Longform

Cathi Herrod's Center for Arizona Policy Hates Gays, Abortions, and Likes to Tell Politicians What to Do

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In a 2011 video interview with a representative of Focus on the Family's public policy arm CitizenLink.com, she was asked about the role that she and CAP have in the political process.

"As a mother, I am to awake and arise like Deborah in the Old Testament and make a difference," she said, likening herself to one of the judges of Israel.

"We are called to be involved in this work," she added. "We are called to be a salt and a light. [Note: a reference to Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount.] We are called to expose the evil deeds of darkness and to stand for righteousness. So I am involved because God called us to this work, and because I'm a mom concerned about my two children."

Says another Republican legislator of Herrod, "The evangelical Christian hook is real. Cross her and you're a heretic, and that gets to become a religiously laden label that carries money and influence."

Particularly in a Republican primary, which depending on how a district is carved, may render the general election contest superfluous.

"Low voter primary turnout dictates that smaller groups can take control of an election cycle," Coughlin says, explaining CAP's influence in the GOP, which he first encountered in the 1990s.

"They were very effective at delivering their voter pamphlets to churches and delivering that constituency based upon a solid record of legislative bills that they've advocated for or against in any given season," Coughlin says.

CAP asks legislators to answer questions concerning morality and legislation, and it publishes the replies. For those who answer incorrectly or not at all, there's hell to pay.

"Their survey really puts you in a box, and then if you don't stay in that box, they'll use it against you," says a GOP legislator. "Like they did against John McCain and Jeff Flake when they voted for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act [which protects LGBT citizens from job discrimination]. CAP did a hit piece on them saying, look, they said they would never vote for it — they're liars."

Legislators are rated by their votes on CAP bills in voter guides distributed online, via mail, and in churches. At a fundraiser three years ago, Herrod bragged of distributing 275,000 voter guides in time for Election Day.

CAP also has a solid get-out-the-vote effort, making an estimated 100,000 calls reminding evangelicals to cast ballots.

It controls a veritable army of God, with ballots in their hands.

For several years, CAP also had its own political action committee, which donated money to particular legislators. But this PAC was abandoned after 2008.

Subscribers to CAP's e-mail blasts are kept abreast of the progress of bills of concern to evangelicals, provided talking points, and encouraged to contact their legislators via phone or e-mail.

Meanwhile, Herrod and her staff walk the halls of the state House and Senate like they own the place.

This doesn't necessarily engender good feeling in the legislators who are the objects of Herrod & Co.'s attentions.

Ex-state Senator Carolyn Allen takes guff from no one. The straight-shooting former legislator from Scottsdale is famously the only Republican state lawmaker who voted against Arizona's anti-immigrant legislation, Senate Bill 1070.

In 2004, she actually resigned as president pro tem of the state Senate rather than, as she put it, be "bullied" by Herrod and others into supporting a resolution asking Congress to pass a national same-sex marriage ban.

"I consider myself a Christian," Allen tells New Times. "And [CAP] purports to represent all Christians, and I do not believe that's accurate."

Allen refers to Herrod as the "church lady" and is proud of never having allowed the CAP president in her office. She believes Herrod had and still has too much access in the Legislature.

State lawmakers with less spine than Allen do Herrod's bidding because of their fear of getting "primaried" by a Republican backed by CAP, she says.

"The church lady's conduct is not very Christian-like," Allen says. "She is a bully . .  .  She wants people to understand there is a price to pay if you don't vote for her bills, and she will see to it that you have a pretty mean primary."

For Republican legislators who want to retain their offices, it's a serious threat. In the state House, three GOP representatives broke ranks to vote against SB 1062. They are expected to feel Herrod's wrath in this year's primary.

Ditto three Republican Senators who voted for 1062 but later reversed themselves and asked Governor Brewer to veto the bill, thus giving the governor added cover to exercise the option.

All the same, there are some legislative issues Herrod cannot control. Antenori told New Times that Herrod was not happy with his efforts regarding expanded gambling and liquor sales.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons