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YUMA, Ariz. — Down a long dusty track, the Dunn family homestead appears like an oasis, shielded by a thick patch of palm trees from the parched expanse and nearly triple-digit temperatures.

The wheat farm operated by state Rep. Timothy Dunn, a conservative Republican from a district along the U.S.-Mexico border, is also a refuge from the partisan wars being waged across this battleground state and reshaping the national political map.

Five Democratic elected officials trekked to this corner of the Grand Canyon State in early September to join five Republicans for the opening of dove hunting season. The overnight outing, billed as “barbeque, burritos, and birds,” was a rare celebration of bipartisanship: The group talked over a friendly dinner before setting out at dawn for their prey, in all spending nearly a full day getting to know each other out of sight of the cameras and the raucous debates back in Phoenix.

The meeting was all the more extraordinary because the tectonic plates of Arizona politics are shifting: Republicans are still calling the shots, but they may not be for long in the face of a Democratic resurgence. “I trolled them about us being in the majority come January,” quipped Alma Hernandez, a Democratic state representative from Tucson who attended the hunt for the second year in a row with her brother Daniel, who is also a member of the Arizona House of Representatives.

Arizona’s steady transformation in recent elections from a solidly red state into a battleground is fast becoming a political axiom. And this year is poised to leave little doubt about which way it’s leaning. Democrats have a shot at taking control of the statehouse for the first time in more than half a century while sending two U.S. senators to Washington for the first time since the 1950s. President Donald Trump, who carried the state by nearly four points in 2016, could also become the first Republican presidential candidate to lose here in nearly 25 years.

The statewide shift also means the strengthening of political extremes as parts of the state live vastly different lifestyles. The urban liberal bastions — strengthened by an influx of Latinos and other new arrivals to the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas — now sit amid solidly conservative strongholds where evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons represent Trump’s core base of support.

It is a state where a lawmaker recently declared that requiring child vaccinations is akin to forcing the populace to be tattooed like the victims of the Holocaust, but where its second-most populous city has adopted some of the most liberal policies in the nation to protect illegal immigrants from police sweeps. It’s also a place where legislators representing adjacent legislative districts from opposing parties can share government office space but barely speak to each other for two years.

But while many politicians are busy drawing sharp lines and stirring up their bases with harsh rhetoric, there’s also a new generation of leaders who are attempting — often to the dismay, even ire, of party elders and rank-and-file colleagues alike — to be dealmakers in governing one of the most divided electorates in the nation. They don’t necessarily define themselves as centrists. Dunn, the representative from Yuma who hosted the dove-hunting party, lists his first three priorities as “Border Security, Protecting the Second Amendment, and Defending Life,” but he separates himself from some of his colleagues by preaching that liberals care about the future of Arizona, too. He’s looking for common ground on state issues.

"We differ politically, but we all have our passions and are trying to represent our constituencies,” Dunn said. “Anytime you can talk to people across the aisle and understand where they’re coming from, you’re able to better represent those folks you don’t necessarily align with ideologically.”

Other emerging dealmakers — some of whom were along on the dove hunt — are a diverse set of political players with a complicated mixture of motives: T.J. Shope is a third-generation elected official from a rural swath of the state that’s one of the few expanding Republican bastions. He insists his party, the GOP, must evolve or it could see its statewide influence wane further. He fears that Arizona is on a path toward becoming another Colorado, which went from solidly red to solidly blue in a few election cycles.

Another member of the group, state Rep. César Chávez — named in honor of the famed labor leader — is an openly gay but more culturally conservative Democrat from the inner city and a former undocumented immigrant. And there is state Rep. Walt Blackman, a political neophyte who became the first black Republican in the state legislature last year. He is now fighting for reelection in his deeply divided district in northern Arizona by attempting, with mixed success, to keep one foot planted on the middle ground.

The sibling insurgents in the state legislature, Alma and Daniel Hernandez, and their sister Consuela, a school board member in greater Tucson, have come to be known collectively as the “Hernandi.” They are well on their way to toppling the liberal Democratic order in the state’s second-most populous city and are eyeing new territory for their more moderate brand of progressive politics.

Jenn Daniels recently completed three-and-a-half years as the Republican mayor of Gilbert, a Phoenix suburb that has recently been transformed into a humming economic engine, who sums up her governing style like this: "We don’t have time to be ideological."

There is also the first-term sheriff of Maricopa County, Paul Penzone. He said he is working to convince his four and half million constituents — which make up more than half the state’s population — to forget he’s a Democrat as he tries to depoliticize one of the state’s most powerful elected positions after a generation of abuse by the infamous Joe Arpaio.

Taken together, these political personalities represent a small but influential group carrying on Arizona’s tradition of independent-minded politicians who don’t always fall in line with party orthodoxy and can work across the aisle. Think John McCain. But they also carry a message for other states struggling to contend with polarized parties and electorates: There is more goodwill in the hearts of individual politicians than in the collective atmosphere in which they operate.

T.J. Shope, the speaker pro tempore of the Arizona House of Representatives, has emerged as a leader of the “governing Republicans” who says his party must evolve. “Evolving doesn't always mean a change of ideology. Sometimes it means a change in tone … Some people are here for show.”

“It was my very first time hunting,” Chávez, who represents a poor urban district that covers West Phoenix and has the highest population of Latinos in Arizona, said of the recent dove hunt. “Bipartisanship is probably the most crucial strategy in policy making. We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least try.”

‘Some folks are here for show’

Shope, donning his signature cowboy boots but trading his telltale ten-gallon hat for a mask emblazoned with the Arizona state flag, sat in the luncheonette in the corner of his family’s IGA grocery store in Coolidge, about an hour’s drive southeast of Phoenix.

