Arizona House Speaker Mesnard poised for move to Senate

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard is likely going to be a senator, and perhaps the next Senate president.

The Chandler Republican spent the last two years guiding the House of Representatives through a tumultuous period that saw lawmakers make history by expelling one of their colleagues. Termed out of the House, Mesnard is now leading the race in Legislative District 17 to represent it in the Senate.

With early ballots reported, Mesnard is handily defeating Chandler Democratic Steve Weichert, who also ran unsuccessfully for the same seat in 2016.

If Mesnard’s lead holds, he’s got another race to run on Nov. 7: He’s vying to become the next Arizona Senate president, and would succeed the current senator from LD17, Republican Steve Yarbrough, in that role.

Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, is also running for the top leadership role in the Senate.


LD28 Senate by the numbers

Early votes  


J.D. Mesnard 52.8 percent


Steve Weichert 47.2 percent

Bipartisanship to be tested in House with 31-29 split

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

No election cycle would be complete without a cadre of candidates preaching about the importance of working across the aisle.

But that line will really be put to the test in the Arizona House of Representatives in 2019.

Nineteen true freshmen will join the chamber, 13 of whom are Democrats. And four of those Democrats represent districts where the minority party was able to flip a seat out of Republican hands. Their combined effort now leaves the House with a 31-29 split.

That means Republicans still have the majority, but their losses this year significantly reduced their ability to pass legislation without Democratic support. Just one or two stray Republicans who disagree with their party on, say, funding for public education could upset that delicate balance of power.

For now, plenty of current and incoming representatives are still promising bipartisan efforts in the next legislative session. But it’s no surprise they rarely agree, and it doesn’t take much to coax the party politics out again.

That was evident when a panel of lawmakers talked about the next legislative session at a November 16 conference of public school board members, administrators, and finance officials.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, was optimistic about bipartisanship.

“Everything good about the state of Arizona has happened because Democrats and Republicans worked on it together,” she said.

Fernandez will lead Democrats in her chamber as House minority leader starting in January.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, will serve in leadership with her as co-whip.

He said Democrats are open and ready to work with the majority from day one, but he put the onus on the Republicans to include them.

“Members of the majority will have to step back and ask themselves if they want to really work with the other side,” he said.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, was the contrarian.

Mesnard will be joining the Senate in 2019 after fending off a challenge by Democrat Steve Weichert in Legislative District 17, but he had some parting thoughts for the House and its new dynamic.

Despite the tight split coming to the House, he said Republicans would still be in the majority in both chambers. Conversations will have to happen on both sides, but he said they’re bound to diverge.

“That’s just the way politics is,” he said. “We’ll get along when we can. … Obviously, we have disagreements, and I think that will continue to be the case.”

He certainly had his disagreements with Bolding, who placed blame for Arizona’s education funding crisis squarely on the shoulders of the GOP.

“If you consistently are cutting taxes 25 of the last 26 years, you don’t have revenue, and then a crisis occurs, then you have to sell the buildings – you were in the majority,” Bolding said. “You made the decision, and now we have to suffer.”

Mesnard did not take the critique lightly.

“Time and again, this is the Republican perspective, we see the Democrats being late to the game, saying, ‘Oh, you should’ve done this.’ Except when we tried to do that, you opposed it,” Mesnard said, referring to a proposed temporary tax increase that went to the voters during the recession. “Whatever we do is wrong, according to you.”

Mesnard offered the 20 by 2020 teacher pay raise plan as an example.

He said Democrats would never say the plan was a good thing, and he criticized them for characterizing the plan as a drop in the bucket.

Fernandez did applaud Republicans for the raise, but not without a caveat.

“Yes, the Republicans did pass the 20 by 2020 plan,” she said. “But by golly, it took about 70,000 people in red to come to state Legislature to make it happen.”

And she said the people who marched on the Capitol were there for much more.

“It wasn’t just teacher pay raises that they were coming for,” she said. “They were talking about their classrooms not being equipped with the resources that they need. They were talking about their roofs leaking. They were talking about classrooms that had 30 kids and 25 desks. This is what the teachers asked of us. … Our constituents wanted public education funded.”

Mesnard acknowledged the Red for Ed movement had an effect on everyone, not just lawmakers, but he said to suggest Republicans weren’t already heading in that direction before the teachers’ strike earlier this year was factually inaccurate.

