The Arizona Legislature can be expected to take a harder turn to the right next year as candidates who championed traditional family issues won Republican primaries Tuesday in the East Valley and across the state.
But two Republican lawmakers from Scottsdale bucked the conservative trend as Sen. Carolyn Allen and Rep. Michele Regan had strong finishes and are expected to hold on to their seats. Both are considered more moderate members of the GOP.
Incumbent Rep. Colette Rosati, R-Scottsdale, who has aligned herself with the conservative wing of the party, defeated newcomer Royce Flora with a margin that's unlikely to be wiped out when final votes are counted later this week.
Elsewhere, several moderate sitting lawmakers tumbled Tuesday, including Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, who lost heavily to Rep. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler. Conservatives were cheering about Tuesday's results as Republicans are expected to retain their majority in both legislative chambers after November's general election.
"I think it means it will be more conservative," said Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, who is expected to move to the Senate next year after defeating Mary Jo Vecchiarelli. "More pro-traditional families values, more pro-taxpayer."
Along with Mead, Allen was a top target of conservatives who felt Allen doesn't follow the Republican agenda on social hot-buttons such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Allen said she won't be intimidated into changing her stances.
"It means it's going to be pretty conservative in the Senate and that I will go ahead and function as I always have — stick to public policy and do my best to get along with my caucus members," Allen said. "We'll see how that works. If it becomes mean-spirited it will be most unfortunate."
Allen said she "gets along just fine" with even the most conservative lawmakers such as Johnson.
"I can't worry about these people. It is what it is, and we'll either work well together or we won't work well together, I guess."
Bruce Merrill, a professor of political polling at Arizona State University, said conservative candidates usually do well in Republican primaries with low turnout because their base tends to include more committed voters. Turnout on Tuesday in Maricopa County was less than 20 percent.
But Allen's race might have come down to resources instead of politics. Allen was the top private fund-raiser among all legislative candidates going into the primary, while her opponent, Robert Ditchey, received his public campaign funding only two weeks ago.
The outcome of the District 7 House race showed voters clearly favored right-wing candidates, incumbent Rep. Ray Barnes and attorney David Burnell Smith. The two spoke frequently against abortion, illegal immigration and gay marriage — messages in the district which includes western Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Carefree.
"They chose very conservative men," said Mark Monday, a Democratic candidate for a District 7 House seat.
In the House race for District 11, which includes Paradise Valley and east-central Phoenix, Republican incumbent Reps. Steve Tully and John Allen defeated the more moderate challenger Alberto Gutier, a longtime GOP operative.
From north Scottsdale to Chandler, the hot races involved Republican candidates vying for which wing will control the Legislature for the next two years. Strongly conservative candidates challenged incumbent lawmakers who are considered moderates, but frequently labeled in some circles as Republican In Name Only or RINOs.
The battle lines fell into two areas. On budget issues, some incumbents were attacked for their support of spending plans from Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, instead of alternatives drafted by Republican leaders. On social issues, incumbents came under fire for opposing additional restrictions on access to abortions or for failing to support a resolution that called for a federal amendment banning same-sex marriages.
Mead was the top target of many GOP stalwarts because he almost single-handedly undercut Republican leadership on budget matters in the state Senate.
The move within the party to drive Mead out was so strong that an independent expenditure committee called "Republicans for Republicans" was created last week to pay for last-minute phone calls and mailings on behalf of his Huppenthal. The committee's funding sources including the Maricopa County Republican Party, highly unusual for a contest between candidates from the same party.
"Sen. Mead has not been supportive of the party for the past two years," said Tom Liddy, GOP county chairman. "We don't expect him to change his conduct. He can't get any less in line with the Republican Party than he already is."
The independent effort was launched, in part, to counter an extensive grassroots campaign waged by Mead's supporters who came from across the state. Moderate Republicans, some prominent Democrats and special interests such as the Arizona Education Association provided money and volunteers to walk door-to-door and make phone calls for Mead with District 20, which covers Ahwatukee and western Chandler.
Mead is ending his first term as a state lawmaker. Huppenthal served for eight years in the state Senate before running for his current House seat in 2000 because of term limits.
In Mesa, Johnson is hoping to move to the Senate after serving for eight years in House. There is relatively little philosophical difference between Johnson and Vecchiarelli, the wife of Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker. Johnson had argued voters should prefer her eight-year track record in the House as a strong conservative and a leader on anti-abortion issues. But Vecchiarelli claimed Johnson has been so locked into her positions that Johnson has lost most of her ability to influence legislation.