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Facing recall, Wadsack threatens GOP control of Arizona Legislature

What the Devil won't tell you

Facing recall, Wadsack threatens GOP control of Arizona Legislature

Effort against Republican senator from Southern Az risks becoming referendum on recalls

  • State Sen. Justine Wadsack's first 100 days on the job has trolled Demcorats into launching a recall effort.
    Gage Skidmore/FlickrState Sen. Justine Wadsack's first 100 days on the job has trolled Demcorats into launching a recall effort.

To keep Justine Wadsack or to dump her?

The Republican state senator's opponents have opted to try to dump her sooner rather than try to vote her out in 2024. They don't have a candidate but they have a sense of initiative in launching a recall effort against the freshman legislator.

Wadsack has been a prolific lawmaker, unleashing her brand of hatred on the Capitol Complex. Books? Ban them. Homeless? Jail 'em. Drag queens? Imprison 'em. Guns? More! More! More!

Wadsack is acting as if freedom is the obligation to do what she says. The record she's piling up makes her re-election by voters in suburban Tucson a dicey prospect and that's a problem for Arizona Republicans.

Someone in GOP leadership needs to have a talk with Wadsack because she looks like death to the party's legislative majority come 2024. She may be the destroyer of their world because she's forgetting three things. 

First, she won by just 51 percent to 49 percent. That's not a mandate to rule as much as it is an onus to listen or else.

Second, she could take at least one Republican House member down with her. Reps. Rachel Jones and Cory McGorr just barely squeaked by two Democrats. McGarr won by fewer than 1,000 votes out of more than 100,000 cast. Putting work into LD 17 to beat Wadsack could boost turnout that takes out one or both Republican state reps and that's enough to bump Republicans from power in the Legislature.

Third, her recently redrawn district was not designed to be competitive. It was designed to be safe for Republicans. The last-second deal to create Legislative District 17 hung up the redistricting process as Democrats griped it wasn't fair to have another legislative district the GOP didn't have to worry about. 

A wise columnist dismissed the concerns at the time: 

"I'm not sure how safely Republican this particular district will be in a few years. It's basically an R+9 district, which means Republicans can win by nine points. But it includes the Catalina Foothills and the East Side, which are rapidly blue-i-fying and trending against Trumpism.

It contains a lot of educated voters who are increasingly breaking Left and a whole bunch of late-in-life Republicans who frankly may not be around in 2030."

So maybe I know what I'm talking about here. The rest of the political world was looking at past results and voter registration. I was looking at demographics.

Republicans hold a one-seat advantage in the Legislature and the party just wildly duffed the expectations game during the 2022 midterm. A whole bunch of Justine Wadsacks is what cost them.

I've previously hypothesized the concept of Democrats taking over the Legislature but didn't see a path under the old district map of the 2010s.

Well, now the path is plain. Democrats can hold their gains and go right through Wadsack's district. A victory there would turn the state Senate 15-15. Republicans would no longer control the Legislature. One more win, say in J.D. Mesnard's tight Phoenix district, would give them control of the Senate outright. 

A recall effort swinging into action against Wadsack may give her the one thing every Republican craves these days: a sense of victimhood to brandish to supporters. I would guess she welcomes the recall because it gives her a chance to play the victim of the Tucson Democratic Machine. No doubt she'll start dropping the name "George Soros" in five, four, three...

Christina Rodruiguez has agreed to organize the recall effort and is shrewd enough to know the hill is high, needing 30,000 signatures on petitions in 120 days. She also knows that the effort could turn into a referendum on recalls. But still, screw it, she's involved because people are asking the experienced organizer to tackle the issue.

"She has too much negative momentum to wait anymore," Rodriguez said. "I don't know how much damage she can do the longer we wait."

OK, fine. With Democrat Katie Hobbs wielding a veto pen, the damage will be limited. Wadsack's book bans, criminalization of poverty and anti-drag queen jihad won't become law. 

Wadsack successfully referred to voters a statewide ballot question that could change how Tucson runs its elections. The resolution referring the issue to the 2024 ballot didn't require Hobbs' signature. The question would leave it to voters in Parker and Payson to force Tucson out of its hybrid ward-only primary and citywide general election. If passed, Tucson would have to choose between all citywide or all ward-only races that could elect East Side Republicans.

For the record, city elections should be ward-only because Republicans deserve representation. If they can earn it. This law doesn't do that. It just is meant to upend the City Council for a meeting or two and trigger libs. The GOP doesn't have a voter registration advantage in any of Tucson's six wards.

Her supporters say she's passed 30 bills in the first three months of her first session, as if she's personally redesigning the state to her liking. 

A lot of voters say she won; let her do her job. If she survives, a recall could make Wadsack stronger in 2024. 

Wadsack actually summed it up pretty well in a tweet last week: "I wrote the bills I promised to my voters in #LD17 & now the Democrats are 'shocked' to learn that my policy is fundamentally different than theirs & we have opposite political goals."

