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The Daily Agenda: Defending elections has consequences
But can the MAGAs mount a credible challenge? ... Those tickets weren't free? ... And who greenlit that story?
Arizona narrowly escaped devolving into a failed state with sham elections in 2020 and 2022 thanks in large part to the Republican elected officials in Maricopa County who stood up to their party and their president to declare that elections have consequences — even if they don’t particularly like those consequences.
Bill Gates, Clint Hickman, Jack Sellers and Stephen Richer were the heroes we needed to guide us through some very dark moments in Arizona politics.
Disagree with them if you will on any number of points or policies, but none has placated their base with the kinds of comforting lies that Republican voters demand to hear. (We’ll even give former Supervisor Steve Chucri some credit for resigning in shame after he was caught on tape attempting to mollify and appease his election-denying base by agreeing with them that there was a lot of fishy stuff happening in the county’s 2020 election. His replacement, Tom Galvin, has shown more backbone.)
Placating those who believe the election was stolen is dangerous — but standing up to them is considered political suicide in today’s Republican Party.
And now, Maricopa County’s election defenders will have to face their base and potentially pay for their sins of defending the 2020 and 2022 elections.
Every elected position in Maricopa County is up for grabs in 2024, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The primary election for some of Arizona’s most outspoken election defenders will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party and may determine whether Republicans keep their control of the County, or if Maricopa County’s local government finally turns blue.
The winners of next November’s election will oversee elections and certification of those elections in one of America’s biggest, swingiest counties at a time of incredible political upheaval and a teetering democracy.
If the election defenders can stave off their MAGA party mates in the primary, it would be a major victory for the “establishment” wing of the party. If they lose, it would be the biggest MAGA coup over the RINOs since Trump’s 2016 campaign.
But so far, the MAGA wing hasn’t put up much of a fight.
In District 1, Sellers has yet to draw a challenger, either from his party or the Democrats. But if the populist right does put up a credible threat in the primary, expect Democrats to more seriously recruit for a candidate. His seat is very competitive, and newcomer Jevin Hodge fell only about 400 votes short of snatching it for the Democrats four years ago.
In District 2, Galvin has also not yet drawn any challengers after fending off four challengers in his 2022 special election to retain his seat, including a challenge from election conspiracy theorist Gail Golec.
In District 3, Gates is retiring from his post and former Republican lawmaker Kate Brophy McGee wantsto replace him. McGee is a reality-dwelling Republican with a spine of steel, having stood up to members of her party for years in the Legislature. But she’ll have to survive a primary challenge from Tabatha Cuellar LaVoie, an attorney and election skeptic who volunteered on the laughable door-to-door campaign to find voter fraud in the 2020 election. Still, more experienced hard-right candidates, like former Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio have stayed out of the race so far.
Meanwhile, District 3 is the only race to draw a Democratic challenger. Former Phoenix City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela is no doubt hoping that LaVoie emerges victorious from the primary, which would boost his chances of taking the seat for Democrats in this Republican-leaning but competitive central Valley district.
In District 4, AZGOP volunteer and former Navy SEAL Robert Canterbury wants to challenge Hickman, running on a pledge to throw out vote tabulation machines and count ballots by hand.
In District 5, Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, represents a safe Democratic district.
Democrats would only need to take two of the five seats in next November’s election to take control of the board. (Realistically, only Sellers’ and Gates’ seats are competitive enough to potentially flip.) MAGA forces, on the other hand, would have to take three seats in the primary, and hold them in the November election, to earn a majority of the board.
Perhaps the highest profile sign that MAGA forces are not mounting a real threat is they have yet to find a candidate to challenge Richer for the county recorder’s office. Former lawmaker and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem pulled some papers to consider running but backed out in favor of a safer carpetbagging option for the state Legislature from Yavapai County.
The MAGA movement’s most earnest attempt at a real candidate may come from Abe Hamadeh, who is reportedly considering a challenge to Maricopa County Attorney Office Rachel Mitchell. She’s not a vocal defender of democracy and has been the face of anti-abortion legal battles in the county. But she also hasn’t gone out of her way to spread harmful conspiracies about how the election was stolen from Trump and his acolytes, so she’s on the MAGA target list too.
