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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Arizona abortion ruling is 'a disaster for Republicans'

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

Paul Bentz of HighGround and former Congressional candidate Anita Malik joined The Show to talk about the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, the state Legislature moving to a one day a week schedule and more.

Conversation highlights

On the political fallout from the Arizona Supreme Court abortion ruling

MARK BRODIE: So I guess we have to start with abortion. That was obviously the biggest story of the week. And I guess we should stipulate at the top that this is, of course, an issue that is very personal and really affects a lot of people’s lives. For the purposes of the NewsCap, of course, it’s a political segment. So that’s, I think, where we’re going to focus.

But Anita, let me start with you, because there has been so much talk about this being the ruling — again, taking it apart, what it means for individual people — but on a political front being good for Democrats, bad for Republicans. Do you agree with that?

ANITA MALIK: One hundred percent. I mean, if we look even before this ruling, let’s just talk about what’s out there and the polling, what people are saying. We know Arizonans — of course across the country as well — people believe in bodily autonomy. They believe this is what we need to have access to abortion.

Now you put the emotion in — and I know we’re not going to get into the details of it — but you put the emotion in of this ruling. You are telling women throughout this state that they will have less rights than their mother, their grandmother or their great-great grandmothers. I mean, this is 1864 we’re talking about. So you add that emotion on, and all of a sudden we have another layer of mobilization, right?

This is kind of like lighting that match and giving the Democrats that opportunity. Already it was the issue for November. It is now completely the issue for November. You’re seeing it already in the activity this week. And you’re seeing it on how the Republicans are flip flopping. They know. They know what has happened here.

BRODIE: Paul, does abortion overtake something like immigration and border security, even in a place like Arizona in November?

PAUL BENTZ: Sure. Prior to this week, I would say immigration was number one. Water or education was number two and three. And abortion was down the list quite a bit. But this now has shot up to the top. And to answer your question from earlier, this is a disaster for Republicans. They chased the car long and hard, and now they caught the car and they don’t know what to do.

Look no further than former president Trump stepping away, trying to distance himself from the law. Look no further than Kari Lake trying to distance herself from the law. With criminalization, only 22% of the Arizona electorate supports criminalization of abortion. And that’s where we are now. And that’s a huge problem for Republicans going into November.

BRODIE: So how much can Republicans try to limit the damage? We heard, for example, some number of Republicans in the state Legislature calling for a repeal of the 1864 law. Some have said they expect that to happen. Does that do enough to help Republicans? Can that stem the damage?

BENTZ: Well, they face trouble within their own caucus. They have a large portion of their caucus that is 100% pro-life, self-proclaimed, won’t do anything. And now they’ve put themselves in this box that anything that they do to walk back the 1864 law would be considered pro-choice or pro-abortion. And so they’ve really limited themselves.

And let’s not forget that they, not only have a “majority of the majority” rule in the Legislature, but they also have the king’s X that they gave to both the president and speaker, where the president and speaker are supposed to be on the prevailing side of any rule.

So even the vote to suspend all the rules would need the president and speaker to be in favor of that to bring this forward. So they’re really in a bind.

BRODIE: Anita, I wonder if Democrats in the Legislature are in a bit of a bind as well, because I think morally they would like to — most if not all of them — would like to repeal the 1864 law. But politically, that could hurt them, or at least not help them as much as maybe having that law in effect in November would be, right?

MALIK: It’s definitely a talking point that’s out there, but I don’t think it’s a reality. We all want to see this. Women are struggling now. Abortion access saves lives. People’s lives are at risk today. This might go into effect, we don’t know, 14 days, two months — it’s confusing. And so that is not the case. And that’s why you saw them try to bring up the repeal earlier this week.

Even if we were to repeal that, this constitutional amendment, this action towards what we want to see happen in November with the ballot measure, that is still necessary. We cannot keep having these issues come up. We cannot have people deciding for the women of Arizona. And so it’s still an issue in November, no matter what happens. And we need to fix it now and still carry through to November and get that constitutional amendment.

BRODIE: Is it safe to say, Anita, that we’re going to be hearing a lot about this between now and November in terms of, for example, Democrats talking about what Kari Lake has said in the past about abortion, what folks like (Rep.) Matt Gress or (Sen.) Shawna Bolick have said about abortion in the past?

MALIK: Yes, of course. Paul said it: There are some people in the Republican caucus that are coming out and saying, “Hey, we need to repeal it.” The ones that are saying it loudly are the ones that their seats are at risk. They’re in a competitive district, whether it be at the state level, whether it be at the federal level in the congressional seats.

You know, we see it with (U.S. Rep. David) Schweikert. We see it with Matt Gress, for example. He’s in LD4, the most competitive district. I actually live there. And I will tell you, he is up against two women: one who has beat him before for school board, and another one who was a known quantity down at the state House, former Rep. Kelli Butler is back.