I mean, yeah. That's how elections work. 

Meanwhile, if the concern is that a crazy Republican is running loose in the Arizona Legislature, then stop the freaking presses. Usually about 12 of them chew through their chains. 

Rodriguez said Wadsack's tweet sounded like "I don't care what anyone who disagrees with me thinks about anything" and helped trigger the effort.

Even if the recall push doesn't work, it will be chance to spread the word about Wadsack, who looks highly vulnerable in LD 17 and could cost the legislative Republicans their majority. She's not as reflective of her district as one would think. 

Democratic County Supervisor Rex Scott won his seat in a district thought to be unwinnable for Democrats, before Republicans started insisting on grievance and victimhood from imaginary plots.  Republican bastions started looking a lot more amenable to Democrats.

"What voters want is someone to listen to people, keep your head down and do the work," Scott said.

That's not Wadsack. She's publicly trolling a rather large number of her constituents. 

Voters are turned off by a specific kind of Republican – the Wadsack kind.

Diving into the numbers

The Independent Redistricting Committee was within its rights to set up LD 17 as a safe Republican district. It includes Oro Valley, Saddlebrooke, Rita Ranch and Sahuarita. What's not Republican about those places?

Voters in traditional GOP strongholds are increasingly willing to vote for the right kind of Democrat if the choice is the wrong kind of Republican.

Wadsack represents Rita Ranch. Those three precincts are typically massive margin-makers for Republicans. The idea in city elections used to be that Democrats wanted to build up big margins all over the rest of Tucson to withstand the inevitable Red Cascade out of Rita Ranch.

Let's take a look at precincts 90, 95 and 176, that make up the bulk of the sprawling community on South Houghton Road. About 3,000 votes were cast there, last time around.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake did win the combined vote – by 60 votes. That's basically 51-49 in a part of town where Democrats have no business competing. 

Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly won Rita Ranch and so did Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. Suddenly, there's what's known in the business as a "universe of voters" who can flip Rita blue.

Democrats over-performed there, so long as they ran against the likes of pro-insurrectionists like Lake and Mark Finchem, the Republican secretary of state. Republican Blake Masters called the Unabomber a personal hero, and Kelly trounced him.

On the other hand, Republicans U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani carried those precincts by 231 votes — about 6 points.  Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne won there by 220 votes, beating Democrat Kathy Hoffman. Republican State Treasurer Kimberly Yee won more narrowly, which is interesting because she did better than anyone else statewide.

They ran very traditional Republican campaigns and they kept their heads down about space lasers and bamboo ballots. Republicans should try: "I'll take the job seriously and do the work to lower taxes, cut regulation and get tough on the border." Why is that so hard?

Wadsack held Rita Ranch, beating Democrat Mike Nickerson by just 99 votes. LD 17's four-way state House race was narrow, but harder to pin down other than to tell you it was super tight. Democrats were within a point or two of carrying what had been stalwart Republican areas.

It would be easy to dismiss the blueing of Rita Ranch as a Trumpy thing that hinged on election-deniers. Except there was a school board race, too. 

The GOP had a new plan to turn elections into referenda on Critical Race Theory and Marxist indoctrination in the classroom. If it was going to work anywhere, it was going to work in the Vail Unified School District. 

But the referendumbs failed, and that's equally ominous for a senator tied suddenly to book banning because she lashed herself to literary prohibition.

Anastasia Tsatsakis tried it and got her clock cleaned in Rita Ranch's most right-wing precinct. She finished third (the top two vote-getters win seats) by 149 votes. Coronavirus denier Geraldine Kleber came in fourth, missing out on the school board by nearly 300 votes.

It wasn't just election denying that cost the GOP. It was campaigning on Alex Jones-style hysteria.

Around the horn

We know this much. The damage wasn't limited to Rita Ranch.

Two precincts taking in most of Sahuarita saw more than 6,000 votes cast. Firebrand liberal U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva lost there by 280 votes to Republican Luis Pozzolo. Hobbs carried both by 46 votes. Put another way: Hobbs won Sahuarita. Hobbs had no business being competitive in Sahuarita. 

Kelly and Fontes won those precincts too. This means there were Kelly-Pozzolo voters. Hell, there were a significant number of Hobbs-Pozzolo voters.

Wadsack and the House Republicans kept squeaking by with narrow leads in the bedroom community for cops, firefighters and Border Patrol agents.

Up in Oro Valley, precincts between the Coronado National Forest and North Shannon Road cast their votes for Hobbs, Kelly and Fontes even as they split for Ciscomani's pedestrian conservatism.

Wadsack lost those precincts. 

Where LD 17 did break big for the Republicans, it didn't break that big. Dove Mountain and Saddlebrooke both gave Republicans victories of the 10-point variety, while Kelly ran pretty close. 

Here's a sentence I never thought I'd type: Democrat Adrian Fontes won Saddlebrooke. He took both precincts. Finchem, his opponent, represented the right-wing retirement community in the Legislature. Start talking about tossing election results if the other party wins and bad things happen.

