In a state that has turned from red to purple, Arizona’s Republican and Democratic parties continue to push away from the center – one opens the door for more voices to be heard and the other shuts out those who disagree.
It was easy to predict who would win each party chair on January 23 — Raquel Terán for the Democrats and Kelli Ward for the Republicans — but what wasn’t as expected was what those margins of victory would be.
Terán, a Latina state representative in west Phoenix, got her political upbringing in the post-SB1070 movement. She’s a progressive through and through, but told Arizona Capitol Times she will make sure that whether a Democrat is progressive or moderate, they will have the same access to party resources, helping more members pick up seats like the party did in 2018 and 2020.
Democrats won several legislative seats in 2018, and four statewide races including the first U.S. Senate seat in roughly 30 years. In 2020, while less successful, Democrats picked up one seat in the state Senate, the other U.S. Senate seat and also handed its electoral votes to a Democrat for the first time in 24 years.
Ward, a far right Republican loyalist to former President Trump, was elected to her second term leading the AZGOP, but on January 27, several Republican state committeemen questioned Ward’s victory and are looking into a full audit of the results. Party officials did not release any numbers for all of the races and resolutions and speculate that something nefarious could have happened.
It’s a show of irony as Ward has been a top voice pushing several debunked conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Trump despite a lack of evidence and every court from local to the highest in the country throwing out cases left and right.
Ward previously served two terms in the state Legislature before running in GOP primaries for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and 2018 – and losing. As her political career began to fizzle out, Terán’s began to take flight. Ward did not respond to multiple attempts for comment on this story.
Teran was first elected to the state House in 2018 along with her current seatmate Robert Meza.
Aside from the two party leaders having their fair share of differences, the party meetings could not have gone any differently. Terán won with 75% of the vote. Ward won in a run-off just barely eking out a victory by 3 percentage points, but no specific vote totals were revealed.
The Democratic Party election, which was wide open after former chair Felecia Rotellini decided not to run again, also voted to condemn Trump and the riots on January 6, and urged U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to convict the former president when the impeachment trial takes place next month. Both Sinema and Kelly endorsed Terán for party chair.
The Republican Party voted to censure Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of U.S. Sen. John McCain, who branded himself as one of the most textbook Republicans in state history after Barry Goldwater. The party also voted to say there are only two genders and calls for revoking birthright citizenship, among other resolutions that passed.
In between the November 3 election and the AZGOP meeting, several conservatives — and even more moderate Republicans — had had enough of Ward’s behavior and criticized her at every opportunity. One of those conservatives was Kirk Adams, the former Arizona House speaker and former chief of staff to Ducey.
Adams was dismayed that Ward won the chairmanship, saying true conservatives must do their part to quiet the noise coming from Ward and her crew of conspiracy theorists by “call[ing] out their [expletive].”
Adams has been talking to just about any reporter who calls to say that Ward winning the chair again isn’t an end to the Republican Party here, but it’s not a good sign, and it’s not reflective of all Republicans.
“You have to let voters know that this is not a Republican brand. Or if they think it is, [explain that] there are a lot of other Republicans who don’t think this way – give us a second look,” he said. “But if we sort of ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’ we don’t want to tick anybody off, then her style of politics becomes the Republican brand.”
While Ward pushes away those who she calls RINOs or Republican in name only, Terán said she is trying to bridge the divide in her party that she now gets to lead.
Geoff Esposito, a progressive lobbyist and political consultant, has been following Terán’s career for years and believes she is the right person to lead.
“There are people who are just symbols of their generation in the moment and Raquel is that in so many ways,” Esposito said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a candidate for party chair that has engendered such enthusiasm from all the various factions of the party … she has a unifying presence that everyone from the progressive left to the moderates see something that inspires them and that they can support.”
Compared to Ward, Esposito said Teran clearly has a vision for the party to move forward where the Republican Party continues to be more divisive than ever. “We’ll see how that holds over the next two years,” he said.
2022 is a big election year for Arizona since Kelly’s Senate seat will be up, and all five statewide offices will be on the ballot, with the governor’s race wide open after Ducey terms out, plus two seats on the Corporation Commission and a redistricted Congress and Legislature. Both parties have a lot to work with leading up to that election.
Adams said he believes that Republicans can continue to win in Arizona, despite now having an obstacle in Ward. He said there are several financial backchannels Republicans can use without having to go through the state party, but it just makes it more challenging. To win, Adams said, Republicans must continue to put forward good candidates because it’s no longer useful to rely on having an “R” next to your name.
He said Republicans are increasingly willing to vote for sufficiently moderate Democrats, such as Sinema and Kelly, and the GOP needs to court “Ducey-Sinema” voters, who are the voters of the future, he said, not simply rely on the fringe that Ward represents.
Adams has made it clear he thinks Ward is extreme and said Republicans who still haven’t made a point to come out publicly against Ward and her loyalists are still learning to navigate the waters in a post-Trump world.
“Others have governing responsibilities that need to be tended to as a first priority. So they’re focused on that,” he said.
Count Kathy Petsas, the Republican chair of the Legislative District 28 party, among those who condemn Ward.
She stands by Ducey, who lives in her district and is a state committeeman, and has adamantly criticized Ward for being a terrible choice to lead the party. She said not a single committeeman in LD28 voted for Ward in 2019 or this year. That includes Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and several other elected officials.
“She is unfit to lead,” Petsas said, adding that she (Petsas) is tired of being lumped into the Ward-faction of the party just because she makes a lot of noise.
Only 1,300 people participated in the AZGOP election, Petsas said, compared to roughly 1.5 million registered Republicans in Arizona. They do “not represent the diversity of thought, respect for the rule of law, economic pragmatism, and integrity of the full party.”