Could Arizona progressives wreck Democrats' 2020 chances?
Posted by Danny Battista on September 21, 2019 at 7:00 PM
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Arizona Republic | azcentral.com - September 21, 2019
Arizona Democrats are rallying ahead of 2020, hoping to turn the red-leaning state blue to elect a Democratic president for the first time since Bill Clinton’s win here in 1996 and seize a second U.S. Senate seat.
Their efforts in Arizona, considered a battleground state, come as the party is investing heavily in efforts to register and engage new voters, people of color and suburban moderates who are alienated by President Donald Trump and his administration.
But percolating beneath the enthusiasm on display at the state party’s summer meeting at a local middle school in Prescott on Saturday was anxiety that Democrats could blow their chances if the party embraces the more liberal ideals of its progressive wing rather than taking a centrist path. More than 350 Democrats attended the summer summit.
“We should start thinking about how we can win versus how we can have intraparty angst, if you will,” said Eric Shelley, 47, an operations manager for a healthcare company from Phoenix.
“A lot of the key decisions that are made are going to hinge on what happens here in Arizona," he said. "… You don’t want to waste the opportunity to win the seats by putting forward someone who can’t speak to the broad electorate.”
In the race to take on President Donald Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are continuing to lead the rest of the Democratic field, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Sinema's disloyalty to the party platform
Democrats saw their most successful path to victory in the model set by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who pitched herself in 2018 as an almost apolitical figure willing to work with Republicans to advance the state’s interests.
But more liberal voters say Sinema’s disloyalty to the party platform, her votes to confirm Trump’s executive and judicial nominees and her “no-comment” approach to Trump’s more contentious policies deserve punishment.
Without discussion, the state party passed a resolution requesting that Sinema abandon her support of “Operation Safe Return,” a program that aims to more quickly screen migrants to reduce the crowding at border facilities.
Sinema joined a bipartisan group with eight other senators to push for the program.
A spokeswoman for Sinema declined to comment on the resolution.
The party pushed off until January progressives’ efforts Saturday to censure Sinema for sometimes voting with Republicans. She has voted in opposition to President Donald Trump 81% of the time, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.
As the state party’s biggest caucus, the progressive wing has influence. Members complained Saturday of her refusal to engage with them.
At the very least, said Debbie Leverance, Sinema should be censured by the progressive caucus. She isn’t yet sold on whether the state party as a whole should rebuke her.
“Her vote for (Attorney General William) Barr – that was over the top,” the 68 year old Globe educator said. “She could have just voted against him and Republicans wouldn’t have held that against her. I would just like her to remember that she is a Democrat.”
But Democrats such as Sue Robyn said the party should be singularly focused on electing a Democrat to the White House and electing Mark Kelly to the Senate.
For the first time in her life, the 74-year-old said she is knocking on doors and attending political meetings to evangelize for Democrats in 2020. The retired nurse was motivated to get involved by Trump’s racist remarks about people of color, his environmental policies and his divisive identity politics that she says appeal to white nationalists.
As a moderate Democrat, though, she worries Arizona progressives could push the party too far to the left, alienating people like her and handing the presidency once again to Trump.
“What (former President Barack) Obama said a few months ago is how I feel —Democrats will be fine as long as they don’t get themselves into a circular firing squad,” she said, “And that’s exactly it when it comes to 2020.”
Robyn added: “And it’s exactly how I felt when I heard about the censure against Kyrsten.”
Opening elections up to independents
Democrats also beat back an effort by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes to open their 2020 presidential preference election to independent voters.
Under the state’s closed presidential preference system, Arizona's 1.3 million independent voters must change their registration to a designated party by Feb. 18 to vote in that election.
Fontes mounted a long-shot effort via “emergency resolution” to try to force a legal battle to change the law. He said the closed primary creates confusion and discourages participation by independent voters. Independents are allowed to vote in federal, state and local primary elections but not in the presidential primary, which sows misinformation, he says.
Chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party Felicia Rotellini addresses the resolutions committee during the Arizona Democratic Party statewide committeemen meeting at Prescott Mile High Middle School in Prescott on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Photo: Nicole Neri/The Republic)
Felecia Rotellini, the state party chairwoman, warned such an effort would divert precious money and energy away from voter registration away from voter registration and organizing.
The party’s resolutions committee recommended that state committeemen reject the resolution.
Fontes unsuccessfully attempted to salvage the idea during the party’s plenary session. His proposal ignited a passionate debate about the merits of the idea.
Sentiments were so split either way that party leaders had to count votes by hand.
The party appeared split on how to move forward with the idea. Some voters argued the party needed to keep the election closed to independents to maintain the party's purity.
Others argued the party can't claim to be one of inclusion if it doesn't open up the election to independents.
Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, 37, of Tucson, noted Native Americans were not guaranteed the right to vote in all states until 1962. Why, she asked, would Democrats want to do the same to independents?
Forcing independents to register as Democrats for the purpose of voting in one election discourages people to vote at all, she said.
"That's not OK," she said. "We need to be trying to make it easier for everyone to vote all the time."
During an hours-long meeting, Democrats also passed a resolution condemning the appointment of former Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to the Arizona Supreme Court as well as a resolution supporting the Green New Deal plan to address climate change that is associated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Party members also passed a resolution supporting gender-neutral bathrooms.
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