Republican Governor Doug Ducey was able to keep the Arizona Legislature red, but not everything worked out to his benefit, based on unofficial election results.
Though practically every race appears mathematically decided, Ducey, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich still have to certify the official canvassed results on November 30. When that’s complete, Ducey will sign proof of some devastating defeats.
Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin, who served under Gov. Fife Symington and Gov. Jan Brewer, acknowledged that keeping Republican-control of both the state House and Senate was a big deal, but seeing voters approve “one of the most progressive income tax rates in the country” is something Ducey was adamantly hoping to avoid.
Coughlin is referring to Proposition 208, or Invest in Education, which eked out a victory despite tens of millions of dollars spent to defeat it. It capped off a two-year battle between Ducey’s office and the Red for Ed movement that stormed the Capitol in 2018 demanding higher pay for teachers and other educators.
Coughlin said Ducey and Republican legislators knew there would be an attempt to get this measure on the ballot this year after it was disqualified in 2018, and they still managed to not accomplish something to render a potential ballot measure as moot.
“It was an opportune time for the Republicans to offer an alternative education funding plan with the knowledge that if you didn’t do that the (Arizona Education Association) was going to come forward with a very progressive proposal that was likely to pass,” the Highground Public Affairs president and CEO said.
Ducey strived under Arizona’s great economy that he helped build after a brutal recession and took pride in slashing taxes for Arizonans every year since he became governor in 2015. He still plans to do so, he told Arizona Capitol Times over the summer, but he just witnessed a large tax increase that targets the highest income earners in the state. Prop. 208 adds a 3.5% surcharge to taxable income for individual filers who make more than $250,000 or for couples who bring home more than $500,000. It is estimated to allocate almost $1 billion for public education. Results as of November 11 have the “yes” side winning by 3.5 percentage points, but the opposition already conceded.
Coughlin said the same writing was on the wall for Prop. 207, Smart and Safe Arizona, which aimed to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana. Ducey opposed the effort in 2016 and again this year, but didn’t contribute funds to the opposition campaign. The Legislature did nothing, Coughlin noted, and the pot proposition passed overwhelmingly with roughly 60% of the votes cast.
Both measures are now voter-protected and will need three-fourths vote in both chambers of the Legislature to alter, but only if it furthers the intent.
Democratic consultant Julie Erfle said those were bad losses for the governor, but she thinks since the Legislature is still in GOP hands there will be more efforts to try to reform the initiative process.
Erfle penned an op-ed for the Arizona Mirror claiming the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry suffered the biggest defeats with 207 and 208 winning, given how much money the group spent against them. The chamber is likely the organization that will try to push some initiative reform at the Capitol, already hinting that possibility.
But overall, Erfle thought Ducey’s biggest loss is President Donald Trump not only losing the election to President-elect Joe Biden, but Trump’s loss in Arizona, too.
“I think the governor needs to understand how he’s likely being perceived by the voters much the same way [Republican Senator Martha] McSally has been perceived, because in the beginning when Trump was first running [in 2016], [Ducey] did try to distance himself and even after Trump was elected he really kind of tried to straddle that fence,” Erfle said, adding that, like McSally, Ducey then fully embraced Trump and began to receive heavy criticism.
“If there’s one thing that voters really dislike, it’s somebody who they can’t trust, who they don’t think it’s genuine – and the reality is, I don’t see Trump Republicans embracing Doug Ducey, nor do I see moderates embracing him,” she said.
Ducey was lockstep with Trump for pretty much the entire campaign. For example, standing by the president’s side at nearly every rally over Trump’s seven trips to Arizona; flying to Washington, D.C. during the pandemic and forgoing his weekly press briefings; joining Trump at the White House to watch him accept the nomination for re-election, and following Trump’s lead with the handling of COVID-19.
Ducey did not publicly support Trump in 2016 and kept his distance while trying to win a second term as Arizona’s governor in 2018, but this year that distance disappeared.
Coughlin, however, noted that Trump still got about 72 million votes – the most by any Republican running for president, the most by any sitting president and only the second most in history. Of course the record sits with Biden who defeated Trump, but he still did extremely well. He didn’t buy that Ducey would see much effect from Trump’s loss and speculated that without the pandemic and the economy tanking this year, Trump and McSally may have easily won.
Trump was only losing Arizona by 11,635 votes, or less than a half percentage point as of November 12, and McSally trailed Mark Kelly by about 2.3 percentage points with a dwindling vote count.
What does matter, Coughlin said, is where Ducey decides to go from here.
“What are you doing now that the economy has taken a dump and the virus is still in play? What are you doing to bring Arizonans together to address the challenges ahead of us,” Coughlin said, adding that if he were advising Symington or Brewer on this he wouldn’t hold an apology tour, but rather just move forward.
Coughlin said he would identify policy issues like tax reform and strengthen personal relationships with legislators.
One legislator Ducey likely will be losing is one of his closest allies in Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. She is on her way to lose in the tightest legislative race this year against Democrat Christine Marsh in LD28.
Brophy-McGee was the most moderate legislator who carried a lot of Ducey’s priorities to fruition either by sponsoring the legislation or being able to work across party lines. With her presence gone from the Capitol, it’s possible bipartisanship will be at an all-time low despite the margins being closer than ever before.
“I’m not convinced that it will make that much of a difference,” Erfle said about Brophy McGee’s defeat.
A lot of her votes where she sided with Democrats did not matter much, Erfle said, because unless Brophy McGee was able to convince another Republican the majority party still had enough votes. Brophy McGee was able to save some face with her moderate record without it killing GOP bills.
“I think it may end up being more of a status quo legislative session that we’ve seen in the past because even though you’ve got one pick up in the Senate, the reality is you still have Republicans in the majority in both chambers,” Erfle said.