Bill puts Arizona on track to end public financing of pro sports stadiums

Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and owned by the Maricopa County Stadium District. (Photo by Justin Emerson/Cronkite News)
Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and owned by the Maricopa County Stadium District. (Photo by Justin Emerson/Cronkite News)

Arizona is at the forefront of a new legislative effort to outlaw public dollars from financing private stadiums for professional sports teams.

Led by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, bills are being introduced at state capitols across the country to block money at the state and local levels from being used for new stadium construction, maintenance or promotions of existing facilities that house professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey teams or other non-amateur sporting events.

In Arizona, that would mean no public money for the possibly $187 million in stadium repairs the Arizona Diamondbacks are seeking for Chase Field. The team has threatened to leave if Maricopa County officials don’t provide money to repair a stadium they argue is deteriorating.

That’s exactly the sort of threat that Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, wants to neuter.

Owners and league officials, whether it’s Major League Baseball, the National Football League or the National Hockey League, often leverage cities and states against each other, threatening to leave one in favor of another that offers more public financing to build newer facilities.

“You always have this argument that we have to subsidize because everybody else is subsidizing, and if we don’t subsidize then we don’t get any sports teams,” Petersen said. SB1453 and bills like it in other states take that negotiating tactic off the table, he said.

“You say, none of us, we all agree not to participate in these subsidies, and now you have a level playing field,” Petersen said.

Petersen noted that the bill does nothing to current agreed-to subsidies for stadiums, but would ban such agreements in the future.

Even if Petersen’s bill becomes law, it won’t take effect until at least 24 other states join the cause.

The bill – being circulated by Americans for Prosperity with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council,  a nonprofit that writes model Republican legislation – works as a compact between states.

“The goal is to get enough states to hold hands and move forward on this so that they can’t be picked off one-by-one by sweet-sounding offers from professional sports teams,” said Tom Jenney, senior legislative adviser for Americans for Prosperity Arizona.

Similar bills have also been introduced this year in Indiana, Virginia, Missouri and Florida, according to Eric Peterson, senior policy analyst for AFP.

AFP officials argue that building stadiums for privately-owned professional sports franchises isn’t a core function of government. And beyond that, they argue it’s not a good investment.

Peterson cited a 2015 study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which found little evidence that building stadiums or arenas leads to significant economic benefits for the cities or states in which they’re built.

There’s a “cottage industry” of economists who try to convince governments of the benefits of a stadium or arena, Jenney said, but they don’t look at what would happen if taxes aren’t levied to help finance stadium subsidies, or what alternate uses a government may have for those dollars.

“If you look around the country, billions of dollars in public money has been spent on professional, private sports stadiums and facilities, and a huge amount of this money has been wasted, and the promises of economic development and economic activity are often overstated and they frequently never materialize,” Jenney said.

Petersen said SB1493 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Commerce and Public Safety Committee on February 12.

Both sides of voucher war prepare for battles after vote

Stacks of voters' signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacks of voters’ signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8, 2018, after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. If it survives legal challenges, the referendum will appear on the 2018 general election ballot as Proposition 305. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Opponents of Proposition 305 may soon cry victory over its defeat, but the fight over school choice and Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts will not end in November.

The American Federation for Children is officially a “no” on Prop. 305 despite the group’s pro-school choice stance, and Americans for Prosperity won’t be organizing support for the ballot measure.

A no vote will mean the Republican-controlled Legislature’s 2017 expansion of the ESA program will not stand, while a yes vote means it will.

But the group responsible for sending the ESA expansion to the ballot, Save Our Schools Arizona, is not taking the vote for granted, nor preparing to wind down after November.

SOS Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker said the dwindling support for Prop. 305 does not signal a change of heart by pro-voucher groups. Rather it tells her that they are willing to take a loss this time and try again during the 2019 legislative session.

So she wants to send a message in the November 6 general election – that even Arizona, a school choice pioneer, will reject the expansion of school vouchers.

“We don’t just want Prop. 305 to lose. We want it to go down in flames,” she said.

Arizona’s empowerment scholarship account program pays parents or guardians 90 percent of the money that would have gone to a student’s public school. The money can be spent on private school tuition, tutoring and home-school curriculum. The program began in 2011 for only special needs students and has grown to allow an array of students, such as ones from failing schools and children whose parents are in the military.

The Legislature in 2017 expanded the program to allow for all Arizona students to be eligible, but capped the program’s enrollment at about 30,000 by the 2022-2023 school year.  

