Kirsten Engel resigns from Az Legislature to run full-time for Congress
State Sen. Kirsten Engel is stepping down from her legislative seat to run full-time in the CD 2 Democratic primary, which will help determine who takes the place of U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick as she retires next year.
Engel faces State Rep. Daniel Hernandez and minor candidate Marcos Urrea in the primary. Four candidates have declared on the Republican side for the 2022 election to fill the open seat.
“I have decided to step down from the state Senate to fully commit my time, energy and focus to my campaign to continue to serve the people of Southern Arizona in the U.S. Congress,” she said in a press release. “Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District is an open seat that will be key to maintaining our Democratic House majority in 2022, and this is not an endeavor to be taken lightly.”
Engel was first elected to the Arizona Legislature in 2016, serving two terms in the House before being elected to the state Senate last year.
Engel resigned her post Wednesday, leaving an open seat in LD 10 — which covers parts of Midtown Tucson, the East and Southeast sides, the Tanque Verde area and eastern Foothills — which will be filled by an appointment.
The move follows a narrowing of the Democratic field last week, when Tucson surgeon and state lawmaker Randy Friese called off his candidacy Thursday to continue his work as a doctor as the Delta variant of COVID-19 has created a new surge in cases.
Engel is a lawyer and law professor, who teaches environmental and administrative law at the University of Arizona and has practiced with state and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency.
“In the state Senate, I fought for education, protecting our environment and building an economy that works for everyone,” she said. “I look forward to continuing that fight in Congress and advocating for the issues that matter to everyday Southern Arizonans.”
In a fundraising email sent out Wednesday morning after her announcement, Engel said that voters "deserve a full-time candidate" and said her priorities were "to fully fund public education; to solve our urgent problems of water shortage, increasingly extreme weather, and devastating wildfires; to reform our criminal justice system; to protect Arizona families from unfair budget proposals; and to help small businesses navigate the challenges presented by COVID-19."
Friese had led the way in fundraising among the Democrats seeking the seat in Congress. He had raised about $560,000 for his congressional campaign as of the latest filing, which tallied fundraising through the end of June. At the time, he had $425,000 cash on hand for his run. Engel had raised $335,000 as of June, with $233,000 remaining. Hernandez had pulled in $268,000, with $256,000 remaining. Urrea had raised $2,600, with about $1,000 remaining.
The highest-profile candidate on the Republican side is Juan Ciscomani, an advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey, who announced his candidacy last month. Neither he nor any of the other declared GOP candidates — Douglas Lowell, Marissa Mitchell and Kathleen Winn — have yet had to file any campaign finance reports.
Engel’s resignation is effective immediately, and the Pima County Board of Supervisors will choose her replacement — who must be from the same political party, under state law — based on choices recommended by the Democratic Party from the legislative district.
With Arizona's redistricting process underway, the new boundaries of what is now CD 2 have not yet been determined. While not enough residents were counted in the 2020 Census to add another congressional seat to the state's delegation, the boundaries of both congressional and legislative districts across the state will be redrawn before next year's election to account for changes in population.
With the exception of the most recent contests, which were twice won easily by Kirkpatrick and once by Martha McSally before her, the congressional seat representing Southeast Arizona has often been among the most hotly contested in the country — including nail-biters between former Gabrielle Giffords and Jesse Kelly, and a pair of tight races between Ron Barber and Martha McSally. An open seat in the district is bound to attract attention and funds.
The most recent voter registration data shows Democrats with a slight edge over Republicans in the district, which covers eastern Pima County and Cochise County. There are 172,000 registered Democrats to 151,000 Republicans, but 144,000 "independent" non-party voters could swing the general election either way.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.