“Not everybody has cotton fields in the backyard,” said the 35-year-old speaker pro tempore of the Arizona House, the body’s second-ranking position, describing some of the features of his rural district, which boasts the highest gun ownership in the state and which Trump carried by more than 15 percentage points in 2016.

Shope, whose father was mayor of Coolidge and grandmother a city councilwoman, was elected to the state house in 2012 after serving on the local school board. He is expected to easily move up to the state Senate in November.

He has witnessed the ground shift beneath his feet. A decade ago, the Democratic Party had a 9 percent advantage in voter registration in his legislative district. Today it’s 3 percent in favor of the GOP, making it one of the few areas in the state trending Republican.

Garrett Archer, who until last year was the senior elections analyst for the Arizona secretary of state, says Shope’s district is emblematic of the flip side of the influx of Democratic voters in the state: the exodus of conservatives to the outer suburbs.

“As the inner suburbs turn purple and newer families are moving in, families who are more conservative are relocating out to the farther suburbs,” Archer explained. “Those areas are swiftly becoming more Republican.”

And nowhere is that more pronounced, he said, than in Pinal County, which makes up much of Shope’s district.

In the process, Shope has emerged as a leader of a tight group of Republicans who believe the levers of government can be made to work for the voters and have gained a reputation for seeking out Democratic allies.

Kirk Adams, the former state House speaker and chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey, refers to Shope as one of the leaders of the “governing Republicans."

But they are still far outnumbered by their Tea Party-affiliated brethren who came to power a decade ago on an anti-government plank and who remain a force to be reckoned within GOP politics.

Shope, who jokes that he is the “token Mexican” in the Republican caucus (his mother’s family is from Mexico), has built a record of trying to bridge the gap with Democrats – and giving both sides a fair hearing when he often holds the gavel.

Part of it is driven by his broader political ambitions. For the second year in a row the Arizona Capitol Times recently named Shope as the most likely to run for the U.S. Congress in 2022, after redistricting is widely expected to grant Arizona an additional congressional seat.

But in several conversations, Shope reenforced what he sees as the need for the Republican Party here to evolve if it is going to remain relevant.

“Evolving doesn’t always mean a change of ideology,” he explained in an interview in the statehouse.“Sometimes it means a change in tone and a change in the way that you address an issue with the same principles. Some folks are here for show. You can sit here for a day or two and you can pick out who’s trying to get recorded, or get their viral video, so they can make that a plank of their next campaign.”

“I don’t know that I’ve wavered,” he added. “If you look at my voting record, it’s pretty darn conservative. But I’m viewed not with the hardliners, I guess you would call them, and more so with folks that are kind of a middle-of-the-road type of person.”

For example, he is one of the only members of the Republican caucus that is openly supportive of decriminalizing marijuana. “I think that’s where people are,” he contends.

Shope has also bucked the more conservative elements of his party on other issues. “You go back to the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage," he said. "I was one of the very first people to tweet out my congratulations. … Some of these things that we have held onto are not where the populace is.”

The challenge now, he said, is to find new ways to join forces with Democrats to overcome the extreme elements in both parties.

He bemoaned how members who support legislation emanating from across the aisle are often bullied into blocking passage by their own leaders, simply to preserve partisan talking points to vilify the other side.

"Everything has been in a sense nationalized," he complained. "And we have groups on their side, for sure, who don’t want to make any deals. And then the same thing happens on our side."

‘I don’t want to keep people in poverty’

Chávez says that his friends joke that if he lived in neighboring California he’d be a Republican.

But the 32-year-old mariachi singer turned state rep credits his Catholic and culturally conservative Latino background for compelling him to listen to both sides and to espouse what he calls his “conservative values,” even as a rising Democrat on the Arizona political scene.

On a recent morning at Press Coffee Roasters in central Phoenix, Chavez explained why he is not always viewed as a team player among Democratic party stalwarts.

Dressed in a striped blue button-down shirt and a mask and clutching copies of The Wall Street Journal and The Arizona Republic, he’s come far fast from Maryvale, an inner-city Phoenix neighborhood known in past decades for having a cancer cluster and rampant gang warfare. That’s where Chávez grew up as an undocumented immigrant.

“I don’t want to keep people in poverty,” he said. “How are we moving the ball forward, getting money in their pockets, creating jobs, opportunities?”

Archer, the former aid to the Arizona secretary of state, said he sees Chávez as a leader of the “chamber Democrats,” as in the business-minded Chamber of Commerce, which tends to find common ground with Republicans on fiscal matters.

But Chávez credited bipartisanship with birthing some of the most far-reaching policies to benefit his constituents. He said Democrats and Republican worked together on the legislation that transformed his own life — the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It was passed by a Democratic House and signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan. It gave his family a path to citizenship.

“Anything that has been accomplished that has positively influenced either the American people, or the people of Arizona, has been implemented by bipartisanship," he said. "Medicare, Medicaid, education policy, you name it.”

Walt Blackman, the first Black Republican elected to the state legislature, is struggling to hang on to his deeply divided northern Arizona district by pledging to bring the two parties together.

‘No one should die that way’

On Sept. 11, Blackman, maskless and wearing a dark suit and a bright red tie, stood in front of Flagstaff City Hall where 3,000 American flags had been planted in the grass to honor victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The first-term state representative and 21-year Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star in Iraq waved at the passing cars as he milled among a small group waving large American flags, including several with a blue line across expressing support for the police. One woman carried a sign declaring “Veterans Lives Matter.”

A steady number of passing cars honked their horns in support. A few drivers shouted, “f— you.”

