2018 Legislative forecast: Finding money for public schools

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey kicks off the legislative session Monday with a call for more education funding — but not with the tax hikes that some say are necessary to provide truly adequate funding for schools.

In an interview with Capitol Media Services, the governor said the state has made a “significant investment” in K-12 education, saying aid to schools is $700 million higher now than it was three years ago.

“More is needed,” he said, saying the details of his budget will have to wait.

But the governor rejected suggestions and proposals by several different education and business groups that the quickest — and easiest — way to raise the revenues needed is to boost state sales taxes, curb tax credits or close what some describe as “loopholes” in the tax code.

Gov. Doug Ducey
Gov. Doug Ducey

“I’m not raising taxes,” he said.

Instead, Ducey insists that he can find the money elsewhere in the budget.

“Our economy is growing,” he said. “Our state government is being operated more effectively and efficiently.”

But the kind of money Ducey can find through such savings is unlikely to satisfy those who cite not only Arizona’s reputation of being at or near the bottom of per-student funding but the problems in both attracting and retaining teachers. And that starts with 2,000 classrooms not having qualified teachers at the helm, instead being run by substitutes or students being forced into overcrowded classrooms.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs was more succinct in her criticism of the governor’s contention that the state can adequately meet education needs with savings elsewhere.

“We’ve got all the change from the couch cushions that there is,” she said.

It’s not just Democrats and educators who are critical of Ducey’s position that the state can fund education without additional revenues. He also is increasingly at odds with those who otherwise might be considered allies.

It starts with the debate of the future of the 0.6-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000 specifically to fund education. Without action, it will self-destruct in 2021, along with the approximately $600 million it raises.

The governor said he supports simply asking voters to extend it, insisting it could be reformed in a way to generate more dollars. He also doesn’t want any action this year, a move that House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios called “incredibly irresponsible.”

Beyond that, others say education needs more than that 0.6-cent tax raises.

In this Nov. 16, 2017, photo, Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas addresses about 50 school district and charter school representatives at her department's annual MEGA Conference on programs and services for low-income students. In October, the Arizona Department of Education revealed it had misallocated millions in Title I funding, federal dollars for the state's most economically disadvantaged kids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas  (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction, favors boosting the levy to a full penny, figuring to use three-fourths of that to boost teacher salaries by about 10 percent.

Jim Swanson, CEO of construction firm Kitchell Corp., thinks even more than that is needed, suggesting a doubling of the 0.6 cent levy.

And others, including Phil Francis, the former CEO of PetSmart, said it probably will take a 1.6-cent tax to produce the revenues needed.

Even the more fiscally conservative members of the business community are saying something more is needed to generate more dollars.

“Tax revenues are not matching the health of the economy, not just in Arizona but across the country,” said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, blaming much of that to the increase in online purchases whose tax revenues are not captured. Hamer said he wants to look at reform, opening the door to expanding the list of items and services that are taxed, though he has no specific revenue number in mind.

And Kevn McCarthy, executive director of the business-oriented Arizona Tax Research Association, said he could support a tax increase. But he said that is contingent on cleaning up other disparities in education funding, like some school districts getting more money per student because of things like desegregation expenses.

desk-books-school-620All that puts Ducey in the position of being a holdout amid increased public focus on the state’s public education system and concern that children are being shortchanged because of the state’s failure to put more dollars into K-12 education.

There is no dispute over the numbers. Even Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato concedes that current per-student funding, after adjusting for inflation, is still not back to where it was before the recession.

There’s also the separate fact that Ducey, who convinced voters in 2016 to tap a special trust fund to end a lawsuit against the state, insisted that the cash that generates would be just the first step toward improving education funding.

But questions remain about what has been produced so far, with teacher salaries up just 1 percent this year.

Ducey promised another 1 percent for the coming school year. But that still leaves salaries far short of what they are in virtually every other state.

The question of how short depends on who you ask — and what ruler they use.

For example, the Morrison Institute says that elementary school teacher pay is the lowest in the nation, even when adjusted for statewide cost of living; high school pay is not far behind at 49.

By contrast, the Arizona Tax Research Association, which represents major taxpayers, has its own way of looking at it.

