Arizona delegation in US House fractured by partisan divide
PHOENIX - The Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and some Arizona Republicans' votes to set aside election results have cleaved bipartisan relations within the state's U.S. House delegation, making it difficult to work across party lines on issues of mutual concern, lawmakers and observers say.
“It left scars that I don’t think will heal for a long time," said former Rep. Jim Kolbe, who changed his voter registration from Republican to independent.
The result is that legislative proposals that in the past would have drawn bipartisan support now see some lawmakers standing apart, with some Democrats looking askance at their Republican colleagues, the Arizona Republic reported.
For instance, Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton and Republican Paul Gosar two years ago supported one bill to help residents of Mohave County and southern Nevada to qualify for a federal compensation for victims of nuclear testing.
This year, Stanton and Gosar introduced separate bills to do the same thing.
“My focus is on getting results for Arizonans — and to move the needle on tough issues, you have to work with the right people,” Stanton told the Republic in a written statement. “Many times that means reaching across the aisle to find bipartisan common ground, and there are circumstances when the wrong partners can jeopardize making progress.”
On another issue, the state’s nine representatives and two senators sent five separate letters seeking more COVID-19 vaccination doses for the state, instead of speaking with a single vote in one joint letter.
All four of Arizona’s GOP House members voted to set aside Pennsylvania's election results, and three of them also wanted to set aside Arizona’s results.
That prompted resentment from Democrats, but Republican Rep. David Schweikert said the partisan rift had been deepening for years.
It’s a level of partisanship that is much bigger than the 6th. It’s been building up for a while,” said Schweikert, who didn't cast a vote on the Arizona election results.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said working with Republicans in most cases isn't the right approach now.
“If I’m going to advocate to the federal government, to the (President Joe) Biden people, I’m not going to jump on with people that just tried to invalidate his election,” Gallego said.
But the state's two senators, Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, both said they will continue to work across the aisle — and with members of the state’s delegation — on issues that matter to Arizonans.
Both senators joined Gosar in supporting a federal land swap in La Paz County for economic development that is also backed by Arizona's other House Republicans.
“Listening to and partnering with people of different parties and different beliefs can be difficult — and today, it’s never been more important,” Sinema said.
Gallego said he can’t overlook the harm of Jan. 6.
“I don’t want to be mad at my Republican colleagues, and not working with some of them, because I still need to get work done for my state, for my issues. But then how do you also hold accountable some of the worst actors?” Gallego said. “I definitely feel like I can’t, in good honesty, work with them on anything.
“At some point, if it’s important enough to Arizona, maybe I have to suck it up. But in the meantime, it doesn’t mean I have to.”
Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko said she will continue to look for ways to work together.
For a time, Lesko organized periodic breakfasts for the delegation, but attendance fell off, and, with the onset of the pandemic, the sit-downs eventually ended.
The breakfasts were a throwback to an earlier era, said Kolbe.
“It’s the key, the grease that gets the legislation passed and makes sure Arizona’s interests are looked after, and a way of exchanging information between members about their doings and about what’s happening in the state, with the Legislature, with the governor,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, the dean of the delegation, acknowledges the current divisions aren’t good, but he isn’t budging.
“Are there bipartisan issues that we could work on? Probably. Is there anything that is being jeopardized because we’re not working together? I don’t think so,” Grijalva said.
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