Arizona politics are unique – or terrifying, depending on who you ask. The state has been described as the “meth lab of democracy” thanks to laws, politicians and events that often amaze and captivate outsiders. Our governors get variously impeached or indicted – or invoke legislative privilege to avoid DUIs. Our lawmakers have picked fights with Pope Francis. And a border-hawk congressional candidate who made his bones spouting pro-enforcement dogma as a county sheriff turned out to have a Latino ex-boyfriend who was in the country illegally.
These things don’t typically happen in other places, but they’re part of what gives the Grand Canyon State its charm.
This month, Arizonans statewide will again go to the polls to select the next cast of characters to fill positions ranging from Paradise Valley constable to U.S. Senator. There are Democrats, Republicans and even a guy from the “Boiling Frog Party” whose campaign platform includes outlawing oatmeal. It can be tough to navigate the players and the issues, so PHOENIX magazine is here to be your guide through the more prominent races in this beautiful dumpster fire of democracy that is Arizona politics.
The Main Event: U.S. Senate
Senator John “The Maverick” McCain (R)
Previous Profession: Fighter pilot, war hero, pho aficionado
Fun Fact: Keeps a six-pack of Budweiser stashed in the fridge at his wife’s favorite wine bar. (Hint: It rhymes with Prostino.)
Strengths: Name recognition; strong support of veterans; made it clear that while he supports Trump, he doesn’t really support Trump
Weaknesses: Name recognition; Tea Party hates him; he’s why Sarah Palin is a thing
Key Issues: National security; immigration reforms; snuffing out ISIS... and Obamacare?
Challenger: Congresswoman Ann “Who Dat?” Kirkpatrick (D)
Previous Profession: City attorney, congresswoman, law professor
Fun Fact: Was raised on an Apache reservation and speaks Chinese.
Strengths: She’s not John McCain; appeals to Latinos; veterans like her
Weaknesses: Supports Obamacare; thinks it’s OK for the government to spy on you; not exactly Oprah Winfrey in the name-recognition department
Key Issues: DREAM Act; immigration reform; defending Medicare
At 80 years old, John McCain is likely nearing his final whistle-stop, election-wise – but another check in the win column isn’t a given. Pollsters see the 2016 Arizona Senate race as the most competitive in McCain’s five-term career, though he does seem to have put some distance between himself and Kirkpatrick since last spring, when the candidates were polling neck-and-neck. (An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in early September showed him with an impressive 19-point advantage.) The wild card, naturally, is Donald Trump. If Trump’s fiery anti-immigration rhetoric mobilizes Hispanic voters, McCain’s 56.3 percent disapproval rating with that demographic may turn the tables. For those unimpressed with the Washington establishment, you’re in luck – this race also has a dark-horse candidate, Gary Swing, from the Boiling Frog Party. He takes bold stances on a wide range of important issues, like how “same-sex marriage is boring,” and that abortion should be “for pregnant people only.” He also wants to outlaw oatmeal. (Unclear if he means all oatmeal or just the faux-maple instant variety).
Prediction: McCain by five points. Kirkpatrick is starting to look like Fred DuVal in the 2014 governor’s race – under-marketed, message-impaired and maybe just a little on the bland side?
Congressional Election Cheat Sheet
Nine districts. Nine races. Not remotely equal in competitiveness or suspense. Use this guide to find the competitive races worth tracking – and those pitting an entrenched incumbent against a candle-in-the-wind phantom candidate whose fate was sealed the moment the first ballot was cast.
Congressional District 1
This massive district wraps around the Valley like a creepy-uncle hug, encompassing Casa Grande, Bisbee, the Navajo Nation and Flagstaff.
Paul “Sheriff Underpants” Babeu (R)
Previous Profession: Pinal County Sheriff, amateur underwear model, headmaster of an all-boys private school
Fun Fact: Used the handle “studboi1” on adam4adam.com, a gay dating website.
Strengths: Great pecs; border hawk; selfies; veteran; the short memories of Arizona voters
Weaknesses: Running schools; silencing former boyfriends; could be a Republican Anthony Weiner
Key Issues: Illegal immigration; gun rights; homeland security
Tom “Flavor O’ the Day” O’Halleran (D)
Previous Profession: State legislator, police officer, radio host
Fun Fact: Used to be a Republican... and an Independent.
Strengths: Theoretically moderate; has never been referred to as “studboi”
Weaknesses: Could be a DINO; skipped the first debate with Babeu
Key Issues: Supports the DREAM Act; protecting Social Security; creating a voucher system for Medicare
It’s somewhat miraculous that a person once accused of threatening his ex-boyfriend with deportation if he didn’t keep their relationship hush-hush – and who currently is defending himself against charges of rampant abuse of kids at a school where he was once headmaster – could still be a viable Republican candidate for any office, let alone U.S. Congress. But c’est la Arizona. Both the Republican and Democratic national committees are expected to pump a ton of money into this race as Democrats hope to reclaim the House and Republicans attempt to reclaim a seat previously held by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who abdicated to run for Senate. This one’s a toss-up – despite the shirtless baggage that comes with being “Sheriff Underpants.”