“While we do stipulate and recognize Arizona’s teach pay ranking has dropped in the last 20 years, we do not agree with the assertion that Arizona is last by any measure,” said Sean McCarthy, the organization’s senior research analyst.

So where does it believe Arizona falls? No. 28 adjusted for per-capita income.

Ducey said those numbers, even if correct, are not where Arizona should be.

“I believe we need to come up on teacher salaries,” he said.

“It’s very hard work to teach a kid, especially a kid that’s not learning,” the governor continued. “They’re putting the work in. They’re getting the results. And I want to see the dollars flow to them.”

But the governor sidestepped questions of where he believes teacher salaries in Arizona should be in comparison to the rest of the country, saying his focus is on the trendline.

“What I look at is how are we doing this year versus previous year and are we making improvements year over year,” he said.

There’s another big education decision facing Ducey and lawmakers: whether to block voters from getting the last word on the expansion of the program that provides vouchers to parents to send their children to private and parochial schools.

Foes gathered more than 100,000 signatures following last year’s vote, holding up up enactment until November when those who go to the polls would get to decide whether to ratify or reject what the Legislature approved. Supporters have responded by asking the courts to void the referendum, citing what they said are various irregularities.

If those legal efforts falter, the only way to quash a vote on what would be Proposition 305 would be for lawmakers to alter last year’s legislation.

That presents a political question for lawmakers.

If it remains on the ballot, that could bring out foes of expansion. And once they’re voting “no” on more vouchers, they could just as easily spread their displeasure with those who enacted it in the first place, including Ducey.

A legal challenge to that petition drive has yet to get a final ruling.

Other education-related issues likely to provoke debate include:

– Extending funding for special career and education programs now in high schools to ninth grade;

– Requiring all high schoolers to take a college-entrance examination;

– Revamping and reenacting a law voided by a federal judge aimed at “ethnic studies” programs that prohibit things like teaching ethnic solidarity;

– Capping the year-over-year increases in what corporations can divert from state income taxes to groups that give scholarships to help students attend private and parochial schools;

– Requiring parents to be notified when their student athletes suffer a concussion.

Democratic poll concludes Ducey is vulnerable in 2018

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Gov. Doug Ducey is vulnerable to a Democratic challenger in the 2018 election as voters find him lukewarm, a new poll shows.

The poll by Democratic-leaning national firm Lake Research Partners, commissioned by ProgressNow Arizona, surveyed 600 likely voters using both landlines and cell phones – 44 percent registered Republicans and 32 percent Democrats – weighted for factors like party registration, geography and gender.

According to the polling memo, 74 percent of the voters sampled participated in the 2014 elections.
The key takeaway, pollsters Joshua Ulibarri and Caroline Bye concluded, is that Ducey is vulnerable to a challenger, if that challenger can make the race competitive.

Lake Research concluded that Ducey “lacks any real definition among voters.” Ducey is up by only 8 percentage points in his favorability ratings, trails by 16 percentage points in his job performance rating, and couldn’t break the 40-percent mark in a head-to-head matchup with a generic Democrat, the poll showed.

The pollsters concluded that if the circumstances are right, and there is a well-funded effort, Ducey can be defeated.

But it remains to be seen if David Garcia or Sen. Steve Farley, who are running for governor in the Democratic primary, can capitalize on Ducey’s vulnerability and mount the type of campaign needed to oust Ducey, a prolific fundraiser who can easily tap into money from the Koch Brothers network.

The most recent campaign finance reports showed Ducey had raised more than $3 million this cycle, while Farley brought in more than $500,000 and Garcia nearly $300,000.

The Democratic nominee would need a serious influx of support, likely from national Democratic groups, at a time when several other races in the state, like the U.S. Senate and 2nd Congressional District, could be Democratic pickups.

Sixty percent of respondents gave Ducey a favorable review, while 45 percent said he was doing a good or excellent job as governor, the poll shows. Among Republicans, 49 percent said he was doing excellent or good, while only 29 percent of independents and 25 percent of Democrats gave him the excellent/good ratings.

