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GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko to Leave House

GOP Congressmember Debbie Lesko—She’s Heading for the Exit in Campaign 2024 

 

           As of February 19, 2024, 23 GOP House members are heading for the Capitol Hill exits. They do not intend to run for re-election in Campaign 2024 (cnn.com, Zanona, Grayer, & Talbot, 2/19/24). There are several reasons. IMHO, many GOPers understand that they have a very tenuous grip on the House majority. After Democrat Tom Suozzi easily defeated GOPer Mazi Pilip in the February 13, 2024 special election to replace George Santos (R-Imposter) in New York’s 3rd Congressional District (CD), the Democratic magic number to recapture the House in 11/2024 decreased from five to four. We saw similar behavior by “Team Red” in early 2018 when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other prominent GOPers galloped to leave Capitol Hill when they correctly predicted that Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her fellow Democrats would take back the majority. In addition, many House GOPers, when faced with being in the majority, discovered that it was easier to destroy legislation in the minority, but putting together legislation in the majority was another matter. Cong. Ken Buck (R-CO), one of the retiring “Gang of 23,” stated that the GOP “had signed up to do serious things. And we’re not doing serious things (cnn.com, Zanona et al).” GOPer Don Bacon (R-NE), a moderate from swing area Omaha, noted that when “you’re divided in your own conference, the joy of the job is harder.” That is especially true, in Bacon’s words, “When you have folks on your own team with their knives out (cnn.com, Zanona et al).” Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), an ally of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was ousted by his own party, believed that his fellow “Team Red” members would be “smarter (cnn.com, Zanona et al).” I guess Gimenez discovered what most of us knew for a long time-- GOPers are not members of the “smart party.” Many GOPers found out that dysfunction and gridlock in the House is not “fun (See cnn.com, Zanona et al, 2/19/24).”

 

         And what is even worse is the caliber of the retiring GOP members. Five committee chairs have given up their gavels. Kathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) gave up her plum post as Energy and Commerce Chair, even though she was not yet term limited. On that powerhouse committee, which many GOPers wanted to sit on, eight Republicans are retiring. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), seen as an up-and-comer, announced he was leaving Congress, after he received severe blowback for correctly voting not to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He sits on the House Armed Services, the Select China, and the Select Intelligence Committees.  In the words of retiring GOPer, Greg Pence (R-IN), the brother of former GOP VP Mike Pence, “Those (retirements) are big losses for us. It is alarming. Especially for institutional knowledge… So that’s a big deal (cnn.com Zanona et al).” Many GOPers blame House extremist/provocateurs like Matt Gaetz (R-FL) for making life in the House miserable. The GOP’s ouster of McCarthy, the expulsion of serial liar George Santos, and inept rookie Speaker Mike Johnson’s poor leadership have also been unsettling (cnn.com, Zanona et al, 2/19/24, CQ 118th Congress At Your Fingertips). Another member of the exiting “Gang of 23” is GOPer Debbie Lesko. Lesko also sits on the Energy & Commerce Committee. She didn’t even stay in Congress that long. Here’s Debbie Lesko.

 

           Fourth-term Congressmember Debbie Lesko (65) currently represents Arizona’s 8th Congressional District (CD). The AZ 8th covers Phoenix’s West Valley. The city of Surprise lies in the Grand Canyon State 8th . In 1938, when much of Phoenix’s West Valley was a barren desert area, Flora Mae Statler paid 35 cents an acre to purchase land on the site of what became the city of Surprise. Statler gave that city the name “Surprise,” because she said she’d be “’surprised’ if this town ever amounted to much.” However, Surprise “surprised” Statler and her fellow Arizonans. It became one of the fastest-growing cities in Maricopa County, also home to Phoenix. Since 2000, Surprise’s population has more than quadrupled (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac). Originally a haven for retirees searching for warmer climate, Surprise and other AZ cities in the area took off. The cities of Glendale, Peoria, as middle-American as its Illinois namesake, are also included in the AZ 8th. The 8th includes Sun City as well, a large retirement community that emphasizes its affordability. Luke Air Force Base is located a few miles beyond Glendale. It has the Air Force’s largest fighter training wing and the only active F-16 training base in the U.S. (Cohen & Cook 2022). Politically, the 8th is conservative GOP turf. However, GOP downturns in the suburbs have cut into voting patterns. In 2012, Mitt Romney crushed Obama here 62%-37%, a 25% margin. In 2016, Donald beat Hillary by 21 points, 57%-36%. In 2020, Trump’s victory margin against Biden decreased to 16 points, 57%-41% (Cohen & Cook 2022). The most recent Cook Partisan Voting Index for the AZ 8th is an R+10 (cookpolitical.com, 2022).

 

          Debbie Lesko was born and grew up near Sheboygan, WI. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a BA in business administration. Like many fellow Grand Canyon Staters, Lesko moved to AZ. She ran a business in construction sales (Cohen & Cook 2022 Almanac). She married Jeffrey Allen Ignas in 1985. In 1993, Lesko filed for divorce after years of repeated physical abuse by Ignas. She later married Joe Lesko (wiki, Giroux, G., about.bgov.com, 6/22/23). 

 

             Lesko became active in civic and political activities in Glendale. She became involved in the Peoria Unified School District where she served on the district’s community committee. She was endorsed for the school board by then U.S. Cong. Trent Franks. She participated in school board meetings and contributed to “The Arizona Republic” newspaper. She wrote opinion pieces about illegal immigration and domestic violence (Hansen, R., azcentral.com, 10/23/20). In 2008, Lesko won election to the AZ State House and served there from 2009-2015. During the time she was in the AZ State House, Lesko served as AZ chair of the right-wing American Legislative Election Council (ALEC). She won election to the AZ State Senate where she served from 2015-2018. In the State Senate, Lesko chaired the Appropriations Committee. She was president pro tempore of the AZ Senate from 2017 -2018 (Cohen & Cook 2022, azleg.gov, 3/05/16). 

 

         When “social conservative” GOP Rep. Trent Franks resigned from the AZ 8th CD following reports that he offered to pay aides to serve as a surrogate mother for his child, Lesko ran in the April, 2018 special election to succeed him. Her State Senate district included the bulk of the AZ 8th (Cohen & Cook 2022, wiki). She was endorsed by former GOP Gov. Jan Brewer. Lesko took a hard line on immigration and endorsed Demagogue Donald. In this special election that drew three Democrats and nine GOPers, Lesko barely beat her Democratic rival by 4 points, 52%-48%. Analysts believed that this close race showed suburban unhappiness with Trump and his fellow GOPers. However, in the 11/2018 general rematch, against her same Democratic opponent, a former ER doctor, Lesko won by 10 points, 55%-45%. Lesko stood against expanding federal health care programs. She spoke of raising the eligibility age for Social Security recipients. However, on this very same 11/2018 Election Day, 65% of AZ voters approved a referendum that repealed an expanded school voucher program that Lesko helped enact in AZ (Cohen & Cook 2022). In the 2020 election, Lesko handily defeated her Democratic rival with 60% of the vote. In 2022, Lesko ran for re-election without opposition in the primary or in the general election(nytimes.com, 11/03/20, docquerey.fec.gov).

 

        In the House, besides being a member of Energy and Commerce, Cong. Lesko is a member of the hard right-wing Freedom Caucus as well as the conservative Republican Study Committee, the biggest bloc in the GOP House (See azcentral.com, Sanchez & Hansen, 7/16/18, rsc-banks.house.gov, 12/16/17). She sat on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. She supported Trump’s efforts to  ignore containing the COVID-19 pandemic.  She defended the organizers of a Tulsa, OK rally when cases were surging not to wear masks. Sometimes, Lesko herself did not wear a mask (azcentral.com, Hansen & Krejci, 6/22/20). From 2019-2020, Lesko had a composite 88%-12% Conservative v. Liberal rating (Cohen & Cook 2022).

 

        And here is where Cong. Lesko stands on specific hot-button issues. She opposes abortion. She has even proposed legislation that would allow health officials to conduct warrantless and unannounced inspections of abortion clinics, a strong violation of privacy. She supported the Supreme Ct’s overruling of “Roe v. Wade (tucson.com, 2/28/14, twitter.com/RepDLesko, 6/24/22).” A strong Trump supporter, Cong. Lesko served on Donald’s defense team during his first impeachment. She denied that Trump had ever asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate Biden (Cohen & Cook 2022, washingtonpost.com, Blake, 12/18/19). She signed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit that asked the Supreme Ct. to overturn Biden’s election. SCOTUS (The Supreme Ct. of the United States) rightfully rejected hearing the case. Lesko voted to overturn the results of the 2020 electoral count that gave Biden his presidential win (theguardian.com, Smith, D., 12/12/20, Yourish, Buchanan, & Lu, nytimes.com, 1/07/21). Lesko opposed raising the minimum wage in AZ to $12 by 2020. However, she favored legislation that would allow payday lenders to provide loans at annual interest rates as high as 164% (tucson.com, 3/29/17, tucson.com, 10/30/16). She rejects the scientific consensus on climate change and says much of climate change is “certainly not human-caused (azcentral.com, Bowling, J., 1/30/18).” She has an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). She has urged Congressmembers to vote against a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual and gender identity (nrapvf.org, lesko-az, c-span.org, 5/17/19).

 

             Sure, Cong. Lesko is leaving the House, so we won’t be looking at any votes from her in 2025. However, Lesko is just your typical run-of-the-mill GOPer. You can bet that if another “Red” member wins the AZ 8th open seat contest, that Congressmember will vote the same way on the major issues that Lesko did. In the July 30, 2024 AZ GOP primary, Trent Franks is running again, along with extremist losers Blake Masters and Abraham Hamadeh. The Democratic primary will have Bernadette Greene Placentia, Marc Lewis, and Gregory Whitten. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face a strong uphill battle in this heavy “R” district, especially if prior 8th CD Rep. Trent Franks gets the nod. All the analysts looking at this race label the AZ 8th strongly GOP (see ballotpedia.org). However, with control of the House at stake, Democrats, even in the “Red” AZ 8th must do their best to make a contest out of this race so GOPers will have to fight hard here as well as in many other districts. Democrats will then have a great chance to recapture the House.             

 

                

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