Senate Democrats Shake Up

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Democrats in the state senate have ousted Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor and replaced her with Senator Anna Tovar as their leader. Arizona Capitol Times Reporter Luige del Puerto will discuss the situation.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Democrats in the state senate have ousted Leah Landrum Taylor as minority leader and replaced her with senator Anna Tovar. It's a surprise move that's led to charges of racism and sexism. "Arizona Capitol Times" reporter Luige Del Puerto is on the story. Good to have you here. This is a surprise.

Luige Del Puerto: Well, not a complete surprise.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Luige Del Puerto: We started hearing about this on Monday night that the eve of the vote, the caucus meeting, and we heard that this was going to happen. We didn't think it was actually going to happen. Let me backtrack a bit. Some members of that caucus had wanted to get to oust Leah for quite some time. We've been hearing this on and off during session, after session, and on Monday night. And of course when it actually did happen, it took us by surprise, but not completely.

Ted Simons: Why did she want to get rid of her? Was she ineffective, uncooperative, did she not communicate well? What was the problem?

Luige Del Puerto: There are many theories floating around why they did it. I think the most valid one is simply that there are two wings of the caucus. Basically you had one group of senate democrats who had come from the house, they had served in the house and moved over to the senate at the same time, so there's that caucus of younger group of people, and there's the older guard represented by Leah, and the assistant minority, former assistant minority Linda Lopez. These are the guys who had been in the senate for a longer time, and supposedly wanted to keep the younger ones in a short leash, if you will.

Ted Simons: Oh, so basically there was a fracture. We hear about the fracture in the Republican party all the time. And of course they're in power right now so you hear more about that. So this was bubbling under the surface throughout the session?

Luige Del Puerto: It was always bubbling under the surface throughout the session. In fact, when Leah was elected as senate Democratic leader, the vote was 7-6. It was that close.

Ted Simons: Interesting. OK. Who is Anna Tovar, was she an ally at all of Leah Landrum Taylor?

Luige Del Puerto: She was among the house democrats who had moved over to the senate. So she's part of that group, though when she was elected as senate Democratic whip she played the independent card. She said I'm going to listen to both sides, I'm not going to try to play either side and I'm going to try and do my best to be the whip and to promote priorities of the caucus. She's from Phoenix. If you remember, the Organ transplant issue a couple years back, she took the lead among the democrats in fighting for that and eventually the democrats got the governor to change her mind and restore funding for that.

Ted Simons: I believe we had her on "Arizona Horizon" on just that particular issue. OK. So we've got house democrats moving over to the senate in sort of a block here, new guard, old guard represented by Leah Landrum Taylor. Are there other fractures here? Are we looking at Tucson and Phoenix, are we looking at Latino and African-American? Are there divides at play here?

Luige Del Puerto: We've been hearing all sorts of speculations about -- Especially about race and ethnicity as potentially one reason. Leah herself said there was a reason she was ousted. Of course there's a Hispanic caucus in the state legislature, Hispanic caucus has been big, it's still very influential. And so that was one of the reasons why she had initially said that I was ousted because- Potentially because of my race and because of my sex. Of course the interesting thing about it is that Anna Tovar is a member of the minority, she's Hispanic and she's also a woman.

Ted Simons: What did that mean, the sexism especially? You mentioned Anna Tovar is a woman, is she suggesting that previous minority leaders, or previous Democratic leaders that were male were -- She is running for a higher office, and there was some concern regarding that. But others have run for higher offices. Is she saying that the men that did it weren't affected like this, I am?

Luige Del Puerto: That's in fact what she is saying. I talked to Linda Lopez immediately after the vote, and she said that- I talked to Leah immediately after the vote and she said one of the things that was raised during that meeting was the fact that I'm running for statewide office, and there were questions as to whether I could run the caucus at the same time run for a statewide office. And of course to her mind, David Shapiro ran for Congress while leading the democrats in the senate, Jorge Garcia ran for corporation commission while also still running the caucus. And those questions were not raised or there was not an attempt to oust them.

Ted Simons: Some of the quotes here, "the most blatant racist disrespectful move I've seen in my life," she also said, Leah Landrum Taylor, "I'll never set foot in that caucus room again." How divided is this Democratic caucus and what does that mean for the next session?

Luige Del Puerto: It's very divided now. One of the challenges that Anna Tovar faces, how to heal that fracturing within her caucus. I'm not sure if that would be completely healed. They've got a couple months, I'm assuming this issue will still be there when session starts, and of course Republicans could take advantage of that division. If you are the ruling majority party, it would be good for you if the other side is fractured, or is weak, because you can take advantage of that, you can pull away votes from that caucus and help you, you know, advance your agenda.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, we know Republicans have more power in the legislature than democrats, but who is more fractured? Which party is more fractured right now?

Luige Del Puerto: Well, that's a very good question. I think the Republican caucus is more fractured than the Democratic caucus.

Ted Simons: Even with all this?

Luige Del Puerto: Even with all this. You have to understand that when it comes to issues that are important to the Democratic party, they're very united, funding for education, funding for health care, the fight for Medicaid expansion, for example. They're united on those big ticket issues, those priorities that they have. The Republicans are not. They are all over the place when it comes to taxation, Medicaid expansion, for example, health care, the budget. So from my vantage point it's the Republican caucus that's stilt more fractured, that still has more factions to my mind than the Democratic caucus.

Ted Simons: Good stuff. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Luige Del Puerto: Thank you.

Luige del Puerto:Reporter, Arizona Capitol Times

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