Arizona election analysis: No wonder Republican Rachel Mitchell led from the get-go

It’s taking some time to make sense of the 2022 midterm election.

We don’t have full results yet, with several races proving to be nail-biters.

But voters clearly had some messages to send amid the chaos.

Here’s what Arizona Republic opinion writers see as the smoke clears:

Unlike her GOP peers, Mitchell never struggled

The contest for Maricopa County attorney differed from many of the top-of-the-ballot races in that Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election were never issues.

It differed, too, in how the results have played out. Or, rather, rolled out.

Appointed Republican County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, who declared victory on Monday, led consistently by roughly the same margin, 52% to 48%, even as margins in other offices either widened or narrowed (governor) – or even flipped (state attorney general, schools superintendent).

In electing Mitchell, voters essentially rejected Democrat Julie Gunnigle’s vision of overhauling the office by focusing on reducing the number of people sent to prison and reforming how police wrongdoing cases are handled.

Abortion access also apparently did not factor significantly, as Gunnigle pledged not to prosecute anyone and Mitchell said she wouldn’t go after women who seek or receive abortions.

– Abe Kwok, deputy editorial page editor

We've got a problem if Kari Lake loses

There was no conspiracy to rig the printers or count votes at a snail’s pace in Arizona, but when this is over, we do need to overhaul our election system.

The malfunction with printers that dragged on for some 7-8 hours during the important first waves of voting was a big deal, affecting 30% of Maricopa County voting centers.

Even if that has no impact on outcomes, Republican voters are furious. Nerves were already on edge as they always are Election Day, and the breakdown put a torch on them. Add to that Kari Lake’s foolish declarations that she has already won and we’re looking at a potential crisis:

If she loses, her voters will be incandescent.

The Republicans who run elections in Maricopa County would not purposefully undermine their own voters and candidates. But MAGA voters who don’t trust the election system and carried themselves to the polls on Election Day were inordinately affected.

When this election is over and its managers do the post-mortem, we’re likely to find that Republican lawmakers over years of reforming elections created the log jam.

But that hardly matters.

The system is so slow it increases distrust in it. Across Arizona and the nation and even in Europe, people are asking what is wrong with Maricopa County?

Other states have built election systems that are fast and efficient. We can too.

Phil Boas, columnist

Help for fire districts is no sure thing

Proposition 310 suffers from a lot of things. Raising revenue to help first responders isn’t one of them.

The measure, which calls for a state sales tax of one-tenth of a percent with the money to be distributed to fire districts across Arizona, is failing by a few percentage points for the moment.

Backers of the proposition lament that local municipalities don’t have the resources to properly support the fire districts. They point out that Arizonans travel and vacation in many of these remote spots and rely on services when there are emergencies such as vehicle crashes.

Still, it’s a questionable reason to slap all Arizonans with a sales tax for 20 years to fund largely local services and for only a fraction of Arizonans.

Scot Mussi of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club went further, highlighting a series of arrests and prosecution of fire-district personnel who misspent and embezzled money in opposing the measure.

It’s difficult to tease out which “against” argument resonated most with voters in Maricopa County, where the tally is just about the difference between Proposition 310 passing and failing.

– Abe Kwok, deputy editorial page editor

Did we lie about broad support for 'Dreamers'?

Turns out the overwhelming support expressed for “Dreamers” was mostly BS – just look at Proposition 308.

For years, Republicans, Democrats and mostly everyone else have consistently said they want to legalize the young immigrants brought to the country as children.

That hasn’t happened.

But you’d think these same people would jump at the chance to at least make it easier for them to get a college education.

Not exactly.

Proposition 308 – which would give “Dreamers” who graduate from an Arizona high school the chance to pay in-state college tuition – appears to have barely squeaked by, despite polling before the election that it would sail through.

I couldn’t care less about the margin of victory. The important thing for these young immigrants is that this proposition passes.

But the fact that nearly half of voters turned their backs on them tells a greater story of bad polling or people lying when they say they support “Dreamers.”

It doesn’t bode well for immigrants still hoping Americans help to permanently legalize their immigration status.

Elvia Díaz, editorial page editor 

Did most voters choose a guy who's not running?

Whoever wins the District 22 Senate race may not change the chamber’s balance of power.

But whoever wins will be chosen by a fraction of voters that cast a ballot, and that’s unfortunate.

Democratic state Rep. Diego Espinoza won the primary. But he dropped out of the race and resigned from the House in September after taking a job at Salt River Project.

Nine write-ins – five Democrats, three Republicans and an independent – scrambled to run in his place for the Tolleson-area seat. But only Espinoza’s name was on the ballot.

Folks tried to get the message out: If you vote for Espinoza, your vote won’t count. You’ll need to write in one of the nine correctly.

Yet there are 31,308 undervotes so far, out of more than 43,000 votes cast. That means most voters either left the race blank, or (more likely) voted for Espinoza.

The leading write-in, Democrat Eva Diaz, has received a mere 5,750 votes.

