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Democratic congressional candidate Marlene Galán-Woods opens up about her Republican past

Laura Gersony

Arizona Republic

May 24, 2024

When Marlene Galán-Woods was set up on a blind date with her late husband, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, she bristled to hear that he was a Republican.

She says she agreed to the date only after learning that Woods supported abortion rights.

Galán-Woods, now running in the Democratic primary in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, didn’t hold her party affiliation to the same standard.

She was a registered Republican until 2018, her campaign confirmed, even while the GOP pushed for restrictions on abortions, a major issue this election year.

Facing attacks from her primary rivals, she insists that her principles on Democrats’ top issues have stayed consistent, and the ascent of former President Donald Trump is what pushed her away from the party.

“I have always been pro-choice, pro-democracy, pro-climate. My values have never changed. What changed was the Republican Party,” she said in a recent televised debate.

Still, the GOP’s positions on many of those topics, well before the rise of Trump, contrast with the values that Galán-Woods espouses in her congressional campaign.

During the time that Galán-Woods was a registered Republican, the party mobilized its voters around repealing the landmark abortion rights case Roe vs. Wade. The party roundly opposed action to mitigate climate change, stoking doubt in the scientific consensus that human activity was causing the planet to warm. And it backed Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration-enforcement law.

In an interview, she declined opportunities to discuss specific policy positions or views that made her align with Republicans in the past. Instead, she said that her family background pushed her toward the Republican Party, that politics was often not top-of-mind for her as a busy mom, and she cast her vote based on individual candidates rather than party affiliation.

"My thought process was less about party and more about country,” she said.

What first drew Galán-Woods to the GOP?

Galán-Woods traces her political coming-of-age back to her family history. Her parents were refugees who fled communism in Cuba and had a strong sense of American patriotism.

"They were Republicans because of where they came from,” she said. "At the time, in the ‘60s and ‘70s … the Republican Party was vocal on being anti-Communism."

Galán-Woods said she disagreed with many of the party’s policy positions at the time. She said S.B. 1070 was “terrifying” to her as a Latina woman and mother worried about racial profiling, and she diverged from the party on abortion rights.

"There was a time where there was room for a pro-choice Republican. Those days are gone,” she said. 

Still, in 2009 she made a $140 donation to former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who went on to sign S.B. 1070 into law, according to the campaign finance website OpenSecrets. Her husband was Brewer’s campaign co-chair during her successful 2010 campaign. She wrote several social media posts in support of the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, though she says in hindsight she wished she had voted for former President Barack Obama.

After the rise of Trump, she began to feel the party resembled the type of politics her ancestors fled.

“The Republican Party has been driven off a cliff by Donald Trump and people like (incumbent U.S. Rep.) David Schweikert. It is unrecognizable from the party that my parents aligned with in the '60s."

Former nonprofit executive Kurt Kroemer, another candidate in the primary, argued on the debate stage that Galán-Woods was overselling just how much the GOP has changed.

“The Republican Party has never been for comprehensive immigration reform. The Republican Party has never been for a woman’s right to choose. The Republican Party has never wanted to protect Social Security, Medicare,” Kroemer said.

“They’ve always, for decades, tried to eviscerate it. The Republican Party has always tried to minimize the ability of people to vote. That hasn’t changed for decades.”

Once a Republican, now a '100%' reliable Democratic vote

In many ways, Galán-Woods’ political evolution mirrors the district she is running to represent. Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, which stretches across most of northeastern Maricopa County, has plenty of voters who have broken from the GOP to reject Trump-aligned candidates.

Schweikert's is one of the few Republican-held congressional seats whose voters chose President Joe Biden in 2020. 

And in 2022, Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor who promoted false election claims and is now running for the U.S. Senate, lost in the 1st Congressional District at a margin five times greater than statewide.

Despite her history as a Republican, Galán-Woods said she would “100%” be a reliable vote for Democratic priorities in Congress.

She pointed to her endorsements from the abortion-rights group EMILYs List, Arizona’s Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes, and labor unions as evidence that Democrat-aligned groups trust her.

She would oppose renewing the Trump-era tax cut provisions that would expire during her term in Congress. She said that “the wealthiest corporations need to pay their fair share” but she is undecided on the question of raising taxes on wealthy individuals and big corporations beyond that.

"I am in favor of sunsetting the Trump tax giveaway. Other than that, once I get to Congress, I'll let you know after we figure it all out,” she said. "I think it's shortsighted to think you have all the answers today."

Laura Gersony covers national politics for the Arizona Republic. Contact her at or 480-372-0389.

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