“We are as divided as the nation,” remarked Blackman, 54, who lives in the conservative bastion of Snowflake. That seems especially true in his northern Arizona legislative district, which is widely considered the key race in determining who controls the statehouse come January.

The district leans Republican in voter registration but has a large population of snowbirds — Northerners who fled to Arizona for the weather — and college students. Much will depend on turnout. And this year is expected to see record numbers of voters cast their ballots.

His Republican colleague Shope describes Blackman’s district this way: The left half consists of the Subaru drivers and the right of Ford F-150 pickup truck drivers.

“It is a hardened constituency,” Archer said. “You’ve got wholly liberal enclaves of Flagstaff, Sedona, you’ve got kind of a 50-50 spot like Cottonwood, and then basically Camp Verde and Show Low, which are the heart of Trump country in Arizona. You’ve got a tale of two vastly different districts with almost equal population.”


“It is a purple district numerically but you are either very liberal or very conservative," he added. "There is very little middle ground there.”

But one area where Blackman has successfully bridged the divide is on criminal justice reform. He was was able to get legislation passed with broad bipartisan support earlier this year that will give felons more opportunities to reduce their sentences, such as by completing drug treatment programs.

“On the right, we have the hardliners, the folks that actually wrote [the] truth-in-sentencing [law],” Blackman explained. “On the left, we have those who want to let everybody out."

Arizona Rep. Walt Blackman — the first black Republican elected to the state legislature — greets a security official while walking around the state capital photographed Sept. 16, 2020 at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Ariz.  (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

“I was saying, ‘If we don’t fix the criminal justice system and we continue to try to be so conservative and we don’t do anything, we’re going to continue to have the problems that we’re having,’” he continued.

Blackman’s situation, trying to bridge a divided district, illustrates the importance of seeking bipartisan solutions but also its limits. He isn’t going to be a darling of the left any time soon, as evidenced by his response to the Black Lives Matter movement — and the fierce backlash from some of his Democratic colleagues.

“A thousand Black babies die every single day,” he told POLITICO. “A thousand babies will die today due to abortion. I don’t hear one word from Black Lives Matter. There are more planned Parenthoods in Black communities than anywhere else in the United States.”

As for George Floyd, who died in police custody and set off nationwide protests, he said, “No one should die that way."

“But we are sending a message to young black kids that that is a hero?" he asked. "It is not a hero. He had at least seven drug offenses. He held a gun to a pregnant woman’s stomach. George Floyd died a long time ago because the system killed him. A lot of that was the community. A lot of that was his own decisions that he made. How about if we would have taken care of George Floyd when he started in the criminal justice system, making sure that he had the drug treatment?”

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If he wins a second term, Blackman said, he thinks his approach to governing may translate more widely and he will consider running for statewide office in the future.

"I think I am able to bridge this gap, bring people closer to the middle," he said.

Arizona Democrat Rep. Alma Hernandez greets a facilities worker Sept. 16, 2020 at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Ariz.

‘Our parents taught us to question things’

Alma, 27, Consuela, 28, and Danny, 30, each outfitted with matching masks stenciled with "Vote Hernandez," took sips of their Eegee’s, a frozen fruit drink local to Tucson.

Sitting at a safe distance around a picnic table on a recent morning in the courtyard of the government center on Congress St., the sibling trio shared a status report on their insurgency against the entrenched establishment in one of the strongest Democratic strongholds in the state.

"Our parents taught to question things," Daniel said. "They taught the three of us the importance of digging deeper."

Daniel said his politics were heavily shaped by a health crisis in his teens when the family lacked adequate health insurance. He said he and his sisters have been viewed as "troublemakers" since he was first elected to the Sunnyside school district’s governing board at the age of 21, after he helped save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the 2011 shooting spree in Tucson in which she was critically injured.

Once in local office he swiftly proceeded, with the help of Alma and Consuela, to gather signatures and ultimately recall two longtime Democratic school board members.

"When I first got there, there was a lot of problems within the district leadership, with nepotism and corruption," he said. "I aligned myself with a libertarian and he and I worked closely to really dismantle the problems and really try and improve things for the staff and the students. But the easiest thing would have been for me to just toe the party line."

Consuela, who followed in her brother’s footsteps by winning a seat on the school board and focusing heavily on fairness in contracting, said that was the moment they all began to emerge as the vanguard of a new, more independent-minded generation of Democrats.

"I think that was moment where people started to really realize, ‘Oh, these kids are going to do whatever they think and not what we’re telling them,’" she recalled.

At times that has meant not always endorsing Democratic dogma, especially for Daniel, who was elected to the state legislature in 2016, and Alma, who followed in 2018. (The Arizona legislature has term limits; members can only serve four consecutive terms in each chamber.)

The Hernandezes are undoubtedly staunch progressives — Daniel, who is openly gay, is a leading voice on LGBTQ rights and gun control legislation — but they refuse to be pigeonholed on any given policy or legislative proposal.

"Sometimes I have made a few folks in our caucus upset over votes or stances I have taken," Alma explained. "I just feel strongly we shouldn’t support a bill just because it’s a Democratic or Republican bill. We should support it because we feel it’s the right thing to do."

Alma, who at 14 was brutally attacked by police officers, worked with Ducey, the Republican governor, to secure $1 million for training police officers in deescalation tactics. She also recently prevailed on Republicans to support $60 million for a number for her policy priorities, including more social services for the elderly, even though she ultimately voted against the final GOP-crafted budget bill.

And Alma, who converted to Judaism, pulled off something else rare: pushing through a bill earlier this year mandating that the Holocaust be taught in Arizona schools. The measure garnered nearly unanimous support in both chambers.

