While sometimes it felt like it would never arrive, the 2020 election is over and Arizona faces a political reality that is in some ways very different but in many ways exactly the same. Joe Biden won Arizona and became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton, and the second since 1952, to carry our state. With Mark Kelly’s victory over Martha McSally, Arizona has, for the first time in modern history, elected two Democratic U.S. Senators. Add to that Anna Tovar’s election to the Corporation Commission and Arizona starts to look pretty blue at the top.
However, that story changes significantly farther down the ballot. Despite record amounts of money spent, Arizona Democrats only managed to net one legislative pickup. Challenger Christine Marsh defeated Senator Kate Brophy-McGee to reduce the Republicans’ State Senate margin to 16-14. Democrats did manage to elect Judy Schwiebert to the State House of Representatives from District 21, but they lost District 4 Representative Geraldine Peten to newcomer Joel John, leaving the House Republican majority at 31-29. Maricopa County elections were even worse for Democrats, with that party failing to win any new seats and seeing County Recorder Adrian Fontes lose to Republican challenger Steven Richer.
What does this mean for the 2021 legislative session? House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann won reelection to their leadership posts, leaving control of the legislature in familiar hands. With Governor Doug Ducey still on the ninth floor for another two years, the Arizona Legislature is still firmly under Republican control. However, the Senate majority now has a margin as slim as in the House. Further, with the loss of Brophy-McGee to Marsh and Senator Heather Carter in her primary to Nancy Barto, there is now a notable lack of moderate Republicans.
Of course, the elephant in the room for the next session is the global coronavirus pandemic. With cases on the rise and widespread vaccination months away, it’s anyone’s guess how the legislature will handle legislating in the time of COVID. One bright spot is the state’s fiscal picture: despite gloomy predictions earlier this year, revenue streams remain relatively strong. Arizona seems to have avoided the bleak budget realities faced by other states. As of November, legislative budget analysts predicted a $411 million ending balance for the next fiscal year. This means many legislators’ budget requests, dashed by fiscal concerns and the abbreviated 2020 session, may get another chance next year.
What will happen come January? Will the legislative session proceed as normal, albeit with additional COVID-19 safety protocols? Or will legislators again pass a skinny budget and adjourn until later in the year? As with most things related to the pandemic, only time will tell.
John Fetherston, Veridus