A handful of would-be Republican lawmakers stand out from a crowded field of legislative candidates this election cycle for their tarnished reputations, but some may still land in office.
These Republicans are seeking redemption by election, but their baggage has some in the GOP shying away. Meanwhile, Democrats are salivating at the chance to flip the legislative seats those candidates seek.
The Arizona Democratic Party is putting up a statewide fight by running candidates in every legislative race. Democrats fronting longshot challenges in reliably red districts could have easier election bids if flawed GOP candidates advance to the general election.
Ousted Yuma Rep. Don Shooter is running for the state Senate months after he was expelled from the Legislature when an investigation concluded he sexually harassed multiple women while in office.
Rep. Paul Mosley is running for re-election after he invoked “legislative immunity” to dodge a citation when he was caught speeding 40 miles per hour over the limit.
Rep. David Stringer is running for re-election after he told a GOP gathering in June that there are “not enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools, a comment widely condemned as racist, but one Stringer insists was misconstrued.
Former House Speaker David Gowan is running for the state Senate after a hiatus from the Capitol, which he left in 2016 under the cloud of an investigation of his misuse of state vehicles and mileage reimbursement while campaigning for Congress.
And the former head of the state’s welfare agency, Tim Jeffries, is running for the state Senate after he was forced out by the governor amid reports that he illegitimately fired hundreds of state workers.
With the exception of Mosley, who quickly apologized for his lead foot, the majority of these candidates are unapologetic for their actions, while some have peppered their apologies with deflection and denial.
And the list goes on.
There’s also Charles Loftus, one of the top deputies under Jeffries, who was also fired and is now suing the state and running for a state Senate seat. Former Sheriff and current U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for disobeying a court order to stop his immigration patrols. President Trump has since pardoned him. And there is Bobby Wilson, a Republican candidate in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, who shot his mother in what is a very complicated story.
Democrats aren’t without their own issues: Yahya Yuksel, who’s running for the U.S. House in 2nd Congressional District, has denied an allegation that he raped an intoxicated teenage girl when he was in high school.
Candidates with baggage
Arizona is no stranger to legislative candidates with baggage, but this election cycle stands out for the number of legislative candidates that have recently been thrust into the public eye for negative reasons.
Despite their flaws, some of these legislative candidates still have good chances of winning this election cycle.
It’s entirely possible that Shooter, Stringer and Mosley all get re-elected because their opposition may not be strong enough to cancel out their name recognition, lobbyist Barry Dill said.
Meanwhile, some Republicans are disassociating themselves from damaged candidates within the party.
The Mohave County Republican Committee voted to censure Mosley for unbecoming conduct after his chronic speeding became public knowledge. Beyond that, the local party committee is not supporting Mosley in the primary and likely would not support him in the general election should he win in the primary, said Committee Chairman Laurence Schiff.
Schiff said local Republicans were concerned that Mosley’s behavior could give the party a bad reputation.
“That’s why the GOP did a motion to divorce themselves from him,” he said. Elected officials are held to a higher standard than everyone else, and Mosley’s actions were inexcusable, Schiff said.
Mosley did not respond to a request for comment, but he previously apologized for his behavior during the March 27 traffic stop, saying his rush to see his family “does not justify how fast I was speeding nor my reference to legislative immunity when being pulled over.” Mosley has been pulled over for speeding on several occasions since February 2017, but he has never received a citation.
But LD5, Mosley’s district, is extremely rural and a Republican stronghold. Schiff doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.
“The chances of him losing to a Democrat, I don’t think that’s really great,” he said. “The beneficiaries are the people running against him in the primary.”
The Lake Havasu Republican is facing off against seatmate Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, political newcomer Leo Biasiucci and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, who previously sought the seat. Mosley’s opponents are talking about the incumbent’s highly publicized faux pas on the campaign trail.
Mosley is also a freshman lawmaker, making him more vulnerable in his re-election bid.
Gov. Doug Ducey essentially publicly shamed Mosley by vowing to repeal legislative immunity next legislative session. Ducey also chided Mosley for driving so quickly, but he did not go so far as to call for Mosley’s resignation.
But Ducey and Arizona GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines took stronger action when it came to Stringer and Shooter. They called for Stringer to resign, which did not occur.
The Prescott Republican did not apologize and maintained that his comments were misconstrued or misunderstood. Stringer said his comment that “there aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s minority-laden public schools was an attempt at an honest discussion on race, and just a small snippet of a 17-minute speech that added context.
Now, just months later and out on the campaign trail, Stringer said his constituents are either unaware of what he said, have forgotten about the comments or don’t think that anything he said was outlandish or over-the-top. Stringer said his campaign has knocked on doors at more than 2,500 homes in the district and he hasn’t received any negative feedback.
“Pointing out that 60 percent of Arizona school kids are children of color or minorities and only 40 percent are white, a lot of people did not know that, but that’s not a statement that my constituents perceive as being racist,” he said.
Lobbyist and longtime political observer Chuck Coughlin said if anything, Stringer’s comments may help him in the LD1 House Republican primary because of the rural and heavily conservative nature of Yavapai County.
