Journalists’ Roundtable: Special Congressional Primary, Redistricting Overhaul, Code of Conduct
March 2, 2018
Local journalists discuss the special congressional primary vote in the eighth district, the complaint filed against Debbie Lesko, the Republican initiative to expand the redistricting commission and the legislature’s new code of conduct on Friday’s Journalists’ Roundtable.
Special Congressional Primary Vote
Debbie Lesko won the Republican Congressional Primary for the Eighth District on Feb. 27 in a vote that will decide who will fill the seat that Trent Franks vacated. She beat opponents Steve Montenegro and Phil Lovas by double digits.
“I think we all expected it to be fairly close,” Jeremy Duda from Arizona Capitol Times says. “Once that first batch of ballots came out, the early ballots, it was just dominated by Lesko. She just killed it.”
Many were expecting it to be a close race between Lesko and Montenegro, but that was not the case. Montenegro slipped to third place behind Lovas following news about his alleged inappropriate relationship with a junior staffer.
The eighth district is no stranger to Lesko, and that fact was definitely in her favor. She is a favorite in the right-leaning Sun City. The journalists weren’t surprised she won, but not many were expecting her to win by so much. With such a commanding lead, Duda believe Lesko won’t have a problem winning the general election.
On the other side, Hiral Tipirneni won the primary for the Democratic party. It’s not likely she’ll win in the general election, as the district is known for its conservative stance. However, the Arizona Republic’s Ronald Hansen says she is a good candidate for the Democrats despite their odds. Duda adds that in a better district for the party, Tipirneni probably wouldn’t have any trouble winning.
Complaint Filed vs. Lesko
As people were submitting their early ballots, Lovas accused Lesko of money laundering. It turns out she was taking money from the state and putting it in a PAC that would donate the money to her congressional campaign. If this was a purposeful rearranging of money, Lesko could be in trouble. At the moment, she hasn’t been found guilty of anything.
Hansen explains that the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based group that acts as a watchdog on campaign finance matters, are trying to enforce stricter fundraising rules.
“They’ve [the Campaign Legal Center] taken note on what happened in this race,” Hansen says. “This was sort of a perfect storm. You had not only the temptation to take state money and dump it into a federal resource, but you also had such a compressed time frame for this. I would rather ask for forgiveness than permission.”
In a proposal started by Senate President Steve Yarbrough and co-sponsored by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, the redistricting commission which now consists of five members may expand to nine if this is passed.
The board today has two members from each major party and one Independent who is chosen through judicial appointments. Bob Christie from Associated Press explains that Yarbrough wants to expand the board to three people from each party. Two of the independents chosen by the legislature, and the third Yarbrough has been back-and-forth with allowing them being chosen by an appellate court.
At the end of the day, it is the voters who will have to approve of this proposal. Duda says that it remains to be seen if the voters are willing to make this change, since they were the ones who voted on the five person commission.
Hansen says there are too many kinks in this proposal for it to garner bipartisan support. Democrats have admitted that the current map leans in their favor, but they says the Republicans have exaggerated on how big of a lean it really is.
Details of Investigation Remain Private
A couple weeks ago saw the expulsion of former representative Don Shooter due to sexual harassment allegations. There has been some debate on how Mesnard handled the situation, and whether or not he is leaving any information out. Mesnard says he has kept some of the investigation private in order to protect the names of the victims.
“You can release this stuff and still keep some names private,” Duda says. “There are things you can redact, things you’re allowed to redact. There are a lot of gaps in those last couple of pages and they can be filled in without exposing who was making these comments.”
Hansen says he has noticed the concerns that the investigation is being white-washed or sold short in the severity of the accusations. He says if Mesnard would release the full investigation, and simply redact the names, then it would instill confidence in the public that the situation has been successfully taken care of.
Behavioral Code of Conduct at Legislature
In response to the Shooter expulsion, the House and Senate are developing a code of conduct that will directly lay out what is and isn’t allowed.
“Something that was not really addressed in the current code of conduct is the relationships that elected law makers can have with non-elected staffers over whom they may or may not yield considerable power,” Duda says. “We’ve seen this with Shooter, Montenegro and a couple other lawmakers over the years.”
Jeff Flake for President?
Whether or not Flake running for President is a serious rumor, it’s an idea that deserves some discussion. Hansen says that it looks like Flake has been cagey and vague when asked directly about if he is considering the position.
Christie says that at the moment the senator has some national attention and he’s testing the water to see how the country would react to the idea. Flake has been invited to give a speech in New Hampshire which will definitely feed into the national attention he is getting.
“It seems likely that someone will come up on the Republican side and challenge President Trump,” Duda says. “Flake has been more vocal about his opposition than any other Republican. Whether you get any traction with that, or even win the primary in your own state, it’s hard to say.”