In a horrific display of the significance of down-ballot elections, the two states that lead the world (not just the nation) in coronavirus cases are both currently under complete Republican control: Arizona and Florida. In both states, the GOP controls both Houses of the state legislature and occupies the governor’s mansion. Yet the Democrats have a real shot at breaking the monopoly for both states: The Florida state Senate can flip with just four wins, and in Arizona, both Houses will flip with five wins (two in the lower chamber, three in the upper chamber). The Republican Party knows this, and they are going all in to save their majority—even if it means dirty tricks.
In Arizona, Republicans have controlled the statehouse for 50 years. However, the Blue Wave of 2018 knocked out four seats, and they are now hanging onto their majority by a thread. If they lose just one seat in November, the statehouse splits. If they lose two, the Democrats take over! Democrats are also poised to seize control of the state Senate as well; by 2022, when Doug Ducey runs for reelection as the most unpopular governor in the nation, the Democrats might actually turn Arizona into a blue trifecta after one cycle! I can’t stress how quickly this monumental shift has occurred, but with an increasing Latino population and the Democrats winning over suburbanites (while Republicans send them running), it’s no longer a question of “if.” It’s a matter of “when” Arizona will go blue.
Doug Ducey is not eligible to run in 2022 as he was elected in 2014. The contest will be open. I regret the error.
Florida’s a tougher nut to crack, requiring four seats to flip the state Senate. However, with just two or three swing election victories this year, by 2022 we can finally break the 25-year Republican stranglehold on my state. With everything that’s going on, it’s easy to overlook critical legislative races in two important battleground states, but with your help, Arizona and Florida can finally be free from decades of right-wing rule.
Let’s start with Arizona. Maricopa County is the largest county in Arizona, and holds the majority of votes for the mostly rural state. It’s the biggest reason for the emerging Democratic wave. Maricopa was always solid red, but things have rapidly changed, beginning in 2016. Sensing a large shift, the Republican leadership made it particularly hard to vote that year by closing 140 out of 200 polling stations. One Democratic district had exactly zero polling stations.
The GOP scheme didn’t work. Sheriff Joe Arpaio was thrown out of office (he also lost his 2020 primary earlier this month), and in several local races, Democrats won for the first time in the county’s history. Also, in 2019, Phoenix elected a Democratic woman as mayor for the first time. Latinos grew tired of being made the scapegoat by the Arpaio Republicans, and older voters started leaving the GOP. The Trump team knows how important Arizona and Maricopa County are to winning, and Trump has visited four times so far. I don’t think it’s been helping.
Rather than adjusting their toxic rhetoric or attempting to reach out to new voters, Arizona Republicans actually doubled down. The Arizona Republican Chair, Kelli Ward, is a certified Trump conspiracy theorist. She held hearings on Alex Jones’ theory that the smoke from commercial jets are really “chemical trails”, and said the nurses protesting at COVID-19 rallies were “fake.”
However, the people of Arizona are fired up. In 2018, thousands of teachers dressed in red marched on the state Capitol in 110-degree heat, demanding an increase in funding. When the GOP ignored them, they poured all they had into a ballot initiative called “Invest in Education” (#InvestInED), which would have required a 3.5% tax surcharge for single individuals making more than $250,000, or married couples making more than $500,000 to fund their public schools. They received twice as many signatures as they needed.
The right-wing Arizona Supreme Court threw it out for “unclear language.” So the teachers tried again. This time, in 2020, they had to deal with a pandemic and many fewer volunteers. Still, they managed to get 435,000 signatures, which was 200,000 more than was needed. Once again, however, all of Gov. Ducey’s picks for the Arizona Supreme Court threw the ballot initiative out. This time it was because they didn’t like how the 100-word summary was worded. Despite the fact that it was much clearer than other initiative summaries, the court got rid of it anyway. The court’s independence from the executive branch has been questioned since, interestingly enough, the governor’s campaign staff somehow knew of the justices’ vote tally before it was released.
It’s very clear that average Arizonans won’t get heard until Democrats are elected. You might notice that a few of the races discussed here feature frustrated teachers turned candidates, and that they are doing quite well in their races. Republicans should have listened. Instead, they are forcing teachers into schools during a pandemic without adequate protection. They are in for a reckoning this November.
This brief overview of the candidates and their opponents was difficult to construct, because Arizona is unique in that it has multi-member legislative districts. Each legislative district has two state representatives and one state senator.
