They say hindsight is 20/20. Foresight, not so much. But if there’s one safe bet, it’s 2020 will be a year for the history books.
The East Valley will not sit meekly on the sidelines as the nation debates the fate of its obstreperous president by way either of impeachment or the ballot box or both.
The region – tinged blue on the west and blazing a solid red on the east – will be every bit as embroiled as Washington, D.C., in the epic debate over America’s future.
The East Valley’s tens of thousands of voters could play a deciding role in a pivotal U.S. Senate race and they will decide as well whether or not the two congressional seats representing the region remain split between the major parties.
Legislative seats, school board and city council slots and three mayoral gavels also are in play.
Apart from that, the region’s physical shape will continue to evolve, thanks to numerous major construction projects.
First, a look at the political landscape.
With incumbent Donald Trump the presumptive Republican nominee, early campaign action will be on the Democratic side as voters in Arizona’s March 17 presidential primary help winnow down what was originally a slate of 20-plus would-be nominees.
The state Republican Party canceled its primary to thwart any possible challengers to Trump.
Ordinarily, Arizona would not elect a senator in 2020, but this is a special election to fill out the term of Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who died in Aug. 2018.
Republican Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Doug Ducey, stands against several GOP primary opponents.
Among the Democrats, former astronaut Mark Kelly is regarded as the front-runner and, according to some early polls, could defeat McSally in November. His lead in recent polls, however, shrunk.
The winner will serve out a term ending in Jan. 2023.
The East Valley spreads across two congressional districts.
Solidly Republican District 5 includes Gilbert, East Mesa, parts of south and east Chandler and Queen Creek. Republican Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a vocal supporter of Trump, is seeking re-election against Democrat Joan Greene, who lost to Biggs in 2018.
The 9th District encompasses Ahwatukee, Tempe, West Mesa, northwest Chandler, parts of Scottsdale and Phoenix. Former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, won the seat in 2018. Chandler City Councilman Sam Huang is among the Republican candidates.
Every seat in the 30-member Arizona Senate and 60-member House is on the ballot for a Legislature traditionally dominated by Republicans. The East Valley is represented by legislators from six districts – 12, 16, 17, 18, 25 and 26.
Two looming questions early on is whether or not District 18 – covering Ahwatukee, parts of Chandler, Mesa and Tempe – will remain solid blue and whether or not Democrats will keep the once-red District 17 – covering Chandler and a parts of Gilbert – partly blue.
Democratic Rep. Jennifer Pawlek, D-17, of Chandler will seek a second term in D-17 while it’s unclear if longtime Republican lawmakers Sen. J.D. Mesnard, D-17, and Rep. Jeff Weninger, D-17, will face either a primary or general election challenge.
Mesa will choose a mayor and council members from west-side districts 1, 2 and 3.
Chandler will elect three council members, including at least one new one to replace congressional candidate Huang.
Gilbert also will choose a mayor and two council members, with at least one new face assured since incumbent Jared Taylor is not seeking another term.
These may offer far more contentious elections than the city races.
Three seats are up for election in Mesa, Chandler Unified and Kyrene school districts.
Mesa board members Kiana Sears and Steven Peterson, as well as President Elaine Miner, must seek reelection, though their intention is not yet known.
Chandler Unified Governing Board seats held by President Barba Mozden and members David Evans and Karen McGee will be up for election and it likely won’t be known until later this year if the three incumbents will seek new terms.
In Kyrene, board President Michael Myrick and members John King and Michelle Fahy are all facing a decision on whether to run again.
One factor in the Kyrene and Chandler districts’ races will involve the conservative so-called Purple Parents group, which has been exceptionally vocal in its criticism of the Chandler Unified and Kyrene school districts’ equity programs.
Equity programs were initiated to reduce wide disparities among various student racial groups in both academic performance and disciplinary actions.
But the Purple Parents asserted the program teaches radical left doctrines. They also have complained about sex-education courses.
In Mesa Public Schools, the issue will be former Superintendent Ember Conley, who was forced to resign over her award of unauthorized bonuses and raises to certain staff members.
The level of the Mesa board’s oversight could become a campaign issue.
Likewise, the oft-overlooked election for the East Valley Institute of Technology Governing Board could be particularly contentious in light of the board’s dismissal of longtime Superintendent Sally Downie.
Other developments . . .
East Valley cities have prepared for months for the April 1 U.S. census, which will determine how much federal money comes to our cities. Census data also will play a role in redrawing congressional, legislative and, in the case of Mesa, city council district boundaries. The 2020 election will be the last to use the current district maps.
The widening of Loop 101 from south of Ray Road to the U.S. 60 is scheduled to be completed by summer.
Construction of the next five miles of State Route 24 eastward from Ellsworth Road is expected to begin in the fall. The roadway is now known as the Gateway Freeway.
Downtown Tempe will continue to be torn up for construction of a three-mile streetcar system expected to open in the spring of 2021.
Major expansions of the East Valley’s health-care system: Banner Ocotillo Medical Center, a brand-new hospital, opens in the fall at Alma School Road and Loop 202, and the Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center this week will open a $200 million wing devoted to children’s and women’s health. Chandler Regional Medical Center also is expanding, with a 96-bed addition to open in early 2021.
Construction is to begin in February for a controversial campus of Arizona State University right next to Mesa’s city hall. The project will include a parklike city plaza - it’s been in the works for years.
This coming summer Gilbert will open a new phase of its massive Regional Park at Queen Creek and Higley roads. The centerpieces are a 7-acre lake and a performance pavilion/amphitheater.
The City Creek Reserve redevelopment project on the east end of Mesa’s downtown should be done by the end of the year, timed to coincide with the multi-million-dollar renovations of the interior and grounds at the Mesa Arizona Tempe. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also is opening a new Family Resource Center, a popular resource for genealogists.