And so this is a really challenging time for them. And I think that is why they’re coming up and they’re flip flopping. And will Democrats use it consistently? Yes, we already are.

BRODIE: Paul, is this enough, this issue, this ruling enough to flip one or both chambers of the Legislature, do you think?

BENTZ: Yes. I mean, look at 2022 and how Democrats effectively used the abortion issue against Blake Masters and used, quite frankly, the receipts — the video, the clips, the things that he’s done in the past — against him. I think we’re going to see a systematic and quite concentrated effort to do that against some of these candidates.

And it will likely be enough to at least split one of the chambers. There’s an off chance that they could flip one of them. But I certainly think, right now we have a 16-14 Republican advantage in the Senate, a 31-29 Republican advantage in the House. All it takes is flipping one seat for those to happen.

This is a big enough issue that it definitely has the opportunity to flip at least one seat. So we’ll at least see a split Legislature next year. Highly likely.

BRODIE: So obviously, you know, November is an eternity away from now politically. And who knows what’s going to happen in terms of repealing the 1864 law or not, or legal challenges to the ballot measure getting on the ballot. But Paul I’ve seen some commentary on social media — which is a known bastion of wise political commentary. Folks are saying “President Trump has lost Arizona,” “Kari Lake has lost her race.” Is that too harsh a statement? I mean, do you buy into that at this point?

BENTZ: I think the Republicans across the board are in deep trouble with this issue, because we’re looking at lower voter turnout. With having two septuagenarians running in a rematch in the presidential election, not a lot of enthusiasm among younger voters, independent, unaffiliated voters. Twenty twenty was the second highest voter turnout in state history at 79.9%. We were anticipating closer to 73, 74, 75% turnout, which means fewer younger voters.

This is the type of issue that energizes people. Phones are ringing off the hook, texts and people are starting to wake up. And I don’t think this issue goes away by November. I don’t think much is going to change. I think there’s probably 60 days before this law would potentially go into effect. The Supreme Court basically begged them to litigate the Tucson, the Pima County 1970s lawsuit, bring that back to litigate the 1864 law.

So I think that the ground won’t change much, but the conversation has. And so in that realm, I think that it’s a very effective tool that the Republicans basically just handed to the Democrats.

BRODIE: Anita, a lot of folks have made the point correctly that even if, let’s say, the Legislature next week were to repeal the 1864 law, unless they get a two-thirds majority — which they most likely would not get — that change would not go into effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends. And who knows when that’s going to be?

MALIK: Exactly. Now that we’re still in this budget negotiation time, things are dragging out. So everything I think still comes down to November and gives the Democrats an advantage.

BRODIE: How confident are you at this point that the ballot measure, the constitutional amendment will be on the ballot?

MALIK: Very confident. However, we’re not taking any chances, right? I mean, this is the time. This ruling this week has actually mobilized more people to go out and get more signatures. … We’re going to hit, you know, at least three quarters of a million, if not more signatures. I’m very confident in that.

BRODIE: Is it a concern among Democrats that Republicans at the legislature are talking about putting a competing abortion related measure on the ballot? Not really sure what it would do. And obviously that might make a difference. But the conventional wisdom is often if there are two measures on the same issue, voters just both vote no on both.

MALIK: Right. I mean, the confusion is intentional. They’re trying to not just put a competing abortion measure on, but many other concurrent resolutions are they were trying to get pushed through so that we have a lot of ballot measures. People get confused.

And so that’s definitely something that’s being talked about. How do we message around that? Different groups are coming together and saying, “What do we need to do in terms of voter education?” That’s the next step here once we get this measure on the ballot.

BRODIE: Paul, how significant is it that former President Trump came out and said that the Arizona ruling went too far? And we’ve heard reporting from Politico that says Kari Lake is personally lobbying members of the Legislature to repeal the 1864 law.

BENTZ: I think it’s pretty significant. You’ve got two different voices here. Trump definitely works with his gut, and his gut is telling him that this is too far. I don’t think he’s looking at any polling, but the polling would also tell him that only 22% of the electorate supports criminalization. He inherently understands that.

And I think Kari Lake understands that she struggled to get crossover voters last time, and this makes it only more difficult.We’re looking at a scenario here where you’re going to have higher voter turnout than 2022, which makes her gulf even wider to start. And then you put this out there, and it makes it even more difficult for her to gather those votes.

BRODIE: Does it give cover to any Republican state lawmakers that former President Trump has said something needs to be done about this?

BENTZ: Not in the primary, unfortunately. The challenge is that the primary is where you have low voter turnout, less than 30% of the electorate shows up in a primary, and you’re going to see people — (House) Speaker Ben Toma is a great example.

He’s running for Congress in a crowded race in the West Valley in CD8. That’s a challenge for him, because anything he does, while it might be good for the state, would be challenging with him among that Republican primary audience.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record. 

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.