All three siblings, who are currently studying for their master’s degrees in legal studies together at the University of Arizona, also bristle at the toxic political atmosphere in which party leaders pressure the rank and file not to work with the other side so they can attack them as unreasonable at election time.

Alma, Daniel and Consuela Hernandez have formed a powerful trio of rising Democrats in state and local politics who have bucked party orthodoxy by working with Republicans.

Daniel said he experienced it when he worked with Republicans to improve the data reporting system underpinning background checks for gun purchases, and when he sought to join forces in ending workplace discrimination against LBGTQ people before the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year settled the issue.

His response to one senior Democrat who asked him to stop working with Republicans on the latter issue: "So what you’re telling me is it’s more important that you win an election than I get my rights or protections?

"And she said, ‘Why are you so difficult? Everybody else was on board with this plan.’"

"I try and find out what are the things that bring us together and what are those things that we agree on," he added. "Not focusing on the things that we disagree on, because there’s plenty of time and plenty of other people to fight that fight."

Added Consuela: "Even between us, we don’t always agree on everything. But we’ve always done what we think is the right thing, not what we are told we should be doing. Because we like to hold our own people accountable, we ruffle feathers. And we of course do the same for Republicans."

‘Super passionate about local government’

Many across the political divide identify Daniels, a 41-year-old mother of four, as an example of how to govern effectively in a state where the ideological divisions are as deep as ever.

Daniels, who was first elected to the Gilbert City Council in 2008, has seen the Republican-leaning Phoenix suburb grow from 190,000 to 260,000 residents in little more than a decade.

In the process, she has played a major role in helping to transform what not long ago was a rural, mostly Mormon enclave into a growing high-tech hub and one of the most attractive job markets and bedroom communities in the state.

She has an enviable list of accomplishments to point to, and many in the GOP see her as the future of the party in Arizona if she decides to run for higher office.

In addition to its thriving economy, Gilbert has been rated in several surveys as one of the safest cities in the nation. It boasts a long-range infrastructure plan that’s funded and a balanced budget. And growing partnerships between the business community, educational institutions and faith and nonprofit groups are seen as a model for other municipalities.

“I’m super passionate about local government because it’s a place where we don’t have time to be ideological,” she said on a recent afternoon in Postino, an open-air eatery on a restaurant row, Gilbert Ave., which was revitalized into a prospering commercial district. “We don’t have time to be philosophical about how we govern."

But Daniels, who is now advising the uphill reelection campaign of Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, says the most passionate partisans on both sides are making it exceedingly difficult to make progress.

“I have had to deal with the ideological conversations but those don’t get you very far,” she said. “We need to shift our thinking when it comes to politics. We’ve got 10 percent fringe right, we’ve got 10 percent fringe left. The 80 percent in the middle probably aren’t that far apart on 90 percent of the things we are trying to solve. These two groups are so loud, the volume is turned up so loud and they have platforms they have never had before."

They can’t be quieted, she said, but they need to be countered.

"People care more about the practical approach and the solution than they really care about the R or the D," she said. "I think that’s why you see people switching who they are voting for.”

‘No place for politics’

Penzone’s office in downtown Phoenix is festooned with a host of keepsakes and mementos, from a signed poster of the movie "Rocky" to a copy of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater’s (R-Ariz.) trailblazing manifesto, "Conscience of a Conservative." And there are several crosses, testaments to his abiding religious faith.

But what stands out the most is the large quote hanging on the wall from philosopher Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Penzone, the 53-year-old former Phoenix police sergeant who was elected sheriff of Maricopa County as a Democrat in 2016, said he is steadily working to exorcise the ghost of his predecessor, Arpaio, who for nearly a quarter century notoriously used the office to advance his extreme anti-immigrant and racist agenda. Known for bringing back chain gangs, Arpaio became a hero to anti-immigration extremists before being convicted of criminal contempt for failing to follow a court order in a racial profiling case. Trump pardoned him in 2017.

"When it comes to this office, there’s no place for politics," Penzone said in a recent interview. "I just think that historically this office has been abused in that way. And I’m not going to repeat that behavior. My predecessor was abusing people of color and rounding them up."

How does he measure success? One is the vast reduction in lawsuits filed against his department for the actions of his deputies over the past four years.

"You know, when you see lawsuits down by 60 to 75 percent, that tells me that the men and women understand that the bad behaviors of the past were unacceptable," Penzone explained.

Another measure, he related, is less tangible: when constituents come up to him and say, "Thank you for not being on the news."

"It is this perception of a positive relationship, or perception of safety," he explained.

But Penzone is the first to admit that his mission is far from complete, in an institution that still includes some officers who are part of what he terms the Old Guard. He is currently in the heat of a reelection campaign against Jerry Sheridan, who was Arpaio’s No. 2.

"I’m running against 2.0 of the last regime," Penzone said of his challenger. "So for that little faction, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, are we going to go back to where we were? At least a chance?’ So they become more empowered."

He added: "All of a sudden we get closer to an election and it’s noisy again by a small faction that is trying to be disruptive, trying to toxify and trying to influence their peers to buy into this mentality that, you know, ‘We shouldn’t be accountable to anyone.’"

By all accounts, Penzone, whose campaign slogan is "Leadership Over Showmanship," is widely expected to easily secure another term in what would amount to a resounding repudiation of the policies of the past.

But he said he sees this election as a turning point for the country as well, where both parties must restore public faith in order to quell rising extremism and conspiracy-mongering on both sides of the political spectrum.

