Southwestern conservatives have taken a strange turn, with the official Republican Party of Arizona making a show of strength by censuring Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain, former Senator Jeff Flake, and sitting governor Doug Ducey. This comes less than two weeks after another, local censure vote in Whittier — the failed measure to censure city councilmember Jessica Martinez over her attendance of the protest-turned-attempted coup in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, as well as consistently spreading false information about a public health crisis and an election (take a wild guess as to what those two things are about).
I personally was fascinated over the juxtaposition here; the GOP censured some of their most popular members without good reasoning, but the city government wouldn’t do the same thing over a member spreading disinformation and encouraging an insurrection, even if she denies actively participating in it. This is despite the fact that censuring someone is purely a symbolic action, and doesn’t remove anyone from a position of power or meaningfully impact them other than serving as a condemnation. Considering that both decisions, for the most part, were partisan affairs, I wanted to compare the decision-making process (or lack thereof) here, and the possible impact these events could have, both on a local and regional level.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t new territory for the Arizona GOP. They actually have a bit of a history of censuring popular party members, most recently by overwhelmingly censuring John McCain in 2014 for having moderate policy positions as a Republican. This is only six years after he was selected as the Republican nominee for president, and two years after he was still reelected to another term as senator, and defeated current state GOP chairwoman, Kelli Ward, the leader behind the current censuring, in the primary that same year. However, many are questioning this current decision and, reasonably so, think it might serve to weaken Republicans in future elections. Cindy McCain, Flake, and Ducey were condemned for an even more ridiculous reason: refusing to overturn a democratic election and, in McCain and Flake’s case, choosing to support the right-wing Democrat Biden in that election over Trump.
As the Washington Post points out, it feels different now, for a multitude of reasons. The elephant in the room, obviously, is that they’ve lost all federal statewide elections since 2018, and lost the presidential vote for the first time in almost three decades. However, it’s also pointed out that now there isn’t a strong state Republican that wants to help end the local GOP dysfunction. The only candidate for that would be Ducey, who won his reelection by over 14 points in 2018, the same year a Democrat won a Senate seat by close to three. The state establishment choosing to censure him, along with his decision to not run for U.S. Senate in 2022, leaves their party without any strong, popular candidates to run for either senate or governor, and seems vaguely reminiscent of the collapse of the Virginia state GOP after Democrats showed promise in the state, leading to weak, radical Republicans running which only helped liberals win by larger margins.
What does this have to do with Whittier? Well, for starters, there is the conservative hypocrisy in choosing who to censure. While Arizona Republicans wanted to punish members for not being Trump loyalists or being willing to break the law for him, the city government thought censuring a member for encouraging treason was too extreme, even though censuring literally doesn’t tangibly do anything. There is strength in numbers; Martinez absolutely gave others the courage to invade the capitol building by being present at the original rally, and her blatant lying to the public endangers the safety of Whittier residents and further drives people to commit or defend these acts of terror. She definitely can’t save herself by saying her following is too small to make a difference — she’s still a public figure and politician, and her followers clearly follow her as a source of information.
As stated in a previous Quaker Campus article, not only did the council members who correctly voted to censure Martinez called debating it as a waste of time, so did Mayor Vinatieri, but for the literal opposite reason. His refusal to take action — as his vote made the difference in such a close decision — and his dismissal of it as serious is completely disgusting. Not only that, but it isn’t even representative of the city of Whittier, as city officials admitted the majority of constituents who reached out wanted her censured at least. This shouldn’t have been a debate between Republicans and Democrats; this should have been a debate between reality and fantasy.
This brings me to the possible outcome of this. As mentioned earlier, Arizona’s civil war among conservatives over censuring has some similarities to the fast decline of conservatives in Virginia, as well as other states with a noncompetitive GOP. If the pattern holds true, weaker Republican candidates will cause an even bigger shift leftward in Arizona, regardless of future demographic and opinion changes. This would fit into the larger trend of a more democratic southwest, alongside an already consistently blue New Mexico and Southern California, as well as lesser conservative Texas. That’s not guaranteed, though, and neither is change in Whittier without any active work. Many people will just hear about a trend and act as if it is inevitable to come to pass, and not become invested. That same mentality is why small, local elections in towns and cities across the country skew older, whiter, and more conservative. That same mentality is why Whittier has a city government that is shockingly unrepresentative of its people.
If you want a change, you need to work to bring it to the City. I can say that I proudly supported and volunteered for Yasmin Ferrada, a candidate who ran against Cathy Warner, one of Martinez’s supporters, in 2019 and 2020, and I went out of my way to vote against Vinatieri in 2020. However, the turnout of that election wasn’t even at 25 percent of Whittier’s total population. Things will not change unless more people start participating in city politics. Even an increase of a few thousand — you know, the College’s student body — can make a difference in a local election.
I can only hope that you’re as disgusted as I am at Whittier’s government, and disgusted by the conservative hypocrisy in censuring party members in Arizona without cause but acting like censuring someone for actual crimes is oppressive and unnecessary, and that this decision was a wake-up call for some. Whittier Republicans are clearly already as crazy as some of the GOP members in Arizona, or Virginia, so why let them continue to win while living in a fantasy?
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus