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Risky politics: Why Republicans in the Arizona Legislature are betting big on a far-right agenda

Ray Stern, Arizona Republic | March 20, 2023 | original article


From criminalizing drag shows to legalizing guns on college campuses, Republican lawmakers at the Arizona Capitol are proceeding like it's a normal year for them, pushing forward with proposals that appeal to the furthest-right voters in the state.

They're advancing election bills based on conspiracy theories and pushing back at critics, even silencing speakers for using the phrase "conspiracy theory." Some proposed laws that were rejected in past years due to Republican opposition have made it further this year, even as they have less chance of becoming law.

Republicans expect Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs to veto what they believe are good bills, hoping their commitment to far-right conservative values will help them in next year’s election.

It’s a risky strategy if they want to avoid seeing the Legislature flip to Democrats next year, according to some observers on both sides of the aisle.

"The party right now is tone-deaf," said former Sen. Paul Boyer, a Republican from Glendale who served in the Legislature for five terms but didn't run for reelection last year after some constituents and GOP peers pilloried him for failing to embrace election denialism. "They haven't figured out that if they keep this up, we're going to get massacred."

Critics say GOP lawmakers are focusing too much time on election and culture-war bills when voters in the state — judging by the last two elections — are drifting further to the middle. Voters in November gave no strong mandate to Republicans in the Legislature, who barely held on to one-vote majorities in both the Senate and House.

Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said it should surprise no one that conservative lawmakers are pushing conservative bills. Some know their bills won’t make it across the finish line, and some may have "false hope," he said.

But other lawmakers "feel obligated to keep their campaign promises even if the governor disagrees," Petersen said. "They did their job by getting it out of the Legislature."

Hobbs already has vetoed several bills, including Senate Bill 1305, which addressed so-called "critical race theory" in schools, and an early GOP budget proposal.

She's also signaled an imminent veto on two polarizing bills that passed out of the Senate last week on party lines, Senate Bills 1028 and 1030, which target "sexually explicit" drag shows and other performances. Critics said, among other problems, the bill's definition of "sexually explicit" is far too vague and could apply broadly to all sorts of performances.

"We're talking about men wearing bikinis, dancing weird, sexually, strangely, in front of children," Petersen said on the Senate Floor before one of the bills passed.

Jeff DeWit, a former lawmaker who is now the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, believes Republican lawmakers are on the right track. He is expected to lead Republicans to victories after replacing former chair Kelli Ward, whose dedication to the Trump wing of the party was seen as a hindrance to winning.

"I am very proud of our Republican Legislature and their efforts to improve Arizonans' lives despite the challenging situation," DeWit told The Arizona Republic. "Republican legislators are doing everything they can to pass quality bills that improve the lives of everyday Arizonans. Voters know this, and are not happy that Hobbs is on track to set records for how many good bills she is vetoing — even bills with Democrat support."

DeWit said her actions could force voters who want "good policy" to "grant Republicans a supermajority in the state Legislature in the next cycle."

Hobbs, meanwhile, is betting on the opposite, putting $500,000 into a “Flip the Legislature” fund and raising money off the same right-wing legislative agenda that helped lead to Republican defeats in 2022.


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