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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Former state lawmakers predict who will win Arizona's U.S. Senate race

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, February 16, 2024 - 10:32am
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2024 - 9:57am

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Ruben Gallego, Kyrsten Sinema and Kari Lake
Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News, Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Ruben Gallego (from left), Kyrsten Sinema and Kari Lake.

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

Former Arizona lawmakers Regina Cobb and Aaron Lieberman joined The Show to talk about a new lawsuit filed against the Biden administration, the impeachment of the federal Homeland Security Secretary and more.

Regina Cobb and Aaron Lieberman
Nick Sanchez/KJZZ
Regina Cobb and Aaron Lieberman in KJZZ's studio on Feb. 16, 2024.

On Arizona legislative Republicans' lawsuit over the Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni National Monument

MARK BRODIE: So let’s start with the lawsuit filed by Senate President Warren Petersen. House Speaker Ben Toma, State Treasurer Kimberly Yee has gotten in on this as well, over the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon national monument designation. This was made late last year. Regina, what do you make of the fact that the Republican leadership is basically trying to get a court to say the Biden administration can’t do this?

REGINA COBB: Honestly, I agree with them. I think that it is a violation of the Antiquities Act. And I feel like that they used their position to just walk off property. And honestly, this was an area that I represented for many years. And it’s a beautiful area. And it’s not something that they needed to block off and to became become a monument.

The Antiquities Act is very clear of what the requirements are, and this does not meet any of those requirements.

BRODIE: So is there another way then, because a lot of — as you well know, having represented it — a lot of the tribal communities in that area are very concerned about uranium mining and other uses on land that they consider sacred. Is there another way to maybe assuage those concerns without declaring it a national monument?

COBB: Well, there is a lot of ways to dissuade about the uranium. Uranium is naturally in there, and it’s higher naturally than it has been in the areas where they’ve done mining at. And so I think that their concerns — we need to actually do scientific tests on all of that. And say, OK, this is what is naturally there.

They’re concerned that they’re going to start doing mining again. And actually the mining and the reclamation that was done was very productive. Now, I know that the Navajo Nation has, in their college over there, they have a testing site. And I think once they start doing the testing on different areas within the northern Arizona area, they’ll see that this area does not meet anything more than just what’s naturally in there in their land.

BRODIE: Aaron, what do you make of this lawsuit?

AARON LIEBERMAN: Look, I think if you ask the average person in Arizona what’s one of the top three things about the state of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is always in that list. It’s an absolute national treasure. We get millions of visitors from all around the world coming to see it. My happiest trip that I’ve probably taken in my whole life is walking or hiking all the way down there and staying in Phantom Ranch.

I don’t think we should be doing anything that potentially endangers that. And I think, like always, the devil’s in the details. If you ask the average person, “Should we be uranium mining near the Grand Canyon?”, it’s very clear. No.

I think the technical issue comes with when you look at the Antiquities Act — and I heard Speaker Toma on the show earlier in the week — when you look at the Antiquities Act, it says as little land as possible. So was that the right vehicle to do it? Who knows?

I’m always for erring on the side of preserving more. You can always go back and do it. It’s hard to reverse it in the other direction. And the one thing I think everybody knows is the Grand Canyon is so beautiful. Any steps we can take to protect it all the better.

Was this the exact right mechanism? What will happen? We’ll see. The courts will work it out.

BRODIE: Presumably the courts will work it out. It’ll take quite a while. Let’s say that the courts ultimately rule in favor of Republican leadership and say that this monument was not done appropriately. Does that at least maybe buy some of the communities up there are some time?

LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. And, you know, it’s interesting. Is it political? Sure. I mean, everything’s political. It was a Democratic president who did that. And many of our tribal nations kind of lay on the left side of things.

But we’re a very evenly divided state. And things in Arizona could look a lot different if we just had two more folks in the house and one more senator. I think you could see things like the state legislature actually proactively moving to do stuff, in I think it’ll be hopefully a thoughtful and measured way. But that’s not where we’re at right now.

BRODIE: Regina, Aaron mentioned the Democratic administration. That could potentially change come January. Is this the kind of thing that former President Trump, if he becomes current President Trump next year, could he just maybe make the need for a lawsuit unnecessary?

COBB: Absolutely. And I expect that to happen if he becomes president, where he’ll probably undo it almost immediately. And that's buying time, too. But I think that whether or not you have a Democrat or a Republican in there, we still have to follow the rules of the Antiquities Act. And that's the piece that needs to be decided with the courts. And that’s that’s the part that we really have to do.

Now this is a very small community up there, and it is a major area for hunting and camping and hiking. And a lot of that area can be closed off if this ends up being a viable monument.

On Kari Lake and Arizona’s U.S. Senate race

BRODIE: So speaking of elections coming up there, maybe guys have heard there’s a Senate race coming up in the state this year.

LIEBERMAN: In Arizona?