The poll matched Ducey against a generic Democrat and found he got 36 percent of the vote compared to 28 percent for an unnamed Democrat. The publicly released poll didn’t show any matchups between Farley or Garcia and Ducey.

The generic Democrat and Ducey both underperformed their party registration numbers, the pollsters pointed out, meaning there’s room to consolidate the vote.

“But this is particularly risky territory for an incumbent governor,” the firm wrote. “It is rare for a majority of undecided voters to break for the incumbent, and that is what Ducey would need at this point in the cycle to secure a majority.”

Part of Ducey’s problem with voters, the poll projects, is his lack of definition on key issues that matter to voters, like school funding, health care, and having the wealthy pay their fair share.

“The circumstances exist for progressives to make this a competitive race if they keep applying pressure and define the frame for this election,” the poll concludes. “That will take time, effort, and money. If not, partisan habits can set in and Ducey can secure re- election, but the opportunity is real.”

Ducey’s campaign spokesman, J.P. Twist, feigned surprise that a poll commissioned by a Democratic group would reinforce a Democratic narrative and be touted by Democrats.

“I know Democrats may be on cloud nine after a visit from their liberal leader Nancy Pelosi, but the reality is, Gov. Ducey enters 2018 in the strongest possible position. A growing economy, dropping unemployment, wage growth, billions of new dollars invested into our schools…” Twist said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times.

Garcia’s campaign spokeswoman, Sarah Elliott, said the poll reinforces the idea that Ducey isn’t well-known or popular in Arizona because “he has abandoned regular Arizonans, starved our public schools, and is simply looking out for himself and the interests of the top 1 percent. He’s just another out of touch greedy politician.”

The poll confirms Ducey is weak and hasn’t delivered on his promises since taking office, Farley campaign manager Joe Wolf said.

“Glowing and aspirational State of the State speeches will only get you so far. Eventually you have to deliver on your promises to voters. Ducey hasn’t done that and now he’s in trouble. I bet his staff are scrambling to find out when the next Koch retreat is,” Wolf said in an email.

Flake’s vulnerability feeds GOP Senate concerns

In this July 19, 2017 photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions between the establishment, a furious base, and angry donors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
In this July 19, 2017 photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions between the establishment, a furious base, and angry donors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions among the establishment, a furious base and angry donors.

After bucking Donald Trump in a state the president won, Flake is bottoming out in polls. Yet Republicans look like they may be stuck with a hard-core conservative challenger who some fear could win the primary but lose in the general election.

A White House search for a candidate to replace former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the primary appears to have hit a wall. And now conservatives want to turn Arizona into the latest example of a Trump Train outsider taking down a member of the GOP establishment.

“People are fooling themselves if they think Jeff Flake is anything but a walking dead member of the United State Senate,” said Andy Surabian, whose Great America Alliance is backing Ward.

“I don’t see how he survives a primary. I don’t see how he survives a general. The numbers just don’t add up,” added Surabian, who worked at the White House as an adviser to Steve Bannon, then the president’s top strategist.

Despite discontent among some Republicans over Ward, Bannon met with her last week at a conservative conference in Colorado Springs to encourage her campaign, according to a Republican official who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose the previously unreported private meeting.

Ward unsuccessfully challenged Arizona’s senior senator, John McCain, in last year’s election, losing in the primary by a wide margin. But in Flake, she would face a more vulnerable candidate at a moment when the GOP establishment is on the defensive, facing a simmering anti-incumbent mood heightened by Republicans’ failure to make good on seven years of promises to scrap Barack Obama’s health care law.

Flake is in danger of becoming the latest victim of this voter wrath. Yet, rather than making an effort to soothe pro-Trump GOP voters, he’s all but dared them to take him down by kicking off his campaign with an anti-Trump manifesto, “Conscience of a Conservative,” a book in which he bemoaned his party’s failure to stand up to Trump in last year’s presidential race.

“We pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” Flake wrote.

Trump, in turn, has lashed out at Flake on Twitter, calling him “toxic,” and praised Ward. White House officials say there’s little chance Trump will have a change of heart over supporting Flake. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose private deliberations, said Trump is irritated not only by Flake’s public criticism, but by what Trump sees as the senator’s attempts to use his critiques of the president to gain attention.

