Julie Willoughby sworn in to replace Liz Harris

Just hours after the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors selected her to fill a legislative vacancy in a Chandler-based district, Julie Willoughby took the oath of office and became a state representative.

Willoughby, a Republican, replaces former GOP Rep. Liz Harris, who was expelled on April 12 for inviting a woman who made unfounded criminal allegations against lawmakers at a February hearing, then lying about it to the Arizona House of Representatives Ethics Committee. 

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Willoughby, who ran as a team with Harris in 2022, distanced herself from the former lawmaker during her swearing in ceremony Friday in the House chambers. 

“The biggest issue I have with the 2020 election is that it is 2023 and we are still talking about it,” Willoughby said when asked by reporters if she believed the election fraud lies pushed by her former running mate. When asked directly if she is an election denier, Willoughby answered, “No, sir, I am not.” 

“I really would like to move forward and, if there is fraud, if there is issues, let’s look at them. Let’s tackle them together in a real way where we can make a difference and we can move forward,” Willoughby said. “If we keep looking in the rear view mirror, we are never going to find the way that we need to be, so I really want to focus on that.”

Willoughby is the chief nursing officer for Exceptional Community Hospital-Maricopa. She also ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for the legislature. 

The swearing in came after a short special meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Friday morning in which the Board approved Willoughby on a 4-1 vote, with Democratic member Steve Gallardo casting the sole vote against Willoughby. 

“These are never easy decisions, they are not,” Gallardo said. 

Gallardo said he spoke to a “couple” of the candidates and made it clear that they likely didn’t agree on all issues, but one issue was tantamount to him — elections. For Gallardo, approving any candidate that was not willing to say that the 2020 election in Maricopa was “safe and secure” was a non-starter. 

Willoughby’s campaign website includes “voter integrity” in her issues section, and states that “being able to ensure our elections are not being tampered with or manipulated is of the utmost importance.” There is no evidence that the 2020 or 2022 elections were tampered with or manipulated in any way. 

Upon Gallardo mentioning his objections, one of the handful of Harris supporters in the crowd heckled him and the rest of the board. The small contingency of Harris supporters also argued with Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone prior to the meeting starting, making claims that he was not upholding the constitution. 

Harris supporters have been showing up at board meetings since her expulsion, often making dubious claims of election fraud or throwing verbal barbs at those in attendance. An increased presence of Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies was at the special meeting, though only four Harris supporters showed up. None of the three nominees to fill the vacancy — Harris, Willoughby and Steven Steele — showed up at the meeting. 

Other members of the board were more accepting of the appointment, thanking all the nominees for their patience and participation in the process. 

District 1 Supervisor Jack Sellers, whose district encompasses Legislative District 13, conducted the interviews, said that his discussions with the candidates addressed issues like homelessness, water, elections and Proposition 400.

Sellers called the conversations “polite and cordial,” but added that Harris reaffirmed that she believes her removal was “unlawful.” The Arizona Constitution allows the legislature to expel members with a two-thirds supermajority.

“There you go, violating the constitution! You guys are good at it!” one of the Harris supporters shouted at the conclusion of the meeting, followed by yells of “treason.” 

The scene at the swearing in was much more cordial as Willoughby, surrounded by family and friends, was sworn in by Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick. 

“I know we are going to hit the ground running,” Willoughby said in a short speech after her swearing in, flanked by her husband and kids. 

The legislature has already been in session for 115 days and Republican and Democratic lawmakers are currently working on negotiating a budget with Gov. Katie Hobbs as the deadline looms for a possible government shutdown, something that was tacitly noted by House Speaker Ben Toma. 

“Yes, we have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time,” Toma said. “You’re going to (see) what it really means to drink from a firehose very soon here.” 

The Arizona Senate still has a vacant seat that is awaiting an appointment from the Board as well due to the resignation of Raquel Terán who is pursuing a bid for Congress.

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