PHOENIX - Democrats have a shot at taking control of one or both chambers of the Arizona Legislature for the first time in nearly 30 years in Tuesday’s election.
In State Senate elections, voters vote for one candidate per State Senate district. According to the latest unofficial election numbers from state officials, GOP candidates are ahead in 16 of Arizona's 30 State Senate Districts, with Democratic candidates ahead in 14 other districts. However, some State Senate races are close.
In State House elections, voters select two candidates in each State House district. According to the latest unofficial election numbers from state officials, 31 GOP candidates are ahead, while 29 Democratic candidates are ahead. As with the State Senate, some State House races are close, and in three districts, voters appear to have selected a Republican candidate and a Democratic candidate, based on the unofficial numbers.
“For the most part, Republicans are playing defense in these races while Democrats are playing offense,” said Paul Bentz, a pollster and senior vice president at HighGround, a Republican consulting firm.
The same demographic changes that have made Arizona competitive in presidential, U.S. Senate and other statewide contests have put the Legislature in play as well — a growing Latino population, rapid growth of left-leaning newcomers and unease among some suburban voters with the GOP under President Donald Trump.
And just like those races, the most crucial battlegrounds are in the suburbs that ring Phoenix, particularly districts in Chandler, Glendale and Paradise Valley. A rural district in northern and eastern Arizona also is in play. And some Democrats think they have an outside chance of picking up seats in Tucson and Pinal County districts where the GOP has typically been strongly favored.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the arm of the party focused on legislative races, has picked Arizona as one of a handful of states where it’s most heavily focused on flipping a chamber.
Democrats last won control of a legislative chamber in 1990, when they won the Senate. The parties shared power in the Senate following the 2000 election when the body was split evenly 15-15.
Over decades in control, Republicans have used their legislative majorities to advance a conservative agenda, including tax cuts, minimal regulations and the advance of charter schools and vouchers. They’ve made it harder to get voter initiatives on the ballot and clamped down on people living in the country illegally.
“There’s a lot of time and energy that gets taken up at the Capitol by culture war battles and things that aren’t important to voters,” said Emily Kirkland, executive director of the liberal group Progress Arizona. “Having Democrats control one chamber, that kind of stuff is dead in the water.”
If Democrats take control, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s veto pen would prevent them from enacting an ambitious agenda of their own. But with even one chamber tied or under their control, Democrats could block GOP legislation and get a seat at the bargaining table to press for their priorities during budget negotiations.
If Democrats get both chambers and maintain a united front, they could bypass Ducey and send some legislation straight to the ballot, giving voters the final say in 2022. Democrats need a net gain of two House seats and three Senate seats for a majority.
In the eight most closely contested districts, Democratic groups have reported spending more than $10 million supporting Democrats or opposing Republicans. That’s double the independent spending by GOP-allied groups.
In the West Valley’s District 20, Democrat Judy Schwiebert, a retired teacher, is emphasizing education. Democrats have hammered Republicans over education funding, which led to the 2018 school walkouts and a 20% raise for teachers.
“I think that people are tired of partisan bickering, the one-sidedness of our legislature,” Schwiebert said, I think they’re tired of not being listened to.”
Schwiebert is looking to defeat one of the district’s two Republican representatives, Anthony Kern and Shawnna Bolick. Kern said he’s not concerned.
“I don’t see anything happening as far as Democrats taking this district,” said Republican Rep. Anthony Kern. “All they have is money. We have the ground game.”
Democrats also hope to pick up a Senate seat in the district by defeating Republican Paul Boyer.
Besides national and state races, voters in various cities are voting on various local offices.
In Phoenix, three candidates, including incumbent mayor Kate Gallego, are in the mayoral election. Unofficial figures provided by the City of Phoenix shows Gallego with 61% of the votes, with Merissa Hamilton in 2nd place, with 26% of the vote. Tim Seay is in 3rd place, with 13% of the votes.
In addition, voters in four districts within the city will vote for city council members. Incumbents Debra Stark and Betty Guardado are running in Districts 3 and 5, respectively, and both are ahead in votes in their respective districts.
Incumbents Thelda Williams is not running for re-election in District 1, and incumbent Michael Nowakowski is not on the list of five candidates in District 7. In District 1, Ann O'Brien is ahead, with 53% of the vote, and in District 7, Cinthia Estela is ahead, with 33% of the vote, with another candidate, Yassamin Ansari, close behind with 32% of the vote.
In Scottsdale, voters are voting for a mayor and three councilmembers. In the mayoral election, David "Dave" Ortega has received 52% of the votes cast.
One of the candidates for city council is Guy Phillips. Phillips was at the center of controversy in June 2020, when he was heard saying the words "I can't breathe" during an anti-mask rally.
The words "I can't breathe" were uttered by George Floyd before he died at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Phillips was criticized by Gov. Doug Ducey in the aftermath, who called Phillips' choice of words "flat out wrong."
According to final unofficial numbers from the city's elections officials, Phillips is in 6th place amongst the six candidates running for city council, with 9.24% of the vote. Tammy Caputi, Tom Durham, and Betty Janik are the top three vote-getters in the city council race.