Ultimately, it was just another disagreement not likely to be resolved anytime soon, with or without Democrats closing in on the majority.

And it’s a disagreement that is sure to arise again in the upcoming session.

House, Senate remain under Republican control — again

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs “vote” signs outside a polling station prior to it’s opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona’s Legislature will have only a tinge of more blue.

For all the talk that 2018 would finally be the year Democrats would either split or gain majority in the Senate, the chamber will remain under GOP control, likely with a 17-13 split.

At least three Republican incumbents did fall to Democrats in the House, and depending on the outcome of one race, that chamber’s split could narrow to 31-29 from 35-25.

Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik as of November 8 in Legislative District 17, which includes Sun Lakes and parts of Chandler and Gilbert. Pawlik, a Chandler teacher attempting to ride the fervor around education to victory, was ahead by just about 400 votes.

House Republicans are preparing for the worst. When the GOP Caucus voted for House leadership on November 7, 31 current and presumed members voted.

Missing from those ranks were the three Republicans whose defeats were certain. Republican Reps. Todd Clodfelter of Tucson, Jill Norgaard of Phoenix and Maria Syms of Paradise Valley all were ousted incumbents, but the circumstances of their defeats don’t quite match the narrative of a Democratic resurgence and rejection of the status quo in the GOP.

Clodfelter has lost before in Legislative District 10, which was represented by two Democrats in 2012 and 2014 before he was elected in 2016. He fell behind incumbent Rep. Kirsten Engel and Democratic newcomer Domingo DeGrazia.

Norgaard’s district swung in favor of Democrats back in 2016, when two of Legislative District 18’s three seats at the Capitol were won by the minority party.

Newcomer Jennifer Jermaine continued that trend. The Chandler Democrat and Rep. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe defeated Norgaard by a comfortable margin.

Syms likely sealed her own fate in Legislative District 28 when she stirred up tension in her own party.

She was accused by fellow Republicans of sowing conflict when her husband, Mark Syms, sought to run against Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee as an independent. And she clashed with fellow Republican Kathy Pappas Petsas in a four-way campaign where the top two vote-getters are elected to the House.

Syms landed in third behind Democrats Rep. Kelli Butler and Aaron Lieberman.

Former Arizona teacher of the year Christine Marsh could give the Democrat’s some consolation with a victory in the LD28 Senate race.

But that would mean closing a sizeable gap between her and the incumbent, Brophy McGee.

The Phoenix Republican has always been a strong candidate in the competitive district, and could hold her lead, if not watch it grow thanks to a strong showing among day-of GOP voters in Maricopa County, where votes were still being counted as of November 8.

Elsewhere, Democrats will look back at opportunities lost.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, once again won re-election in northern Arizona’s LD6, where Democrat Wade Carlisle trailed by more than 1,000 votes.

And Democrat Steve Weichert failed to ride the anticipated blue wave in LD17, where House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, handily won a race to succeed as the Republican senator from the East Valley.

The 54th Arizona Legislature will be a mix of old and new faces. The composition will include current lawmakers who cross the lawn at the Capitol to join the other chamber, 20 true freshman who won election to the Legislature for the first time, and former members who left office and will return.


Crossing over from House

Sally Ann Gonzales (D)

Vince Leach (R)

Eddie Farnsworth (R)

Heather Carter (R)

J.D. Mesnard (R)

Paul Boyer (R)

David Livingston (R)

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R)

Lela Alston (D)

Rebecca Rios (D)

Tony Navarrete (D)



Victoria Steele (D)

David Gowan (R)


True Freshman

Tyler Pace (R)


Crossing over from Senate

Warren Petersen (R)

Gail Griffin (R)

Nancy Barto (R)

John Kavanagh (R)

Robert Meza (D)



John Fillmore (R)


True Freshmen

Andres Cano (D)

Alma Hernandez (D)

Leo Biasiucci (R)

Walter Blackman (R)

Arlando Teller (D)

Myron Tsosie (D)

Domingo DeGrazia (D)

Bret Roberts (R)

Joanne Osborne (R)

Jennifer Pawlik (D)

Jennifer Jermaine (D)

Lorenzo Sierra (D)

Shawnna Bolick (R)

Frank Carroll (R)

Jennifer Longdon (D)

Amish Shah (D)

Diego Rodriguez (D)

Aaron Lieberman (D)

Raquel Teran (D)