"If a group is intent on pushing hate or violence," he said, "that is not a group that should ever be accepted in the United States of America. It’s like that saying on the wall right there. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men or women do nothing. We have some leaders who speak in support of [hate]. And we have other leaders who say nothing or do nothing. And that breathes life into those groups and gives them power."

“I truly believe that as a nation we hit this juncture of instability," Penzone added. "People don’t know what to expect from leadership because it is so inconsistent. Politics has made it okay for people to go out and be misleading or do something that they know is inappropriate. But they act like that because they’re trying to protect their party. That makes it acceptable."

But it’s not what he thinks the majority of his constituents want.

"I truly think that on both sides of the political aisle the majority of people yearn to see leaders that they know that when you speak that they can trust your words."

Worker cleaning floors to entrance of House side of the Arizona Capitol photographed Sept. 16, 2020 at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Ariz.  (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

‘Building relationships’

Building trust among elected officials from opposing political camps is considered a critical first step for a number of up-and-coming Arizona pols.

That was the main goal of the GOP-hosted hunting expedition on the Dunn family farm in Yuma last month. It was attended by Daniel and Alma Hernandez and Chávez, as well as fellow Democrat and centrist Aaron Lieberman. He represents a suburban section of north Phoenix that had a 10,000-voter advantage for Republicans when he was elected two years ago but is now down to about 2,500.

"I won by 2,000 votes. I probably won because of the Republicans who voted for me," Lieberman said. "I appreciate members like Tim Dunn who reach across the aisle and care about building relationships. It is what we need to get back to as a state."

“We can do something that’s not political," Dunn seconded.

Barrett Marson, a GOP political consultant, has also seen the statewide shift toward the Democrats as giving rise to more practical players in both parties.

"I think you are seeing more of the T.J. Shopes and the Jenn Danielses, who can be pragmatic conservatives and still retain conservative values but also not dig their heels in," he said.

And even as the Democratic Party lurches further to the left, there is a reality here they cannot ignore.

"Democrats in Arizona haven’t been in the majority for two or three generations," Marson said. "The most successful Democrats in this state have been centrist Democrats and attempted to work with Republicans, or at least do some things that Republicans have advocated."

Arizona Rep. Walt Blackman - the first black Republican elected to the state legislature - greets Republican Rep. T.J. Shope - Speaker Pro Tempore of the Arizona House of Representatives - photographed Sept. 16, 2020 at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, Ariz.

"At the end of the day," he added, "this is still a somewhat conservative but also somewhat libertarian state. So any politician to some extent has to bend to that will."

Daniel Hernandez also said he sees another political strategy at play on the part of some Republicans ahead of what could be a major turning point at the polls.

"They are preparing for being in minority for the first time in 54 years" he said of Arizona Republicans. "I think there is a faction within the Republican caucus [that is] very much trying to figure out how do work effectively across party lines and try and get things done."

"They are preparing for being in minority for the first time in 54 years" he said. "I think there is a faction within the Republican caucus that’s very much trying to figure out how to work effectively across party lines and try and get things done."

But, he cautioned, "There is also, I think, an even larger faction that’s horrified that we might take the majority and already planning to do nothing but be obstinate and difficult and make everything painful, because it wants to try and take the majority back."

“There is going to be a settling-in period,” added Shope, the Republican leader, looking to the aftermath of the highly contested election. “It is my responsibility to work across the aisle.”



Trump aides build out the MAGA-verse with new groups





Rollins is joining an increasingly long list of former White House officials who’ve set up Trump-allied political groups since the 2020 election, a roster that includes prominent figures in the former president’s orbit like ex-Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. With Trump out of office and plotting his political future, the emerging ecosystem promises to bolster the former president as he prepares to dive into the 2022 midterm elections — and potentially launch a 2024 comeback bid.

The former aides are capitalizing on widespread donor interest in funding projects aligned with the former president, with pro-Trump givers ready to shell out big checks in order to keep the Trump agenda front and center. Now that the presidential campaign is no longer consuming donors, who can give unlimited amounts to nonprofits or super PACs, a space has emerged for former Trump advisers to finance their own endeavors.

“I think the investors that are out there,” Rollins said, are “really, really excited” about the idea of a vehicle that advocates for Trump’s policies. “For the people that are funding us,” she added, “they get it, they see the vision, they understand what’s at stake.”

Parscale’s new vehicle, the American Greatness Fund, is not explicitly pro-Trump, but its core themes are unmistakably aligned with the former president. The group’s mission statement describes it as a “nonprofit social welfare organization devoted to retaining, cultivating, and inspiring the grassroots energy of the ‘Make America Great Again’” movement. The organization, it adds, will focus on voter integrity issues by creating a website that will catalog legal and legislative efforts surrounding elections and combat what it describes as “cancel culture against conservatives.”

Parscale was fired as Trump’s campaign manager in July 2020, but he has since made a return to the former president’s orbit and is helping to run his post-White House political efforts. Parscale said the American Greatness Fund, the existence of which was first reported by Axios, has so far raised $300,000.

Corey Lewandowski, another former Trump campaign manager, has created Fight Back Now America, a political action committee that according to its website is devoted to “supporting candidates and policies that seek to advance the America First Agenda.”

The organization is expected to be heavily involved in 2022 Republican primaries by targeting those who backed Trump’s impeachment such as Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, though it will also be focused on ousting Democrats in the general election. Lewandowski has separately been tapped to oversee the principal pro-Trump super PAC, though its unclear how that outfit will interface with Fight Back Now America.

Carson said in an interview that his American Cornerstone Institute is a conservative think tank that will emphasize election integrity, one of the ex-president’s fixations. Carson has also set up a PAC


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, Think BIG America, which can engage in elections and dish out funds to favored candidates.

