Republican lawmakers faced the wrath of a grassroots base that’s outraged over a new law that unwittingly eliminated elections for party activists, but Democrats so far aren’t giving them the votes they need to fix the problem.
A pair of bills that would restore elections for precinct committeemen, who are the voting members of a political party’s legislative district-level organizations, face an uncertain fate amid Democratic opposition.
With one-vote majorities in each legislative chamber, Republicans can pass whatever they want — but without enough Democrats to get a two-thirds supermajority, the proposed law won’t go into effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session, way too late to restore the disputed elections.
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The Senate version of the bill was put on hold Tuesday because Republicans don’t have the Democratic votes they need to implement it immediately. In the House, a bill to repeal last week’s law on precinct committeeman elections passed out of committee, but on a party-line vote, with Democrats in opposition.
During committee hearings in the House and Senate, impassioned and sometimes heated testimony from Republican activists made it clear that, for the GOP’s grassroots base, inaction is unacceptable.
One woman called it a betrayal that reminded her of the betrayal of Jesus. Others called it a threat to the republican form of government guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Some called it an attack on the grassroots activists who helped the lawmakers on the committees get elected in the first place. Many wanted to know why the precinct committeemen, or PCs, as they’re often known, weren’t consulted before the bill was rammed through in less than a day last week.
“Everybody should have a unanimous vote to recall this for the PCs for all parties. And if you do not, you don’t stand for representative government. You stand for tyranny. And the world will know. I can assure you, it will,” said Dan Farley, a Republican PC from Scottsdale who testified in the Senate Government Committee.
Democrats said they weren’t ready to vote for the bill, or for an amendment that they didn’t see until Tuesday morning, expressing a desire not to rush the bill in the same way lawmakers rushed the bill that eliminated PC elections for 2022. (To pass the prior bill in a single day, Republicans and Democrats jointly waived rules that require legislation to take at least three days to pass.) Some said they also had concerns with the proposed language in the amendment.
Sen. Lupe Contreras, the assistant Senate minority leader who sits on the government committee, also said he was being dissuaded by testimony and other rhetoric attacking Democrats.
“Hearing this today has literally sent me over the edge. Because I keep hearing ‘Dems this, Dems that.’ And it literally just knocked me off the edge,” said Contreras, an Avondale Democrat.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said she and her fellow Democrats are still trying to determine whether this is an issue that needs immediate attention and whether there’s a genuine need for an emergency clause that would implement it immediately. Testimony in the Senate Government Committee did not help settle the matter, she said.
“They’re spouting that it’s a conspiracy theory and tyranny and just all the crazy buzzwords. … That doesn’t really help to discern, is this a real issue or another conspiracy theory created by Kelli Ward and her supporters,” Rios told the Arizona Mirror, referring to the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party.
Sen. Warren Petersen, a Gilbert Republican who chairs the Senate Government Committee, said the committee wasn’t ready to vote on the proposal. The committee will meet again to hear the bill on Thursday.
The House Government and Elections Committee approved a similar bill, without the proposed amendment from the Senate version. While Democrats in the Senate expressed concern over the language in the amendment, Democrats in the House worried about the lack of any replacement language for the section of last week’s bill that was being repealed.
“Things are always rushed through the process here and I don’t believe if we don’t have something concrete written right now that I can see that will replace the language that we are trying to repeal, I have zero confidence that we’re also going to be able to fix that,” said Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson.
Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Avondale, said he’s open to repealing the disputed language from last week’s bill. But he worried that, without an agreement on replacement language, lawmakers will end up back in the exact same position in a few days.
“We can’t put it back the way it was, because we don’t have geographies that were the way they were,” Sierra said. “We were scrambling to fix this a little too quickly and we got to where we’re at today.”
The testimony in committee made it clear that the issue is simply more pressing for Republicans. Several Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Raquel Teran, who serves as chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said they hadn’t heard any complaints from their PCs. In contrast, Republicans were under intense pressure to rectify the issue immediately.
The issue has put Democrats, who have been in the minority at the state Capitol for most of the past 60 years, in a unique position.
“We have not asked for anything in return for any support or lack thereof. I think our position here in the Senate is we want to get to the root of, is this really necessary? And that’s why we wanted to slow it down yesterday and not just slam it through,” Rios said. “I will never shut the door on the future. I have no idea. What I will say is at this point we have not asked for anything, nor do we have anything on a short list to ask.”
Many Republican lawmakers say they were unaware that the bill they voted for last week to address problems with the signature requirements for legislative candidates to qualify for the ballot also eliminated elections for PCs in 2022, instead having county political parties appoint them. Some also interpret the bill as eliminating a large number of PC positions.
Gloria Gomez contributed to this report.
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