Each candidate’s name links to their campaign website. While I am rating candidates on their chances, it’s important to remember that “very good chance to flip” certainly doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed. They still face a funded incumbent backed by a determined political party that will do anything to maintain their grip on power. All of these candidates really need our help.
- Very good chance to flip
- Good chance to flip
- Small chance to flip
Arizona Legislative District 6:
State Senate: Felicia French (Good chance to flip)
State House: Coral Evans (Good chance to flip)
Felicia French is running for the Senate seat. French is a registered nurse, Afghan war veteran, medical evacuation helicopter pilot, and 32-year Army colonel. This is a slightly red district, but Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema only lost it by 1.8 points in 2018. French almost won this district in 2018: she lost by just 577 votes. The Republicans did NOT want her to win the 2020 primary, and a dark money group spent $45,000 attacking her in vain.
Opponent: Republican Wendy Rogers is also a military helicopter pilot. Rogers barely won the Republican primary against longtime incumbent Sylvia Allen, a blatant, unapologetic racist who warned against the “browning of America” and tried to instill fear that Arizona is “going to look like South American countries very quickly.” The Arizona Republicans, however, hate Rogers and launched an unprecedented attack on her because she has run so many times and is viewed as a perennial loser. They really preferred Sylvia Allen because, although she is racist, they believe she is more electable. That a racist is electable at all should tell you something about the state of Arizona’s Republican party.
Coral Evans is running for the House seat. She is a woman of color and the current mayor of Flagstaff. She has held elected office for 12 years, and the people know and like her. Like Barack Obama, she started as a community organizer.
Opponent: Walter Blackman is the first Black Republican in the Arizona legislature. As such, he had a lot of opportunity to stand up when it counted, yet is most famous for strongly stating that he did not support George Floyd. Even though Floyd was handcuffed on the ground, and had his life literally squeezed out of him, Blackman seemingly justified what happened because “he had a criminal background, he had criminal intent." Blackman also called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization.”
Arizona Legislative District 20:
State Senate: Doug Ervin (Good chance to flip)
State House: Judy Schwiebert (Good chance to flip)
Doug Ervin is running for the Senate seat in a balanced district that the Democrats have a real shot at winning. Ervin is a software architect and financial consultant who helped grow a small company into an international firm. He works with several educational organizations. He ran in 2018 and was less than 3% points away from victory.
Opponent: Paul Boyer is a typical right-wing nut pushing for bills to limit gun control and to prohibit “disinvitations and shout-downs” against hatemongers who visit college campuses. Yawn.
Judy Schwiebert is running for the House seat. She’s a lifelong teacher who went from teaching shop to becoming principal of a vocational high school in the Valley. She is utterly frustrated by the lack of concern for quality education in the current legislature. She also founded a theatre company and is a community center director.
Opponent: Shawnna Bolick is the incumbent, who should have been disqualified for using a UPS store as the address on her nominating petitions and verification forms “under penalty of perjury.” Luckily for Bolick, her husband, a Libertarian extremist, was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Gov. Ducey. The court ruled that although she violated state law, she didn’t have to be taken off the ballot. It’s curious, really, since the justices were such sticklers for the rules when it came to the #InvestinED ballot initiative ...
Arizona Legislative District 28:
State Senate: Christine Marsh (Very good chance to flip)
Christine Marsh isn’t just 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year, she’s an education activist. She testified before Congress and served as a voice for the teachers who staged massive walkouts due to funding cuts. Her frustration is why she is running, which is a good thing, since Arizona is always at the bottom for education spending. This is the best opportunity for a pickup, as the Democrats already hold both state House seats in this district, and Hillary Clinton won this district in 2016 by 5 points.
Opponent: Kate Brophy McGee is Marsh’s polar opposite. McGee drastically voted to cut education spending. Instead of trying to justify this position, McGee responded to a political action committee’s negative ad attacking her for this by threatening to sue them. How Trumpian of her.
Arizona Legislative District 23:
State Senate: Seth Blattman (Small chance to flip)
Seth Blattman is a real down-to-earth guy. He’s a family man with young children, owns a local furniture business with 30 employees, and says his top priorities are properly funding the school system and health care. This district leans pretty red, but the Republican incumbent is enmeshed in scandal and encapsulates everything wrong about the phony Christian right. Severely anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, and best known for her efforts to make it harder to vote, incumbent Michelle Ugenti-Rita is a raging hypocrite. The contrast couldn’t be more different.
