PHOENIX — A collection of conservatives around the state is bucking the State Republican Party and publicly declaring their support for Democrats for the state’s top positions. There aren’t a lot of them. But they firmly believe as Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney told a crowd in Tempe on Wednesday, that democracy is under threat.
They are current and former politicians and attorneys. They decry the MAGA movement and they warn about electing leaders who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
Republicans who publicly oppose MAGA candidates
Conservative Arizonans who have spoken out against statewide Trump-endorsed candidates on Twitter or in the media in recent weeks include:
- Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley
- Arizona State House Speaker Rusty Bowers
- Buckeye State Representative Joel John
- Former 10-year state legislator Heather Carter (who recently registered as an Independent)
- Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton
- Former Diamondbacks President Rich Dozer
- Attorney Jackie Norton, who served under two Republican governors
Robert Robb, a former committee member of the Goldwater Institute and longtime conservative columnist, is also critical of the MAGA movement and calls it “a big threat” and a “deep concern” for the state of the Republican Party.
“The combination of ‘the big lie’ and the Republican Party’s adherence to it, particularly here in Arizona, combined with the America First agenda, has really left small government, free-market conservatives without a party,” Robb said.
Republican candidates for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general have all gone on record in the past to claim the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” or “rigged.” Blake Masters has said in the past he would have objected to certifying the election results.
'Crazy is not good for Arizona'
“It’s a con game,” said former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a Marine veteran, speaking to 12News earlier this week. “I saw the sacrifice that so many have given to this country. This MAGA movement, the idea that elections were stolen, I do believe that Democracy is on trial today.”
Romley said he “will not vote for Kari Lake”. He publicly endorsed Democrats Kris Mayes for Attorney General, Adrian Fontes for Secretary of State and Mark Kelly for U.S. Senator.
Romley said he’s disappointed in the slate of “election-deniers” nominated in the GOP primary.
“Crazy is not good for Arizona. We need adults in the room,” Romley said.
A GOP legislator from Buckeye endorses Fontes
Republican State Representative Joel John of Buckeye was elected for the first time in 2020. John, a fourth-generation Arizonan, considers himself a lifelong “reasonable Republican.”
“My joke was, as I began to engage with voters door-to-door, most were Democrats and I said, ‘wow, Democrats are people too,'” John said.
His goal at the legislature was to keep his head down and promote policies that were hyper-local for his constituents. But the controversy surrounding the 2020 election dominated his first year in office. John followed the progress of election lawsuits nationally. He toured elections facilities in Maricopa and Yuma counties.
“I saw the process of the election. How things are run. All the security involved. The bipartisan teams. They have no interest in nefarious activity. Even if they did, it would be even impossible I think,” John said.
He also examined the mail-in voting system. John concluded there was no credible evidence of widespread, coordinated efforts to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s kind of scary actually that somebody, because they believe an election was stolen, regardless of any adjudication by a court of law could be possibly willing to throw out the results of an election,” John said.
But the “rigged election” narrative may have been what ended John’s legislative career.
He “took heat”, in his words, for voting against an “election integrity” bill at the legislature during the last session. At a Republican candidate forum this summer, John was asked if he supported a proposal to eliminate mail-in voting.
John told the audience “no.”
“I was very vocal. It’s secure. It’s safe,” John said.
One of his opponents, newcomer Michael Carbone, said yes. Carbone’s website lists “election integrity” as a priority and warns of “efforts by the radical left to open our system to non-citizens or to play games with how we vote.”
During the weeks leading up to the primary election, John noticed “RINO” (Republican in name only) signs posted next to his re-election signs. John lost the race, placing third behind Carbone. The top two candidates made the ballot.
John says he has no regrets. Since his loss, he has endorsed Democrat Adrian Fontes for Secretary of State and said he won’t vote for Lake or Abe Hamadeh because of their views on elections.
“It concerns me as a Republican, it concerns me as an American,” he said.
Other voices oppose Trump-endorsed candidates
Earlier this week, former Republican legislator of 10 years, Heather Carter, joined other Republican women to publicly oppose Blake Masters for U.S. Senate.
Their focus was the issue of abortion. But Carter also discussed election conspiracies and the slate of Republican candidates.
“I am 100% supporting Katie Hobbs,” Carter said. She said she believes threats and harassment of election officials and election employees resulting from conspiracy theories the past year-and-a-half may dissuade the next generation of Arizonans from going into public service.
“If we continue down this path, we won’t have people who want to run for office anymore,” Carter said.
Social media posts by former Fox 10 News reporter Steve Krafft feature video messages from former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, attorney Jackie Norton, former Diamondbacks President Rich Dozer and former Phoenix radio personality Karie Dozer.
The videos endorse Katie Hobbs for governor and criticize Lake.
“Kari Lake is not a conservative. She’s not a member of the Republican Party as I knew it. She’s a member of the Trump party,” Charlton said.
MAGA’s loyalty to Trump
According to Robb, the “America First” movement within the Republican Party has evolved from being intensely issue-oriented to being about Donald Trump.
“Now you have a fierce, personal loyalty to an individual politician, Donald Trump. What he says, even if it conflicts with the supposed principles at stake, tend to carry the day,” Robb said.
“Donald Trump attempted a coup. He sought to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. He wasn’t just a sore loser,” Robb said, adding that in Arizona “a wide swath” of Arizona elected officials and GOP party members were either willing to ignore Trump’s actions or were complicit.
“There’s been no reckoning. There’s been no ‘gee that was wrong. We got carried away,'” Robb said. “I do believe the issue of Republican support for democratic norms is a legitimate issue in this election because of Donald Trump overshadowing this entire election.”
Kari Lake and Kelli Ward decline to answer questions
Candidate for Governor Kari Lake made denying the 2020 election results the centerpiece of her candidacy before the August primary, even encouraging chants of “lock her up” to persist during a rally in Cave Creek after she accused Katie Hobbs of running a “dishonest election.”
“The whole election system was corrupt from top to bottom. It was rotten to the core,” Lake told a cable news outlet in May. “We want people arrested, prosecuted, and thrown into jail.”
12 News made repeated requests to discuss with Lake and Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward the MAGA movement and the Republican Party. Both did not respond to the requests.
There is no evidence the election was fraudulent. Four federal agencies, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, concluded elections across the country were secure. Sixty-three lawsuits brought by Trump allies failed. Bipartisan secretaries of state in all 50 states have dispelled conspiracies and concluded the 2020 election results were accurate and secure.
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