Paula Pennypacker is challenging the Republican establishment again, as she did in the 1980s and ’90s when she ran for mayor and council in her native Toledo and led a grass-roots shakeup of the county party’s central committee.
This time, though, Ms. Pennypacker is seeking election to the Arizona Senate — she’s lived in the state nearly 16 years — but as a Democrat.
Her Republican rival is Arizona Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the Arizona House Appropriations Committee, who seeks to move to the state Senate in a solidly Republican district.
“I have this uncanny way of
picking races that are difficult to win,” Ms. Pennypacker said Wednesday night in a phone interview.
Her change of party affiliation occurred mid-2013, but simmered for a while.
She ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Arizona state legislature in 2010.
Two years later, she publicly endorsed President Obama’s re-election, saying she agreed with Mr. Obama over Mitt Romney on health care and immigration reform, and gay rights.
So when she spoke last month to Arizona’s Democratic state committee meeting, “the message to them was, I didn’t leave the [Republican] party, the party left me,” Ms. Pennypacker said.
She said the GOP has gone “further and further to the right.”
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Ms. Pennypacker said. “You want to be loyal, but when they started going after women — intravaginal ultrasound; redefining rape, I said, ‘That’s it.’ ”
Her husband, Duane Abbajay, survived brain cancer about four years ago, and “that was a real epiphany for me. What do people do who don’t have the resources you have?”
Her endorsement of Mr. Obama made news in Arizona, and she was asked to explain her decision to a Tea Party group.
“I wanted my message to be, “The party is going too far right. You're losing women like me in the party,’ ” she said.
As she told the group about her husband’s cancer, somebody in the back of the room said, “Who cares?”
“When that person said, ‘Who cares?’ I realized I wasted 30 years of my life in a party that doesn’t want me, doesn’t want women like me,” Ms. Pennypacker recalled. “I went home and threw up. I was so sick after that, to think that my party had evolved into zero compassion, basically.”
Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, said: “She was always very outspoken and she always did what she felt in her heart was right. That doesn’t mean it aligns with the Republican Party proper. I can respect her for that, but as chairman of the party, I stand with our core conservative values. We can love her, but we don’t always agree on politics.”
Ms. Pennypacker, 55, said the Democratic Party has embraced her.
“I have not changed a single core belief — pro-gay, pro-woman, ending the war on drugs,” Ms. Pennypacker said. “I can still be fiscally conservative.”
As a Republican in Arizona, “I was targeted for destruction,” she said. “How ironic that the Democratic Party is the party of liberty and freedom.”
When Ms. Pennypacker saw that no Democrat was contesting Mr. Kavanagh, she decided to run — just as she ran in Toledo as a Republican in a majority Democratic city.
“It’s not about winning. It’s about good government,” she said.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or 419-724-6182.