Bolick appointed to Arizona Senate

Maricopa County Supervisors lament flawed appointment process

By: - July 19, 2023 11:28 am
Shawnna Bolick

Former Arizona State Rep. Shawnna Bolick was appointed to fill a state Senate seat left open by the resignation of former Sen. Steve Kaiser. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Former lawmaker Shawnna Bolick was chosen by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Wednesday to fill the vacant North Phoenix seat in the Arizona Senate left by the resignation of Republican Sen. Steve Kaiser.

Bolick was widely considered the frontrunner for the appointment as one of the other two candidates had openly embraced QAnon while the other had ties to the extremist Three Percenters militia movement. Bolick previously served in the House of Representatives, and was in that position until her unsuccessful bid for secretary of state last year, where she finished in third place out of four candidates in the GOP primary. 

Bolick is no stranger to controversy. 

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In 2021 Bolick authored legislation that would have allowed state lawmakers to override the presidential choice of Arizona voters with a simple majority — something Republicans have held in the state for decades. Bolick’s proposal came just two months after receiving emails from Ginni Thomas, urging her to overturn Biden’s victory in Arizona. Ginni Thomas is married to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Bolick and her husband, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, are close friends with the Thomas family.

Bolick also served as the chair of an elections-focused working group formed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization known for drafting model legislation with a conservative bent, that later partnered with prominent GOP attorneys and discussed ways for lawmakers to question the validity of an election, including emailing secretaries of state about their doubts.

“[Bolick’s] record of aiming to overturn the will of the voters and undermining our democracy is demonstrative of how she fails to truly listen to Arizonans at the ballot box,” Elsa O’Callaghan, executive director for the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a statement about the appointment. “We expect that in 2024 voters will choose to elect a Senator that is working to ensure all Arizonans have the opportunity to thrive over a candidate in a shameless pursuit of power.” 

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates said that when speaking with Bolick, she agreed with him that it is time to move on from the 2020 and 2022 elections and that meaningful election reform can only happen when working with the county and the county elections department. 

A “sad statement”

Gates, who said he spoke with all three candidates prior to making his decision, made the motion to choose a candidate for the position. 

But before making his recommendation, Gates thanked Kaiser for his service to the Arizona legislature and made a comment about the state of American politics. 

Just days before Kaiser announced his resignation, a package of housing bills he shepherded through the legislature and reworked to avoid opposition from city officials was defeated, with Republicans joining Democrats to vote the bills down. 

Kaiser said that his decision to leave office didn’t have anything to do with the high-profile failure to shepherd through housing reforms, and instead said it reflected an interest in spending more time with his family and taking a more involved role in his nonprofit, the Arizona Prosperity Project. He said he hopes to grow the Republican presence in the legislature beyond its current one-member majority and inspire more center-right policies for Arizona through the nonprofit’s work. 

“I think that’s a sad statement on what people in elected office are having to deal with right now,” Gates said about Kaiser’s decision to leave elected office and spend more time with family. That sentiment was echoed by his colleagues. 

“I know how tough the job is,” Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board said, bringing up Kaiser’s work on affordable housing. “He probably walked out with a bad taste in his mouth.” 

Kaiser’s legislative district is one of only five truly competitive districts in the state, setting the stage for a difficult election for Bolick should she choose to run in 2024. Rep. Judy Schwiebert, a Democrat who represents the district in the state House of Representatives, announced her intent to run for the Senate seat just days after the news of Kaiser’s resignation. 

A partisan process 

The board also lamented the process in which Kaiser’s replacement was chosen, a process that the board has already undertaken multiple times this year. 

The Maricopa Board of Supervisors is charged with choosing one of three candidates put forward by local GOP precinct committeemen. Gates, whose district encompasses an area that contains Kaiser’s district, chose from the candidates selected by the PCs. 

Gates, a PC himself, was critical of the process and said that legislative districts in Maricopa are becoming dysfunctional. 

“I wish this process didn’t play out the way it did right now,” Gates said, adding that most GOP PCs do not represent the broad set of beliefs within the GOP. The last time the board needed to choose a replacement for a state representative, the PCs selected the lawmaker who had just been expelled from the seat, along with two Republicans closely aligned with the ousted lawmaker

“It is broken, it needs to be fixed,” Gallardo said, adding that he didn’t believe Bolick to be a qualified candidate for the position. Gallardo said that out of the three, she was the best but he felt there were likely better qualified Republican candidates. 

“I’m losing track of how many appointments we’ve done in this year alone,” Supervisor Clint Hickman told the board. 

Hickman said he has had face-to-face conversations with Speaker of the House Ben Toma and Senate President Warren Petersen about the need to re-examine the appointment process. Hickman said that the board does not need to “go to battle” with the legislature over picking its members but worries about the implications of moving too fast during a vetting process when being pushed by an agitated legislature. 

“Someday we are going to pick an ax murderer,” Hickman said, adding that the Maricopa County Attorney and its Human Resources Department vets all candidates but the push-and-pull from lawmakers makes their jobs difficult. “The process needs to change.” 

Hickman added that the county’s HR department and the county attorney found issues with the background of one candidate that warranted further discussion but did not elaborate on what those issues were. 

Supervisors Jack Sellers and Hickman both said that Bolick was the only one of the three candidates that personally reached out to them to discuss her beliefs and the position. 

Director of Communications for the Senate Republicans, Kim Quintero, said that a time and date has not been set yet for Bolick’s swearing in. 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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