Conservation group’s PAC will help 8 Democrats running for Arizona Legislature
By Howard Fischer
PHOENIX — The political arm of the League of Conservation Voters says it will funnel $875,000 into trying to elect eight Democrats to the Legislature.
Chispa AZ PAC intends to make independent expenditures on behalf of the contenders, who include incumbents and challengers from various areas around the state.
But Laura Dent, the group’s executive director, said this is about more than just getting these eight elected.
She said the real push is to “flip the switch,” by putting both the House and Senate into the hands of those who will pursue an environmental agenda.
Democrats hope to take control of the Arizona House for the first time since 1966. They need to pick up one seat to tie with Republicans for control or two seats to become the majority. They also have hopes of nabbing the state Senate majority.
But Dent said Chispa’s spending is not specifically about changing political control of the chambers, though all the candidates who will get its financial backing in the Nov. 3 election are Democrats.
Instead, she said, the goal is to elect lawmakers who support environmental causes and will not take money from people who work for monopoly utility companies.
Chispa will concentrate its spending on trying to oust some Republicans it thinks might be vulnerable.
For example, it will try to defeat either Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, or Rep. Bret Robert, R-Maricopa, by pushing the candidacy of Felipe Perez, a family physician. Dent said Finchem, in particular, has what she calls an anti-environment slant.
Chispa, which tends to focus on Latino voters, also will put cash into the Senate race for that same district, where retired Marine JoAnna Mendoza hopes to unseat Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson.
Leach has sponsored measures environmental groups see as particularly favorable to utilities. Those included a 2018 measure that would limit the fine for a utility that violates any voter-approved renewable energy standard to as little as $100.
Elsewhere in the state, Chispa is supporting Felicia French for Senate and for the House, Coral Evans of Flagstaff and Kathy Knecht of Peoria.
Some incumbents in what generally would be considered relatively safe Democratic districts will also get Chispa help. They include House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez of Yuma, Rep. Kirsten Engel of Tucson and Rep. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe. Dent said the organization wants to protect them against Republican efforts to pick them off.
Chispa is no stranger to political spending. What’s different this year, Dent said, is the decision to focus on a handful of candidates.
Most of the money will go into contacting voters on a one-on-one basis, using things like phone banks to build support for Chispa-backed candidates, she said.
Two years ago the organization financed a $2.8 million television ad buy in support of Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears for the Arizona Corporation Commission. Kennedy won; Sears did not.
Dent said no decision has been made whether to back the three Democrats in this year’s Corporation Commission race.
“Right now our main focus is on the Legislature,” she said.