In February, Lines and Ducey praised lawmakers in the House who voted to expel Shooter from the Legislature. Ducey also spoke out against Shooter’s actions in his “State of the State” speech earlier this year.
Nine women publicly accused Shooter of misconduct, ranging from unwanted touching to inappropriate, sexually charged comments.
Shooter apologized for his actions in early January, but deflection and self-defense were included in his apology that started out with a joke about the mandatory harassment training House members were undergoing because of Shooter. Shooter did not respond this week to a request for comment.
Looking back, Shooter’s speech could have foreshadowed his electoral run for redemption.
“I’ve said stupid things, I’ve done stupid things. I stood on the carpet and took it like a man. I apologized. I can’t go back in the past. I can’t change it, but I can change the future, given the opportunity,” Shooter said in February just before his expulsion from the House.
Local political observers agree that Mosley faces a tough re-election battle because of his newfound notoriety and his relative newness to the Legislature, but Shooter and Stringer might win their primaries because of their continued base of supporters.
As for Shooter, he is flipping the narrative, Coughlin said. Because he was kicked out of the Legislature, he’s billing himself as an outsider, he said. It’s all about message discipline – that’s what Coughlin said he told Shooter when the ex-lawmaker was deciding whether to run for office again.
“I told him it was going to be hard to stay disciplined on his message,” Coughlin said. “Every time you get one paragraph on your message, there’s going to be three paragraphs on the past, on being removed from office.”
Shooter’s past is no easy thing to brush off. Even Coughlin called him an exceptional case because being expelled from the state Legislature is rare and not quickly forgotten.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard hinted at this when in February, he called for a vote to expel Shooter from the House.
“Mr. Shooter, in his time down here, has done good things for the state and his constituents and probably will only be remembered for this,” he said.
In a broader sense, these candidates are seeing campaign contributors and major endorsers steering clear of their campaigns because business groups and certain constituencies want to avoid controversy, Coughlin said.
The Fraternal Order of Police withdrew its endorsement of Mosley after his speeding incident. He was also snubbed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.
In LD13, Republicans are flocking to endorse and raise money for Sine Kerr, one of Shooter’s opponents. The Arizona chamber endorsed Kerr over Shooter.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Kerr to fill the LD13 Senate seat vacated by Steve Montenegro, when he stepped down to seek the Republican nomination in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. Kerr was selected in January and served through the 2018 legislative session.
“The net effect of it all is to dry up fundraising,” Coughlin said.
As for Gowan and Jeffries, their transgressions lie further in the past.
Gowan, the former Arizona House speaker, repaid the state $12,000 that he had wrongfully received as reimbursement for trips he had taken in state vehicles (but reported as taking in his own vehicle) and per diem for days he claimed he worked, but didn’t.
An investigation by Attorney General Mark Brnovich called the Sierra Vista Republican’s spending “troublesome,” but Brnovich did not pursue criminal charges because the violations were not intentional, but rather attributed to negligence.
Now in campaign mode, Gowan has dismissed reports that he misused state resources and disingenuously uses Brnovich’s report to say he was exonerated. Gowan did not respond to a request for comment.
The Public Integrity Alliance — a Republican committee that often targets politicians accused of misconduct — has already attacked Gowan this election cycle. The group put together an ad earlier this year that highlights Gowan’s mileage reimbursement controversy.
Jeffries’ dispute with his old boss — the governor — could bleed into Jeffries’ election bid, Coughlin said.
“The governor’s on the ballot too, so people are going to, particularly in a Republican primary, are going to be voting for Doug Ducey. Are they then going to go down the list and vote for Tim Jeffries? I don’t think so,” Coughlin said.
Suing the state
Jeffries argues his 21 months leading the Arizona Department of Economic Security were the best months in the agency’s history. He says the experience and knowledge he gained from leading a state agency would be an asset in the state Senate.
He’s also suing the state to clear his name after he was forced to resign from DES.
In talking to voters, Jeffries gets questions about his time at DES and his departure from the agency. He’s always open to telling voters about how “extraordinary and transformative” his leadership was.
“I am an interesting Google so people are always curious about this, that and the other thing, but I never hesitate to discuss my record of achievement at DES,” he said.
But Dill said having candidates with baggage seeking elected office isn’t unusual.
Voters and the media are simply paying more attention this election year, he said. President Trump has created this environment where the media and voters are watching everything he does. That same behavior trickles down to Arizona’s legislative races, Dill said.
“I think this is part of the Trump effect,” he said. “I think we’re all so on edge and observant of all the shenanigans that are going on.”
The 24/7 news cycle plays a role too, because it perpetuates this kind of news, he said.
Furthermore, candidates like Stringer, Mosley and Gowan have the benefit of living in more rural areas where locals may not keep such close tabs on their legislators or what’s going on at the Capitol, Dill said.
“We err sometimes in thinking that just because something is written in The Arizona Republic that the whole state sees and knows about it and understands it, and that’s not the case,” he said.