Nevertheless, Flake, 54, insists he won’t be getting out of the race. The primary is Aug. 29.

“We always knew we would have a tough primary. We always knew we would have a tough general,” Flake said in a brief interview at the Capitol. Asked about Trump’s opposition, Flake smiled and said, “There’s a long time between now and next August.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has protected vulnerable GOP senators in the past, but his ability to do so in the future was thrown into question last month by Sen. Luther Strange’s loss to rabble-rousing Roy Moore in a runoff in Alabama. A McConnell-aligned super PAC had spent around $9 million to help Strange.

Trump was encouraged by McConnell and others to back Strange, a decision which he reportedly now regrets and which only added to the frictions between the president and the Senate leader. Flake’s candidacy could provide occasion for yet more conflict between the two, given the possibility that they will be on opposite sides in the primary.

Adding to Flake’s problems, donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm, have dried up after the GOP failed to deliver on repealing and replacing the Obama health law. Some donors say they intend to withhold money from incumbent senators like Flake until they start delivering on Trump’s agenda, a strategy encouraged privately by some top White House officials.

“Donors are going to start cutting off funding for all senators until they get Trump’s initiatives passed,” said Roy Bailey, a Trump supporter and fundraiser in Texas. “I think there’s a real kind of movement going around that is catching momentum.”

Flake’s campaign points to strong fundraising numbers and upcoming events including a fundraising visit Monday by Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. But Flake can’t even count on support from fellow members of his Arizona delegation. GOP Rep. Trent Franks demurred when asked if he would be supporting Flake for re-election

“I’m probably not going to, for a lot of reasons, not going to address that,” Franks said. “Obviously, Sen. Flake knows how profoundly bewildered and disappointed I was with his actions that, in the general election last year, if everyone had followed that line of reasoning, would have resulted in Hillary Clinton’s election.”

Franks’ name is one of several that have circulated as potential primary challengers to Flake, along with Rep. Paul Gosar, state university board member Jay Heiler and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham. Several Republicans said the White House has been searching for some alternative to Ward.

Yet Ward shows no sign of stepping aside, and another consideration, usually unspoken, is McCain’s brain cancer, which will likely mean another vacant Senate seat at some point in the future.

Ward’s erratic history, which causes mainline Republicans to view her as damaged goods, is underscored by comments she made after McCain’s July cancer diagnosis, where she urged him to step down and suggested she should be considered to replace him.

“Look, you see what her numbers were in the McCain race – I don’t know what would make us think different now,” said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. Whichever Republican emerges from the primary will likely face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, seen as a strong candidate.

It’s all adding to a season of trouble for GOP senators such as Flake and Dean Heller of Nevada, who also faces a primary challenge from the right. The good news for Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority, is that they have an extremely favorable map next year that has them defending only two genuinely endangered incumbents, Flake and Heller, while Democrats are on defense in 10 states Trump won.

Werner reported from Washington.

Judge to rule on Clean Elections ballot measure

(Deposit Photos/Wave Break Media)
(Deposit Photos/Wave Break Media)

A judge will decide whether lawmakers have an absolute right to ask voters to approve two changes in law in a single act, even if they may only want one of them and not the other.

The proposal at issue asks voters to amend the Citizens Clean Elections Act to keep publicly financed candidates from using any of their funds to buy services from political parties and political consultants. Danny Adelman, attorney for the commission that administers the law, acknowledged that could prove popular.

But at a hearing Thursday, Adelman pointed out to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders that the measure put on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature also seeks to give the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, a panel of political appointees, the power to veto all proposed commission rules. That covers everything from their power to force public disclosure of campaign spending to mandates for publicly funded candidates to submit to at least one debate.

That, he said, is likely to prove a much harder sell to voters who in 1998 created the commission and the voluntary system of public financing of elections.

Adelman told Sanders that joining the two issues was not just happenstance. He said it was a ploy by lawmakers “in the hope that voters are forced to take this all-or-nothing position that it will somehow pass.”

