Let me be clear here - John McCain's presence at the top of the ballot *will* make it more difficult for the Democrats to win control of one or both chambers of the state legislature this year.
Having said that, however, don't be surprised if the Dems pull it off this year anyway, and be very surprised if they don't pull it off by the end of the 2010 elections.
Simply put, Republican candidates, in AZ and nationally, have for the most part given up any pretense of running to represent the people of their districts.
Instead, they are running to represent the Republican Party in the lege, promising to support "Republican values" and positions. Many do not even mention the word "constituents" in their campaign platforms and stump speeches.
This tendency was in full view at last week's candidate forum at MCC, sponsored by MCC's chapter of the honor society Phi Theta Kappa. At the forum, there were candidates from LDs 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22, and one candidate for Maricopa County Supervisor.
Republican LD18 Senate candidate Russell Pearce didn't mention his home district of West Mesa in his presentation. He talked about reducing the state's budget deficit by "lowering taxes" and "reducing regulations". (In a sign that perhaps he learned some things from the primary challenge he faced from Kevin Gibbons, this was the first optional forum that anyone present could remember Pearce attending, and it was also the first time in an equally long time that he didn't mention immigrants in his stump speech.)
Democrat Judah Nativio, by contrast, spoke of "working for all LD18 constituents." Pearce probably thought he was a wild-eyed radical for that. :)
The disconnect between serving people and serving only ideology was evident among the House races, too.
Where LD18 Democrat Tammie Pursley spoke of the joy of watching students learn and grow, and the need to fully funding public education to ensure the future of the district and the state, Republican Cecil Ash spoke of protecting people and their liberties from government intrusion in their lives, a position he held until asked about Prop 102, the lege's anti-same sex marriage amendment that's on the ballot in November.
For that one, he offered up the line of the night, in support of Prop 102 -
"The State has the right to emphasize relationships that benefit society."
Ahhh...there's nothing like bigotry dressed up as shameless hypocrisy to rile up a crowd, especially a college crowd - the organizers of the forum had to cut short discussion of the topic in order to keep the forum on schedule.
The divergence between the motivations of the candidates was also obvious - the Democrats all spoke of wanting to serve or give back to their communities; Ash and his LD18 ballot-mate Steve Court each spoke of how they "were looking for something to do" now that they were retired.
Yes, they *both* admitted that they want to be elected to the lege because they have nothing better to do.
The "running to represent the party, not the district" phenomenon isn't restricted to the East Valley either.
In LD26, Republican Al Melvin is still running against Pete Hershberger, according to his campaign's website. His campaign platform for the primary was a "more Republican than thou" one.
Maybe someone should tell him that he's now facing Democrat Cheryl Cage. He might want to consider running as the best *candidate* for the general election.
Not the best *Republican.*
As an aside, Melvin supports a "free market" approach to solving environmental problems.
Speaking as someone who lives in the North Indian Bend Wash Superfund site, I have to say that letting industry profit margins determine environmental-safety measures may not be the brightest idea.
The phenomenon is even visible at higher levels and where the Republican candidate is challenging a Democratic incumbent.
In CD3, Democratic challenger Bob Lord is hitting once (and future?!) Congressional retiree John Shadegg on issues like his record of voting for pay raises for himself while opposing pay and/or benefit increases for American troops and veterans. Shadegg's response has been to criticize Lord for telling the truth about his (Shadegg's) record and to leave his constituents and jet off to Las Vegas to collect an award for being a conservative.
In CD5, Republican David Schweikert and his pals at the NRCC are running ads touting Schweikert's positions and criticizing Mitchell's positions (essentially saying "Hey! I'm a Republican who's deep in the pockets of Big Oil and he's not, and that's why you should vote for me!").
The responses from Mitchell and the DCCC? Spots from the Mitchell campaign that touts his record of work on behalf of veterans (available on this page), and a spot from the DCCC that criticizes Schweikert for his job performance failures as Maricopa County Treasurer.
Anyway, the Republican obsession with ideology over competence and professionalism will undoubtedly lead to a more contentious legislature, regardless of which party controls a majority of the seats. While some of the extremists will be defeated by the Democratic opponents in their races, still others will emerge from the election victorious. The losses of hard-working and well-respected Republican moderates like Pete Hershberger and Tom O'Halleran (LD1) in favor of pure ideologues like the aforementioned Al Melvin and rancher Steve Pierce only serves to move the Republican caucus of the lege further to the right and farther from the mainstream Arizonan.
As an Arizonan, I regret that.
As a Democrat, I'm thankful for that.
And since this post originally started as a recap of that forum at MCC last week, here are a few more of the highlights -
...Republican State Senator John Huppenthal (LD20), in a move that induced much head-scratching among audience members, touted "smooth roads" as something that he is proud of and then he criticized the mainstream media for not reporting on the topic.
...Long-time community activist and Democratic candidate for the House Kathy Romano (LD19) brought her energy and insights to the forum; unfortunately, she couldn't bring her Republican opponents in the LD19 race - Kirk Adams and Rich Crandall.
They blew off the forum.
...Phil Hettmansperger, Democratic candidate for LD21 State Representative may actually be too smart for the legislature. The organizers of the forum asked that the candidates speak on this topic - "The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, Consequences." His answer, while too long and involved to go into here, was thoughtful, insightful, and well-formed.
In other words, the sort of stuff that never comes out of the Republican-controlled Arizona lege. :)
...Based on a t-shirt count, Democrat Glenn Ray, House candidate in LD22, had the largest number of volunteers at the forum with dozens* of supporters present.
* = OK, so it probably wasn't more than three or four, but Ray and his supporters were *everywhere*, so it seemed like there were dozens of them. And seriously, he did have the largest contingent there. :)
...Particularly impressive was the turnout of Democratic organizations - the GEMDEMS, Obama campaign, AZ Dems, and the MCC chapter of the Young Democrats all had tables. In addition, CD5 candidates Harry Mitchell and David Schweikert had representatives there, and there were informational tables from the folks supporting Props 100 (no sales tax on real estate sales) and Prop 102 (no same-sex marriage).
Both of those tables were sparsely attended.
The Clean Elections debate for LD18 is on Wednesday at EVIT in Mesa; the complete schedule of CCEC debates can be found here.