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What the Devil won't tell you

The sordid saga of Arizona democracy under fire, Part MCXXXLIV

The Arizona Republican Party clearly wants to undo the whole messy "democracy" thing. They just can't seem to get out of their own way or stop conjuring up drama.

The events swirling around Arizona politicians still consumed by voter fraud have a telenovela quality to them. They seem insistent on fixing their very real suburban voter problem by asserting the fake problem of voter fraud to justify higher barriers to election participation.

Republicans can still win big in 2022 but those prospects may depend on their ability to pull legislation together, and could use the assistance of Arizona’s senior Democratic senator in Washington.

The Republicans are still talking about voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud. They have decided their side is pre-ordained to be infallible at the ballot box and are about to start legislating accordingly.

So obsessed are they with "election integrity" that they are turning it into an intraparty thing.

Local Republican Sergio Allerano lost his bid to unseat state GOP Chair Kelli Ward, and then asked for that internal Republican Party election to be audited. Former Pima County chairman Bill Beard seconded that motion, claiming voter fraud or something like it:

Dear Kelli,
It has come to my attention that there were a significant number of irregularities, inconsistencies and errors during the election of state officials at last Saturday, January 23 AZ GOP State Meeting. It calls to question the integrity of the election and its processes. The minimal amount of security measure were not followed to the degree necessary to ensure a fair, transparent, verifiable and reliable result. I call for a complete recount and audit of the election in all races including the race for CD 2 Member-at-Large.

Seriously, these guys can’t just lose an election the old-fashioned way, without pissing and moaning.

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Ward, of course, dismissed the whole affair and refused to provide said audit.

Yup, that Kelli Ward.

The Kelli Ward who backed the January 6 march on the U.S. Capitol, and presided over her party’s censure of Gov. Doug Ducey for doing his job and certifying Biden’s election. Ducey failed to claim voter fraud where none in fact existed, so the Republicans who run the Republican Party jumped at the opportunity to go on record calling out the governor from the... let me check my notes here... Republican Party.

Sometimes the irony and hypocrisy just writes itself.

Algebra of losing

But of course it can’t stop there because this is Republican politics in Arizona – where the men are men and the psychotherapists are nervous.

Nothing about the 2020 election should have been surprising. In fact, Arizona held to history's form.

Republicans roll up wins when there is a Democrat in the White House, but they lose when a Republican president’s approval rating tanks.

In 1992, with George H.W. Bush faltering in the face of recession, Democrats sent more congressional reps to D.C. than Republicans for the first time since Lyndon Johnson.

It happened again in 2008, when George W. Bush capped a blown war with a blown-out economy.

And with Donald John Trump’s arrival on the national scene, Arizona’s suburbs rebelled. Former Vice President Joe Biden became President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in part because he won Arizona. Democrat Mark Kelly won a U.S. Senate seat. Five of the state’s nine congressional representatives are of the donkey party.

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Trump was never popular in Arizona. He just wasn’t. He came within three points of losing when he was a “what’s-the-worst-that-could- happen” candidate, four years ago. Then the state saw what the worst looked like and voted Democratic.

So Republicans looked around. They assessed the damage. They slid the slide rule, carried the four and solved for x: Too many people voted. Yeah, that was it. Too many people who voted had a propensity of disagreeing with the Republican Party. Something has got to be done about that.

Oh no — you didn't!

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick came up with an answer: Just go back to the tri-corner hat days when Legislatures – not the voters – decided which presidential candidate is allowed to win the state. She dropped HB 2720 on our heads which would let the Legislature decide who wins the state's electoral votes, regardless of the popular vote.

She calls it a “good democratic check” kinda like how Jeffrey Dahmer was a good law and order check on people's right not to be eaten.

Don’t worry too much about her bill passing.

I’d originally written a column about how this was the end of democracy until I realized that Bolick’s colleague Michelle Ugenti-Rita told a Phoenix news station that Bolick’s bill “goes too far.”

Republicans can’t lose a single vote in either house of the Legislature with a one-seat edge.

So democracy here is saved.

Fine but you don’t know why democracy is saved. Ugenti-Rita is no fan of it. She has built her own reputation for cracking down on voters who vote wrong.

See, Ugenti-Rita – and I’m going to keep the sordid details to a minimum – was the woman who brought down State Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, with some sexual harassment charges.

Shooter was expelled, kicked out of the Legislature by the members of his own party. Afterward, a lobbyist charged Ugenti-Rita herself with sexual harassment.

She faced a primary challenge and the big name Republican lawmaker endorsing her opponent, Alexander Kolodin, was … Shawnna Bolick.

I can tell you having worked in Arizona party politics that primary challengers to incumbents are treated about as well as seals at a tiger shark convention.

