Arizona’s Legislature and Governor’s Office will go from mainstream Republican control to three separate ideologies.
Control of the Governor’s Office flipped to Democrat, control of the Senate shifted to Republican control that is more in line with former President Donald Trump and control of the House remains relatively the same for the upcoming session.
Republicans kept their majorities in the state House and Senate but did not gain any seats.
In the Legislature’s most recent session, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, controlled the branches of state government. The leaders are from the same sect of establishment Republicans with some middle-of the-road conservative views. Ducey, Bowers and Fann did not work to decertify the results of the 2020 election – although Fann permitted the 2020 Maricopa County election audit – and they support some social justice issues.
This year’s elections ousted several “moderate” Republicans in the primaries, including Bowers, in favor of opponents endorsed by Trump, who claims the 2020 election was stolen.
The Trump-endorsees did not perform as well in the general election in statewide races, but the Legislature has more “MAGA” Republicans than ever before. In the Senate, those same Republicans are now in charge. Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, was narrowly elected Senate president on Nov 10. Although Petersen has never said that the 2020 election was stolen, he also never said it was secure and was instrumental in pushing the Senate’s 2020 Maricopa County presidential election audit.
In the House, Petersen’s “running mate” Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, lost the speaker election to establishment Republican Rep. Ben Toma of Peoria.
“Chaplik would be the total MAGA guy,” said attorney Tom Ryan. “And the problem for Toma, the difference in style between him and Petersen is, he’s got a tough row to hoe, especially with some of the MAGA people that did get elected. So, the way I look at it, I think more appropriately is he’s going to be more handicapped than Warren Petersen. Petersen will keep this group together. Toma is gonna’ be herding cats.”
Toma and Bowers’ views are closely aligned, and the lawmakers are friendly. So much so that Bowers recused himself from running the House leadership election to avoid accusations of favoritism for Toma. Toma’s win suggests that the House will be run similarly to the past two years.
After House Republicans chose Toma as Speaker-elect, Toma said he doesn’t believe there is a significant difference in how conservative members of his caucus are and members are unified in their goals for the state.
Petersen and Chaplik tried to decertify Arizona’s 2020 election results. Petersen signed onto a resolution supporting “alternative” electors who declared that they were legitimate and worked with other Trump supporters to try to get the former president elected for a second term after he lost to Joe Biden. The actual Arizona electors cast their votes for Biden. Petersen was one of several Republicans who signed the resolution asking Congress to accept the alternative electoral votes instead of the legitimate ones.
Chaplik was not elected at the time, but he concurred on the alternative elector document.
Petersen and the other Republicans were unsuccessful in taking their claims to court.
How onboard Republicans are in unity remains to be seen. Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said “get ready for shitshow round two” as she left the House Republicans leadership meeting.
Another incoming Republican representative from Chandler, Liz Harris, recently said on a Cause of America podcast that she will refuse to vote on any bills until a new statewide election is held because she thinks Republicans should have performed better in legislative and statewide races. She also criticized Toma and said it wasn’t likely he would let election reform bills pass in the House.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said of Harris’ threat, “They wouldn’t have 31 votes anymore. How many more bipartisan budgets do we have to pass before they realize that strategy?”
Harris holds a small lead for the second Legislative District 13 House seat over Republican Julie Willoughby and they are headed for a recount. Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, has secured the other seat, but Harris said she and Willoughby should be the district’s rightful winners.
Legislative District 4 Rep.-elect Matt Gress said there may be some institutional tension between the House and Senate, but that’s the point of having those two chambers.
“Republicans, we largely agree on a number of these pressing issues,” Gress said. “But I think it’s going to entail a lot of communication so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.”
Candidates Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs fought a bitter race for control of the Governor’s Office. Both candidates were far away from Ducey in their ideologies.
Republican Lake was Trump-endorsed and campaigned against Democrats and establishment Republicans, famously stating that she would drive a “stake through the heart of the McCain machine.”
Hobbs, a Democrat and secretary of state, defends the results of the 2020 election and pulled through by about 17,000 votes out of 2.6 million cast.
