Arizona Republicans are waging a culture war in a battleground state

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona has long been fertile ground for a conservative social agenda, with some of the nation’s toughest anti-abortion laws and a history of restricting LGBTQ rights.

That hasn’t changed even as Republican dominance has waned over the past five years, a fact highlighted this week when GOP lawmakers passed tough measures targeting abortion and the rights of transgender youth.

“It’s just become this political issue that our legislators are using to get more votes, and it’s not fair,” said Andi Young, parent of a transgender teen and co-chair of the GLSEN Phoenix Board of Directors, an Inclusive Education advocacy group.

GOP lawmakers pushed Arizona into national culture wars on Thursday when they passed three bills in party votes banning abortion after 15 weeks, banning transgender girls from playing on women’s sports teams and restricting gender-affirming health care for minors.

The measures have been popular with the conservative base in states where Republicans dominate, but could be politically risky in a battleground state where Democrats have made significant inroads.

Arizona Republicans did not aggressively promote bills as they progressed through the Legislature. Few GOP lawmakers have explained their support during sometimes emotional debates in the House.

This comes as no surprise to Mike Noble, a former Republican political consultant who now conducts nonpartisan polls in the Southwest from his base in Phoenix.

“These are clearly issues to really get the base started. However, the base is already on,” Noble said. “I think what you’re doing is giving the other side, who don’t really have a reason to run, a reason to come out now and vote in these midterm elections.”

Democrats have had growing success in Arizona since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly were elected to the Senate in 2018 and 2020, respectively, and President Joe Biden won’t became just the second Democrat since Harry Truman to win the state. electoral votes. Democrats control a majority of the state’s U.S. House seats and two of the state’s five major offices. Republican legislative majorities have shrunk to a bare minimum.

Against this backdrop, Kelly’s re-election race this year could be crucial to the GOP’s hopes of winning a majority in the US Senate.

The decision whether or not to sign the bills rests with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who was a mom. Advocates on both sides of the issues moved quickly to pressure him to sign or veto the bills.

Ducey opposes abortion rights and should sign this bill. He has less of a track record on transgender issues, but has at times stood up to his party’s social conservatives on issues affecting the LGBTQ community.

Last year, he vetoed a bill banning all classroom discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS without parental permission. He later signed a reduced version.

“Governor Ducey must veto these hateful bills; lives are at stake,” Kell Olson, a Tucson attorney for LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal, said in a statement.

Similarly, Cathi Herrod, the influential leader of the conservative social group Center for Arizona Policy, issued an email alert to the group’s supporters urging them to contact Ducey and urge him to sign the sports participation bill. .

“RISE UP FOR WOMEN’S SPORT IN ARIZONA!” Herrod wrote.

Arizona and Florida could join Mississippi and Louisiana in passing a 15-week abortion ban, and nearly a dozen have limited participation in women’s sports. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered state officials to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse, and Arkansas has banned it in a bill similar to that of arizona. Both directives have been suspended by the courts. A Florida bill awaiting action from the governor would ban classroom teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation before fourth grade, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Republican governors in Utah and Indiana this week vetoed bills banning transgender girls from participating in women’s sports, calling the problem virtually non-existent in their states. Republican lawmakers in Utah overruled the governor’s veto on Friday, and lawmakers in Indiana were considering doing the same.

In Arizona, about 16 high school athletes have received waivers to play on the team that matches their gender identity, according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

“I won’t stop fighting for women. I won’t stop standing up for women. I won’t stop speaking up for women. Especially my daughters, who wanted to win,” House Speaker Rusty said. Bowers, explaining his support for the bill.

It’s the adults who are hooked on the sex of children who play sports, said Democratic Rep. Cesar Chavez.

“It’s not a problem for these kids,” Chavez said. “Yet it is a problem for these individuals who feel they are losing their antiquated political system.”

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