Opponent: Michelle Ugenti-Rita is serving in her first term. She was the girlfriend of Brian Townsend, an aide to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. A lobbyist accused both Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Brian Townsend of sexually harassing her. The lobbyist, whose career depends on getting votes, said she felt intimidated by the power dynamic of the couple. She accused Townsend of sending photos of Ugenti-Rita in the nude, and accused Ugenti-Rita of pushing her for a threesome. Ugenti-Rita denies that, and said the naked photos were sent by Townsend without her permission. (She later married him.) She did admit to some sordid behavior with the lobbyist, but she blamed the victim.
It gets worse. The Democrats in the Senate demanded an investigation, but the Republican majority refused. It’s telling that the GOP Senate leader’s retort to the Democrats that any investigation into bad behavior might open “a can of worms” and possibly ensnare Democrats in past transgressions. My response to that? F**KING GOOD! I don’t want politicians who take advantage of young women. But that’s the difference. For me, it’s not all about power. But I guess that’s not the case with the GOP, which is why they can still support Trump.
Arizona Legislative District 17:
Ajlan Kurdoglu is running for the Senate seat. This is his first election. He’s a small business owner and first-generation American. In 2018, the Democratic Senate candidate came within 1% to flip this seat. This year, thousands more Democrats are registered to vote. It will be a close one, which is good, because his opponent is also pond scum.
Opponent: Republican J.D. Mesnard agreed with the decision not to investigate the previously-mentioned allegations against Michelle Ugenti-Rita. He said if the lobbyist was “feeling like a victim,” then she essentially needed to make a public stink about it if she wanted them to act. Arizona deserves much better.
Jennifer Pawlik actually isn’t a challenger, but the incumbent. I’m including her because her district runs a little red, and I don’t want her to lose her seat. In fact, her district is an anomaly because the other representative for her district, a guy who voted to shield businesses from COVID-19 liability before his restaurant shut down, is a Republican. This is currently the only district where the two House seats are split.
Arizona Legislative District 8:
Barbara McGuire is running for the Senate seat. She already served two terms in the state House. She has a long list of bills that she got passed and a long list of accomplishments. Her opponent is T.J. Shope. He does not have a long list of anything.
Sharon Girard is running for a House seat. She is a retired physician’s assistant and a strong advocate for reproductive freedom. Her opponent is David Cook, who is best known for threatening the police officer who pulled him over for a DUI. Seriously, where does the Arizona GOP find these people?
That’s it for Arizona. Please click all those candidate links to learn more about the Arizona legislative races and find a way to help the Grand Canyon State turn blue!
Let’s move onto the Sunshine State, where half of the Florida state Senate (the odd-numbered districts) are on the ballot in 2020. Unlike Arizona, Florida separates their legislative districts into House and Senate districts, which are drawn independent of each other. Florida has single-member districts.
There is a 73-46 member split in the House, but in the Senate, the split is 23-17. Most Senate seats are considered safe this cycle, but Democrats have a very good shot at seizing two seats this year. If they flip three, it will be a 20-20 tie. One more, and the Democrats break the trifecta. Likely, however, we will have to wait until 2022 to turn the Senate blue.
Florida State Senate District 9: Patricia Sigman (Good chance to flip)
Patricia Sigman is an employment lawyer and voter protection leader. Funding our woefully inadequate education system will be a top priority. She has the backing of the Democratic establishment and without a doubt had the best shot of winning this slightly right-leaning district. The Republicans don’t want to lose this seat, so they are playing dirty. Very dirty.
I live in this district, and during the primary I received deceptive mailers from “Floridians for Equality and Justice” that claim the “party bosses” are fighting against “local progressives” by backing her. “The heart and soul of our progressive movement is at stake!” Other mailers are vile, linking Sigman to a sex offender. The other Democratic candidates in the race—whom these mailers were designed to help—denounced the Republican smear campaign.
The fake group worked through something called the Victory Blue Group to send the mailers. The registered agent is an attorney named David Healy, who happens to be the law partner of a particularly shady former Republican state lawmaker. Thankfully, the ruse failed, as Sigman won her primary.