The state’s three political units must find a way to work together next session. Hobbs’ priorities of codifying Roe v. Wade and abolishing the aggregate expenditure limit on public school spending will have to get past Petersen. But his priorities will have to pass Hobbs, too. It’s not clear what will or won’t get by Toma.
“Experience matters and really that’s it,” Toma said about the speaker’s working relationship with Gov.-elect Hobbs.
Democrat Janet Napolitano served as governor of Arizona from 2003-2009 with a Republican Legislature. As governor, Napolitano broke the record for highest number of vetoed bills at 180.
Without Republicans like Bowers, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye, and Rep. Joanne Osborn, R-Goodyear, all of whom have shown a tendency towards being moderate or bipartisan, policy discussions could be much more discordant. There will also be dozens of new lawmakers joining the Legislature who could be anywhere on the spectrum of cooperative to obstinate when it comes to bipartisanship.
Boyer speculated: “I think that House and Senate Republicans are going to be in for a rude awakening because they’re just not used to coming into work” with a Democrat as governor.
Boyer did not run for re-election and was the only Republican who routinely stood in the way of the 2020 presidential election audit. He voted against arresting the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, shut down dozens of Republican election reform bills and worked with Bowie to pass a bipartisan budget in the last session.
Bowie often worked across the aisle and didn’t run for re-election either.
“Actually, I’m optimistic,” Bowie said of the upcoming session. “I think they could get quite a bit done. … Obviously, they might have fights on abortion or more controversial social issues, but most of the work that we do, like 85% of the bills we pass, are pretty non-controversial. So, I think there are some issues where you could see Governor Hobbs and the House and the Senate work together on meaningful policy.” He pointed to water, education and workforce development as bipartisan opportunities.
Some Republicans, including Matt Gress, also said there’s room for bipartisan solutions to issues Arizonans are facing.
“We have some commonsense policies that I think both Republicans and Democrats should be able to get behind,” Gress said. “I personally want to work in a collaborative way, and I think it’ll just depend on the kind of tone that (Hobbs) wants to set.”
Bowie said he believes there are “still folks there that want to govern.”
“I think T.J. Shope is in that category,” he said. “I think Ken Bennett is in that category. I think David Gowan would be in that category. Not to say that they’re moderate in terms of policy, I just think they’re more moderate in terms of approach, and more pragmatic in terms of approach,” Bowie added.
By that metric, he draws a line between Toma and Petersen. “I think Toma is probably a little more pragmatic in terms of his approach, whereas Peterson is probably a little more ideological,” Bowie said. “I mean, they’re both conservative. But I think it’s more about how they approach the job. Do you want to get things done or do you want to obstruct?”
Boyer said that the difference between the Republican groups is not “establishment” versus “MAGA” because all the Republicans are conservatives. The biggest divisions are over election certification and personality.
“I really think it’s more of a style issue, where Chaplik’s more of a bomb thrower and Toma’s much more about getting things done,” Boyer said. He referred to an argument between Toma and Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek – an alternative elector who says he believes that Biden stole the 2020 election.
Hoffman attempted to push another abortion restricting bill on one of the last days of the session. Toma yelled at Hoffman and accused him of not following the process to introduce a new bill, not getting the votes needed to pass the bill, and not considering that the bill would potentially overlap with existing abortion laws. Toma also emphasized that he is pro-life.
“Toma was like, ‘I’ve done more pro-life legislation that you have.’ It’s just their style is a lot different,” Boyer said.
Consultants expect to see some leveraging on both sides next session.
Hobbs has Democratic priorities like codifying the state’s 15-week abortion ban instead of the more restrictive 1864 near-total abortion ban. But to make that change, she’ll need to support of at least two Republicans. In exchange, the Republicans will likely ask for a conservative favor such as a tax cut.
Incoming Republican House Whip Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, said there’s plenty of room to work with Democrats to ensure the state’s business is taken care of.
“It’s not ‘Thunderdome’ for Pete’s sake, you know, where two men enter and one man leaves,” Martinez said. “We’re going to debate like adults.”
If the two (or three) parties refuse to make trades, then the Legislature is in for a long session that won’t produce any substantive policy.
“It’s not really ideology. It’s more about approach,” Bowie said. “Do you want to build bridges? Or do you just want to throw bombs?”