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Pima supervisors tap Dems Mathis & Abraham for 2 open seats in Legislature

The Pima County Board of Supervisors selected an intelligence officer and an attorney to fill two open seats at the Arizona Legislature, part of a rejiggering caused by a series of retirements and resignations over the last several weeks.

The board selected Christopher Mathis to represent Legislative District 9 and Morgan Abraham to represent LD10 in a vote on Tuesday morning. 

Abraham is an intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, and founded an affordable housing development company. Mathis is an attorney and health policy expert specializing in elder law.

The open seat in LD10 — which covers much of Midtown and the East Side — was created when state Sen. Kirsten Engel announced in early September that she was stepping down from her legislative seat to run full-time in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 2—a seat currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who will retire next year.

With Engel gone, the board voted in mid-October to move state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton from the Arizona House to the Senate, leaving the LD10 House seat open. 

Meanwhile, the open seat in LD9 — which covers much of Midtown Tucson, Casas Adobes and the Catalina Foothills — was created when state Rep. Randy Friese submitted his resignation from the Legislature in mid-November. Friese, who had earlier walked away from the CD2 congressional primary race, said he was leaving politics to focus more time on his work as a medical doctor. 

Under state law, the board was required to replace both legislators with a member of the the same political party to serve out the remainder of the term. 

"I'm honored and grateful to be chosen to represent Pima County in the House of Representatives," said Abraham in a statement. "I'm looking forward to working on legislation that promotes economic opportunity here in Pima County and across the state."  

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Mathis thanked the board for his appointment, and called it "an honor to follow Dr. Randy Friese, whose service to our community as a trauma surgeon and public servant is truly extraordinary." 

"We are excited to welcome Morgan Abraham and Christopher Mathis as the newest members of our House Democratic family," said House Democratic Leader Reginald Bolding. "They both provide a unique set of skills and insights that will help our caucus lead on important issues such as affordable housing and elder law. With an almost complete caucus, we look forward to a productive session and congratulate both on their appointments."

The supervisors were forwarded a list of three candidates for each seat, determined by a vote of the precinct committee members of the Pima County Democratic Party in each legislative district.

Christy's vote to abstain deadlocks board 

The board considered those three candidates for each position, but ultimately settled on Abraham and Mathis despite a push from Supervisor Adelita Grijalva to seek some "diversity" among the legislators.

Grijalva said she appreciated the candidates and their "willingness to go through this process and serve our community," but that she sought a diversity of opinion, race, ethnicity, gender, which is "really important and is lacking for representation at the state level." 

For LD10, Grijalva pushed forward musician Mitzi Cowell as her choice. However, Supervisor Matt Heinz moved a substitute motion to put Abraham into the seat instead. During roll call vote, Supervisor Steve Christy abstained, and the remaining votes fell to Abraham 3-1, with Grijalva providing the sole vote against Abraham's appointment. 

During the vote for LD9, Supervisor Rex Scott pushed Mathis forward, citing his "extensive breadth of experience" and his legal background, adding that in recent months, the Democratic block of legislators have lost two people with a legal background, including State Rep. Diego Rodriguez who is one of nine people running for Arizona Attorney General and State Sen. Martín Quezada, who is running for Arizona treasurer. 

Grijalva instead pushed for Anakarina Rodriguez, an organizer and immigrant rights advocate, to fulfill the role. Heinz also backed Rodriguez, arguing this was "not a great time to reduce the number of women in Legislature," alluding to the possibility that a future legislative session would consider abortion rights following the Supreme Court's decision on the issue next year. "I just think it is so incredibly important that when the Legislature starts talking about  taking away privacy rights from specific individual women in Arizona, across entire states, that the more women we have there, the better." 

During the vote on Rodriguez, Christy abstained again, and the remaining four members of the board deadlocked 2-2. 

Grijalva asked Christy to weigh in, arguing that there may be a point when the board would appoint a Republican representative, and if the board's four Democrats were to just abstain "we would have a problem." 

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"There are four Democrats on this board," said Christy. "Clearly, my little Republican vote really doesn't matter in the grand scheme scheme of things." 

He added that by not voting, it shows "there are differences among the Democrats." 

"And certainly, my single vote in the grand scheme of things really doesn't matter," Christy argued. 

During a second round of voting, Heinz supported appointing Mathis, allowing him to become the LD9 Representative in a 3-1 vote, with Christy again abstaining. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Supervisors Adelita Grijalva and Sharon Bronson speak to each other during a ceremony to reopen the Pima County Courthouse in November.

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