He said the Arizona Constitution requires that acts of the Legislature “shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.’ And Adelman warned the judge that if lawmakers get away with linking these two issues it would open the door for other sorts of legislative shenanigans in future ballot referrals.

“They could pass something that joins together highway funding with a ban on abortion, or with something completely different like abolition of the death penalty,” Adelman said. He said that’s why there are constitutional provisions to prevent this kind of “logrolling,” combining what he said are unrelated popular and less-than-popular provisions into a single measure.

But Assistant Attorney General Rusty Crandell told Sanders that constitutional provision applies only to “acts of the Legislature.” He said the vote by lawmakers to send the issue to voters does not fit that definition.

Anyway, Crandell argued, if there is a violation of constitutional single-subject provisions, that can be litigated only after the measure becomes law — assuming it remains on the ballot and assuming voters approve.

Mike Liburdi, a private attorney hired by Republican legislative leaders, went a step farther. He said there is no violation, saying there need be only a “natural connection” among various ballot provisions.

Hanging in the balance is whether voters get the last word.

The law allows but does not require candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public funds for their campaigns if they do not take other special interest dollars.

It has never been popular with business interests — the groups that have traditionally funded campaigns — who mounted several legal challenges, some of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And while the justices there voided one provision, the system remains in place.

What caused at least part of the uproar this year has been the fact that the commission contends it has the right to require public disclosure of outside spending on campaigns, even for candidates who do not take public dollars. That comes even as lawmakers are amending other state statutes to permit more anonymous “dark money” campaigns.

But the Arizona Constitution limits the ability of lawmakers to tinker with laws approved by voters. That makes sending the issues to the ballot the only option for those who want to trim the commission’s powers.

Adelman told Sanders it is clear that lawmakers are free to ask one or both questions: limit use of public dollars and subject the commission to the regulatory council. What they cannot do, he said, is put the issue on the ballot as a single take-it-or-leave-it proposal.

Liburdi, for his part, said the issue is not as black and white as Adelman suggests.

“Here’s what the courts look for: Is there a direct or indirect topical relation between these two provisions,” he said. “And there clearly is.

Liburdi also pointed out that the entire Clean Elections Act was approved in a single ballot measure in 1998.

But the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that measures crafted by voters themselves are not subject to the single-subject rule. Sanders is being asked to decide whether it applies to statutory changes that lawmakers are asking voters to approve.

Whatever she decides is unlikely to be the last word, as the losing side is virtually certain to seek Supreme Court review.

Rep. Shooter apology peppered with deflection, denial

Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who has been publicly accused of sexually harassing at least nine women, including fellow lawmakers and lobbyists, began his formal apology to his colleagues today with a joke.

“Members, I know you all want to thank me for my part in bringing you here today,” he said.

Shooter, whose comments came during a floor speech, then went on to point fingers in self-defense.

He said his role in the overall discussion “has been greatly magnified as a result of a complaint that was filed against me for reasons that I believe are largely unrelated to the complaint itself.”

Though he didn’t explicitly say whose complaint he was referring to, after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, accused Shooter of harassing her during her time at the legislature, Shooter blamed the trouble between him and Ugenti-Rita on “how she has conducted herself personally, with staff and later with legislation,” including “a very public affair.”

Multiple women, including lawmakers, lobbyists and a former Capitol Times intern, allege Shooter made inappropriate or sexually charged comments to them or engaged in unwanted touching.

He read the apology prior to a mandatory harassment training for all House members presented by the Attorney General’s Office.

“Our legislative community is currently going through an intense period of self-evaluation on the topic of how we treat each other, where we have been failing to do things right, and how we need to do things better.”

Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma)
Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma)

Still, Shooter said the additional complaints that followed made him realize that his behavior, and comments he made in jest, were actually offensive and made others uncomfortable.

“At first, my response was largely defensive, borne of frustration at a few complaints that were not true or were made for a personal or political vendetta,” he said. “But it would be a mistake to treat each and every complaint the same, if I failed to learn from legitimate complaints, and if I failed to recognize and apologize for those actions that caused damage or hurt.”

He added that he regretted calling some oversensitive, instead of taking responsibility for his actions.