Opponent: Jason Broedeur. Why is the GOP spending dark money on defeating Patricia Sigman? Because Jason Broedeur is her opponent for this open seat. He was a state House representative for an overlapping House district, and he was god awful. He was most well known for fighting an ultra-expensive, six-year legal battle for the NRA to impose an unconstitutional bill dubbed “Docs vs. Glocks.” It would have imprisoned doctors and fined them up to $5 million dollars if they discussed gun safety with their patients. Republicans knew this was constitutionally wrong, yet not only supported the bill, but tried several times to pass it. Then-governor Rick Scott said he would have signed it. These are the people Floridians have to deal with.
Florida Senate District 39: Javier Fernandez (Good chance to flip)
Javier Fernandez recently won the primary in this race. This state Senate district went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and should not be in Republican hands. Fernandez has been a representative for the state House since 2018, and is now running for this open Senate seat. His top priorities are stopping the funneling of education dollars to private and charter schools, and improving Florida’s crumbling infrastructure. This is the second-most flippable seat in Florida, and the establishment, labor unions, and state PACS are pushing hard for a win. Fernandez is also pushing for tax credits for working families and Medicaid expansion. His opponent, Ana Maria Rodriquez, was strongly endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which tells you all you need to know.
Florida Senate District 20: Kathy Lewis (Swing)
Kathy Lewis is the Democratic candidate for this race, and apparently has been on the upswing. The Florida Democratic Campaign Committee Chair, Mike Coleman, disagreed with my initial assessment on this race. He encouraged Kathy to run and donated the maximum to her campaign. She is a Johns Hopkins University graduate, community organizer, and disability rights advocate. She decided to run after the inordinate amount of trouble she had trying to access benefits for her disabled daughter. She’s also pushing hard for Medicaid expansion and COVID-19 protections. Lewis ran against the incumbent, Republican Tom Lee in 2018, and lost by seven percentage points. Lee, however, decided to resign. With no incumbent and an uptick in Democratic voter registrations, Lewis has a real shot of pulling off a victory this presidential cycle.
Again, please visit their websites.
There are other states that have Republican trifectas where the GOP may lose their grip on power this year, such as Nebraska, West Virginia, and Iowa. I will cover those in the future.
As we all know, the entire culture of the Republican Party has been infected by Trumpism. There are few boundaries of morality, nor much respect, if any, for the institutions they serve. Rules don’t apply to them. It’s only about power and keeping power. We need to do all we can to not just install better legislators—at every level—but to restore faith in government itself.
Here in Florida, a decade of complete control under the GOP has been disastrous for our state. The NRA was allowed to write our state’s gun laws, and we now lead the nation in mass shootings. We are the second worst state for economic inequality, with four out of every 10 households in Florida unable to meet their most basic needs.
Our schools are among the worst in the nation, and our teachers are now among the lowest-paid. We likely won’t flip Florida blue this cycle, but we can damn sure stem the bleeding and set ourselves up for victory in 2022.
Arizona, however, gives us a real shot at turning their legislature blue in November. If we also defeat their wildly unpopular Trump-y governor in 2022, with Trumpism in the grave, Arizona has a chance to be a Democratic trifecta. Think of the possibilities!
Virginia was under complete Republican rule for many years, but achieved the Democratic trifecta in 2019. In the first 100 days, Virginia expanded Medicaid, passed gun control, repealed restrictive abortion restrictions—like counseling requirements and waiting periods—and best of all, expanded voting rights. Virginians finally have no-excuse absentee voting. Election Day is now a state holiday, and Virginians now enjoy early voting and same-day registration. Then there’s the budget: Virginians suddenly had budget priorities that actually reflected the citizens’ needs for once. Not only did the state enjoy economic growth as a result, but had access to good health care and better schools with improved funding.
Although Democrats have been generous with online fundraising this year, many of our operatives lament that our small-donor base tends to give a lot of money to candidates in high-profile races with little hope of winning. That money would go a lot further and be of much more use in legislative races that have a huge impact on our government. We have the chance of flipping a half-dozen state legislatures alone this year.
I know it’s easy to get swept up in the national fervor of the big elections, but the down-ballot races are where policies happen and lives are directly impacted. Your donations do a lot more: legislative races are typically only $100,000 to run, and for places like Arizona, races can be even cheaper. Challengers especially need the funds to get their name out there. Please look through some of these races and help where you can. It will mean a lot to the candidate, and even more to the citizens they will be able to help. Best of all, it will help Democrats on the national level since the legislators will redraw legislative and congressional districts in 2020.
We have the ability to determine if the next 10 years will be about fair representation with good results, or another 10 years of prioritizing the wealthy with gerrymandering and voting rights assaults. You can help—please do so.