Note: This piece was originally published on Primary School's Substack. Labyrinth supports the brilliant work done by Primaries, but does not necessarily endorse all views articulated in this piece.
16 March 2021
Née Primaries for Progress, the third release by Primary School to be published in Labyrinth covers the crowded 2021 New York City mayoral field. Labyrinth is pleased to share a truncated version of the piece and encourages all readers to read the full article on the the official Primary School Substack.
Big News: Incumbent AZ-02 Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick dropped a bomb on Friday: her retirement announcement. Kirkpatrick has been fighting it out in tough elections every two years since her first state legislative race in 2004. She flipped the rural 1st congressional district in the north of the state in 2008, lost in it 2010, won a different version of it back in 2012, and survived a tough 2014; when she forwent reelection to run a long-shot Senate campaign in 2016, many thought the 66 year-old Kirkpatrick was looking to cap off her political career. But in 2018, she moved to Tucson and ran for the then-open AZ-02. Intentionally putting yourself through a tough primary and general election is not something a politician who is nearly ready to hang it up generally does, but here we are, three years later. Her retirement may have more to do with personal reasons than political ones. Last year, she took a six-week absence from Congress to undergo treatment for alcohol addiction. Regardless of the reason for her retirement, it was an interesting career, and we wish her well.
This Tucson-based district has been closely fought territory between the parties for decades, but it’s veered towards the Democrats recently. It voted for Biden 55-44, and stands a good chance of getting even more Democratic after redistricting. Democrats are probably safe to nominate whoever they want here without electability fears here. Let’s survey the potential field, as mentioned by a few sources.
Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz has run for this seat 3 times before. In 2012 he wound up deferring to incumbent Ron Barber, but in 2016, after the seat had fallen into Republican hands, he ran for it again, and came out on top in a close primary. He was then ignored by the national party and lost the general horribly. He tried again in 2018, but lost any semblance of establishment support the moment Ann Kirkpatrick announced. Despite that, and despite a notable gaffe where he compared Kirkpatrick’s frequent campaigning to a meth addiction, he lost that primary by a relatively respectable 42-30. The man clearly wants to go to Congress, and he primaried out an incumbent Pima County Commissioner in 2020, so is once again a local officeholder. Heinz was the leading candidate running to Kirkpatrick’s left in that primary, but he’s not really a movement progressive. For instance, he wanted Medicare for All, but through more gradual means, and his voting record in the House wasn’t perfect. He’s got name recognition and drive, but he’s unlikely to be embraced by the left without some real hesitation on their part, and the extremely negative campaign he ran in 2018 may have left voters with a bitter taste in their mouths.
State Rep. Andrés Cano is a rising star. At only 28 he’s already in great stead with the party. Basically every Tucson politician endorsed him in his 2018 election for State House. He’s been a progressive for his short career so far, feuding with Alma Hernandez, his seat-mate (Arizona uses two-member house seats) over her more moderate stances, endorsing Elizabeth Warren for President, and generally being seen as part of the Grijalva orbit. One minor problem: he lives about a mile outside of the district, and only represents about 30,000 people in it.
State Rep. Randy Friese is openly considering a run. Like Heinz, Friese is a doctor, and has made that a cornerstone of his political image. Friese has a real hook as a candidate: he was the trauma surgeon who operated on then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head by a right-wing gun nut. Unfortunately he leaves a lot to be desired as a politician. He considered running for Senate in 2017 before Sinema announced, and he was hoping to run as a “nonpartisan” candidate, willing to stand up to “the will of the party”.
State Reps. Alma and Daniel Jr. Hernández have both been mentioned. The Hernández siblings (another sister, Consuelo, is also in politics, sitting on a local school board) are a bit of a package deal. The whole family are outsiders in a sense: buoyed by national money and interests instead of local ones, spearheaded by Daniel’s fame as part of the team that saved Giffords’s life. But they demonstrate why being an outsider doesn’t necessarily mean anything positive about politicians. They’re dyed-in-the-wool moderates. If past campaigns are any indication, they will raise a concerning amount of money if one of them goes for it.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero is the mayor of a major city, so...that’s usually bad news. But unlike many of her fellow mayors, she did not endorse Mike Bloomberg in 2020, so it could be worse. However, she may get hoovered up by the Biden admin before long, rendering this all moot.
State Sen. Victoria Steele is another potential repeat contender. She lost a close primary for this seat to Matt Heinz in 2016, and only after the DCCC stepped in to back him up. Despite how hard fought that race was, it didn’t turn negative, and the candidates didn’t differ too much on the issues. She was more of a grassroots choice than a progressive one, to the extent that that distinction exists. If she runs again she’ll have to find a way to fix the lagging fundraising that doomed her in 2016.
We’d like to toss out a couple possibilities as well:
Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly was just elected in 2020. Cázares-Kelly is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the Tohono O’odham reservation is contained within AZ-03; however, Cázares-Kelly herself lives in Tucson, and may find herself drawn into the district. Though even if she isn’t, it’s a level of carpetbagging that voters should be fine with. Cázares-Kelly is a voting rights activist who ran for County Recorder after years of advocating for greater voting access for Indigenous residents of Pima County; she is also a DSA member who ran with their endorsement. In other words, she’s pretty close to a dream candidate, especially if this district is redrawn to be contained entirely within Pima County (as it should be, we have no earthly idea what the commission was doing when it attached Cochise County to this district.) Depending on how lines are drawn, she may or may not live in the district, but no matter what, she will represent most or all of it as County Recorder.
Former Assistant Secretary of the Army Mary Matiella ran for this seat in 2018, coming in a distant third in the Democratic primary after Kirkpatrick and Heinz. She ran a progressive campaign then and would presumably run a progressive campaign in 2022. Despite an endorsement from Pima County giant Rep. Raúl Grijalva, she took only 9.4% of the vote, which isn’t encouraging.
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