Legislative Democrats have new leaders in both chambers after choosing Sen. Rebecca Rios as the next Senate leader and Rep. Reginald Bolding as their next leader in the House.
By electing Bolding, D-Phoenix, as minority leader and Rep. Jennifer Longdon, also of Phoenix, as assistant leader, Democrats chose candidates from competing slates for the caucus’s top two leadership posts in the House.
“We just had a lot of members with great ideas about ways that we can lead the caucus. And ultimately we came to a consensus, and I’m glad to represent the Democratic caucus,” Bolding told Arizona Mirror.
The leadership contests followed a disappointing election cycle for legislative Democrats, especially in the House, where they hoped to take control of the chamber for the first time since 1966.
House Democrats originally scheduled their leadership vote for the Thursday after the election, but postponed it while they waited for the results of several races. Those races could have determined not only the outcome of what was expected to be a race between House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and Rep. Diego Espinoza, but control of the chamber as a whole.
It quickly became apparent that Democrats’ hopes of winning control of the House wouldn’t come to fruition. Republicans won most contested races that the Democrats targeted. And though Democrats took one GOP-held seat with Judy Schwiebert’s victory over Rep. Anthony Kern, Republican Joel John negated that win by ousting Democratic Rep. Geraldine Peten, leaving Democrats in the minority of a 29-31 House, the same as they’ve faced for the past two years.
Fernandez, D-Yuma, opted not to run for minority leader again. Bolding, who had been running for the number two spot in the House Democratic caucus on a ticket with her, ran for minority leader instead.
Espinoza launched his campaign for House Democratic leader in September, optimistically announcing that he was running for House speaker instead of minority leader. The Tolleson Democrat fell short, but Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, who ran on a slate with him, was elected assistant minority leader.
“We had a spirited debate and vote, but our caucus has come together unified from this moment to protect working families of this state,” Longdon said in a written statement announcing the caucus election results.
Bolding said members of the House Democratic caucus wanted to get to a place where everyone felt that their voices would be heard.
“I think this team is actually the best possible team that we can have to get things done,” he said.
Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, will serve as the House Democratic whip.
On the Senate side, Rios, D-Phoenix, was unopposed for the minority leader post after Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, decided against running for the position. Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, is the new assistant minority leader, while Sens. Martin Quezada, of Glendale, and Victoria Steele, of Tucson, will be co-whips.
“We have significant work ahead of us as COVID-19 cases are on the rise and Arizonans are looking to their leaders to act. Senate Democrats stand ready to lead as inclusive problem solvers and act on the mandate from Arizonans who want us to focus on funding education, stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, and creating equal opportunity for every Arizonan,” Rios said in a press statement.
Senate Democrats also postponed their leadership race so they could vote on the same day as their House colleagues. With Christine Marsh holding a narrow lead over Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Democrats likely gained one seat in the Senate, leaving the Republicans with a 16-14 majority.
Bolding and Rios both represent south Phoenix-based District 27.