“We’ll be very interested,” Carson said, “in who are the people who are advocating visions that are logical and that make sense.”

Russ Vought, who was Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, has set up Center for American Restoration, a think tank that espouses Trump’s fiery populist message. Vought blasted the political establishment in a recent piece published on The Federalist, a conservative website, and said his organization aimed “to give voice to the common, forgotten men and women across this great country.”

Vought, a veteran of Heritage Action, a prominent conservative advocacy group, has among other issues zeroed in on conservative censorship on online platforms, a cause that Trump has taken up after being banned by Twitter.

Whether Trump assists any of the organizations remains unclear. The former president has been focused on establishing his own political apparatus, and during a meeting last week with top advisers he signaled that he wanted to establish a Lewandowski-run super PAC, which would be able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Trump previously set up a leadership PAC, Save America, which could contribute directly to candidates but has restrictions on the amounts individual donors can contribute. During an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, he urged supporters to donate to Save America, which has already banked tens of millions of dollars.

Republicans have expressed interest in building out a constellation of new conservative nonprofit groups, believing that Democrats have established a critical advantage in that space in recent years. While nonprofits are limited in some ways in their ability to spend money on elections, they can raise unrestricted amounts of money and spend vast sums to influence voters. Unlike super PACs, they don’t have to disclose their donors.

Republicans point to Fair Fight, a collection of political and nonprofit organizations overseen by Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams devoted to voting rights, as a vehicle that has been particularly effective. Abrams has been credited with helping Democrats make gains in Georgia during the election, when President Joe Biden carried the state and the party seized both of its Senate seats.

Rollins said she has drawn staffers from the White House, the Trump campaign and Capitol Hill. She added that the outfit, which is also spearheaded by former Trump adviser Larry Kudlow, will focus on an array of policy issues that were central to the Trump White House, including school choice, energy independence and immigration reform.

We’re “taking all those ideas that we built out over the last four years and leaning into them,” said Rollins, who prior to joining the White House oversaw the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin.

The glut of Trump-aligned organizations could create complications. Some senior Republicans have expressed concern that there may be competition over donors, who may be confused about which outfit to support. They say major contributors are waiting for the former president’s political apparatus to fully form and are waiting for guidance from him on where they should direct their funds.

Carson dismissed the idea that there would be clashing between the different groups and noted that his organization had been in touch with Vought’s. The two organizations are headquartered in close proximity to one another on Capitol Hill.

“The way I look at it, we’re fighting for the same things,” Carson said. “We need as many people in that fight as we can get.”

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We asked governors what they want from Biden. Here’s what they told us.





In his inaugural address, Biden issued an appeal for “unity” and a revival of functional government. The weeks since — with an impeachment trial and gaping differences over the size of a pandemic relief package — have made clear the low probability in the near-term of changing the relentless partisanship of the nation’s capital.

But a POLITICO survey of select governors, which collectively represents a quasi-symposium, suggests the revival of the practical-minded center Biden extols might be attainable for his administration. Its path likely would run though places like Montgomery and Trenton, as well as Montpelier and Salt Lake City and Olympia, before finally arriving (if at all) in Washington, D.C.

It is not that polarization and grievance don’t exist in the states. No one following the way that Republican state parties in multiple locations have been taken over by Trump acolytes — who have passed resolutions denouncing Republican lawmakers who show insufficient fealty to the former president and his bogus claims that he won the election — could harbor that illusion.

But the survey respondents did illuminate a kind of steady, practical-minded focus that crossed both partisan and geographic divides.

Democrats, not surprisingly, are more eager than Republicans for the new administration to robustly expand government’s role in fighting the pandemic and its economic and social consequences. Several Democrats wish for a national mask mandate from Washington, for instance, while no Republicans do.

More striking, however, is the relative blurring of ideology in the answers. All seven governors who participated in POLITICO’s queries expressed concern about the condition of their state’s economy. Most said assistance from the federal government is necessary for their state governments to meet the demands of the moment, though a couple said they would make do without it.

The survey had two parts. In the first, governors answered multiple choice questions with the understanding that answers would be described cumulatively but the answers of individual governors would not be shared by name. The second part of the survey invited governors to expand on their views and experiences with on-the-record answers.

Both sections highlighted a sense of urgency — and in some cases, a sense of precariousness — that governors perceive about the condition of a pandemic-stricken country as Biden begins.

Their concerns were in every instance about what might be called material politics — that is, problems and remedies which have a tangible manifestation, from job rates to infection rates to energy supply and transition to low-carbon alternatives. In no case did the answers gravitate to the cultural issues — from concern about race relations, or “cancel culture,” or even the all-consuming debates about Trump — that have animated so much of national politics over the past 12 months or the past four years.

Almost certainly, this reflects the nature of a governor’s job, rather than that these particular politicians are somehow wired differently in their interests. But the answers do suggest a way that Biden might transcend a style of politics that often defaults toward remorseless personal and ideological conflict and away from problem-solving. It is by organizing his own administration — as by most appearances he seems to be doing — around material politics. These types of issues by nature tend to reward concrete results rather than rhetorical appeals, and allow for a degree of practical difference-splitting on the way to those results.

What follows are excerpts of the on-the-record portion of the survey results.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Striking a balance between protecting people’s personal health and their livelihood has been the primary goal of mine throughout the pandemic. Alabama went from a pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate to now being in recovery mode. I look forward to regaining that momentum, while helping distribute a successful vaccine to people in all 67 counties.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Continually investing in our infrastructure is important to Alabama. Throughout the Trump Administration, we have put Alabama and America first, which has launched business and industry forward. Alabama is a great example of the rebuilding and strengthening of the manufacturing sector. When you prioritize business, you are prioritizing middle America.

Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Making life and death decisions and decisions that affect the economy, schools and people’s livelihoods; making sure people have confidence in the decisions our public policy and public health officials are making. What disturbs me most about recent events, including the election and the effect of the pandemic, is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the learnings gap in our schools and the earnings gap in our working communities, things that the vaccine alone will not cure.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Taking measures to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; enforcing CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards, mercury and ozone emission regulations and appliance efficiency standards; providing incentives for energy efficient and safe homes and buildings, renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and home heating apparatuses such as heat pumps.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

As we navigate the second wave, what worries me is the many hard decisions that are ahead if the pandemic continues to worsen. This pandemic has left Governors with options that can only be described as bad and worse. [Last] March, I made the immensely difficult decision to shut down our state, a decision many other Governors around the country made as well. While this was the right choice, it had a massive economic impact on our state, and the struggles that New Jerseyans, whether they are essential workers, small business owners, students, or anyone else, are going through are always at the top of my mind.


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We must also continue to serve low-income residents and our communities of color. These residents have been amongst the hardest-hit by this pandemic, not only in terms of the death toll, but also in terms of the economic impact. Food insecurity and demand for essential social services are at all-time highs and we need as much federal aid as we can get to protect the most vulnerable among us.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

New Jersey serves as a gateway to New York City and Philadelphia, the first and sixth largest cities in the United States. As such, infrastructure is critical to our state. Hundreds of thousands of our residents are employed in New York and Philadelphia, and rely on mass transit to get to their jobs. We have made meaningful progress on portions of the Gateway Program, but we must complete this project in order to avoid economic catastrophe, not just for our region, but our nation. The area covered by the Northeast Corridor rail line is responsible for 20 percent of the GDP of the United States.

The North River Tunnel [that runs under the Hudson River] is in need of imminent repair, and if shut down without a replacement tunnel, will cause immense damage to the state, regional, and national economies, something that the country could not afford before the pandemic, but certainly won’t be able to after. It is of immense importance that the … administration and Congress fund the Gateway Program. We are fortunate to have a [president] that understands more than almost anyone else in government, the importance of a functioning Northeast corridor, and I am more hopeful than I have ever been before that we … have a true partner in the White House.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

There are many things that have kept governors up at night these past nine months, but one of the most serious challenges we face is the amount of COVID-related misinformation and denial we see, fueled by online conspiracy theories and fact-free ideological websites.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

There is no shortage of problems the Federal government must address: COVID-19, the cost of healthcare, infrastructure, the debt, the economy, restoring global alliances, etc. But one of the most impactful initiatives they should pursue is a major federal effort to expand rural broadband across the country. States have worked hard and struggled for years to expand coverage with some success, but we simply cannot get to the last mile without federal help. The digital divide between urban and rural parts of our country has seriously hampered rural economic development in a 21st Century economy increasingly dependent on reliable connectivity. And the pandemic has demonstrated just how critical this need is for rural states.

We have faced a similar problem before and must pursue a similar solution. In the early 20th Century, the urban-rural divide was electricity. Recognizing the importance of electrification to the economy and quality of life in rural America, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA), which helped states like Vermont get to the last mile. Our country needs an REA-type approach to broadband to help grow our economy, which will help states raise revenue organically to invest in other critical areas.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Answering in December, before cases began falling: The growth of COVID-19 cases throughout my state and the ability of our health care system to serve all who need care. We must slow the spread of new cases, hospitalizations and death. I remain deeply concerned about the economic impact of the virus on workers and businesses.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Congress: Financial assistance to help individuals, workers and businesses who have been impacted by the virus.

Next president: Stronger direction and coordination from the federal government, the states have been left to their own devices for the past year and strong federal leadership would have saved lives and protected health.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, Republican

Gordon chose not to answer most of the on-the-record portion, but he did respond to this question:

For the sake of your state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, what’s the most urgent unsolved problem to address?

Supporting businesses so that they are able to survive through the winter months, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding [an] additional relief package.

Former Utah Gov. Gary Richard Herbert, Republican

Herbert left office shortly after completing this survey.

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Economic development in rural Utah.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

They should focus on balancing the budget.

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George Floyd’s killing started a movement. Nine months later, what’s changed?





And in Congress this week, Democrats are trying once again to shape Floyd’s legacy by advancing federal legislation to reform policing. The House is expected to vote on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — again. The bill passed the chamber last summer but was never taken up by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

“In light of what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, now is the time to get this bill passed and on President Biden’s desk,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The bill would ban chokeholds, end racial and religious profiling, eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement and mandate data collection on police encounters. Civil rights leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton are pushing for its passage. But centrist Democrats have their concerns about some provisions of the bill. And it’s not clear how it’ll fare in the Senate.

Which means it’ll be up to cities and states to overhaul the nation’s beleaguered criminal justice system. But so far, results are mixed.

In the wake of Floyd’s death in May, 25 states enacted new policing laws. But even so, some of those new laws have little to do with improved policing or increased accountability. Instead, they focus on lessening bureaucratic hurdles such as easing residency requirements.

Other laws prohibit chokeholds, update training standards and require officers to have body-worn cameras. Other notable policies include laws that increase penalties for falsely summoning officers or making false reports. Whether those reforms represent real change depends on whom you ask.

“If ‘reimagining policing’ is a phrase, if ‘defund the police’ is a phrase, if ‘abolish the police’ is a phrase, how do we move from essentially a hashtag to budget-specific, legislative-specific, regulatory-specific, community-specific solutions in real time?” said Cornell William Brooks, professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice at Harvard University and a former NAACP president.

