Republican lawmakers re-elect Bowers, Fann as leaders




House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Republican lawmakers elected Rusty Bowers as House speaker and Karen Fann as Senate president, while legislative Democrats postponed their elections while they await the outcome of several races.

Bowers, R-Mesa, fended off a challenge from Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. Fann ran unopposed, as did Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, and Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who were also re-elected to their positions.

After the vote, Bowers called it a “humbling privilege” to be re-elected speaker by his colleagues.

“The support they have shown lifts me each day as I conduct the responsibilities of the office on behalf of the caucus and for the people of Arizona. How we meet the challenges before us now will define who we are as a state for the future,” he said. “Through the application of the conservative principles we share as Republicans, we will ensure the great promise and opportunity for all that Arizona offers.”

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, will be the next House majority leader, while Rep. Leo Biasiucci, of Lake Havasu City, will serve as House majority whip. And Bowers appointed Gilbert Rep. Travis Grantham as the next speaker pro tem.

The announcements all presume the GOP maintains control of the House of Representatives. That isn’t guaranteed, though Democrats’ chances of taking control of the chamber for the first time since 1966 appear to be fading fast.

Nonetheless, House Democrats pushed back their leadership election from Wednesday to Nov. 10, saying several races were too close to call. Senate Democrats, who were scheduled to have their election on Wednesday, decided to wait and elect new leaders alongside their House colleagues next week.

House Democrats made their decision in consultation with the Arizona Democratic Party. Party spokesman Matt Grodsky said it was the logical conclusion after election night, since they didn’t know yet whether Democrats would take a majority, tie with the Republicans or stay in the minority in the House.

“For that reason, there was consensus that it makes sense to hold off on leadership elections until the Democratic membership becomes clearer,” Grodsky said.

Senate Democrats followed suit in postponing their leadership election, though by Thursday it seemed apparent that the GOP would maintain control of the chamber.

“There’s a slate of us running for leadership positions. Unfortunately, it’ll be minority leadership positions,” said Sen. Rebecca Rios, who is running unopposed for Senate minority leader.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, is running for assistant minority leader, while Sens. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, and Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, are running for Democratic co-whips. All are running unopposed.

Democrats look like they’ll pick up one seat in the Senate, which would leave the Republicans with a slim 16-14 majority in the chamber. Christine Marsh, who lost by 267 votes in 2018 to Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, now leads by a little less than 2,300 votes in District 28, which covers north-central Phoenix and Paradise Valley.

Other Democratic challengers led on election night, only to see their GOP opponents overtake them as votes were counted.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, came from behind and now leads Democrat A.J. Kurdoglu by more than 4,100 votes. And Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, overcame Democratic opponent Doug Ervin’s early lead and is now up by nearly 2,800. In northern Arizona, Democrat Felecia French led Republican Wendy Rogers on election night. But the race took a dramatic turn, and Rogers is winning by 10,000 votes.

Rios said she expects to gain one seat in the Senate with Marsh, but that none of the other races that Democrats targeted are likely to change course.

“People worked hard and did make some gains as Democrats in the state and with initiatives. So, overall, I think we’re pleased with the gains we have made. Of course, we would have loved to have had control in at least one of the legislative chambers. But we made progress and we’ll continue to build on that progress in the next election,” she said.

In the House, Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, is challenging House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, declaring when he began his campaign that he was running for speaker.

But Democrats’ dreams of taking the House, or even splitting the chamber 30-30, are fading quickly. Judy Schwiebert appears likely to oust Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. But, as in the Senate, other Democrats who were leading contested races after election night have seen their Republican opponents jump out ahead of them. 

And if Schwiebert holds on to win, that gain may be offset by the loss of a Democratic seat. Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, trails GOP challenger Joel John by more than 2,200 votes in District 4, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 16,000 registered voters. Peten is Fernandez’s seatmate.