Monday Musings: Will AZ’s GOP trifecta vanish in 2021?

March 16, 2020 8:07 am

Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

Political junkies who love a good soap opera should tune in to Arizona’s Legislative District 6, where the 2020 election could end the Republican’s “trifecta” control of the Governor’s Office, the State House and the Senate.

The drama is playing out in a geographically large Northern Arizona district that comprises Flagstaff, Sedona, Payson and Holbrook and covers parts of Coconino, Yavapai, Gila and Navajo counties. 

The district is currently 38% Republican, 32% independent and 29% Democratic. The 2018 record voter turnout (65% statewide) produced close races for both the Senate and House, as Independents swung toward Democratic candidates. This proved once again that, in Arizona, higher turnouts benefit the Democratic Party, as long as the majority of indies lean left. 

The 2020 general election turnout may hit 80%, the highest in 40 years.

So who are the actors in the LD6 soap opera? Let’s start with the Senate race. 

Incumbent Sen. Sylvia Allen, who occupies one of the farthest right spaces in the GOP caucus, announced last year that she would retire. Her term-limited House seatmate Bob Thorpe immediately announced his candidacy for her Senate seat. So did perennial congressional candidate Wendy Rogers, who’s as ultraconservative as Allen.

But fearing a coming “blue” wave, LD6 Republican movers and shakers leaned on Sen. Allen to hang in there and run again in 2020. She agreed, much to the displeasure of Thorpe and Rogers. Thorpe pulled out of the race, but the always feisty Rogers remained. 

So, it’ll be a colorful GOP battle between Allen and Rogers. Expect to see a lot of money and energy spent between now and the August 4 primary election. 

Democrat Felicia French, meanwhile, is waiting in the wings for the Republican primary bloodletting to give way to a record-breaking general turnout that could give her the Senate seat.

French, who almost won a LD6 House seat in 2018, is an impressive figure. The third-generation Arizonan is a retired U.S. Army colonel with more than three decades of military service (including serving as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot), a registered nurse and educator with three college degrees. The Pine resident is now a hospice nurse. 

With French, the Democrats smell a Senate seat flip in LD6. And in LD28, Christine Marsh is taking another run at incumbent GOP Sen. Kate Brophy McGee after losing by a mere 267 votes in 2018. If French and Marsh can pull off the victories, the Dems could achieve a 15-15 split in the chamber for the first time in two decades.

The LD6 House races should be dramatic as well. On the Republican side, former GOP legislator Brenda Barton is running for Thorpe’s open seat, while freshman Rep. Walter Blackman hopes to retain his seat. Two challengers are vying for those slots as well – popular Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, a Democrat, and Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott, who is running as an independent.  

The Democratic Party’s best hope is for Evans to snag one of the seats, creating a tie in the 60-member House and upsetting the numerical advantage the Republicans have held in the chamber since 1966. 

So the LD6 stage is set with entertaining personalities – Sylvia Allen, Wendy Rogers, Felicia French, Walter Blackman, Brenda Barton, Art Babbott and Coral Evans – slugging it out in very competitive and highly consequential races. 

Legislative districts 6, 8, 11, 15, 17, 20, 21, 23 and 28 are all on the radar of the Democratic Party and outside progressive groups working to win both legislative chambers. It’s certainly feasible. After all, fewer than 4,000 votes per chamber kept the Dems from taking control of both the AZ House and Senate in 2018.

Check out these skimpy margins of victory for Republicans in 2018 in the Senate:

  • LD6 Senate: 1,712 
  • LD17 Senate: 1,744
  • LD28 Senate: 267
  • Total Senate GOP margin of victory: 3,723 votes

The margin in the House races two years ago are similar:

  • LD6 House: 1,473
  • LD20 House: 1,869
  • Total House GOP margin of victory: 3,342 votes

Will the LD6 soap opera‘s closing act on Nov. 3 destroy the “trifecta” that Republicans have enjoyed at the State Capitol for the past dozen years?

With Arizona’s “purple” trend continuing and the anticipated huge voter turnout, I like the Democrats’ chances.

Tomorrow’s AZ presidential preference election

Polling and political common sense tells us Joe Biden will have a lucky St. Patrick’s Day, clobbering Bernie Sanders in the Grand Canyon State. He should also emerge victorious in Florida, Ohio and Illinois.

The Democratic race for the nomination will effectively be over. Will Bernie drag it out, just as he did in 2016 after it became obvious he couldn’t defeat Hillary? His “revolution,” spurred by zealous supporters, always carries on. And remember, Bernie ain’t a Democrat, causing some to question his loyalty to the party. However, his intense dislike for Trump will keep him in the fold.  

Arizona Bernie organizers admit the race is over. They’ll support Biden in the general election, but without much enthusiasm. Will their passion for Bernie’s issues outweigh their aversion to Trump? Hopefully not. 

The Arizona Democratic Party shouldn’t suffer from any major schism between “progressives” and “moderates,” which is great news for Biden.

It’s humorous how the term “moderate” is applied in Democratic circles these days. The party is much further to the left than just four years ago. By today’s standards, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Greg Stanton, Ann Kirkpatrick and Mark Kelly are considered moderates. 

The Trump Republican Party has defeated almost all of its “moderates.” The only two remaining true GOP moderates at the State Capitol are senators Heather Carter and Kate Brophy McGee, but they carefully select the issues on which to deviate from their colleagues. 

Last night’s strange audience-free debate in D.C. was between a progressive and a moderate. In today’s political world, the moderates reside in the “Big Tent” of the Democratic Party, as opposed to the GOP’s “Pup Tent.” 

My favorite tweet of last week

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Chris Herstam
Chris Herstam

Chris Herstam has four decades of experience at the Arizona state Capitol. He has been an elected lawmaker, a gubernatorial chief of staff, a lobbyist, director of the Department of Insurance and president of the Arizona Board of Regents. Find him on Twitter at @chrisherstam.