With Republicans at the helm, unemployed Arizonans are still struggling to get by on $240 per week.
Arizona’s Legislature has a shot at having a Democratic majority for the first time in nearly 30 years this fall.
To win over the state House, Democratic candidates need to flip two seats, and three seats to take the Senate. (We’ve been following the districts where this could happen here.)
With Republicans at the head, the Legislature adjourned in March before coming back for a quick session to approve the budget in May, leaving multiple bills on the table.
Unemployment remains $240 per week after the initial $600 federal boost and subsequent $300 extra payments ran out, and many small businesses are having to permanently close after lack of aid kept them from being able to pay rent and other bills.
So what changes could the state see if the Legislature shifts blue?
Many Democrats have stated they want to see unemployment boosted, with some placing the goal number at $490 per week in the state. The current weekly maximum of $240 per week is the second-lowest in the country, not even enough to cover rent for some Arizonans.
Another idea for unemployment reform is increasing the state’s “disregard,” the amount of money the government will ignore when calculating payments, from its current $30.
Democrats would also like to see the state hold steady on, and possibly extend, eviction protections and provide more help to those who can’t make rent.
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A group of Democratic leaders sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey early last month asking for the state to use more money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act to provide aid.
Actions they called for included boosting contract tracing programs, continuing to reduce prison populations, helping schools distribute laptops and protective gear, and establishing a new grant program for small businesses hurt by the state’s closures.
Republicans have called for financial aid, especially to small businesses, but with different priorities in mind. One of their top concerns in the beginning of the pandemic was protecting businesses from being liable if someone on their property got sick with COVID-19.
The Journey to Change
The same demographic changes that have made Arizona competitive in presidential, congressional, and other statewide contests have put the Legislature in play as well — a growing Latino population, rapid growth of left-leaning newcomers, and unease among some suburban voters with the GOP under President Donald Trump.
And just like those races, the most crucial battlegrounds are in the Phoenix suburbs, particularly districts in Chandler, Glendale, and Paradise Valley. Adding to the mix is the rural district of LD6, where, as of early Thursday morning, Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans was only 267 votes shy of wining a seat in the House.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the arm of the party focused on legislative races, has picked Arizona as one of a handful of states where it’s most heavily focused on flipping a chamber.
Democrats last won control of a legislative chamber in 1990, when they won the Senate. The parties shared power in the Senate following the 2000 election when the body was split evenly 15-15.
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Over decades in control, Republicans have used their legislative majorities to advance a conservative agenda, including tax cuts, minimal regulations and the advance of charter schools and vouchers. They’ve made it harder to get voter initiatives on the ballot and clamped down on people living in the country illegally.
“There’s a lot of time and energy that gets taken up at the Capitol by culture war battles and things that aren’t important to voters,” said Emily Kirkland, executive director of the liberal group Progress Arizona. “Having Democrats control one chamber, that kind of stuff is dead in the water.”
If Democrats take control, Ducey’s veto pen would prevent them from enacting an ambitious agenda of their own. But with even one chamber tied or under their control, Democrats could block GOP legislation and get a seat at the bargaining table to press for their priorities during budget negotiations.
If Democrats get both chambers and maintain a united front, they could bypass Ducey and send some legislation straight to the ballot, giving voters the final say in 2022. Democrats need a net gain of two House seats and three Senate seats for a majority.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.