Competitive races are already filling the entire 2022 ballot with roughly a year to go before the primary election on August 2, and several state lawmakers are planning to resign from their $24,000 a year jobs to focus on full-time campaigning.
There are at least 13 legislators who are either running for higher office or have been rumored to do so and half of them are apparently planning to call it quits from the Legislature. Most of them are Democrats.
On the top of the ticket is Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, who is seeking the governor nomination. He is planning to resign before the year is out, but sources within Legislative District 28 say there’s a push for him to resign immediately and some within the district are already seeking his replacement.
Rep. Shawanna Bolick’s campaign put to rest rumors she was going to jump ship to focus on a challenging four-way primary with two other lawmakers and an advertising executive for secretary of state.
“She has no intention of resigning a position that ensures the work of the people gets done and as Chair of Ways and Means she plans on continuing to put the interests of the taxpayer over special interest lobbyists,” campaign spokesman George Khalaf said.
And it’s the same with Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, the House Appropriations Committee chair who is seeking the GOP nomination for state treasurer.
Her spokesman Ryan O’Daniel said Cobb is fully capable of multitasking as a lawmaker and a candidate for statewide office.
“Quit? No chance,” O’Daniel said. “She has a record of fighting for the taxpayer, small business owners, and families, and will continue to do so as Appropriations chair because that’s why the hardworking people in Mohave and La Paz County sent her to the Capitol.”
O’Daniel added that she isn’t running for treasurer to “add to her resume.”
But a trio of Democratic lawmakers ready to battle it out for the open congressional seat in southern Arizona are all likely to resign, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers.
Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, would not confirm or deny the rumors. Neither would Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. Neither Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, nor his campaign provided comment.
Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, is also rumored to resign while he is seeking the nomination to take on Congressman Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, or whatever it becomes after redistricting.
State lawmakers are not required to resign-to-run as they were in the past.
Geoff Esposito, a Democratic lobbyist and consultant, said resigning and campaigning full time is the right decision for a candidate who is not viewed as an early front runner and needs to raise a lot of money.
“For someone like Lieberman, or some of these others, they’re having to play catch up on opponents who have a larger war chest,” he said.
It doesn’t apply to candidates who are running with clean elections money, Esposito noted.
Plus, when Democrats aren’t in the majority, the chances of them making a difference legislatively are always slim, especially when politics is as polarized as it is.
Esposito said that could weigh into the decision to tap out.
“I think somebody described this coming legislative session as second semester of senior year,” he said, adding that roughly half of the Democratic caucus potentially not sticking around the Legislature after next year.
That same reason could be an argument for Republicans to stay in their elected positions and campaign while building on their experience – especially if races are wide open with no dominant front runner or prolific fundraiser in these down ballot races.
Esposito also said that when lawmakers resign, it could potentially be an advantage for whomever gets the appointment if they get a year of experience to use on keeping the seat during the 2022 election.
How well someone utilizes that incumbency advantage and the relationships that they’d be able to build at the Capitol to come back there are important, he said.
“I think we’ve seen instances of both being an advantage for somebody in a future primary and we’ve seen it fall flat. As much as legislators like to believe nobody really knows who they are or cares – especially if you’re appointed, voters don’t really feel a loyalty to you,” Esposito said.
“Where the advantage comes in is if you’re able to turn that into institutional support, build the relationships with the people who play in those races, and show that you care about progressive values, and are willing to fight the good fight.”
What’s really key in the district Lieberman is leaving where Democrats flipped a House seat in 2018 and a Senate seat in 2020, is someone who can represent not just Democrats but many Republicans and independents as well. And with redistricting, whatever LD28 becomes will be smaller than what it is currently and the entire makeup could be changed by the next election.
A 4-1 split in favor of Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will decide who will be appointed to any vacancy from a district within the county lines, so the chances of a super progressive compared to someone more moderate could also play into that future decision. Two Republican supervisors live in LD28, too.