Negotiate or 'bully'? Arizona's GOP lawmakers prepare to work with Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs

Corrections & Clarifications: Cory McGarr is a pest-control firm manager from Marana. His job title and place of residence were incorrect in a previous version of the article.

The last time this happened was in the early 2000s: Arizona voters put Democrat Janet Napolitano in the Governor's Office and elected a majority of Republicans to the Legislature, forcing the opposing parties to work together.

Clashes became the norm, and Republican lawmakers often were left with sore feelings from the sting of her veto pen.

History is resembling itself with the election of Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat whose politics are left of Napolitano. In her four years as secretary of state, Hobbs has fought with conspiracy theorists in the Legislature and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich over election procedures. As governor, she'll begin her first term with a Legislature that has maintained the same one-vote majority in both the Senate and House as it had last year, but with more Republicans who identify with constitutional conservatives and the Trump wing of the party.

Hobbs already has miffed some GOP lawmakers with the ink on ballots barely dried, saying the same week that the vote count sealed her victory that she would call a special session to get rid of the state's pre-statehood abortion ban as one of her first actions. She also told a reporter she would take a "hard look" at possibly defunding the state's Border Strike Force and removing the shipping containers that Gov. Doug Ducey ordered placed as barriers on the state's southern border with Mexico.

"She's certainly punching us in the face," said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, a veteran of the Legislature who recently won reelection. "She can't force us to go along, so she is deliberately, intentionally setting up a showdown. If that's her opening move, it's going to be a long four years."

State Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-D17) explains his vote on a bill in the Arizona Senate on June 23, 2022.
State Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-D17) explains his vote on a bill in the Arizona Senate on June 23, 2022.

Mesnard said that standoffs between the two powers, governor on one side and Legislature on the other, is probably inevitable.

"The first two years, she'll probably do whatever she wants — push the limits to try to excite her base," he said. "How it plays in the public, I don't know. ... She's going to be stepping in it, too."

Hobbs, for her part, emphasized her experience working with Republican Govs. Jan Brewer and Doug Ducey, as well as both Republican and Democratic lawmakers during her time in the Legislature, helping to expand health care and clear the state's backlog of un-examined rape evidence. She served three two-year terms from 2012 to 2017, one as a state representative and two as a state senator.

"Working across the aisle, forging compromise — it isn't easy, but that's what Arizonans expect from their leaders, and it's that same spirit I will take as our new governor," she told The Arizona Republic.

She acknowledged that she's "committed" to calling a special session "to restore women's reproductive rights."

"I look forward to working with leaders of both parties to deliver on fully funding our schools, lowering costs on housing and everyday necessities, and tackling our water crisis."

The 2023 legislative session begins Jan. 9.

'We are going to fight tooth and nail'

It's not just Hobbs getting off to a rocky start: Some Republicans have signaled they already are in no mood to compromise.

Looking across the country, the one place that Trump Republicans did well in the election was the Arizona Legislature. Five Trump-endorsed legislative candidates won, plus a host of new lawmakers who either support Trump or their own brand of politics that fall to the right of mainstream Republicans.

Republican legislative candidates for the state Senate who were ahead in their races as of Nov. 10, plus three who lost their elections, voted to make Sen. Warren Petersen the Senate President for next year. Petersen, R-Gilbert, who helped coordinate last year's partisan audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, appointed Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, to head up the Senate's new election committee.

How we got here:An Arizona election audit timeline

Rogers is known as one of the most avid promoters of election conspiracies in the country and her second year in office was marred by divisive statements that resulted in Republicans voting to censure her and launch an ethics investigation of two incidents. MAGA Republicans hope to pass election security laws that are tougher than those that passed this year. Some Republicans, including Rogers, were frustrated this year when leaders blocked them from voting on bills that would have eliminated early and mail voting and ballot-counting machines, among other provisions.

Yet Hobbs could simply veto any bill that comes out of the Legislature without strong Democratic support.

Petersen didn't return text messages seeking comment. Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who was voted in as the next Speaker of the House said it was too early to speculate how the Legislature would work with Hobbs.

But one incoming Republican lawmaker, Cory McGarr of Marana, outlined a hard-charging strategy to "bully" Hobbs in recent comments on a conservative radio program.

"We are going to fight tooth and nail," McGarr told Garret Lewis on KNST (790 AM) radio Wednesday, adding that he wants to make Hobbs' life more difficult than any other governor's. "I want her to have to veto good legislation every day."

McGarr, a pest-control-firm manager originally from New Jersey who defines himself as a constitutional conservative, campaigned with fellow House candidate Rachel Jones and Senate candidate Justine Wadsack in the new Legislative District 17, which includes Marana and parts of Tucson. All three won their races.

McGarr expressed concern about alleged voter fraud in 2020 and the recent election, though neither claim is backed by evidence. He told Lewis that he ran his get-tough plan past Toma, whom he said he didn't know very well but considered a true "conservative" who had to compromise with "RINOs" (Republicans in name only).

The "benefit" of Republicans having a razor-thin, one-vote margin is that they will "need" him and Jones in the House to get anything done, he told Lewis.

"So you're going to have bad legislation that's going to come through and we're going to say, 'No, no, we're not gonna do this,'" McGarr said.

McGarr did not return a phone message seeking comment for this article.

Lawmakers have varying expectations for Hobbs

"Newbies" like McGarr will quickly learn what they can and can't do once the session begins, said former four-term Democratic lawmaker Catherine Miranda. She served in the House and Senate between 2011 and 2018 before running unsuccessfully for Congress against Ruben Gallego.

State Sen. Catherine Miranda
State Sen. Catherine Miranda

Now she's won another term in the state Senate and has no intention of stepping back into the Legislature's "same chaotic dysfunction." Miranda's no stranger to working with Republicans: She raised eyebrows in her own party when she endorsed Ducey in 2014.

She'll use her experience to show other lawmakers how to build coalitions for successful legislation, she said. She said she learned much from Hobbs while the two served as lawmakers together.

"She serves with conviction," Miranda said. "She's very consistent with our Democratic priorities and overall, very fair for all."

Although she's a rare Democrat who is also anti-abortion, Miranda said she won't vote "pro-life" next year, but will focus intently on an "omnibus" bill addressing homelessness. She'll need moderate Republicans, not those on the "extreme side," to help get it passed.

"It's one of the plans that can create unity. I'm very optimistic," she said.

Many "new dynamics" are arriving for lawmakers next year, said Rep. Teresa Martinez of Casa Grande, who just won her first full term to office after she was appointed last year to replace a lawmaker who had resigned. Both Republicans and Democrats can achieve their goals "if Gov. Hobbs is going to cooperate and listen to the Legislature — all of us," she said.

Draft legislation is coming in late this year following the election, but the public will start to get a feel for how the Legislature will work next year when bills start dropping and leaders make the remaining committee assignments.

The elected officials will need some measure of teamwork to tackle important issues like water, roads, schools and the state budget, she said. She believes the basic strategy for lawmakers is to "be a little more tempered, a little more precise" with proposed legislation.

But if Hobbs starts vetoing key bills to leverage agenda items like abortion policy, "I don't see that working out well for her." Martinez said. "She wasn't elected queen."

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Showdown': How Republican lawmakers foresee working with Democrat Hobbs