The Week in Politics: Cranky Governors' Voicemails and Surprisingly Close Primary Races

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | September 2, 2016

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Angry Voicemails Spur Questions About Governors' Futures

It was a tough week for governors who left angry voicemails for legislators.

Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin left a message late last year for Democratic state Rep. Russ Meyer. Bevin had hoped Meyer would switch parties, helping the GOP take control of the chamber.

In Bevin's message, which news outlets published this week, he seemed to imply that he would seek retribution.

"I want to make sure you understand, uh, where, where things are in my mind and the decisions that I'm going to make, uh, in the days ahead, the weeks ahead, months ahead," Bevin said on the recording. "I want you to be very aware of what the impact of those decisions will be as it relates to you, your seat, your district, etc., uh, just so that we have all the cards on the table."

In March, Bevin's administration halted an $11 million transportation project in Meyer's district. Bevin's spokesperson denied this week that the project was halted as political payback.

On Tuesday, Democratic state House Speaker Greg Stumbo said that federal and state investigators should look into the situation, raising the possibility of impeachment. Bevin's office called Stumbo's statement a "desperate political stunt." Addressing a separate issue, Bevin that day called Stumbo "corrupt" on Twitter.

And then there's Paul LePage.

Maine's Republican governor has a long history of making controversial statements. But the most recent controversy started last week.

At a town hall, LePage said that the overwhelming majority of drug dealers in the state were African-American and Hispanic. He described people of color as "the enemy" and suggested that they had to be shot.

"You shoot at the enemy," LePage said. "You try to identify the enemy, and the enemy right now -- the overwhelming majority of people coming in -- are people of color or people of Hispanic origin."

The very next day, LePage left an obscenity-laced and threatening voicemail for Democratic state Rep. Drew Gattine who accused the governor of being racist. He also told reporters that he wanted to challenge Gattine to a duel and shoot him "right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward."

LePage eventually apologized to Gattine but castigated a reporter for asking him about the voicemail.

Facing calls from Democratic lawmakers to resign, LePage held a news conference in which he said he would seek "spiritual guidance" but not "professional help."

"I'm not an alcoholic and I'm not a drug addict and I don't have mental issues," LePage said.

He also vowed never to speak to the media again.

"Everything will be put into writing," he said. "I'm tired of being caught in the gotcha moments.”

Florida Races a Proxy War for Governor and Interest Groups

With Labor Day around the corner, the state primary season is nearly over. But a number of spirited races were settled just this week.

The Florida Senate will experience the greatest amount of turnover it's seen since a term limits law took effect in 2000. At least 18 of the state's 40 senators will be new next year. Based on Tuesday's primary results, the chamber might become a bit more conservative, thanks to the elevation of several state House members.

State Senate districts were redrawn for this year's elections, due to a court finding that the old map amounted to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Races for a number of seats turned into proxy battles, with interest groups seeking to install their allies.

Like a number of other governors who sought to influence legislative primaries this year, GOP Gov. Rick Scott came away with a mixed record of success. Scott hoped to see more of the supporters of his proposed $250 million tax incentives fund, which was defeated earlier this year, win election to the state Senate.

Scott backed Doug Broxson and Kathleen Passidomo, who defeated fellow state Reps. Mike Hill and Matt Hudson, respectively. But two other GOP state representatives who opposed Scott's plan, Debbie Mayfield and Greg Steube, were victorious in their state Senate primaries.

With a big fight expected next year over workers' compensation policy, groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business and the Florida Justice Association were involved in dozens of primary contests.

The Florida Justice Association came away happier with the results, with about two dozen of its favored candidates coming out ahead.

"Could this be the year the trial attorneys stage a comeback and once again begin asserting their power in the Florida Legislature?" wrote blogger and political consultant Peter Schorsch. "We think so."

It ended up being a tough primary season for self-funded candidates in Florida. Andrew Korge, Augie Ribeiro and Irv Slosberg all lost their bids for Democratic state Senate nominations, despite spending freely -- in Slosberg's case, some $2 million.

Ribeiro, who spent about $700,000, ended up finishing fourth in a field of four. In that race, Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson edged out Rep. Ed Narain by 61 votes. A recount is likely.

Primary Results Turn Into Nail-Biters in Arizona 

Three incumbent legislators were defeated in Arizona on Tuesday. Several of the contests on the GOP side were familiar battles between so-called establishment Republicans and their more ardently conservative opponents.

Democrats are hoping to erase the GOP's majority in the state Senate and achieve a 15-15 tie in the fall, but observers on the ground say the outcome of some key primary races did not help their cause.

Republican state Sen. Jeff Dial lost his race against Aaron Schmuck, a pilot and Gulf War veteran. The race turned personal in its closing days, with the two men arguing over their respective military credentials.

"How [many] times in a journalistic career will any reporter ever be able to write an objective headline declaring, 'Schmuck wins election'?" tweeted Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jeremy Duda.

Arizona's legislative districts each contain two state House seats. Democratic incumbents fell short in two of them. Celeste Plumlee came up short in a four-way race for two slots, losing to Arizona Student Association activists Isela Blanc and Athena Salman. Matt Kopec, who was appointed to a Tucson-area seat in January, lost his nomination bid to blogger and activist Pamela Powers Hannley.

Democratic Rep. Jonathan Larkin initially appeared to have eked out a win, but as ballot-counting continued, community organizer Tony Navarette took a 45-vote lead over him. In a Republican state House primary, motel owner David Stringer is ahead of Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis 342 votes. There are lots of ballots yet to count and recounts appear certain.

There could also be a recount in an unexpectedly tight race for Maricopa County recorder. Helen Purcell has held the post for nearly three decades, but she was lambasted in the spring for closing polling places for presidential primary voting, leading to hours-long lines. Purcell and GOP state committee member Aaron Flannery have been exchanging leads of a few hundred votes as ballots continue to be counted.

"It could set up an unprecedented scenario: An elections official presiding over a recount of her own election," wrote Arizona Republic reporter Rebekah Sanders.

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