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Arizona Gov. Hobbs says she can help turn state legislature blue

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, center, makes public remarks at the State Capitol in Phoenix on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Behind Hobbs are Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, center, makes public remarks at the State Capitol in Phoenix on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Behind Hobbs are Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Gov. Katie Hobbs believes she can help do something that hasn't happened since before she was born: Put the state House, Senate and governor's office in Democratic hands.

And she's so focused on that goal that she's willing to use some of the money she's collected for her own reelection campaign in 2026 to make that happen this year.

In an extensive interview with Capitol Media Services, the governor said there is every reason to believe she can end the multi-year stranglehold that Republicans have had on the Legislature this year.

"It's kind of the perfect storm,'' she said.

"This is the first time we've been this close and had a Democratic governor,'' Hobbs said. "And this is what I'm focused on this election is governing majorities who will work with me.''

What that also means is using her gubernatorial campaign to raise dollars now in the name of getting a Legislature that is more likely to enact her priorities -- and less likely to send her bills that resulted in 143 vetoes her first year in office and another 73 this year.

"Your support could go toward helping Katie flip the state legislature blue, and usher in a new generation of leaders who will fight to restore reproductive freedom and make historic progress for Arizona,'' reads a fundraising email sent June 30 by her campaign.

"We are as close as we've ever been,'' the governor said in her interview. Republicans control 31 of the 60 House seats and 16 of 30 Senate districts.

And Hobbs said state laws allow her to use cash from her own campaign to help in other races.

The governor is not yet required to detail how much her campaign already has collected. But she agreed that money is coming in.

"Hey, those emails work,'' she said.

That's putting it mildly.

Nicole DeMont who operates her campaign, said this past week she is still totaling up the donations to date. But she said the report, when it is filed, will show contributions "in the millions.''

By contrast, DeMont said, former Gov. Doug Ducey collected only $157,000 in donations during his first year in office.

And that doesn't count cash in a separate fund that was fueled by excess donations to Hobbs' 2023 inaugural event, also administered by DeMont.

That cost only about $207,000. And donations that were previously reported total more than $1.5 million.

Pulling off what the governor hopes to do would be no small feat.

The last time Democrats held both the House and Senate was before the 1966 election. That was when legislative districts could not cross county lines, creating districts of different populations in a way that favored rural areas.

All that came to an end in 1964 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued it's "one person, one vote'' ruling which requires electoral districts of equal population, regardless of county boundaries.

The House in 1966 went from 45-35 Democratic to 33-27 Republican.

The Senate went from two members from each of the 14 counties at that time to 30 equally drawn districts, changing the balance from 26-2 Democratic to 16-14 Republican.

And 1966 was also the year that voters turned Democrat Sam Goddard out of office in favor of Republican Jack Williams.

Democrats did control the Senate in 1991 and 1992. And there was a power-sharing agreement in that chamber in 2001 and 2002 after the election resulted in a 15-15 tie.

Hobbs said she is encouraged that the last time the district lines were redrawn in 2021 it didn't really change the overall balance between Democrats and Republicans even though the Independent Redistricting Commission crafted the lines for two districts in a way that was virtually guaranteed to ensure Republican representation. Now, the governor said, there is an opportunity to build on that.

"We continue to grow,'' the governor said.

"We're one of the fastest growing states in the country,'' said Hobbs. "So demographics certainly play a role.''

But there also are tactics involved.

It's also called single-shotting in competitive House districts: Putting forward only one Democrat against two Republicans to increase the odds of that candidate getting elected.

"(Judy) Schwiebert's an example,'' the governor said, the lone Democrat in a Phoenix district where Republicans had just a slight voter registration edge. She got elected along with Republican Justin Wilmeth.

Ditto, said Hobbs, of Jennifer Pawlik, offered up as the sole Democratic candidate in a Mesa district. Voters there chose her and Republican Jennifer Willoughby, passing over Liz Harris who had been a state representative until she was ousted.

In fact, Hobbs said she believes there are eight competitive districts that provide an opportunity to pick up seats.

There's another benefit of single-shot races.

"We're avoiding primaries, I think, in every single situation,'' the governor said. That enables the Democrats to focus their attention and spending on the general election.

Hobbs hammers home the message in her fundraising emails that Democratic majorities are possible.

In one dated May 20, she cited predictions by CNalysis which does political predictions. It gave Democrats a 43% chance of winning the Senate against 42% for Republican control and a 15% chance of a split chamber.

The web site was less optimistic about Democratic control of the House, with odds leaning 52% for Republicans and 35% for Democrats.

"Winning Democratic majorities in both chambers is within reach, but only if we band together and fight,'' the email says. "Help fuel Katie's work to rally support for Democrats at every level of the ballot by pitching in $10 today.''

"In order to defeat Republicans at every level of the ballot, we'll need record voter turnout,'' she wrote in a fundraising email last month, seeking $15 donations, one for every county.

And another request sent just this past Wednesday asks recipients for $10 to create a "Democratic state legislative majority.''

But even Hobbs conceded it will take more than cash. There's the question of getting people to turn out.

Among the biggest issues in Arizona is immigration and what the GOP says is the failure of the Biden administration to secure the border. And Republican lawmakers, hoping to capitalize on that in November and get supporters to the polls, put a measure on the November ballot with various provisions, including one to allow state and local police to arrest those who are not here legally and crossed Arizona's international border at other than a port of entry.

"I understand that people are frustrated,'' the governor said, though she puts the blame on Congress for refusing to approve the bipartisan border bill. But she realistic about that explanation not selling -- and why the referendum is popular.

"If you give them something that they think will solve the problem, they will probably vote for it,'' Hobbs said.

The governor noted, though, that Democrats have something of their own to bring out their own voters: a measure to enshrine the right of abortion in the Arizona Constitution.

DeMont said no decision has been made on using Hobbs campaign funds to support that initiative. But the emails going out to donors are certainly using that as an issue.

In a May 28 email, Hobbs mentioned the decision by state lawmakers to repeal the 1864 statute that outlawed abortion except to save the life of the mother. But she said that is just the beginning.

"I need your support as I continue fighting to enshrine the right of abortion in our state constitution,'' s wrote Hobbs who signed the initiative petition to put the measure on the November ballot. "That way Arizonans never have to worry about restrictive abortion bans.''

But Hobbs's pleas are not limited to just state issues. One email says that voters "can let anti-abortion extremists like Kari Lake soar to victory and allow their dangerous agenda to come to fruition.'' Lake is running for U.S. Senate.

Another fundraising email on June 11 deals with the presidential race.

"I refuse to let Arizona be the state that wins Donald Trump the White House for a second term,'' she wrote.

Hobbs acknowledged, though, that state law forbids her from using funds she has raised for her campaign on federal races.

There's another potential problem for Democrats in getting party faithful to the polls: the performance of Joe Biden in the first debate with Donald Trump that might keep some home in November.

The governor acknowledged that, even before the June 27 debate that Trump was leading in Arizona polls. Since them there have been calls for President Biden to step aside.

Hobbs said what that means is all Democratic candidates need to convince voters that staying home is just a vote for Trump which could affect down-ballot races.

"So it's up to us to make the case,'' she said. "And it's up to these legislative candidates that are trying to win to have those conversations with voters.''

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