Lawmakers consider changing replacement process

Original article.

Camryn Sanchez Arizona Capitol Times // July 6, 2023

Republican Liz Harris, who was expelled from her seat in the state House, speaks to a Legislative District 13 Republican precinct committeeman prior to an April 17, 2023 meeting to nominate three candidates to fill her vacant House seat in April. Some lawmakers say that they want party precinct committeemen to solely handle the process of replacing House and Senate members who leave before the end of their term, cutting out county boards of supervisors. (Photo by Jakob Thorington/Arizona Capitol Times)

Some lawmakers say that they want party precinct committeemen to solely handle the process of replacing House and Senate members who leave before the end of their term, cutting out county boards of supervisors.

If that were ever to be implemented, it could drastically change the makeup of the Legislature.
Currently, if a lawmaker leaves office before the end of their term, the elected PCs in their legislative districts belonging to the same political party hold a vote and select three candidates to replace the departed lawmaker.

The district then submits those names to the board of supervisors for that county, and the board selects the replacement who is then sworn in to the Legislature.

Vacancies happen for a variety of reasons such as death, expulsion and resignation. It’s become common in the past couple of years.

Sixteen of the current Legislature’s 88 members were appointed at one time. It will soon be 18 out of 90, once former Sen. Steve Kaiser and former House Minority Leader Andrés Cano are replaced. That’s 20%.

Some of those lawmakers might never have assumed their current offices without both PCs and the boards of supervisors playing a role in their appointment.

In this legislative session, so far, five lawmakers have left their seats early and triggered this replacement process. They were Kaiser, Cano, Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler; Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix and Sen. Flavio Bravo, D-Phoenix.

At the start of last month’s LD2 PC meeting to replace Kaiser, someone asked why the board of supervisors must be involved in the process. Kaiser said he agrees that the PCs should get to do that alone. “It’s very possible and likely that the next session, you could run a bill that says PCs pick,” he said.

One day prior, Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, tweeted that she plans to introduce a bill that will do exactly that.

Rep. Austin Smith, R-Wittman, commented with his support.

The hurdle that Kaiser brought up however, is whether that legislation can make it past Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

precinct committeemen, lawmakers, Kaiser, Cano, Marson
Barrett Marson

“It won’t happen in the next three years that’s for sure. Obviously, this year we’ve seen plenty of vacant seats but for most years it’s a rarity,” Republican consultant Barrett Marson said of the proposal.

The board of supervisors and the PCs don’t always (or often) support the same candidates.

When Harris was expelled by the House earlier this year, PCs in Legislative District 13 chose her as one of the three candidates to replace herself with by far the most votes. But the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors didn’t select her.

In Terán’s replacement election, the highest vote-getter was actually newly appointed Rep. Quantá Crews, D-Phoenix, not Bravo, who the board selected.

Crews was appointed to Bravo’s House seat when Bravo moved to the Senate.

Maricopa County Supervisor Tom Galvin said he’s not aware of a majority of lawmakers who want to change the replacement process this way, but he’ll respect the Legislature’s decision.

Galvin said in a text: “I do not know why PCs & Boards are involved in this two-step process. I’m sure the legislative history is interesting. But I will say County Boards have a tremendous responsibility with these picks and it’s been my observation that all county boards, big, small, or rural, on a bipartisan basis, have treated the process with the utmost care, due diligence, and respect.”

In the recent LD2 election to replace Kaiser, the two highest vote getters were Shawnna Bolick and Josh Barnett. Bolick and Barnett are non-moderate candidates who say that Arizona’s elections need to be secured.

Those are not necessarily the candidates one might find representing LD2 after a general election.
They’re not in the same camp as Kaiser, who is known for working across the aisle and isn’t focused on allegations of election fraud. He won’t say one way or another whether he thinks President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

LD2 Republicans passed a resolution last summer rejecting the 2020 presidential election results. Kaiser wouldn’t say whether he supported the resolution and told our reporter at the time he was “disappointed” by the question.

LD2 is one of just five highly competitive districts in the state where voters are registered almost equally Democrat and Republican.

Kaiser only beat his Democratic opponent Jeanne Casteen by a few points last November. He received 52% of the vote, and she got 48%.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors hasn’t selected Kaiser’s replacement yet, but at least one of the candidates has actively criticized the supervisors. Barnett has posted about the board several times and implied they are complicit in election fraud. If the replacement process were up to the PCs alone, there’s a good chance he would have filled that seat already.

Former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party Chad Heywood said: “The board represents all voters, and the PCs just represent activists in their specific neighborhoods, so I would definitely say the

PCs represent a big percentage of base Republicans, but they don’t represent kind of the overall view of voters.”

Heywood noted that the PCs tend to be further from the political middle than the average voters in the district.

precinct committeemen, Democrats, Republicans, Kaiser, Cano, boards of supervisors
Rodd McLeod

Democratic consultant Rodd McLeod agrees with that sentiment. “Seems odd to take this responsibility away from elected officials who are well known public figures and give it to a bunch of little known activists like me. I’m not sure that the legislature or the governor would go for that,” he said in a text.

Newly appointed Senator Bravo said that his legislative district doesn’t have many Democratic PCs – which Heywood said is more often the case with Democrats.

“We have several who are registered yet never show up and aren’t as engaged,” Bravo said in a text. “Our leadership team has worked hard to boost participation, but given that we barely have over 30 PCs for a district with 230k+ people, I think including the Board of Supervisors in the process helps avoid minority rule.”

The lawmaker replacement process used to look very different. Until 1999, county boards of supervisors selected their lawmaker’s replacements without input from PCs. If that were allowed to continue now, the Legislature would likely move in a different direction.

precinct committeemen, boards of supervisors, Bravo, Senate, House
Flavio Bravo, who at this time was a state representative, speaks with people at a press conference for Moms Demand Action at the Arizona Capitol building in Phoenix on Jan. 25, 2023. The Phoenix Democrat is now a state senator. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

In 1999, then-Republican Rep. Kathleen Dunbar introduced a bill that would have entirely cut the board of supervisors out of the replacement process. The bill was gradually amended to what it is today with the board and PCs working together.

Republican grassroots activist Merissa Hamilton advocates for removing supervisors from the replacement process. “It just takes an unqualified middle man out of the equation in choosing a representative for the district. It restores governance by the people,” she said in a text.

PCs are elected, as are the supervisors on county boards of supervisors, but the boards are elected by a larger population. Everyone in their county district can vote for them. PCs don’t have many competitive races, and only the people in a specific precinct who are also a member of the same party as the PC candidates get to vote for PCs.

For example, in Legislative District 13 – where Harris was recently replaced – there are 40 precincts. Each precinct has Republican PC elections.

That legislative district is encompassed in the larger county district represented by Maricopa County Supervisor Jack Sellers and includes dozens of precincts. In 2020, 424,531 people voted in Sellers’ election.

“I think the [Republican] party needs to decide if it’s a private organization or if it’s a public organization, because a lot of the time when these conversations come up, we don’t have a coherent philosophy on how we feel about these things,” Heywood said. “For example, recently a lot of the PCs will censure other Republicans if they support an idea or a candidate that PCs don’t support but those candidates, often the candidates the PCs oppose, often will win elections.”

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