Joanna Allhands, digital opinions editor

Horne shouldn't declare himself the winner yet

Since when do we declare victory before the contest is over?

The race for superintendent of public schools remains too close to call, with the leader flipping multiple times.

Yet Tom Horne declared himself the winner on Wednesday evening.

Is this the behavior we want from someone tasked with leading public schoolchildren in the state?

Also, since when do we flip-flop on when it suits our needs, rather than sticking to an objective strategy?

That’s where we are with Horne, who refused to concede the attorney general primary in 2014 after it became clear his loss was imminent.

If you won’t concede until it’s over, why is it OK to call yourself a winner before it’s over? It’s inconsistent, at best. Fair to call it intellectually dishonest?

Again, is this behavior we want to be teaching kids?

Greg Moore, columnist

Amid our rancor, bipartisanship?

If the current voting trend holds, Arizona will join most other states in having a lieutenant governor beginning in 2027. The 2026 election would feature the first two-person gubernatorial ticket.

You may say that’s just one extra layer we don’t need – former lawmaker Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Republican, made that very argument. The solution to the criticism: Have the second-in-command assume another already established executive position, such as chief of staff or an agency director.

Apparently, it’s a concept embraced across party lines.

Proposition 131 was referred by the Legislature, co-sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Republican, and Sen. Sean Bowie, a Democrat. It was supported by groups like the League of Women Voters, which is nonpartisan but leans left (e.g. it opposed three measures on this year’s ballot that would limit citizen-led initiatives).

Why? Mostly to ensure that if the governor leaves office – it has happened multiple times in the past couple of decades – the person next in line to ascend to the position would be from the same party.

You can argue keeping things status quo would serve as a welcome deterrent against a governor leaving office early. Apparently, neither major party nor voters agree.

– Abe Kwok, deputy editorial page editor

In this district, toeing the Trump line hurt

At least one Trump-endorsed candidate for the Arizona Senate appears headed to the showers.

Democrat Eva Burch, a nurse, holds a six-point lead over Republican Robert Scantlebury, a retired police officer.

This Mesa district is one of just four or five competitive legislative districts and it’s the only one that leans Democratic.

If it holds, it would constitute a pickup for Democrats. Scantlebury knocked off the area’s more moderate Republican, Sen. Tyler Pace, in the primary.

Pace declined to genuflect at the altar of Trump, so he had to go.

Talk about self sabotage …

Laurie Roberts, columnist

Will Prop. 209 hurt consumers?

The critics are right that Proposition 209 – the so-called Predatory Debt Collection Protection Act – is deceptive.

Deceptively clever, as it turns out.

The measure, one of two (out of 10 on the ballot) that won a strong majority of Arizona voters’ support, was sold largely as a solution to crippling medical debts, even though it’s considerably broader than that. The proposition caps interest on medical debt at 3% and raises the amount of a home and vehicles exempt from debt collection.

But it also restricts lenders’ ability to collect on nonmedical debts, including raising the percentage on wages that’d be off limits to collectors.

What remains to be seen is the critics’ prediction that passage will lead to higher borrowing costs for consumers, especially for the lower earners that Proposition 209 is intended to help.

Business types argue that lenders would scratch back anticipated losses by passing the costs along to everyone else and tighteni access to risky borrowers – namely the working poor.

Time will tell if that’s campaign rhetoric or an actual unintended consequence of Proposition 209.

– Abe Kwok, deputy editorial page editor

Mark Kelly proves that character matters

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., speaks during an Election Day rally at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson on Nov. 8, 2022.
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., speaks during an Election Day rally at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson on Nov. 8, 2022.

Character and human quality matter, and nobody proves that better than Mark Kelly.

The Democratic senator beat Republican Blake Masters by 5 percentage points.

Kelly isn’t just good at politicking, putting on a theater performance to trick people into voting for him. He’s a person of substance, who can look anyone in their eyes and say what he’ll do regardless of the consequences.

That’s a rare trait in today’s political world where the only thing that matters is personal fame and, yes, the enrichment that normally comes from that fame.

Many Arizonans appear to have seen past political affiliations and voted based on what’s best for America – not political parties.

Democrats needed Kelly to win to keep control of the U.S. Senate or at least keep it competitive. But make no mistake, Kelly wins it’ll be because of his personal and political attributes and not because he’s a Democrat.

Elvia Díaz, editorial page editor 

No clear message in key water race

It’s hard to draw conclusions from the outcome of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District election, other than voters were cool with who’s already doing the job.

Incumbent Alexandra Arboleda got the most votes, followed by incumbent Ben Graff.

Beyond that, it’s hard to discern what voters were thinking. They also appear to have chosen Amanda Monize and Barbara Seago – two of four candidates in a Republican slate, who were recruited by outgoing incumbent Mark Lewis – and Ylenia Aguilar, a school board member with Democratic ties.

But was this simply a partisan thing? I’m not so sure. If it were, you’d think each candidate on the GOP slate would have earned similar tallies.

