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Silly Season Comes To Arizona Legislature

October 10, 2021

By Terri Jo Neff |

Silly Season is that time when professional sports teams announce major trades, resignations, and firings. It starts in Major League Baseball later this month when the World Series is finished, and will be on full display within NASCAR once the season-ending checkered flag waves at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7.

This fall, the 55th Arizona Legislature is having its own version of Silly Season, with myriad vacancies that will change the dynamics of the House and Senate when the second regular session starts in January 2022.

One of those vacancies is slated to be filled any day now by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors following last month’s resignation of Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD28) who is running for Governor. Lieberman’s replacement will be selected by the county board once it receives a list of three nominations from the precinct committeemen of the Democratic Party of Maricopa County.

Sen. Kristen Engel (D-LD10) has also resigned to focus on her campaign for Congressional District 2. The Pima County Board of Supervisors has already received three nominations from the Pima County Democratic Party precinct committeemen for Engel’s replacement, one of whom is Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-LD10).

Stahl Hamilton is seen as the favorite when the county board votes Oct. 19, meaning the Pima County Dems would then have to repeat the precinct committeemen nomination process to fill Stahl Hamilton’s seat in the House.

However, not all of the vacancies will be connected to campaign efforts.

Rep. Randy Friese (D-LD9) announced in March he was running for CD2, which would have pitted him against Engel and Rep. Daniel Hernandez in the Democratic Party primary. Friese, who is a physician, dropped out of the race in September, citing personal and professional considerations.  He recently confirmed his intention to leave the Legislature in the next few weeks.

Once Friese’s resignation is formally tendered then the Pima County Democratic Party precinct committeemen will meet once again to nominate three replacements for the Pima County Board of Supervisors to choose from.

In early September, Rep. Bret Roberts (R-LD11) announced his resignation effective at the end of the month due to a planned family move out of state. His district covered portions of Pima and Pinal counites, but it will be the Pinal County Republican precinct committeemen who will nominate three replacements for the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to choose from.

Of course, the most shocking resignation occurred in August when Sen. Tony Navarrete (D-LD30) was arrested for multiple felonies related to child molestation. The vacancy of Navarrete’s seat was filled by Rep. Raquel Teran (D-LD30), whose replacement in the House has not yet been announced by the Pima County board.

But it does not take a lawmaker’s resignation to mix things up at the Legislature.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) announced earlier this month she is stepping down from one of the most influential legislative assignments – chairperson of the Senate Government Committee.  She told Senate President Karen Fann that she will continue serving on the Appropriations, Commerce, and Finance committees, and stands “ready and committed” to election reform, one of the key subjects handed by the Government Committee.

The unexpected announcement by Ugenti-Rita, who is running for Arizona Secretary of State, has already led to backdoor discussions and public posturing by some senators hoping to sway Fann’s decision on who replaces Ugenti-Rita on the Government Committee as well as who Fann names as the committee’s new chair.

Meanwhile, last month’s death of Rep. Frank Pratt (R-LD8) will trigger another round of recommendations by Pinal County’s Republican precinct committeemen to the Pinal County board to fill Pratt’s seat.

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