Arizona Republicans appeared to back off their efforts Wednesday to rig the rules to keep Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) seat in their column, pulling from the state Senate floor a proposed change in state law that would have guaranteed a lengthy appointment from the GOP governor should the ailing senator leave office in the coming weeks.
Statehouse Republicans seemingly tried to pull a fast one on their Democratic counterparts, quietly adding an emergency clause to a bipartisan bill to clean up special election laws in the state that would have handed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) assurance that he’d get to appoint a replacement for McCain through 2020.
There’s a bit of disagreement between experts on current state law. There’s general consensus that if McCain’s seat comes open before June 1, a special election will be held to fill his seat this fall — greatly improving Democrats’ chances of winning at least one Senate seat and cracking the door for them to win both. If McCain’s seat doesn’t come open until after June 1, most (but not all) experts think that means Ducey would get to appoint a replacement for more than two years.
McCain is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, and underwent surgery for a digestive issue in recent days.
The move suggests Republicans are nervous he might not be able to run out the clock and guarantee their party a longer appointment to the seat. That could be disastrous: Not only would it open up another Senate seat in a year that’s shaping up to be a terrible one for their party, but it could hurt their chances in both races depending on what candidate jumps into each contest.
Republicans say either former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) or former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) would likely move over to the other race, and nominating either would be devastating to their chances at holding that seat. Right now the two are splitting the hardline conservative vote and giving Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the establishment favorite, the edge in their three-way primary for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) seat. If one moved overMcSally could be in real trouble, and both hardliners could be the favorite for the nomination. If McSally survives her primary she’s in for a tough race against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
There’s bipartisan agreement that state laws on open seats need to be clarified, after a chaotic process to fill the seat of disgraced former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). But Republicans quietly added an emergency clause to a bill on Tuesday that would change future election rules to make it immediately applicable.
If it had passed, the bill would have given Ducey the power to appoint a McCain replacement through 2020 whether he leaves before or after the end of May.
But Democrats caught the change and raised the alarm, all but killing the effort since emergency clauses need two-thirds support and the party has 13 of the state senate’s 30 seats. Republicans responded by canceling plans to put the bill on the state Senate floor on Wednesday, delaying then canceling a vote.
“It’s fairly clear the emergency clause is done. … The crisis is probably over,” Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley (D) told TPM. “I’m not sure they thought this through terribly well.”
A spokeswoman for Arizona state Sen. Sonny Borelli (R), who was involved with the effort, claimed the bill had been pulled to make room for school safety and budget meetings that needed to take place.
Farley said he wasn’t sure who was behind the efforts, but speculated Ducey’s office may have had a hand.
Ducey adviser Daniel Scarpinato denied that charge.
“We haven’t really been involved with this,” he said.
Farley said the GOP could try to resurrect the efforts at the end of the term a month from now, but it wouldn’t have any more chance of success. It also would be a curious move since at that point they wouldn’t need to wait long for the issue to be moot.