Congressional District 2
Covers half of Tucson, all of Tombstone and a great deal of Arizona wine country.
Martha McSally (R)
Previous Profession: U.S. Air Force fighter pilot
Fun Fact: First female fighter pilot to fly in combat; gave Saddam hell in an A-10.
Strengths: Strong-minded, independent lawmaker; has more money than Croesus (see sidebar); reminds us of Jackie Sharp on House of Cards
Weaknesses: District 2 is leaning Democrat; can’t quite bring herself to denounce Donald Trump
Key Issues: National security; women’s rights; veterans’ affairs; mental health
Challenger: Matt Heinz (D)
Previous Profession: Medical doctor (note stethoscope, pictured)
Fun Fact: Has participated in ice cream sleepovers with Sheriff Paul Babeu. (Yes, this really happened.)
Strengths: He’s a Democrat in Southern Arizona; strong proponent of LGBT rights; endorsements up the wazoo, including the Arizona Republic
Weaknesses: Running a negative campaign; McSally is popular among swing voters
Issues: Social justice; reproductive rights, gun control
Though among the hardest-fought of Arizona’s Congressional races, this one involves candidates with the least amount of political baggage. One is a former fighter pilot and a hero in the fight for women’s equality who actually gets things done in Washington – McSally has had seven bills approved by the House in her first term, and she cuts pork, like slashing military bands’ roughly $430 million annual budget to perform at swanky dinners and cocktail hours. The other is a doctor, and a popular state legislator, plus a champion for LGBT rights. McSally began the race with a considerable lead over Heinz, but the Doc hasn’t flatlined just yet – he is attacking McSally’s record on reproductive and LGBT rights, and her stance on gun control. (She likes guns. A lot.)
Stretches from west Tucson to Yuma and includes, strangely, parts of Avondale and the West Valley.
Status: Not competitive
Incumbent Raul Grijalva (D) vs. nada
Overview: To borrow a line from Jesse Ventura in Predator, Grijalva is dug into this Hispanic-majority district “deeper than an Alabama tick.” Fiercely pro-immigrant and anti-gun-rights, the former college radical is a slam dunk in D-3.
Another improbably shaped rural district, D-4 encompasses the entire Arizona riviera from Yuma to Lake Mead, then executes a wrap-around across the state to cover Prescott and parts of the East Valley.
Status: Not competitive
Incumbent Paul Gosar (R) vs. Mike Weiser (D)
Overview: With 100 and 92 ratings from the National Right to Life Committee and the NRA, respectively, Gosar is one of Congress’ most conservative members, and the former dentist’s constituents like it that way – he outraised Weiser 23-1 in campaign funds. Also memorably called for a boycott of Pope Francis.
Rooted in the East Valley, District 5 is among the most reliable GOP strongholds in the country.
Status: Not competitive
Andy Biggs (R) vs. Talia Fuentes (D)
Overview: Biggs squeaked by well-funded former GoDaddy exec Christine Jones in the primary and figures to cruise in the general election. Fuentes is a biologist with no political track record. And she has a prominent chest tattoo, which is still probably a little too Idiocracy for modern voters.
Arizona’s “luxury district” includes Paradise Valley and a touch of Tempe, and is as seriously contested as the tug-of-war scene in Revenge of the Nerds.
Status: Not competitive
Incumbent David Schweikert (R) vs. Walter John Williamson (D)
Overview: In attempting to unseat Schweikert, Williamson may conceivably receive fewer votes than Libertarian candidate Michael Shoen. Interesting fact: the fiercely pro-life Schweikert was raised by an adoptive family in Scottsdale after his unwed birth mother chose not to terminate her pregnancy.
This Central Phoenix district sits at the nexus of Democratic political power in Phoenix.
Status: Not competitive
Incumbent Ruben Gallego (D) vs. Eve Nunez (R)
Overview: Like Ed Pastor before him, Harvard-educated war veteran Gallego could control this Congressional territory until he retires. Judging from her campaign photos, Nunez has nice hats.
Stretching from Litchfield Park to New River, this West Valley/North Valley district is smack-dab in the GOP’s wheelhouse.
Status: Not competitive
Incumbent Trent Franks (R) vs. Joe DeVivo (D)
Overview: Franks has never won less than 59 percent of the vote in his seven consecutive terms in Congress. In other words: DeVivo is just here for the free drinks and appetizers, broseph.
Whipping across Tempe, Scottsdale and East Phoenix, this district splits roughly 50-50 between registered Republican and Democratic voters.
Status: Not competitive
Incumbent Kyrsten Sinema (D) vs. Dave Giles (R)
Overview: The great mystery of the Congressional season. Instead of running a strong, recognizable candidate against the charismatic but always-vulnerable Sinema in one of Arizona’s few 50-50 districts, the GOP found Giles, a colorless former energy executive with no political track record. Maybe they’re saving their ducats for 2018.