Was it simply about name recognition? Or who campaigned hardest? Again, hard to tell. Seago didn’t respond to any group’s questions about her candidacy. She really is an unknown. Yet Lisa Bullington, Shelby Duplessis and Cory Mishkin were among the lowest vote-getters, despite the homebuilders running ads on their behalf.

So, yeah, I’m not so sure what this says, other than there were 14 candidates for five seats, and it’s hard to discern clear trends when the vote is split among that many candidates. What is clear is that this is going to be a rough ride for the winners, given how little water could soon be flowing through the canals that they will oversee.

Buckle up.

– Joanna Allhands, digital opinions editor

Will blank ballots change the outcome?

We don’t have full statewide numbers yet, but it’ll be interesting to see how many undervotes there were in key races, including governor.

Given how close some races are, I suspect there may be enough folks who refused to vote for either candidate to have changed the outcome, had they made a choice.

– Joanna Allhands, digital opinions editor

A new day for rural groundwater regulation?

This is a down-ballot race in southeastern Arizona, but it still has statewide water-policy repercussions.

Some voters in Cochise County were asked to form two Active Management Areas (AMAs) – the most stringent level of groundwater regulation we’ve got – one for the Willcox groundwater basin and another for the adjacent Douglas basin.

Both make up the wider Sulphur Springs Valley. Both are experiencing problems with over-pumping – though arguably much more in the Willcox basin than in the Douglas basin, where most lands already have some regulation on water use as an Irrigation Non-expansion Area.

Yet the AMA failed resoundingly in Willcox while the AMA in Douglas passed, by a much more comfortable margin.

Expect a tale of two cities in the valley as one part adopts management goals and well spacing requirements, while the other continues with no regulation.

But also expect a lot of murmuring (and some celebrating) in other groundwater-challenged rural areas about what this means for them, and who might try it next.

Joanna Allhands, digital opinions editor

Arizona Senate needs the old Ken Bennett

Ken Bennett has won his election and is returning to the Arizona Senate. The high point of his political career was when he was a lawmaker and Senate president around the turn of the century. Back then he was ballast for the ship of state, respected and beloved by Republicans and Democrats.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God,” and that’s how I saw Bennett – one of the personalities who brought calm to the chaos.

He was an exceptional teacher who famously used Kleenex boxes to simplify and explain the intricacies of the state budget. He now plans to tackle pension reform, no small task, but right in his wheelhouse.

Bennett surprised all of us with some detours into the Obama “birther” conspiracy, for which he later apologized, and some eccentric right-wing politics that led him to the Arizona audit and election denialism.

I’m hoping we see a reprisal of the old Ken Bennett who could bridge political parties and remind people that we can disagree and still treat each other with kindness. If we get the old Bennett, the timing is perfect. People are exhausted with the smash-mouth politics of the last 10 years.

Also, would it be too much to ask for him to bring his guitar back to West Washington Street and reprise “The Singing Senators”?

– Phil Boas, columnist

'Defund the police' could hurt Garcia

Phoenix City Council member Carlos Garcia delivers remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for Arizona Fresh on Oct. 25, 2022, in Phoenix.
Phoenix City Council member Carlos Garcia delivers remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for Arizona Fresh on Oct. 25, 2022, in Phoenix.

Phoenix councilman Carlos Garcia is likely heading for a runoff. The anti-police activist is leading newcomer Kesha Hodge Washington by just a few hundred votes.

Garcia took the City Council by storm with his distrust of police and efforts to hold officers accountable.

He successfully, though with lots of resistance from fellow council members, established a police accountability office with civilian oversight. But his overall penchant to “defund the police” may be hurting him now.

Phoenix is Arizona’s capitol and a liberal bastion, yet Mayor Kate Gallego has moved more to the center, snubbing liberals like Garcia.

Elvia Díaz, editorial page editor 

Voters were ready to boot judges

Maricopa County voters were in no mood to retain judges with a few strikes against them.

If early results hold, they will have booted three Superior Court judges – Rusty Crandell, Stephen Hopkins and Howard Sukenic.

This isn’t the first time that Arizona voters have decided not to retain a judge. But it hasn’t happened in eight years. And it is the first time that voters may end up booting three – only one of which (Hopkins) did not meet the Judicial Performance Review commission’s standards.

The other two met standards, but not universally. Crandell received two commission votes against him; Sukenic got 13. Based on information in publicly available reports, all three got their lowest marks in temperament, especially patience and a lack of compassion.

Granted, some folks have decried the review system, saying it only scratches the surface on legally dubious rulings or poor behavior. But clearly, voters took its reviews to heart when they cast their ballots.

Oddly, state Supreme Court justice Bill Montgomery got the same number of dings from the commission as Crandell. But voters statewide are on track to retain him – though by less of a margin than his Supreme Court colleagues.

Make of that what you will.

Joanna Allhands, digital opinions editor

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona election analysis: No wonder this GOP'er led from the get-go