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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Republicans 'trying to run another scam' on abortion

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

Former Arizona schools Superintendent Jaime Molera of Molera Alvarez and Gaelle Esposito of Creosote Partners joined The Show to talk about the latest on efforts to repeal Arizona’s 1864 abortion law at the state Capitol, a pair of lawmakers withdrawing from their reelection bids and more. 

Conversation highlights

On legislative Republicans’ abortion strategy

MARK BRODIE: So obviously, abortion a big deal at the state Capitol again. And I want to preface this conversation, as I did last week, by pointing out that abortion is obviously a very personal and sensitive issue to a lot of people. It affects a lot of people in their real lives.

NewsCap, of course, though, a political segment. So that is the context in which we’ll be discussing this today. And how we heard just a moment ago from state Rep. Matt Gress (R-Phoenix), who supports repealing the law, saying that they have the votes in the House to do it. I wonder, though, do they have the right votes, and do they have enough Republican votes to do it?

JAIME MOLERA: Well, I think eventually they will. The hang up was the procedural motion to actually put it on the board so that folks could vote for it. And at that time, I think the votes would have been there. It’s just that people tend to abhor running over their leadership.

And that’s always the third rail in politics. And if you do that, then you tend to get primaried at some point, you get vilified within your own caucus. So that’s why some of the members were gun shy about doing that.

But I think with the Senate pushing a new bill and that getting out and then eventually coming over to the House, that should make it a little bit easier to make sure this gets done, hopefully in the next week or two.

BRODIE: There is that rule, though, the majority of the majority needing to be on board. And we know that. House Speaker Ben Toma (R-Peoria) — and speaking of primaries, he is running in one, for Congress in the West Valley — he is not supportive of an effort to repeal. So does he eventually let it go through, do you think?

MOLERA: Well, it doesn’t matter. If there’s 31 votes, that controls everything. So it’s 31 and 16. You can have all kinds of rules, but once you have 31 and 16, you can suspend any rule, you can change any rule, and you can do whatever you want. And that’s what ultimately is going to happen, is that majority is going to say, look, we need to get this taken care of.

BRODIE: Gaelle, how significant was that first step in the Senate to allow the bill to be introduced late and to get it first read, meaning that essentially in two weeks — two weeks from this past Wednesday — in theory the Senate could vote to repeal this?

GAELLE ESPOSITO: Yeah, that was a big win. And something that I think is a really important step here. I think unfortunately in the House, we continue to see Republicans try to have it both ways, claiming that they would support a repeal but refusing to take the steps to actually do it. And I think that really gets to what has been sort of the central idea that they have that’s guiding them here, and that’s that they really don’t want to do this.

Speaker Toma said it himself, they believe the Legislature has reaffirmed this several times in their leaked document. Like it’s all about, finding a way to undermine the Abortion Access Act, to keep voters from being able to have a say in abortion access and reproductive rights. And I think we’re seeing that play out here as they try to prevent it.

And in the Senate, you had the ability to get that process started. But we’ll see what happens after two weeks worth of pressure.

BRODIE: So let’s assume that there is a repeal. And let’s assume, for the sake of argument that it is a clean repeal. Just repealing the 1864 law. There’s nothing else on that bill, at least at that moment. How does that affect the races coming up? Because obviously this is an issue that the thinking goes is really good for Democrats and, as long as the 1864 law is in effect, is really bad for Republicans.

ESPOSITO: I don’t think the political implications here will matter whether the 1864 law is still in effect or it’s repealed. I think the damage is done for them politically, because for voters, this has reached a level of awareness that very few things have in Arizona politics before. The repeal of Roe nationally, maybe SB 1070.

I saw a snap poll that said 80% of voters had already heard about this ruling, which is unheard of. And I think voters will understand that and will understand, as we’ve seen here, that Republicans have been a roadblock to that clean repeal. And there’s there’s not much saving them from that now.

BRODIE: Jaime, do you agree with that? Do you think that the die is cast on this?

MOLERA: I think politically it definitely is going to hurt Republicans, I have no doubt about it. And I’m not just not just Jaime Molera saying that. When you have Kari Lake calling members of the House Legislature, begging them to repeal this, that tells you something. But I think if the territorial law were to be not repealed, then I definitely think the political ramifications would be massive, absolutely massive.