The America First crowd’s inability to field credible threats so far to Maricopa County’s Republican establishment is good news for the GOP.
But if MAGA warriors can wipe out their party’s moderate elected officials in a primary, that’s great news for Democrats, who may be able to use the GOP’s election fixation to finally turn Maricopa County blue.
That’s frowned upon?: Half-dozen members of Gov. Katie Hobbs’ staff received free Super Bowl tickets worth tens of thousands of dollars in what appears to be a clear violation of state law barring public officials from accepting bribes in the form of sports tickets, AZFamily’s Dennis Welch reports. Former Gov. Doug Ducey received 20 tickets to the 2015 Super Bowl but gave them all away and didn’t let his staff use them because he believed that would be against the law. Meanwhile, the state Senate committee tasked with confirming Hobbs’ nominees to lead state departments rejected yet another nominee Thursday. The committee, led by Republican Sen. Jake Hoffman, hammered Department of Housing nominee Joan Serviss for plagiarizing many passages from other housing advocacy organizations and even news organizations during her time as leader of the Arizona Housing Coalition.
Scary stuff: The number of public records requests that election officials in Arizona and other swing states receive has skyrocketed in recent years as election denial groups target and harass employees like Celia Nabor, who oversaw Maricopa County’s mail-in ballot verification. She faced a barrage of online harassment that culminated with a late-night pounding on her door, Votebeat Arizona’s Jen Fifield writes (with a little help from Hank).
“‘Where’s CELIA NABOR?’ one member of the angry online mob wrote. ‘Find her,’ another wrote. Track her phone, credit cards, social security number, and social media, others suggested. It was time for her to ‘face the music.’ ‘COULD SHE BE AT HOME????’ someone wrote, posting her address,” Fifield writes.
Russell Pearce is rolling in his grave: Arizona celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day, which is not Cinco de Mayo, on Friday by lighting the state Capitol in the color of the Mexican flag and bringing in the general consul of Mexico in Phoenix to lead “El Grito,” a traditional independence day event where people scream “¡Viva Mexico!” Republic bilingual intern Nicole Macias Garibay was on hand to cover it in two languages and to shoot photos for the slideshow, while Republic reporter Daniel Gonzalez explained why it’s a big deal.
Maybe Trump’s CFO wasn’t the best choice: The Arizona Republican Party doesn’t have enough cash on hand to pay its bills, the Arizona Mirror’s Jim Small reports. AZGOP Chair Jeff DeWit campaigned on turning the page on the failed leadership of Kelli Ward and restoring institutional donors’ faith in the party. Instead, he bought an entire floor of a central Phoenix office building for a new AZGOP headquarters and is driving the organization toward insolvency.
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If you can’t be tough on crime: Hobbs is getting tough on President Joe Biden, declaring his administration is failing Arizona’s border communities and demanding more action from Washington D.C., ABC15 reports. It’s safe to take shots at Biden, considering nobody except the party bosses is really stoked on the idea of him running anyway, as the New York Times reports.
The lawyers did warn them: A federal judge has temporarily barred the state from enforcing two Ducey-era voting laws placing additional restrictions on people who registered to vote using federal forms, rather than the Arizona form, which requires additional proof of citizenship, the Republic’s Ray Stern reports. The case is heading to trial in November.
It’s a familiar tale of the grass being greener on the other side, but it’s not exactly flattering for the paper that hired/rehired him and ran the story.
Essentially, after burning out from the long hours and low pay of journalism, Smith quit and found a gig in construction. Then he got laid off and worked for a grocery store instead. Finally, he wound up back in his old newsroom.
He doesn’t regret returning, yet.
“I was worried right before I started, as I was having my last day at City Market ... I was worried that I was just going to get back in (the newsroom) and sit down at my desk and immediately be like, ‘Oh yeah, this is why I left,’” he told his own newspaper.
Elsewhere in Colorado news, Hank finally found something to like about Colorado’s Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Gates was backing Brophy McGee. While the two are ideologically aligned, Gates said he’s not endorsing anyone for any office right now.