The Local Undercard:
Maricopa County Sheriff
Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R)
Previous Profession: Collector of dime bags at the DEA; selling nonexistent rocket ship rides at his wife’s travel agency
Fun Fact: He once sang a duet of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” with an Elvis impersonator at his Tent City jail facility as female inmates threw pink panties at him.
Strengths: Large voting bloc of people who are terrified and/or distrustful of Mexicans; knack for courting free TV publicity; excellent name recognition
Weaknesses: The Birther thing; horrendous track record investigating sex crimes; Judge Murray Snow; his $40 million-plus taxpayer-funded legal bill; basic sheriffin’; is old enough to have fathered Hillary Clinton in his teens
Key Issues: Staying in power; making court dates
Perennial challenger: Paul Penzone (D)
Previous Profession: Phoenix police officer
Fun Fact: Previously ran – and lost – against Arpaio in what ended up being the closest election of the sheriff’s political career.
Strengths: Significant law enforcement experience; just right wing enough to potentially court disenchanted Maricopa County conservatives; snappy name
Weaknesses: Name recognition; people who are terrified and/or distrustful of Mexicans
Key Issues: Repairing the reputation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office; cutting down on those pesky lawsuits
For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, there’s a real chance that Joe Arpaio could lose an election in Maricopa County. A survey conducted in late August found that most county voters (about 58 percent) have an “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” opinion of the county’s top cop, who usually coasts through election season with one publicity stunt after another. (It’s amazing he hasn’t tried to arrest Penzone yet.) There’s also the very real possibility that he will be indicted and potentially – but not likely – spend some time in the hoosegow for criminal contempt of court. Penzone’s not perfect – he has a skeleton or two in his closet, including a domestic violence allegation made by his ex-wife in 2003. On the bright side, he’s not the subject of nationwide scorn and has no known pending federal lawsuits.
Prediction: Arpaio by a point. The sheriff is our own “Teflon don.”
The Arizona Legislature might seem like the minor leagues of lawmaking – filled as it is with young prospects, fading journeymen and misfits aplenty – but it’s important to remember that our 90 senators and representatives wield considerable power in this state, authoring laws on everything from reproductive rights to education policy.
by Craig Outhier
Facts to Remember
Unlike their Congressional counterparts, state legislators are limited to four consecutive two-year terms in both the Arizona Senate and the House – ergo, the most any lawmaker can serve contiguously in either chamber is eight years.
Going into the November election, Republicans hold a 36-24 advantage in the House and an 18-12 advantage in the Senate.
Senate and House districts are drawn identically; each district elects one senator and two representatives.
Destined for The Show?
These Arizona legislators have the smarts and pedigrees to run for Congress or statewide office.
Kimberly Yee (R)/State Senator LD-20. Confident, media-friendly West Valley lawmaker is seeking her third term in the Senate. Profiled on page 39.
Nancy Barto (R)/State Senator LD-15. The hard-working legislator has seemingly had a hand in every law passed by the legislature since 2011, from outlawing fetus “trafficking” to banning plastic bag bans. Easy to see her running for Congress after her fourth term expires in 2020.
Katie Hobbs (D)/State Senator LD-24. The Senate minority leader has played the good soldier for Arizona Democrats, leading the charge on bipartisan bills while serving as an even-tempered voice of opposition. Seeking a third term.
Steve Farley (D)/State Senator LD-9. Voted “Best Elected Official – Democrat” by readers of the Arizona Capitol Times, the 53-year-old is strong on resource conservation, mass transit and green technologies. Also seeking a third term.
Steve Montenegro (R)/State Senator LD-13. He’s young. He’s Hispanic. He’s pro-border and pro-life. He’s based in Litchfield Park. Did the GOP create him in a laboratory? Having exhausted his four terms in the House, the El Salvador native is running unopposed in the Senate.
Senate Races To Watch
Sylvia Allen (R) vS. Nikki Bagley (D)
Senate LD-6. Pivotal Flagstaff-area race pits right-wing legislative vet Allen against progressive former Jerome Mayor Bagley.
Kate Brophy McGee (R) vS. Eric Meyer (D)
Senate LD-28. Tight North-Central Phoenix race pits the banker with the familiar name (Brophy McGee) against the
physician with the prison-reform platform (Meyer).
Frank Schmuck (R) vS. Sean Bowie (D)
Senate LD-18. Having successfully unseated incumbent Sen. Jeff Dial in the Republican primary, Air Force veteran Schmuck takes on management consultant Bowie in the competitive
Ahwatukee-East Valley district.
Other Notable Candidates
David Bradley (D)/Candidate for Senate LD-10
Just look at that volume!
Michael Muscato (D)/Candidate for Senate LD-22
Also available for Old Spice commercials.
Sauciest Third-Party Candidate
Cara Nicole Trujillo (Green)/Candidate for State Rep. LD-26.
Campaign statement: “I don’t care about red or blue/I care about YOU!”
State Rep. District 8: The “Gotta Have a Cowboy Hat” District Candidates
David Cook (R) and Thomas Shope (R)
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