But if they repeal it, it’s about 6-7 months to the election. I think the Republicans are going to try and get footing on other issues, and certainly they’re going to want to pivot to immigration. Right now that’s the topic they really want to get on, because in the polls before this issue came out, immigration was starting to become or was a very hot topic.

Sure, it was good for the Republicans. But now with this issue, it’s become very difficult for them to be talking about anything else other than this territorial law.

BRODIE: Well, so how do you see that playing out with — as we saw, then Gail referenced the leaked documents, the plan from a House Republicans to, maybe put some other issues up to three issues, It sounded like, on the ballot with varying degrees of number of weeks that abortions would be legal. In one of them, it would give the Legislature the right to continue to affect abortion laws. Do you see them trying to put those on the ballot but maybe not talk about it that much? Because they, as you say, would prefer to be talking about immigration or maybe the economy?

MOLERA: Well, remember, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations within Republican ranks is the Center for Arizona Policy. Right. And Center for Arizona Policy has made it very, very clear: This is a line in the sand for that organization. And they put a lot of pressure, and they’re still putting a lot of pressure on the Republicans to not repeal this law.

Even though Trump has come out and said that should be repealed, Lake, even Charlie Kirk from Turning Point. They realize the political ramifications for Republicans at all levels is fairly significant.

So you had this plan or plans that was being proposed, I think, to try and mollify the CAP from saying, “”ook, we’re trying to do something. We’re not just going to give in. We’re going to do something.” And then they’re trying to demonstrate their loyalty to the organization. And I think that’s what you’re seeing as part of those maneuvers.

BRODIE: Gaelle, of course, we don’t know what’s going to happen if any or all of these measures or something else might go on the ballot. But if there is a competing or are competing measures, what does that mean for the folks who are supporting and trying to advocate for the the measure that is currently collecting signatures right now, which would basically make abortion legal in the state constitution up until the point of viability — 22-23 weeks, somewhere in there?

ESPOSITO: Yeah. So I think what’s important here, as Jaime was saying, they’ve they’ve floated all of these things to try and appease different people. And as I was saying earlier, it’s not really about getting this done. It’s about trying to have it both ways.

Republicans don’t really have a plan that they want to achieve. They’re just trying to run another scam here. It’s about trying to keep the Abortion Access Act either off the ballot or keep voters confused.

But voters aren’t going to fall for that. They know this has, once again, reached a level of awareness that I think we haven’t seen before. And so I don’t think, no matter what they try to do here, that it’s going to really hurt the Abortion Access Act because voters will see through that scam.

BRODIE: How how confident do you think supporters of the current initiative should be? I only ask because the sort of the conventional wisdom is if there are competing measures, voters vote “no” on both. Or it’s conceivable that voters kind of get confused and maybe don’t vote on either because they’re really not sure you know, “I support this. I support the concept of the one that I signed a petition for, but I’m not really sure which one that is.” Is there a danger there?

ESPOSITO: I think voters are smarter than Republican legislators might want to give them credit for here. And I think it will be very clear to them which is the one that over half a million now — and it’s certainly going to be more at the end — have signed to get on the ballot. I think they will know and it will be made clear which initiative, which proposition is the one that actually protects abortion access in this state.

BRODIE: We’re talking about the races coming up in November. And we saw this week, Sabato’s Crystal Ball — one of the forecasting, modeling firms out of the University of Virginia — changed two ratings in Arizona this week. The U.S. Senate race went from a toss up to leans Democratic, and the 6th Congressional District — that’s Juan Ciscomani’s district — went from a leans Republican to a toss up.

And they cited abortion and the 1864 law and the impact of that ruling as one of the reasons that they made that change.

MOLERA: Well and that’s the reason I go back to the point. They have to get rid of that territorial law, Republicans, or else it will be a bloodbath for them in November. But the difference I would see in those two particular races, I think, Kari Lake has a lot of high unfavorable ratings. I mean, every poll that I’ve seen, she has not been able to break the 45% threshold of favorability.

And that’s problematic when you have 100% name ID. People know who she is. There’s just a high negative rating. And that’s going to be very difficult for her to overcome. And she’s very polarizing.

Juan Ciscomani is a different candidate. He’s very sharp. He’s an attractive candidate. I think he’s seen as very much of an up -and-comer. And I think once they get past this, yes, he’s in a tough race, but I like his chances a lot better just because candidates make a difference. And he certainly is a tough candidate.

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.