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Democrats Fall Short of Majority in Arizona Legislature

By Kevin Mahnken | November 12, 2020

The Arizona State Capitol

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

In another blow to state Democrats’ lofty 2020 ambitions, Republicans have retained their majorities in the Arizona state legislature. After narrowly missing their chance to flip both the state Senate and House of Representatives, the Democrats have chosen new caucus leaders in each chamber.

National Democrats had hoped to make serious inroads in the state legislative ranks this year, eyeing closely divided capitals around the country. But their efforts to win unified control over states like Minnesota and North Carolina, or at least disrupt Republican dominance in a major state like Texas, all crashed last Tuesday. Though such races generate far less media coverage than presidential or congressional campaigns, their outcomes hold disproportionate influence over issues of K-12 funding, accountability, and school choice, which are nearly all determined far from Washington, D.C.

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Arizona was thought to be the best target for Democrats hungry to gain more control over state-level policymaking. Just two seats in the House, and three in the Senate, separated the party from building new majorities in Phoenix, a feat they haven’t managed since the early 1990s. After years relegated to minority status, they have been powerless to slow the state’s huge and controversial expansion of education savings accounts, a means of school choice that provides families with funds that can be applied to private school tuition. .

But while several races remained close in the days following Election Night, it gradually became clear that victory had eluded them again. Democrats netted zero new seats in the House, ousting one GOP incumbent while losing one of their own. In the Senate, they still have a strong chance of capturing one seat thanks to the strong campaign of Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year.

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Marsh made her political debut in 2018 after participating in the Red for Ed walkouts over teacher pay. In an interview that year with The 74, Marsh said that the precipitous surge in teacher activism was “the effect of decisions the governor and our legislature have made for a very long time — a couple of decades, but culminating in the last year or two. We’ve gotten to the end, where the last couple of straws have broken the camel’s back.”

Though she fell short of defeating incumbent Sen. Kate Brophy McGee by less than 300 votes that November, she currently maintains a 500-vote lead with over 74 percent of ballots reported. In another victory for teacher activists and their allies, the Invest in Education Act — a ballot measure proposing to generate more education funding by raising taxes on high earners — also won passage last Tuesday.

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

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