In Green Valley the vote was more solidly Democratic. The Catalina Foothills should be forever scrubbed from the MAGA Christmas card list. That part of town has no interest in candidates with family photos showcasing pronounced firepower.

So Republicans are fine in Arizona, so long as they know they can't rely on Tucson, the Foothills, Oro Valley, Green Valley, Rita Ranch or Sahuarita. Hey, they still have Marana.

Something really important to emphasize is that none of these elections were 20-point Democratic wins. Fontes won 53-47 and Kelly won 52-45. The slightest shift in political breezes can crumble Republican fortresses.

My theory of the case (and it's a bit of a shot in the dark) is that better educated voters are turning Democratic because Republicans seem to be abandoning the grown-ups who studied as kids.

College degrees are for cucks and betas, what passes for their thinking goes. Real men don't need education. They know the conspiracy is the truth. That means they arrived at the truth without ever having to crack a book. See how smart they are?

It's a twist on the old Ronald Reagan line about why he was no longer a New Deal Democrat. These voters aren't leaving the GOP. The GOP is bailing on them as fast as their monster trucks can take them.

Caveats beware

Now let me throw in a big variable. The 2022 election was a midterm, meaning a whole bunch of voters didn't show up who will cast ballots in the 2024 presidential election. Are they Republicans ready to pounce? Maybe. No one should rule that out.

Historically, though, midterm holdouts tend to belong to the party the controls the White House. So the donkeys may be ready to kick. 

Finally, there's a little matter of the so-called Independent State Legislature Doctrine. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently mulling a decision that could give legislatures absolute authority over how elections are run and wipe out independent redistricting across the country. The question is how lawless will elections become? Legislatures could redraw all maps later this year to provide maximum performance and no governor or state court could do anything about it.

It would take a pretty maximalist interpretation of the disputed legal theory to end independent redistricting of state government boundaries. Arguments in favor refer to the U.S. Constitution, which only governs how congressional elections are to be handled. States are presumably still allowed to have their own constitutions, but this court is a little bonkers, so keep it in mind.

My usual disclaimer here is that Democrats need to capitalize by mustering an argument other than their old crutch  "pivot to Social Security." Don't hold out much hope for that. I know. Social Security isn't a state program. Maybe that's why the Dems have been so unable to mount a challenge at the state level.

The one way to beat Wadsack in a recall may be forcing her to declare she will honor and not be the deciding vote to overturn the 2024 election. LD 17 isn't MAGA but it probably has as much patience for arguments about social justice as it does about critical race theory and election audits.

But a recall effort may backfire and muddle the message. 

Street-to-street, door-to-door

Winning a comms battle with the Republicans may not be necessary to win in LD 17 because its neighborhoods are incredibly walkable. I'm serious. It's high-density single-family residential neighborhoods, ripe for well-organized field operations and canvasses. Here is where Democrats excel. 

And the recall can help build up the Democrats field operation in places like Rita Ranch and Sahuarita, two places they have ignored. (Note to Republicans: You are free to do the same in Democratic precincts but it might mean talking to apostates).  

The anti-Wadsack crowd can send neighborly grandmas out to talk to voters about actual problems confronting the state. On the other hand, Team Wadsack can send a red-hat-wearing MAGAs with AR-15s slung over their shoulders shouting "the drag queens are everywhere!"

Iron bars are not a realistic solution to homelessness when rents are rising at historic rates. Using the criminal code to impose a sexual or gender conformity is not freedom, any more than banning books. We've tried the guns-for-all approach to crime. It's not working. 

But that's an argument for a general election, where it can land with great effect. Wadsackism is exactly the kind of behavior that is costing the GOP power in Arizona and turning voters in LD 17 skeptical.

Mark Finchem faced a recall that didn't go anywhere, but still lost his familiar Saddlebrooke turf when he tried to run for secretary of state.

Anonymous no more

Wadsack, meanwhile, is forgetting every lawmaker's best friend: down-ballot anonymity.

Voters are so inundated with information about the top of the ballot that the other races get lost. Oddly, less so with local races like school board. 

Legislative races get lost in the shuffle so voters just tend to vote the party line.  Think about it. If you, dear reader, don't know much or anything about a race for corporation commissioner, how likely are you to take a flyer on the candidate from the other party?

Yet there goes Wadsack making a name for herself, which is exactly what Republicans have tried to avoid all these years.

On the other hand if she's introduced for real to voters as a victim of the Tucson Democratic establishment and not a run-of-the-mill MAGA nutbar, then she's more likely to weather this and future storms.

What's clear is that the GOP's foray into rage-a-holicism is losing its allure with Arizona voters. Angertainment is Justine Wadsack's only trick and she wants the whole world to know it. 

So, what will her sojourn into the limelight cost her party? Maybe everything. Or maybe nothing if Democrats blow it.

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 what the Devil won’t.

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