A Republican senator’s unexpected re-election announcement has injected new drama into a key district in northern Arizona that could determine which party controls both chambers of the legislature after 2020.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, told the White Mountain Independent and Payson Roundup last week that she’ll seek another term in Legislative District 6. She had previously said she didn’t plan to run again, but told the newspapers, “After months of reflection, it has become clear to me that there is too much at stake for me to abandon my responsibilities.”
Allen told Arizona Mirror that she decided to run again after numerous supporters urged her into the race to help ensure that Republicans can hold the seat. And Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, also said she wants to continue advocating for students, parents and teachers. If she wins her race next year, she will be termed out of the Senate in 2022.
“What changed my mind was having a lot of people come to me and talking about the importance of the 2020 election, and the pressures that we’re going to have to be sure we keep our Senate majority,” Allen said.
Other candidates had launched campaigns for her Senate seat on the assumption that she wouldn’t seek another term. Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Wendy Rogers, who has previously run several unsuccessful campaigns for Congress, had announced campaigns for the seat. Another Republican, businessman Edward Hampton, who has a Phoenix address but said he also lives part-time in District 6, has also filed to run for the seat.
But with Allen running again, Republicans face the likelihood of a bruising GOP primary. Her decision could have repercussions for the Republican Party in both the House and Senate, where Democrats hope to make gains in next year’s election. If Democrats were to win seats in District 6, it could potentially give them control of one or both legislative chambers.
Republicans have a 17-13 lead in the Senate and a 31-29 advantage in the House, the GOP’s smallest margin in the lower chamber since they won it from the Democrats in 1966. Democrats are optimistic about taking control of a chamber next year, but given the lack of competitive legislative districts in the state, there aren’t many Republican-held seats they can target.
District 6 appears to be one of their best opportunities. A Democrat has never won a seat in the district, which includes parts of Coconino, Gila and Navajo counties. But they’ve come close. Allen defeated Democrat Nikke Bagley by less than 2,000 votes in 2016, and notched a similarly close win over challenger Wade Carlisle last year. Thorpe defeated Democrat Felecia French by fewer than 600 votes in November.
French is now running for the Senate, and Democrats who were already optimistic about the race are feeling better now that Allen’s unexpected re-election bid has added more turmoil the GOP primary.
“I think it’s a good sign,” said Democratic campaign consultant D.J. Quinlan. “It’s a district that I think was going to be a top target regardless of what happened. And I think the Republican infighting will only help to expose how out of touch the primary contenders really are.”
Thorpe said he’s disappointed by Allen’s decision and concerned about what it could mean for the GOP, especially in the House. He said the Democrats have two strong House candidates in District 6 with track records of winning elections — Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott and Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans — and wants Allen to run for his seat alongside incumbent Republican Rep. Walter Blackman to help shore up the Republicans’ chances.
“I don’t want to see my House seat lost,” Thorpe said. “In all truth, Republicans need to be concerned in both the House and the Senate. If we lose either body it becomes much more difficult to govern down there.”
Allen said she’s running to protect the district’s Senate seat. She noted that French came close to defeating Thorpe last year, and said she believes she’s the best candidate to hold the seat for the GOP. And while Thorpe questioned the credentials of Jon Saline, a Republican who has filed to run for his House seat, Allen described Saline as a strong candidate and said she believes he can keep the seat in GOP hands.
“I feel bad that Mr. Thorpe is termed out,” Allen said. “He’s been a good legislator.”
Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers agreed to host a fundraiser on July 17 for Allen, Blackman and Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who represents District 20 in Phoenix and Glendale. But Fann told the Mirror they aren’t taking sides, and that she told Thorpe she would be willing to host a fundraising for him as well. Fann said she isn’t concerned that Allen’s decision could jeopardize Republican chances in District 6.