. In some cases, they’re the lone no vote on a bill, period, even when all Democrat and Republican lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives approve of a bill.

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

That was the case with Bowers, who was the only lawmaker in either chamber to vote against HB2192, a bill that placed restrictions on the driver’s licenses of parents who aren’t making child support payments.

[Use the interactive data tool created by AZCIR to discover the alike votes between each representative HERE.]

Bowers, who represents Mesa, said he’s not trying to make a distinction as an outlier, or abide by some “strict code.” He’s just casting votes based on the knowledge at hand, like when he was the lone vote against HB2192 in the House – he heard from court officials how detrimental losing one’s license can be.

“To restrict a driver’s license, except in a case where somebody’s a danger to other people’s lives, how’s he going to fulfill obligations if he doesn’t have a car in order to get to work. Or, how’s he going to fulfill obligations if he can’t get to a court date or meet a probation officer,” Bowers said.

Bowers will sometimes get a few “eyeballs” – curious stares or glares, he said, when he’s the lone dissenting vote. The same could be said of Petersen and Farnsworth, who both hail from the same legislative district in Gilbert.

Sen. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)

Sen. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)

Petersen was one of only three lawmakers in the Senate to vote against a bill to lower the minimum age at which restaurant workers could serve alcohol from 19 to 18 years old, and was one of just two senators to vote against a measure to extend a window for Native American military veterans to recover income taxes withheld from their paychecks while they were on active duty. Farnsworth and Bowers voted against that bill, too.

[Use the interactive data tool created by AZCIR to discover the alike votes between each senator HERE.]

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

Farnsworth was the only representative to vote against a bill to make wulfenite Arizona’s official state mineral. He even voted against one bill in the budget – a package of bills that Republicans routinely approve.

Petersen and Farnsworth did not respond to multiple calls for comment.

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, wasn’t surprised. He said those lawmakers are part of a caucus of “no,” a cluster of Republicans who regularly don’t vote yes with their colleagues. But they’re not necessarily voting no for the sake of it – they’re just voting their conscience, according to GOP political consultant Constantin Querard.

There’s something of a luxury to being in the majority with votes to spare that makes it easier to vote against legislation knowing full well that a colleague’s bill will still get approved. Still, the lawmakers with independent streaks are also ones with strongly held beliefs and values that inform most of their votes.

“Those guys, that’s not artificial independence,” Querard said. “They take their oath very seriously, they have very critical eyes when it comes to legislation, and they do what they believe to be right.”


Find out more about your lawmakers’ voting patterns below:

Swing-district Dems use divergent vote tactics in Legislature

House Dem leader crosses aisle more often than party colleagues

Moderate GOP lawmakers exist in name only, study finds

Some GOP lawmakers vote solid red, support caucus bills

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