“It’s one thing to call for a whole-scale transformation,” said Brooks who is working with a team of students to help mayors reimagine what policing looks like in terms of budgets, legislation, regulation and police culture.

But it’s just as necessary, Brooks said, “to figure out, ‘What does that mean at a granular level?’”

‘I can’t breathe’

Floyd’s death nine months ago was unlike any of those before him. It was familiar in the sense that, yet again, an unarmed Black American was killed by a white police officer. And as he begged for oxygen, his cries mirrored the language of Eric Garner nearly six years prior. Garner, a Black man who was put into a fatal chokehold by police, repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” while under restraint.

The deaths of Taylor, Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Laquan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and so many others like them who were killed by police officers or vigilantes sparked outrage and protests. But the aftermath of Floyd’s death was different.

“It was just disappointing and really heartbreaking to see just how little progress was made to the point where a police officer could kneel on someone for almost nine minutes, with people videotaping — and they could see folks filming them — with the whole world watching and not care,” said Erika Maye, deputy director of criminal justice and democracy campaigns with the racial justice organization Color Of Change.

Footage of Floyd’s fatal encounter reverberated across the globe, uniting people of all races, and igniting worldwide protests for racial justice and against police brutality.

“I never expected it to turn into what it did,” New York state Sen. Brian Benjamin said of the ensuing movement. “This took on a life of its own.”

“That level of interaction and interest across the board is what changed the game here in New York state,” said Benjamin, a candidate for New York City comptroller, who introduced anti-chokehold legislation after Garner’s death. The bill passed in June in “record time,” Benjamin said.

“All of a sudden this became an issue for everybody,” Benjamin said.

Last week, leaders from civil rights groups convened a virtual news conference to demand the passage of the federal police reform bill.

Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said the bill is just as important as the legislation that came out of the 1960s civil rights movement — the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

“We’ll be going to Minneapolis for the jury selection of the police officer that lynched George Floyd with his knee,” Sharpton told reporters. “The family will have to sit there and relive this.

“I would hope that they would be able to sit there knowing that the laws have changed and that George was not lynched in vain and that the Senate of 2021 has the same backbone and integrity that the Senate had in 1964.”

Reimagining policing

Floyd’s death has opened a new level of conversation about policing in communities across the country. Despite the villainization of the slogan to “defund the police,” policymakers and policy experts say they’re now able to have conversations about reimagining policing and holding police accountable in a way they couldn’t before.


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“The defund movement is about taking away resources or shifting resources, which doesn’t do anything for improving accountability and oversight for whatever remains after the defunding or shifting of resources,” said Loren Taylor, an Oakland city council member. “The reality is if you want police to do better, you hold them accountable. If you want them to do less, you take away resources.”

Floyd’s death showed plainly the type of experiences Black people have long had with law enforcement, leading to increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the acknowledgment of racism and the role it plays in American society, and conversations about addressing the many inequities African Americans face in housing, health care, education, employment and other areas.

Still, that talk hasn’t led to action everywhere. As the Chauvin trial nears, Dave Bicking, a board member of Minneapolis-based Communities United Against Police Brutality, said the city is already off to a bad start.

Bicking said Minneapolis is creating a false narrative by putting up fences and barbed wire and planning to bring in the National Guard, arguing that police violence is what the city should be concerned about. He also said the city council has fallen short on enacting meaningful, post-Floyd policy changes.

“There has been very little change,” Bicking said. “There’s radical talk but no action to speak of. A few steps backward and a process, I think, designed to lead to nowhere.”

Despite talk of defunding or even abolishing police in Minneapolis, Bicking said, neither outcome looks likely.

“The net effect of it has been virtually nothing has changed,” he added. “The people in our city government don’t act like they realize this is the epicenter of a movement, a huge movement, and something which is history-making and which is for better or worse going to really cause some change here.”

Black Americans are hopeful Chauvin will be convicted. But many have learned not to get their hopes up after disappointing outcomes in high-profile cases that have led to acquittal or no indictment in recent years.

“Black people have been let down a lot, on so many levels, and when it comes to trust, I think as a people we definitely have trust issues. Rightfully so,” said Kamau Marshall, a former spokesperson for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and a former senior congressional staffer. “We all know what the outcome should be, but what we’ve seen in the past with various outcomes in most cases have not gone the best way.”

Last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that a grand jury voted not to indict any officers involved in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was experiencing a psychotic episode when police handcuffed him, put a mesh hood over his head and pinned him to the ground until he was unconscious.

The grand jury’s decision was a disappointment, but not a surprise for Tianna Mañón, CEO of Mañón Media Management and a former journalist who now works with reporters and newsrooms on equity in coverage and storytelling.

“You knew this was coming and yet it still hurts,” Mañón said. “It’s a pain you can’t prepare for because these people are just gonna continue living their lives, and not even just continue living their lives but within this community, so to speak.”

Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said she hopes the prosecution can prove that Chauvin acted outside the bounds of the law and took Floyd’s life with what he thought was impunity.

“It is not often the case that officers are arrested, indicted and then put on trial for these types of incidents,” she said. “So anytime that does happen, that is a step in the right direction.”

There’s no consensus on what Floyd’s legacy will be. Some say it’s too soon to say, while others envision a future where police departments cease to exist as conversations about rethinking public safety and who should respond to what continue. But perhaps Floyd’s daughter said it best.

“I keep replaying in my mind the clip of his daughter saying, ‘My daddy changed the world,’” Cook said. “And that, for me, sums up beautifully what I hope his legacy will be. I hope we will look at that moment as the spark that ignited a transformation in this country on all fronts but also one that permeated the rest of the globe.”

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