BRODIE: I mean, it’s like every two years there’s a Senate race in Arizona recently. We saw this week that Kari Lake, the presumptive Republican nominee, got some pretty significant endorsements from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Congressman Matt Gaetz, also the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Regina, is this further evidence of sort of national Republicans — I don’t know if you want to call them “mainstream” Republicans, establishment Republicans, whatever you want to call them — sort of getting behind Kari Lake’s candidacy?

COBB: I’m very surprised, especially with everything that happened with Kari Lake here in the state of Arizona and what she did with the Republican Party. And three days before the Republican convention.

BRODIE: The Jeff DeWit tape, you’re talking about.

COBB: The Jedd DeWit tape. And I think that that hurt her a lot. And I’m surprised that the national committee came back in and endorsed her. You know, we do have other candidates, and they could have endorsed anybody.

But yeah, getting behind her after everything that she did with the Republican Party, I was pretty shocked at that, actually.

BRODIE: Why do you think they did it?

COBB: I think they feel that her opportunity is probably the best opportunity at this point.

BRODIE: For Republicans to win the seat.

COBB: For the Republicans to win the seat. And so I feel like that’s why they did it. And I still feel that it was not a good move. But that’s not my decision to make, obviously.

LIEBERMAN: I think I think she must have some tapes on them, is my only conclusion here. Maybe she’s got some audio she's waiting to release. I think when you look at this, you know, crazy is as crazy does. The truth of the matter is she’s almost unbeatable in a Republican primary, that hardcore MAGA voter that comes out and votes, no one’s going to get by Kari Lake.

And she’ll then go lose a general election just like she did for governor. Guaranteed. And honestly, it’s a formula that is working great for Democrats. I hope this just keeps playing out and playing out because, just where the state is, it’s really hard to beat a kind of moderate Republican in a statewide election. That’s where our politics kind of center around.

But it’s totally possible when you have these MAGA candidates who are just talking crazy stuff all the time. And our independents and even a slice of our Republicans, like my former legislative district, they don’t like the crazy. And that’s who ends up deciding our elections. And, you know, Kari Lake will be the nominee and she will lose the general election. I guarantee it.

COBB: Now, do you think she’s still going to lose it, though, if Kyrsten Sinema is in there?

LIEBERMAN: I think we’re going to find out pretty shortly that Sen. Sinema isn’t running for reelection. It’d be my guess.

BRODIE: Do you think she’s not running?

LIEBERMAN: I haven’t seen any signs. You’ve got to collect signatures. You’ve got to do a lot of other stuff.

Ruben Gallego is raising a lot of money. I think Sen. Sinema has kind of learned a tough lesson, which is it’s hard to not have a home. And I was surprised. I thought if there was anybody who could win as an independent here, but the polling has been really clear. I think our next senator is going to be Ruben Gallego, and he’ll beat Kari Lake, and Sinema will end up not not in the race.

BRODIE: Regina, do you think Sen. Sinema runs?

COBB: I actually would hope she does, because I think that that gives us a more fair race as we go forward. I think that she represents a lot of the independents, and she also represents the right Democrats and the left Republicans.

So, you know, I think she could gain a lot if she went into the race. I was hoping she was going to run because I think that that would give us a better choice, because I think that the two choices that we have right now are difficult.

LIEBERMAN: I think we just heard an endorsement of Sen. Sinema from Regina Cobb, her chair of the reelection committee. We’ll have to let Sen. Sinema know.

BRODIE: Seems like maybe a little bit of a stretch.

COBB: Stretch, yes.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I’ll tell you who won’t be signing up for that as any Democrats. I mean, it’s crazy, her polling numbers with Democrats, it’s actually kind of shocking. It’s like 90% unfavorable. I think (former Republican Gov.) Doug Ducey is more popular in the last poll that I saw with Democratic primary voters. So that’s a little bit of the challenge that she’s got for sure.

BRODIE: I want to ask, though, about the National Republican Senatorial Committee, because they obviously come with resources. And not that Kari Lake has trouble raising money.

LIEBERMAN: She’s not been a great candidate from a fundraising perspective. What she’s got is a group of people will vote for her no matter what — just ask Karrin Taylor Robson, who spent $20 million against her. But what she doesn’t have is the real robust dollars that help win a statewide election.
BRODIE: So then does having this operation, the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans behind her, does that help?

COBB: Yeah, it does.

LIEBERMAN: It’s got to, right? If people are writing big checks and helping you get on TV in September and October. The real question is, does it help enough?

Candidly, when Kari Lake won the primary for the governor’s race and came out and said it was a family fight, now we’re going to get together, I thought, “Oh, man, we’re in trouble.” Then the next day, she said she’d put a stake in the heart of John McCain. And I thought, “Perfect. This is going to get a Democrat elected governor in Arizona.”

And that’s exactly what happened. She can’t help herself. And the reality is, all of the paid media in the world, if you have a candidate going on TV talking crazy, that’s what our independents and persuadable voters see, and all the money in the world isn’t going to help change that.

BRODIE: All right, Regina, crystal ball. Let’s say it’s just Kari Lake against Ruben Gallego. Who do you think wins that race?

COBB: I would hope it’s Kari Lake, but I think it’s going to be Ruben Gallego.

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