“I was beyond embarrassed to hear that what I thought were welcomed and well-intentioned hugs were perceived as creepy and lecherous,” Shooter said. “I didn’t know. As soon as I did know, I have been – and am, so sorry.”

Shooter, who is under investigation by an outside counsel, said he didn’t need to wait for the results of the investigation to know that his actions weren’t well received by some at the Capitol. He added that he was sorry for the “distraction and strain” the investigation had caused.

“We, as a larger Capitol community, cannot begin to heal until those of us who have made mistakes begin the process ourselves,” he said. “For me, that means learning and changing, so I stand before you today because it is my desire that we now begin to heal.”

The speech was met by applause by some of his colleagues, but many of the women in the House responded with silence.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said she heard Shooter acknowledge that his remarks were offensive to some people, even though he didn’t intend them to be, and he’s open to understanding and learning a more appropriate way.

“I think that is insightful and that’s the important part of all this training, new insights,” Rios said.

Read the full text of Shooter’s speech below:

Our legislative community is currently going through an intense period of self-evaluation on the topic of how we treat each other, where we have been failing to do things right, and how we need to do things better.

My own involvement in all of this has been greatly magnified as a result of a complaint that was filed against me for reasons that I believe are largely unrelated to the complaint itself.

But that complaint was followed by a number of additional complaints, the majority of which were sincere and which exposed me to the knowledge that my actions were not always received as intended, and that worse still, they caused genuine discomfort or pain.

At first, my response was largely defensive, borne of frustration at a few complaints that were not true or were made for a personal or political vendetta.
But it would be a mistake to I treat each and every complaint the same, if I failed to learn from legitimate complaints, and if I failed to recognize and apologize for those actions that caused damage or hurt.

We, as a larger Capitol community, cannot begin to heal until those of us who have made mistakes begin the process ourselves.  For me, that means learning and changing, so I stand before you today because it is my desire that we now begin to heal.

The healing won’t start in earnest, at least with respect to the people whom I have hurt, without me recognizing that comments I have made in jest, over the past seven years, were not received in the spirit in which they were intended. Quite the contrary. Some were jarring, insensitive, and demeaning.

I don’t need to wait for an investigative report to know that.

In the past, when I’ve told a joke that landed badly and realized it, I have always apologized.  My purpose is always to entertain and to get people smiling and laughing, and that has been my style as a farmer and a legislator.  But when someone reacts badly or tells me I’ve hurt their feelings I feel terrible and try to immediately remedy it.

It has been hard to sit on my hands during this political and legal process and not acknowledge that I care. I WANT to get it right and I want to make it right.

I was beyond embarrassed to hear that what I thought were welcomed and well-intentioned hugs were perceived as creepy and lecherous. I didn’t know. As soon as I did know, I have been – and am, so sorry.

I will confess that there were times that, when hearing that I had offended someone with a boorish comment or that- what I intended as a simple hug turned into someone believing that I had crossed some line, I was sorry but, I also reacted defensively and thought to myself that some people are just too sensitive.

It has taken me time to understand, that —- I —- have been INsensitive, and it is unfair to expect everyone to react to things the way I might react.  If I’m going to be a comedian, I have to understand and be sensitive to my audience, not blame them when my jokes fall flat.

I now know that comments intended to be hospitable, harmlessly flirtatious or outrageous –and above all intended to be humorous, weren’t at all humorous and caused others to believe I did not value who they are as individuals. I’ve taken all of this very hard because those who know me well, know that under all of the clowning – the schtick I put on– I care a great deal.

Nor was this reaction limited to how women reacted to my behavior.  During this investigative process, I learned that I not only offended women; one complaint was even from a man!

I learned that a crass and offensive comment I made in jest at an after-hours event to a legislative candidate– in response to a political prediction– was perceived as sexual harassment which I never would have imagined. My sarcastic response related to buggery.  Repeating my response now, during the day, in front of my colleagues, including women, is evidence enough that I should have never said it.  It’s a little rough. This candidate interpreted my remarks as serious, not sarcastic, for which I am embarrassed and deeply regretful. I look forward to apologizing personally.

