Republicans keep control of Arizona House of Representatives; same 1-vote majority appears likely

Republicans have retained control of the Arizona House of Representatives, dashing Democrats' hopes of tying or winning a majority in the chamber more than a week after the Nov. 8 election.

If current results hold, Republicans would keep the same one-seat advantage in the chamber. They could possibly increase their majority as the last few votes are counted. Democratic candidates in two House races could still lose to Republican opponents, though any such change was unlikely.

About 11,000 votes were left to count statewide as of Thursday, with most in Maricopa and Pima counties.

At stake in the House election was not just the continuance of decades of Republican dominance, but the rise of a more conservative Legislature augmented by Trump-supporting candidates. The potential of that group was blunted severely, however, by Democrat Katie Hobbs' win over Republican Kari Lake. Hobbs will have the power to veto any legislation passed by the Legislature.

Democrats ran six candidates in the five legislative districts designed as competitive by last year's redistricting process.

Four had won their races outright by Thursday and two others were leading their Republican competitors in each of those races.

But Democrats had to win in all of the state's 12 Democrat-safe districts, (each of which contain two House seats), plus those six seats to create a 30-30 tie in the House.

The plan went south when a Republican candidate from Yuma managed to flip a seat in what should have been a Democrat-safe district. Michele Pena, a single mother and school volunteer from Yuma, unexpectedly won one of two House seats in Legislative District 23, which includes parts of Yuma, metro Phoenix and Tucson. Democrat Mariana Sandoval of Goodyear will take the district's second House seat.

Overall, Democrats came close to meeting their goals.

In west Mesa's Legislative District 9, where a diverse and closely matched group of voters were choosing between conservative and liberal candidates, the two Republican candidates fared poorly.

Mary Ann Mendoza, who has made the fight against illegal immigration a priority, lost to Democrat Lorena Austin.

Kathy Pearce, the sister of former lawmaker Russell Pearce, remained behind Democrat Seth Blattman in one of the races still too close to call. Blattman declared victory on social media on Tuesday.

Pearce reached to within about 800 votes of Blattman — well above the threshold for a recount — but stalled out this week, stuck in third place.

First-time politician and elementary schoolteacher Laura Terech finished second behind Republican Matt Gress in Legislative District 4, which includes Paradise Valley and parts of north Phoenix and north Scottsdale.

Terech was ahead of both Republicans for several days after the Nov. 8 election, but Gress — director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning & Budgeting — leaped ahead over the weekend. Terech beat out Republican Maria Syms for the district's second House seat.

Syms lost her seat to a Democrat in 2018 after serving one term in the old Legislative District 28 and hoped to do better now that district boundaries have changed. The new district is, on paper, considered Republican-leaning. But that and other newly created districts were tested in the election.

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Christian Lamar, who wanted to decertify the 2020 presidential election, lost to a Democratic opponent in north Phoenix (Legislative District 2), leaving a more moderate Republican — incumbent Rep. Justin Wilmeth — with one of the two seats.

"Absolutely elated to be returning to the State House for a second term," Wilmeth posted on social media Tuesday.

But in Chandler (Legislative District 13), an election denier appears to have won.

Liz Harris, a real estate agent and promoter of election conspiracies, was just barely ahead of fellow Republican Julie Willoughby for the second seat in Legislative District 13. The race hadn't been called as of Thursday, but it will trigger an automatic recount if it stays this close.

Incumbent Democrats in those two districts — Reps. Judy Schwiebert and Jennifer Pawlik — beat all four of their Republican contenders, though their leads had shrunk as the final votes were counted.

In Legislative District 16, which runs southeast from Maricopa to Tucson, incumbent Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, won her first full term after being appointed to her seat last year.

Retired educator and Democrat Keith Seaman, also of Casa Grande, was in second place on Thursday, ahead of the second Republican in the race, political newcomer Rob Hudelson of Tucson. The race remained extremely close, with less than 700 votes between them but still above the threshold for a recount. The expansive district includes parts of Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

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Democrats have been the minority party in the House for decades. To change history, they need to win the state's 12 Democrat-safe districts, (each of which contain two House seats), plus six more seats to create a 30-30 tie in the House.

Democrats’ strategy was to field only one candidate each in four of the competitive districts. Democrats did that in hopes of maximizing the mathematical possibility of winning at least one of two open seats in each district.

It's a strategy that has worked well in the past.

The Democratic Party has told voters to cast ballots only for the one Democrat in these competitive races and not for either of the two Republicans. Because some people will only vote for one of the Republicans — perhaps not knowing they can vote for two candidates — and because some independents give one vote to candidates in each party, the "single-shot" candidates could wind up with many more votes.

To Democrats' misfortune, the strategy also worked for Pena in Yuma.

The strategy wasn't tried in Legislative District 17, where four people who haven't previously held office ran for the two open House seats. Democrats Dana Allmond and Brian Radford lost to Republicans Cory McGarr, a pest-control firm manager, and former teacher Rachel Jones — running as the "Arizona Freedom Team" with Senate candidate Justine Wadsack.

What started as an extremely close race between McGarr and the closest Democrat, Allmond, turned into a rout this week with McGarr gaining significant ground.

The district, which includes Marana, parts of west Tucson, and Oro Valley, favors Republicans.

House Republicans, confident of their position after the latest election results, voted for leadership positions Tuesday. Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, the current majority leader, will be next year's speaker of the House.

Candidates ahead in their races were allowed to vote, including Cory McGarr. Rob Hudelson was at the meeting, but said he did not vote.

With the current, razor-thin majority of 31-29 in the House, Republican dominance has been unbroken since a tie in the Senate in 2000.

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: Arizona House: Republicans win majority, keep control of Legislature