Lone Republican kills Arizona ballot measure targeting trans people

Arizona state Sen. Ken Bennett opens the session with a prayer on 02/26/2024
Arizona state Sen. Ken Bennett opens the session with a prayer on 02/26/2024 Photo: Arizona State Senate webfeed screenshot

Arizona Republicans were left hanging after a single member broke with the party and voted with Democrats against a proposed anti-transgender ballot measure.

While Governor Katie Hobbs (D) had vetoed previous GOP-led attempts to persecute the trans community, Republican legislators attempted an end-run by trying to put the measures on the ballot for the November election. Republicans had hoped the issue would help drive supporters of former President Donald Trump to the polls to bolster turnout for Trump and a critical U.S. Senate race for the seat of unpopular bisexual Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I).

The proposed measures would have forced teachers to misgender students. It would have also banned trans kids from using restrooms that align with their gender identity.

During a contention Senate Education Committee hearing earlier this month, state Sen. Ken Bennett (R) voted in favor of advancing the anti-trans bill, but warned his colleagues that without major changes, he wouldn’t feel comfortable supporting it during a full vote.

Over 500 people registered opposition to the bill before the committee hearing — only 32 supported it.

When the bill was brought forward for a final vote on the Arizona Senate floor, Bennett held true to his word and voted against the measure.

“I am very concerned about putting this bill to a vote of the people,” he said. “When we put things on the ballot for people to vote on them, if something goes awry, if there are unintended consequences, we have to go back to the people to fix it.”

While Republicans have used transgender children as a whipping post in a vulgar attempt to win votes from the religious right and Trump supporters, the efforts have started to backfire. Moms for Liberty, a notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ group that pushed its way into the political sphere, has collapsed spectacularly after the husband of one of the group’s founders was accused of raping a woman with whom they had an ongoing sexual relationship.

Candidates that the group endorsed went down in defeat during last year’s elections.

Politicos are “starting to see that Republicans recognize that anti-trans hatred and pure bigotry is not a big winner for them,” Gaelle Esposito, a partner at Creosote Partners, told reporter Erin Reed. “It’s not like they have seen time and again, including here in Arizona, that this just doesn’t play well with voters. It doesn’t sit well with people.”

Esposito has worked with organizations that support LGBTQ+ people in Arizona.

“The fact that we didn’t see the full force of their network trying to squeeze them to get this on the ballot shows they know it too,” they added. “That they, in an election year here in Arizona, where so much is critical for them, this went down in flames… I think shows how the tide is turning in our favor.”

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