It is important that you all know that while my actions have unintentionally offended some, I have never attempted to kiss anyone, made obscene gestures at a woman, nor sought a tryst or sexual relationship. It may seem inconsistent with my attempts at humor, but I have lived my life as someone who absolutely reveres and respects women.  I have been blessed to be married for 41 years to an incredible woman, to whom I have remained devoted.

I was brought up to be a gentleman who will hold the door, pull out the chair, stand when a woman leaves the table or lend her my jacket when she is cold.

However, I now am acutely aware that not everyone understood my attempts at humor and resented that I did not show the respect and value each individual deserves.  That is one of the things that bothers me the most.

I am sorry for the distraction and strain that this matter and the subsequent investigation have caused all of you. That was not my intent when I asked for the investigation. I don’t want to go one more day without apologizing and honoring all of you by not only saying I’m sorry, but by doing better. This has been a painful process for all. Hopefully to those I hurt, you feel empowered for speaking up. Your courage has already had a profound impact on the way I relate to others. I am sorry.

I also want to tell all of you that I am still your friend and I still want to hear from you.  I especially want to hear if I’m doing something wrong.  I wish that the people who came forward months or years later had said something immediately at the time so that I could have apologized and made improvements right away.  But, I understand why they didn’t. I hope that while I strive to be better, you all help me along the way if you see things I can improve. It is time to repair and begin to heal. I want to get this right.

It can be tough to teach old dogs new tricks, but this old dog can and will do better. I look forward to personally listening and expressing my remorse once the investigation is over – to the extent those I have offended are interested. I am sorry.

Thank you.

The Breakdown, Episode 1: Opening day


Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

On the inaugural episode of The Breakdown, our reporters lay out what they’re expecting to see this legislative session.

Familiar battles, especially on topics of education and school choice, are sure to dominate much of the political discourse in Arizona this year. But Gov. Doug Ducey also shared some surprising insights, and he hinted at a surprise involving foster care that will be revealed in his State of the State address.

Our team also addresses one significant holdover from 2017: the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don. Shooter, R-Yuma.

The Breakdown, Episode 5: Expelled


Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona House of Representatives took a historic vote on Thursday to expel one of its members.

Don Shooter of Yuma was not only the first Republican to ever be expelled from the state Legislature but also the first state lawmaker in the United States to be removed in the wake of the Me Too movement.

But some of the women who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Shooter and others who work at the Capitol wonder if this moment will have a lasting impact. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard was praised for the difficult decision, yet he who was receptive to an investigation’s findings will not always be in power.

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The Breakdown, Episode 6: Details, details


(Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

After two weeks in one crisis or another, lawmakers really got to work last week, and our reporters dug in.

Whether we’re talking about the Arizona Attorney General’s Office spending about 100 hours on each SB1487 complaint – ouch – concern over Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s STO plan – oh boy – or the battle to be the 8th Congressional District’s most conservative GOP candidate – oy – the Devil’s always in the details.

And this session has only just begun.

The Breakdown, Episode 7: ‘Hamilton’ was bound to come up sometime


Debbie Lesko (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Debbie Lesko is one of two Republican candidates believed to be leading the special primary election race in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. Steve Montenegro is her key challenger in this final week of campaigning ahead of election day on Feb. 27. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona Capitol Times team didn’t know how to say no to a “Hamilton” tribute, and “licenses schmicenses” was a real topic of conversation.

What a time to be at the Capitol.

The legislature is following Gov. Doug Ducey’s lead on professional licenses for a wide range of professions. And while some bills may not have succeeded last week, their intentions left a mark.

Meanwhile, the special primary election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District is on Feb 27. The conventional wisdom says its a two-person race, but that doesn’t anyone is throwing in the towel just yet, including Democrats.

The Breakdown: The awards show no one asked for


Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally
Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally

Expulsions, elections, appointments, oh why?

2018 has been an exciting year from the start. As it comes to a close we’re looking back on some of the standout moments.

What caught our reporters’ attention, and what do those stories mean for the future of Arizona?

We’re doing today’s show Academy Award-style, except the academy is us and the awards don’t mean a damn thing.

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Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.