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Arizona Legislature will see large freshman class

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Legislature will see a larger class of freshmen lawmakers when its regular session begins in January.

The Arizona Capitol Times reported that 37 of the state's 90 lawmakers are new to the Legislature, changed chambers or returned after having served in the past.

That marks the second largest number of new faces arriving at the Legislature after an election since the newspaper started keeping track in 1966.

The largest number of new members came in 2002, when the House and Senate saw 40 fresh faces.

The 37 lawmakers account for 41 percent of the Legislature and include seven former representatives moving to the Senate, a trio of lawmakers who served in the past but not the previous session and one senator who shifted to the House.

Longtime lobbyist Barry Aarons said redistricting is probably the main reason there was such a high turnover in 2002 and 2012, though there are other factors at play, too.

Several lawmakers decided to retire or move on because they were drawn into districts with people they didn't want to run against, or districts they couldn't win. A handful tried to run in the unfavorable districts and lost.

Aarons said the high turnover is part of the process.

"I don't see it as a sea change in public opinion. I just think it's all of the normal political circumstances that occur after redistricting, and periodically we have people who are moving on," he said.

He also cited the implementation of term limits, rules regarding state campaign funding and the independent redistricting process as reasons the number of new legislators per election has been on the rise.

In the 1970s, the average number of new legislators, including former lawmakers and those changing chambers, was nearly 25 per election.

That number dropped in the 1980s to about 16, and began to rise again through the 1990s, when the average was 23. From 2000 through 2010, the average turnover per election was almost 27.

Term limits, which came into effect in 2000, only allow members to serve four, two-year terms per chamber -- though they can switch back and forth between the House and Senate indefinitely, assuming voters elect them.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections funding system allows relatively unknown candidates to have a chance at knocking off incumbents and winning a seat, although Aarons said a loss of matching funds is weakening the system's influence.

An independent redistricting commission was first used to draw the political maps in 2000. Before that, the Legislature drew the maps, and there was an unwritten agreement that the parties would each protect their own and not draw incumbents into unfriendly districts, Aarons said.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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