One of the benefits of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is that it has produced a much higher number of competitive districts, both at the congressional and legislative level, than what we see in other states where one party has been able to produce a partisan gerrymander (such as Democrats in Illinois or Republicans in Pennsylvania.) The result is that there are a number of legislative districts, and three congressional districts, which are classified as 'competitive,' meaning that it is realistic to imagine a scenario that has either party winning.
I live in one such congressional district, Arizona CD-1. The district is somewhat different than the old CD-1, which was also a competitive district. It is also an open seat. In 2010 Paul Gosar rode the Republican wave (and a $2 million ad buy by a GOP Super-PAC) to an upset of incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. However this year, Gosar, a Flagstaff resident who resides in CD-1, ran away from a rematch with Kirkpatrick and jumped into a district that is more friendly to Republicans.
The result is that Kirkpatrick is now in a very good position to be elected to the seat again. She has already raised over $1.1 million, including from small donors throughout the district. In fact, the Rothenburg Political Report and Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball have rated the race as 'Lean D.' If that prediction holds then it would be one of the 25 seats that are presently occupied by Republicans and that Democrats need to retake to reclaim the House. Redistricting has also helped Democrats, adding the Hopi reservation and removing most of Yavapai county, a Republican stronghold, from the district. Some areas north of Tucson were added, and they do lean Republican but overall the district is still more Democratic. Even more than that, a poll on Tea Party 'favorability' in the district has shown a 17% decline since 2010.
Kirkpatrick does have a primary race against Wenona Benally Baldenegro, a progressive Democrat with a degree from Harvard. Past results however suggest that Kirkpatrick should be strongly favored in the race; in 2006, progressive candidates Susan Friedman and Mike Cacciopoli combined for 28% of the vote in a five way Democratic primary. In 2008, when Kirkpatrick was first elected, progressive candidate Howard Shanker worked the district very hard (in fact virtually everyplace I went that year I ran into either Howard Shanker or someone representing him) but then finished third with only 14% of the vote in the Democratic primary (second place went to Mary Kim Titla, who ran to the right of Kirkpatrick.) It could be a measure of how well progressives are getting their message out to see whether Benally Baldenegro exceeds Shanker's share of the vote in the primary. This is also a district where Hillary Clinton won handily over Barack Obama in the primaries in 2008, and while overall I may wish the district (and the Democrats living here) were more progressive, in fact by and large they are not.
On the Republican side, it appears that history may be repeating itself. For the first six years the district was in existence, it was represented by Rick Renzi, a Virginian who continued to live in that state while he was serving in Congress and only visited Arizona for campaign events. Renzi was a fixture on the non-partisan watchdog group CREW (Center for Responsiveness and Ethics in Washington)'s list of the 'dirty dozen' most corrupt members of congress. Renzi eventually declined to run again in 2008 after being indicted on multiple counts of bribery, extortion and money laundering. The case is now winding its way slowly through the courts.
With Renzi's history of 'representing' northern Arizona from the comfort of his Virginia home, and his ethical troubles reflecting so poorly on the district and on our collective judgment, you'd think the Republicans here would make a point of trying to find someone who actually lived in the old or the new CD-1 to run for 'representing' us and would look for someone without a past history of ethical problems. I mean, that's such a low standard that even Paul Gosar (the guy who abandoned the district because he was afraid of a rematch with Kirkpatrick) could clear that bar.
It seems though that they couldn't find a candidate who met either standard. Instead the leading candidate is Jonathan Paton, a paid lobbyist for the Payday Lending industry. Paton took thousands of dollars (not in campaign contributions either, but in the form of a check to him for 'services rendered' as a lobbyist) to represent this industry WHILE he was simultaneously serving in the legislature. This helped earn him the nickname, "Payday Paton." When asked directly about his roles with the discredited industry (remember that in 2008 voters rejected keeping Payday lenders in the state by a 2-1 margin) Paton tries to dodge the question. If he wants to represent Arizona in Congress, then he should answer forthrightly and candidly that question.
While serving in the legislature, Paton also was key to funnelling almost a quarter of a billion dollars in state money into a Tucson shopping project called Rio Nuevo. The project has turned out to be an expensive boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer money. It did help buy Paton something though-- he got a seat on the Board of Directors of the trust which oversees Rio Nuevo.
Similarly to what failed him in 2010, Paton is running a Republican Primary campaign centered on
extremism and pandering to the tea party. Paton's position in terms of the Ryan budget alone is enough reason to vote against him if you care about Medicare and don't want to see it privatized, as Ryan has proposed and which Paton has stated his support for both in 2010 and 2012. Paton lost in 2010 to Jesse Kelly in a GOP primary, in his bid to beat Congresswoman Giffords. But one thing Paton could say, is that he was from the district. He can't even say that this time.
Perhaps that's why he jumped into CD-1 in order to run. He's unknown to most of the voters here, because the voters who know him have already proven they don't support him. But the truth is, Paton has already shown he's a lousy candidate, raising only $197,000 in Q1, less than he raised in a corresponding period in his failed 2010 campaign.
Yes, history appears to be repeating itself with Jonathan Paton setting himself up as the next Rick Renzi. But we don't have to elect him. And fortunately it appears that the voters are not likely to do that.