House Speaker David Gowan has defended his heavy use of state vehicles in 2015 by saying he’s the speaker for the whole state of Arizona, and thus must travel extensively.
But travel records provided by the House in response to a public records request show he didn’t start traveling the state until after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 left Arizona’s congressional district boundary map in place and set the stage for the 2016 election.
And nearly four out of every five trips he reported making to Arizona locations were in the congressional district he hopes to represent.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Gowan, said in an email that the speaker’s travel patterns are “pretty predictable.” During the legislative session, his travel was restricted to the Capitol. And travel around the state outside of the session is “when you would expect someone who serves as the Speaker of the House to be traveling widely – often times on behalf of his caucus.”
She also dismissed the idea that the travel was tied to Gowan’s congressional aspirations, noting that “the first big spike” in his travel came several months before he began his congressional campaign in early October.
Grisham did not address the fact that most of Gowan’s in-state travels were to destinations in the 1st Congressional District.
The records show that Gowan originally was reimbursed in 2015 for driving 36,758 miles.
But following an internal House review of Gowan’s travel claims that was prompted by an Arizona Capitol Times investigation into the use of state fleet vehicles by a handful of top House Republican lawmakers and staff, Gowan repaid the state for more than half of those miles.
Ultimately, Gowan repaid the state for 18,742 miles after the internal House audit showed that much of the speaker’s travel was either unrelated to state business or was done in a state-owned vehicle at the time and not his personal vehicle.
Gowan on Jan. 12 repaid the state $9,683 for the wrongfully claimed miles as part of a more than $12,000 reimbursement that also included repayment of per diem money he received for days he didn’t work.
Records detailing travel for Gowan and several other members of the House of Representatives were requested Jan. 28 and were provided Feb. 25.
An analysis of the records shows that the vast majority of the incorrectly reimbursed miles, and Gowan’s travel in general, came in the second half of the year, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 29 decision in Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
The court rejected the Legislature’s argument that the independent panel had no authority to draw the state’s congressional map, effectively leaving in place the map that has been in effect since the 2012 election.
The records show that, following that Supreme Court decision, Gowan traveled extensively throughout CD1, where he officially became a candidate on Oct. 5.
During the first half of the year, the records show that Gowan originally claimed he drove an average of 1,110 miles per each two-week pay period. The 2015 legislative session ended April 3.
Starting in July, Gowan’s mileage reimbursement claims began to increase significantly, and he averaged more than 1,800 miles per pay period, a 62-percent increase. The speaker reached a peak of more than 3,300 miles during the pay period ending Nov. 19.
Following the internal House review of Gowan’s mileage claims, the speaker revised 25 of the 26 mileage claims forms he received payment for in 2015.
The revised travel claims for Gowan’s first 12 paychecks in 2015 show that the speaker over-claimed an average of 200 miles per paycheck. The vast majority of that was because the mileage he claimed for driving between the Capitol and his Phoenix-area residence was more than triple the actual distance.
For the last 13 pay periods of the year, Gowan over-claimed an average of 1,234 miles per paycheck.
Many of those miles were for trips in CD1, a massive district that is spans from Four Corners down to the northern suburbs of Tucson, and is almost the same size as the state of Iowa.
In the first half of the year, Gowan made only two trips that weren’t to Tucson, the Capitol or his home in Sierra Vista. Both were to Lake Havasu City.
But starting in July, Gowan was traveling the state much more extensively, especially in CD1. Of the 37 trips he reported taking to other Arizona locations, 29 of them, or 78 percent, were to cities or events in CD1.
Gowan originally claimed mileage for eight trips to Flagstaff, four trips to Safford, three trips to Sedona, two trips to Saddlebrooke and two trips to Holbrook. He also claimed personal vehicle travel mileage to Eagle Creek, Graham County, Marana, Maricopa, Oro Valley, Snowflake, Springerville, Superior, Thatcher and Tuba City. All are within CD1.
Gowan repaid the state for all but five of those 29 trips after House staff found in their review that Gowan had taken a state vehicle to most of those destinations.
But he wasn’t traveling only within the CD1 boundaries. Besides trips to Tucson, the Capitol and his home in Sierra Vista, Gowan also claimed travel mileage in the second half of the year for three trips to Willcox, two trips to Peoria, and trips to Las Vegas, Laughlin, Mesa, Peeples Valley, Paradise Valley and Scottsdale.