Monday Musings: Raw politics will impact the 2020 session

Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Three burning election year political questions hover over the State Capitol as the 2020 legislative session gets underway today, placing enormous pressure on leadership and three key lawmakers. 

  1.  Will this be the last session that Republicans control both legislative chambers?

The last time Arizona Democrats had any substantial leverage over the budget and legislative process without a Democratic governor was in 2001-2002, when each party held 15 Senate seats. 

Republicans now control the Senate by a 17-13 margin. Can the Democratic Party unseat two incumbent GOP senators? Maybe. Legislative districts 6 (Sen. Sylvia Allen) and 28 (Sen. Kate Brophy McGee) offer the best hope for Democratic gains. 

The House, meanwhile, hasn’t seen Democratic control since 1966. That’s correct: The GOP has had a stranglehold on the House for 54 years. Unbelievable.

But with the current slim 31-29 GOP edge, Democrats have their best shot at taking control of the House in the modern era. They picked up four seats in 2018; can they gain two more this year? Keep an eye on legislative districts 6 (portions of Coconino, Navajo, Yavapai and Gila counties), 17 (Chandler, Sun Lakes, western Gilbert), and 23 (Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, Fort McDowell, Rio Verde). Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans in LD6 and teacher Eric Kurland in LD23 (who hopes to knock off far-right populist incumbent Jay Lawrence) present the strongest hope for Dems to snag two new seats and finally take back the House. How does House Speaker Charlene Fernandez sound?

Arizona is now purple. Donald Trump will be on the ballot, along with a measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Expect a record-breaking voter turnout near 80 percent. 

Anything can happen in November.

  1.  Can incumbent Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee survive another onslaught by Democratic challenger Christine Marsh in Legislative District 28?

Marsh lost in 2018 by only 267 votes out of 94,000 cast. An expected record 2020 turnout might flip the district (which includes Arcadia, Biltmore area, Sunnyslope, Paradise Valley and parts of north central Phoenix). 

Both LD28 representatives – Aaron  Lieberman and Kelli Butler – are Democrats. 

  1.  Who will win the bloody GOP state Senate primary on Aug. 4, Nancy Barto or Heather Carter? 

This heavyweight battle features two longtime legislators in LD15 (portions of north Phoenix, north Scottsdale and Cave Creek). 

Carter is one of a very few “moderate“ Republicans at the State Capitol. Barto is a conservative firebrand. Remember, folks: while Carter is a smarter, more effective legislator, this is a GOP primary. The best and the brightest don’t always win. It should be close. 

With all of this election year pressure, look for a shorter legislative session. Incumbents will be anxious to hit the campaign trail. “Sine die” in early April!  

Rest in peace, Justice Gordon

In 1988, as a member of the House Board of Managers , I had the privilege of watching AZ Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank X. Gordon preside over the impeachment trial of Gov. Evan Mecham. He was fair, intelligent in his rulings, and calm in his demeanor. While it was a volatile political time, Justice Gordon was a bedrock of integrity. He greatly enhanced Arizona’s judicial system from 1962-1992 – three decades of tremendous public service.

Gordon died last week at the age of 90.

Donald Jr. and Ivanka in 2024 – seriously?

Good grief, Republicans! In an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll of potential GOP voters, Trump’s kids (Donald Jr. and Ivanka) are two of the top four choices for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. I’m not kidding.

Maybe it’ll be a Donald Jr./Ivanka GOP ticket in 2024. The Trump kids clearly are hoping for a repeat of the Bush family White House phenomenon.

Of course, this presumes the entire Trump family is not in prison come 2024. 

The Trump Republican Party becomes more of a pup tent cult with each passing day. No wonder moderate Republicans are deserting the GOP in droves. Full disclosure: I did so five years ago. I had been leaning Democratic for many years, but the Trump candidacy inspired me to re-register.

Obamacare threatened by Brnovich in federal court

Two years ago, a dozen Republican state attorneys general – including Arizona’s Mark Brnovich – filed a shameful lawsuit to get Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) declared unconstitutional. 

The Affordable Care Act is working well in Arizona. Our uninsured population has decreased. More insurance carriers are now participating in the system.

But now, thanks to a terrible conservative federal court decision, health care insurance for thousands of Arizonans is in question. Thanks, AG Brnovich. Arizona voters need to remember this when he runs for governor in 2022. 

Twenty Democratic attorneys general are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in early and remove the cloud over the ACA’s future. 

January Contreras ran against Brnovich in 2018, getting an impressive 48% of the vote. She is the likely 2022 Democratic nominee for what will be an open AG seat. I asked Contreras what she thought about the Obamacare legal controversy. She was blunt:

“I agree with not only the 20 Democratic attorneys general and governor of Kentucky, but also with the Republican attorneys general from Ohio and Montana – the  law should remain intact when it comes to protecting coverage for adults and kids with preexisting conditions, young adults covered by parent plans, extended Medicaid coverage, and many other important provisions of the ACA. The ACA is so much more than the individual mandate, and its many parts of the law are worth fighting for with urgency. Arizonans and our doctors, nurses, hospitals, clinics, and others who help deliver healthcare, are left with uncertainty looming until this case is decided, and that’s not good for anyone.”

Contreras went on to say: “It’s still stunning to me that Arizona is a party to the Healthcare Repeal Lawsuit, fighting to take away protections for its own people. Since Mark Brnovich joined the lawsuit in 2018, we’ve repeatedly heard him say he believes in protecting Arizonans with preexisting conditions, while he sues to eliminate the very protections that exist. The statements simply don’t match the actions. I worked at AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid agency, and traveled this state working as the health advisor for Governor Napolitano listening to people and business owners share how lack of health care coverage upended their lives. …The Healthcare Repeal Lawsuit makes me lose sleep at night. Arizonans deserve better. Our people, communities, and healthcare providers deserve a resolution to the legal battle before us.”

It’s not too late for Attorney General Brnovich to admit he made a mistake almost two years ago. He could publicly express his support of the Democratic attorneys general effort at the Supreme Court.

That’ll be the day.