The New Climate for Arizona Progressives

We are entering a brave new world post 2016 election; here’s some insightful feedback from Arizona’s political races and predictions of what lies ahead

While thousands of Arizonans are still in shock about Tuesday’s election results, others are already trying to figure out the impact on Arizona’s political landscape. While Trump’s policy prescriptions (such as they are) may be a disaster for millions of Arizonans, the 2016 results provide grounds for hope.

1. Purple Trends

Arizona is trending purple and will be a target for national Democrats in 2020. Trump’s 4-point margin here was much narrower than Ohio and Iowa, and about the same as purple North Carolina. Look for increased national investment as progressive activists reconfigure the map to try to get 270 electoral college votes.

2. The Shaky Middle-ground

Progressive causes focusing on winning the middle faltered (i.e. Ann Kirkpatrick and marijuana legalization), while causes that celebrated their progressivism (i.e. BAZta Arpaio and minimum wage) had strong victories.

With her cowboy boots and solid rural base, Kirkpatrick thought she could put together the coalition that elected Bruce Babbitt and Dennis DeConcini to statewide office in the 1980’s. She didn’t; it fell flat as she never connected with urban voters.

And if marijuana proponents are going to make another run at legalizing recreational use, they need to remember their base. Prop 205 lost in Democratic stronghold counties like Apache and Santa Cruz and only carried Pima County by 5,000 votes.

On the other hand, both the BAZta Arpaio campaign and Prop 206 (which I worked on) focused relentlessly on mobilizing base voters early on, then relied on paid advertising to bring in swing voters during the campaign’s final month. This is an important lesson for both candidates and causes to learn in their future progressive campaigns.

3. Powerful Urban Core

Progressive power will be built from the urban cores outward. With Barbara McGuire’s defeat in Pinal and Gila counties, the only non-urban areas represented by Democratic legislators are the Native American reservations of northeast Arizona and Hispanic border towns in Santa Cruz and Yuma counties.

Maricopa County is now solidly purple: Democrats won two countywide offices (that hasn’t happened since 1976), along with the LD18 Senate and House race in south Tempe and Ahwatukee. Look for the map of contested districts in 2020 to expand to Chandler’s LD17 and LD20 in north-central Phoenix. Millennials, Hispanics and college educated voters have turned Phoenix and Tempe solidly blue, with Glendale and Mesa not far behind. Consider it the “light-rail effect” as inner-ring suburban communities see increased density and redevelopment.

4. High Hispanic Voter Turnout

Hispanic turnout is up, and even more importantly, Hispanic organizing is providing the catalyst for progressive wins. While all ballots have yet to be tabulated and we’re still missing a granular analysis, it appears that nearly 80% more Hispanics voted early in 2016 than in 2012. Yet, Hispanics still make up only about 1 of every 5 voters (even though their share of the state’s population is almost one-third), so there’s still room to grow.

The OneArizona coalition of Hispanic advocacy groups registered over 150,000 new voters in 2016, significantly contributing to the biggest spike of new registrants since the Obama surge of 2008. Specifically, LUCHA and Center for Neighborhood Leadership, key members of that coalition, demonstrated their clout by engineering the Prop 206 and BAZta Arpaio victories, respectively. This group will be well-positioned for leadership roles in future electoral and advocacy campaigns.

In the short term, expect the groups to be united in defending over 50,000 Arizona DACA participants who are now living in fear of a President Trump who has promised to dismantle the program and deport them.

5. Motivated Millennials

Arizona is still a tough state for statewide Democrats, especially in a low-turnout midterm election. GOP margins in Mohave and Yavapai counties are exploding, more than off-setting typical Democratic margins in Pima County. Nonetheless, Doug Ducey and Michelle Reagan have to be worried about all the different ways a polarizing Trump administration might motivate millennials and Hispanics who mostly sat out the 2014 race.


After all the 2016 election outcomes, two important questions remain:

1. Who will run for Governor of Arizona?

The Democratic bench is extremely thin. Mayor Stanton has moved his half-million dollar war chest into a campaign committee for Secretary of State, but will be receiving encouragement (and pressure from national Dems) to run for Governor. That $500,000, and Stanton’s impressive work ethic, will scare off a lot of wannabes.

Could an unabashedly leftist candidate emerge, running on a militant pro-immigration, anti-Trump platform? A Bernie-like candidate could make a case to primary voters that conventional Democratic candidates have not provided the passion and progressive agenda needed to mobilize low-efficacy Democratic voters.

2. What will Kyrsten Sinema do?

Sinema has turned CD9 into a safe Democratic seat, but done it by burnishing her blue-dog credentials. She’s voted against Obama’s agenda numerous times and this year noticeably avoided any association with Hillary Clinton or Kirkpatrick. Speculation has Sinema eyeing a Senate run against Jeff Flake in 2018, but her deliberate lack of strong partisan identification could lead her down the same path as Kirkpatrick, or even draw a strong primary battle. So, her best bet might be to wait for McCain to retire in six years.

Donald Trump has already upended American politics and we can expect his victory to create even more chaos in Arizona over the next four years.

This blog post was written by @Javelina’ s Bill Scheel.

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