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Updated Oct 30, 2013 - 7:03 pm

Top Arizona Senate Democrat says ex-leader refused lower job

PHOENIX -- The new leader of Arizona Senate Democrats says her predecessor refused an offer to retain a lesser leadership role before she was ousted.

Minority Leader Anna Tovar told The Associated Press Wednesday that the offer was made to give Leah Landrum Taylor a way to retain a title as she runs for secretary of state in next year's election.

"There was the option for her - we gave her the option for her to resign and carry a leadership title, and she refused," Tovar said.

Landrum Taylor lost her top leadership job on an 8-5 vote Tuesday and lashed out at the decision, calling it racist and sexist.

She apologized for those remarks Wednesday, saying they were made in the heat of the moment and "regrettable."

"In no way do I feel the disrespect given me by some members of the Senate caucus relates to sexism or racism," she said. "I believe the decision was based on politics rather than my ability to lead the Democratic caucus in the most successful year we've ever had."

Landrum Taylor also said there are just three leadership roles, and none was offered.

"They did mention about honorary something or other but that is really going far and beyond," she said.

Tovar said rifts in the Democratic caucus had been in place since the current two-year Legislature began its work in January, despite a united front Democrats showed as they teamed with a handful of Republicans to pass Medicaid expansion over the opposition of most GOP lawmakers. That fractured Republican majority left Democrats appearing more powerful, something that's now not so apparent.

Tovar said she knows the move to oust Landrum Taylor, the only African-American in the Senate, left hurt feelings in the 13-member Democratic caucus that will take time to heal. But she said she hopes they'll reunite to back Democratic efforts when the Legislature returns in January.

"Essentially we put those feelings aside. Ultimately we're here to work for our constituents and our families that we represent," Tovar said. "There are crucial issues that are coming up for Arizona Democrats, for our families, for our schools, and ultimately we're here to represent them, all pettiness aside, all personal disagreements aside.

"We will move forward united as a caucus in January," she said.

Landrum Taylor said the same.

"I intend on standing alongside our caucus, while spending more time visiting the four corners of our state campaigning for secretary of state," she said.

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