How’s That Great Liberal Experiment Working in Arizona?
Short answer: Not so well.
It was heady times for Arizona liberals – er, progressives – this summer. Everything was breaking their way.
A Tom Steyer-backed ballot measure regarding renewable energy was highly popular and headed for the ballot; a pro-education effort to raise income taxes was also polling well and headed for a public vote; the incumbent governor, Doug Ducey, had endured an 8-day teachers’ strike and appeared vulnerable; and David Garcia established himself as a left-wing darling and appeared ready to give Ducey a real run for his money. Democrat LD committee meetings were over-flowing with new attendees and new energy, and talk of the national Blue Wave engulfing reddish Arizona was rampant.
And now? The air is almost completely out of the Arizona Democrats’ balloon. All their high hopes and dreams have come to crashing down to earth, and the finger-pointing and second-guessing has already begun. What went so wrong in such a short time?
The biggest catastrophe has been the Steyer-backed ballot measure. It was supposed to be an organizing boon for Democrats, helping them register and turn out young, pro-environmental voters that would have impact up and down the ticket. However, virtually nothing has gone right for the Prop127 crowd. Apparently they never considered that APS, the dominant utility in Arizona, would fight back. And it never occurred to them that voters might react poorly to something that would raise utility bills by $1000 a year.
The latest AZ Republic survey (by Suffolk University) showed Prop 127 garnering a mere 34% of the vote, with 47% opposed and 19% undecided. Anyone who knows anything about ballot measures knows that Prop 127 is completely dead. For success the “YES” side needs to be in the mid-50s, not the low-30s. Republican legislative candidates are eagerly campaigning against it, and it’s hard to see a groundswell of voter participation for something mired in the 30s.
Of course, at least Prop 127 will be voted on, which is better than Prop 207 fared. The much-ballyhooed income tax increase was struck down by the AZ Supreme Court in late August. Apparently the language was so poorly written that even the courts – which almost always defer to letting the voters decide – couldn’t stomach it. So now all the energy from teachers and the pro-education crowd has no outlet. They’re completely demoralized and sidelined.
Considering the magnitude of the screw-up, there’s been surprisingly little interest in assigning responsibility for the faulty language. All roads seem to lead to Joe Thomas, the head of the AEA, who was integral in all aspects of the planning for the ballot measure, and yet he seems to have waltzed away from the wreck with little accountability.
And then there’s David Garcia. Wow – has a statewide candidate ever performed so poorly and disqualified himself so completely as David Garcia? The “No Wall” comment in front of the NetRoots crowd in New Orleans was a massive self-inflicted wound. The RGA and Ducey campaign have tattooedthat right on his forehead. His debate performances were petulant and irritating. Forget landing a knockout bunch – he barely even grazed Ducey’s jaw. And with no fund-raising to speak of…and chronic staff turmoil…and hard-to-explain emphasis on endorsements from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren…it’s easy to see why his poll numbers have spiraled downwards. It’s so bad that his own US Senate ticket-mate, Kyrsten Sinema, won’t endorse him and refuses to campaign with him.
Multiple credible surveys have him down double digits as early ballots go out, and it’s hard to see how he reverses the momentum. He’s gone from a dead heat with Ducey to being a dead duck in just two short months. You heard it here first – Ducey’s margin over Garcia will exceed his margin over Fred DuVal. In a wave Democrat year, how does that happen? There’s only one explanation – massive incompetence by Garcia.
Add it all up and the Democrats’ hopes in Arizona have come crashing down to Earth. While national Democrats are licking their chops at big gains in governorships and the US House, in Arizona they’re now hoping – at best – for a lesser statewide office win and maybe some legislative pickups. (The US Senate race doesn’t count – Democrat activists dislike Sinema badly and she has consciously distanced herself from them. Their support for her is grudging at best).
What a far cry this is from the summer, when liberals dreamed of turning AZ blue all at once. It’s back to the drawing boards for Arizona progressives.
Political scientists like to try to quantify things. Here’s a stab at quantifying Arizona. It appears Sinema will run at least 15 points stronger than Garcia. What’s that mean? A good candidate with a coherent strategy is 15 points better than a lousy candidate with a terrible strategy.
Maybe someday Arizona liberals will learn…