Under the “for-what-it’s-worth” and “you-gotta-be-kidding-me” department, Article 7 of the Arizona Constitution stipulates that the candidate with the most votes wins. Presidential candidates are not state officers but we don’t vote for the candidates. We vote for electors. Are they state officers? Good question for the courts.

So of course Shawnna Bolick is married to Clint Bolick, an Arizona Supreme Court justice.

Don’t pass immediate judgment. Bolick is a real-live libertarian. Working at the Goldwater Institute, this guy took off after former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's authoritarian tendencies in a way that made the Phoenix New Times look like MAGA shills.

On the other hand, how much does a man really want to anger his wife? On the other other hand, this may be an Arizona version of KellyAnn/George Conway thing.

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If you are happy that democracy in Arizona may be saved by a bad episode of Real Housewives of the Capitol Complex, you are more optimistic than me.

Thank God for U.S. Rep. Reuben Gallego for immediately flashing Thor’s hammer. He is promising to raise the money required to refer Bolick’s bill to voters if it happens to pass and Gov. Doug Ducey goes ahead and signs it.

The bill also may run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. The Legislature is absolutely free to decide how to choose the electors but Bolick's bill would let them do it any old time they choose. Congress decides when. Congress has set the date for the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, unless the election fails to produce a result.

What does fails to produce a result mean? The law isn't clear because that's probably not important. Sigh.

The Republicans are wonderfully set up to have a big year in 2022. Their voters will be pumped. Democratic voters may well be hugely disappointed in Joe Biden’s ability to get things done.

The one thing that could screw up the Republicans’ chances would be to turn the 2022 midterms into a referendum on democracy itself. It’s like turning a beach party into a referendum against surf and sand.

It's gonna get harder

Even without Bolick’s bill becoming law, the Legislature is all but certain to enact laws to make voting harder. One bill would require early ballots be notarized, but Ugenti-Rita has nixed that one, too.

Rest assured, though new voter barriers are coming. Voter suppression laws are like a bunch of cheerleaders getting together and deciding to establish a pom-pom and saddle shoe requirement to cast a ballot for prom queen. It’s not much of a hurdle to get necessary attire, but their voters already have the necessary accessories. Just enough people will say it’s not worth it to assure the winner is of party Push Em Back.

Years of laws cracking down on voting haven’t worked apparently. They need to crack down harder.

The prime targets for voter suppression are Latinos.

Biden won Arizona by 10,457 votes. He did so even with turnout in Gallego’s and Raul Grijalva’s Latino-heavy districts turning out far less than – let’s just say it – white districts. There are probably 50,000 to 75,000 more votes for Democrats to be had in those districts.

If Latinos start turning out to vote like white folks, Arizona is lost to the GOP.

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Wait. Hold on. Allow me to rephrase. The GOP will lose the state if they fail to make a strong case to Latino voters. They just can’t do that and be the party of white grievance.

What’s the point in being a Republican if you have to answer to moderates, independents and (God forbid) progressives?

Sinema scope

It used to be that targeting certain groups was illegal under the Voting Rights Act.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court put on blocks the motor of the Voting Rights Act, telling Congress to update it before getting it back out on the road. Democrats would love to bring it back. Senate rules require 60 votes just to bring the bill to the floor for consideration. Mitch McConnell has a veto and he is eager to use it.

Sinema has promised to defend this filibuster in the quest for bipartisanship that is akin to a quest to fly to the sun with wax wings. It’s bound to fail because Republicans don’t want the opposition voting. And Sinema is saying she’s cool with ultimately answering to Mitch McConnell to preserve her moderate bona fides.

Given that her vote is required to break the filibuster with a 50-50 Senate, Arizona finds itself at the heart of the anti-democratic movement.

Still might work out

Here's the truly amazing thing. I'm not sure this will cost the Republicans in 2022.

The party moved further to the fringe between 2008 and 2010 and they still gained 65 seats in the U.S. House. Republicans will be energized to vote "no."

Democrats will do everything they can to lose, because they are Democrats. Sinema and West Virginia's Joe Manchin seem intent on hippie punching their base and depressing that base nationwide.

The same dynamic in place that made the midterms so ripe for Democrats in 2018 are in place for Republicans.

Also, the GOP knows the American people give them a bit of a pass for the crazy. They are the party of the white guy. If a legislature dominated by Latinos and African Americans spouted QAnon lizard-people B.S., deep-state conspiracies and tried to destroy democracy, the voters would rout them from power. Republicans look like your real estate agent, lawyer and assistant regional manager. They can't be that crazy, right?

So why not cheat? It can't hurt their chances unless the people notice.

The difference between autocrats and the forces of democracy is that the autocrats only have to succeed in gaining control of all the levers of power once. The forces for democracy have to beat autocrats every time — just in case you aren't terrified.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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Jim Small/Arizona Mirror

Voters rights to cast ballots will be in the Legislature's crosshairs this session because that's apparently what political parties do now when they lose.


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