House Republicans choose Toma as speaker-elect; Dems elect Cano as minority leader 

House Republicans choose Toma as speaker-elect; Dems elect Cano as minority leader 

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Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, speaks at a Feb. 19, 2020 event in Scottsdale. The leadership teams for Republicans and Democrats in the state House are set after House Republicans met Tuesday to elect their caucus leaders, with current Majority Leader Toma elevated to speaker-elect. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

The leadership teams for Republicans and Democrats in the state House of Representatives are set after House Republicans met Tuesday to elect their caucus leaders, with current Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, elevated to speaker-elect. 

Republicans also chose Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu, as the next majority leader and Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, as the majority whip. In a press release, House Republicans announced Michael Hunter will continue as chief of staff.  

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Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu

Toma, who was running against Rep. Joe Chaplik, R-Scottsdale for speaker, said their race wasn’t a matter of how “conservative” the two are, but more about their approach to the position and experience.  

“It’s not really about more or less conservative. I think that’s a misnomer and people wanted to try and frame it that way, but that’s not really what’s happened at all,” Toma said. 

Biasiucci agreed and said the focus of the meeting was about unity, both within the House and within the Senate.  

“The bottom line (is) we’re coming together,” he said. 

Chaplik announced he was running for speaker during a Turning Point Action event in August and has criticized current Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, because he “refused to listen to the conservatives,” including the Arizona Freedom Caucus. Chaplik is a founding member of the Arizona Freedom Caucus, which is comprised of a group of Arizona Republican lawmakers who seek to “combat both the left and establishment GOP.” 

Bowers said Monday he wanted no involvement with organizing the leadership election. He will not be returning to the Legislature and said he doesn’t want any kind of influence he has as speaker to sway members and their votes. Additionally, Bowers wasn’t present at Tuesday’s meeting, which was held at Arizona Rock Products Association.  

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Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande

Not all Republicans who left Tuesday’s meeting expressed unification, including Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa. Parker is another founding member of the Arizona Freedom Caucus.  

“Get ready for shitshow round two,” Parker said while walking to her vehicle after the meeting. 

House Republicans had no incumbent trailing candidates entering Tuesday’s vote and Rob Hudelson, who is behind in the race for Legislative District 16’s second House seat, said he didn’t get to vote for leadership positions.  

On Nov. 10, Senate Republicans allowed three losing members to vote in their leadership election, including Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, Legislative District 9 candidate Robert Scantlebury, and Legislative District 23 candidate Gary Garcia Snyder.  

“In spite of the fact that external groups seem to want to get involved in these elections, you know their (Senate GOP) election is their business and our election is our business,” Toma said. “And those that are outside of that – I mean you’re not a member, you’re not elected – you shouldn’t be talking about this. This is a family decision and we made it within the family and they need to make their decision within the family.” 

House Democrats also elected their leadership team on Nov. 10. Rep. Andres Cano, D-Tucson, will be minority leader and current Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, will be assistant leader after switching chambers next session. Reps. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, and Marcelino Quinonez, D-Phoenix, were elected as minority whips.  

Republicans currently hold a 31-29 majority in the House if voting results hold – the same split as last session.  

“Whether we are going to stay in the minority or be in the majority, I think we owe it to Arizonans to put the differences aside,” Cano said after the Democrats’ meeting. 

The only returning Democratic leader in the House is assistant leader Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, and she will not have a leadership role next session.  

With Democrat Katie Hobbs likely to serve as Arizona’s next governor and Republicans only having a two-member majority in the House, party leaders on both sides expressed optimism of working together to pass legislation.  

Cano touted last session’s bipartisan budget and said Democrats were inspired from it.  

“I think we have to keep moving the needle on progress and keep looking for our commonality than differences,” Cano said.  

Toma referenced some of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s proposed policies including eliminating the rental tax and the food tax that have had Democratic support in the past, and he said there’s opportunities to get “big things done” that Republicans and Democrats can agree on.