The fate of Prop. 305 may be mere speculation at this point, but that isn’t stopping advocates and opponents from contemplating what should come next.

Penich-Thacker said SOS Arizona has discussed ideas for an education funding mechanism that could rally bipartisan support.

That mechanism would have to ensure the funding it generates is not then drained by programs like ESAs, though.

“Coming up with a great education funding mechanism is all fine and well,” she said. “But if we’re going to be poking holes in that bucket and draining it right out through unregulated ESAs and STOs, what’s it for?”

She said SOS Arizona has also had preliminary conversations about possibly running or supporting a bill to address accountability and what they see as other shortcomings of the ESA program.

But Penich-Thacker knows they’re not the only ones likely preparing for another shot.

“This is one battle that they’re willing to lose because they’ll be back in January with a different bill number but with the same goal of unregulated, universal ESA voucher expansion,” she said.

There is hope for a compromise, but she’s not so sure if the pro-voucher crowd is on the same page.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he does not see the point of declaring a position on Prop. 305.

He said there will always be a robust conversation around school choice at the Legislature, and ESAs are part of that no matter what happens with Prop. 305.

He has expressed trepidation over the expansion as written before, particularly because the law and it’s cap of 30,000 students would be protected under the Voter Protection Act. But he can see both sides of the dilemma for school choice advocates like himself.

In the future, he said more consideration could be given to specific carve outs for certain student populations or which enrollment cap may be more “legitimate.”

Brnovich, Contreras debate on cases AG has taken

From left are Attorney General Mark Brnovich, debate host Ted Simons of KAET, and Democratic AG candidate January Contreras. Brnovich and Contreras squared off in a televised debate Oct. 10, 2018. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
From left are Attorney General Mark Brnovich, debate host Ted Simons of KAET, and Democratic AG candidate January Contreras. Brnovich and Contreras squared off in a televised debate Oct. 10, 2018. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich found himself defending the decisions he made to challenge various federal laws, challenges that his Democrat foe said Wednesday worked against the interests of average Arizonans.

During a televised debate on KAET-TV, January Contreras lashed out at Brnovich for working to overturn a decision by the Obama administration to put about a million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon off limits to mining. Federal appellate judges did not agree with him.

Brnovich has had no better luck in joining with other Republican attorneys general to overturn the Affordable Care Act and its mandate to provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.

And Brnovich also sided with Americans for Prosperity in challenging a California law that would require the organization, part of the Koch brothers network, to disclose its donors.

All that, Contreras charged, showed that Brnovich during his four years as attorney general was more interested in pursuing cases that helped special interests than those that help average Arizonans.

Brnovich said that Contreras, a former assistant attorney general under Democrat Janet Napolitano, would follow her own political agenda if she was in charge of the office.

His prime example is the challenge his office filed against the Maricopa community colleges over the decision to charge resident tuition to “dreamers.”

“I would not have litigated that case,” Contreras conceded. She said that’s because she believed that they were entitled to in-state tuition if they met other Arizona residency requirements.

Contreras pointed out that those accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were entitled by the federal government to not only remain but also to work.

But Brnovich said that ignores the role of the Attorney General’s Office.

He pointed out that Arizonans voted by a 2-1 margin in 2006 to spell out that any person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or is “without lawful immigration status,” is ineligible to be charged the same tuition as residents at state colleges and universities.

“Even if you don’t like the policy, you have to defend it,” Brnovich said.

“As prosecutors, we enforce the law,” he said. “If you don’t like the law, you run for governor, you run for the Legislature or you run for Congress.”

Ultimately the Arizona Supreme Court sided with Brnovich and concluded that DACA recipients are not entitled to resident tuition.

As to the other cases Brnovich did pursue – and lost – the incumbent defended his decisions.

Take the mining case where he supported a challenge by the National Mining Association to the 2012 decision by the Obama administration to put a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims around the Grand Canyon. The Department of Interior said that would provide the time to study the effects of new mining on the environment, particularly water quality.

“As Arizona’s attorney general, when the federal government and the Obama administration tried to unilaterally remove one million acres of land without any congressional veto, I thought it was important,” Brnovich said. “We want to make sure we have a check on the federal government.”

Contreras said she has no problem with an attorney general seeking to exercise a check on the power of the federal government. But she argued that Brnovich was choosing the wrong issues — and the wrong side.

“You look at the separation of kids and parents at the border,” she said, noting that some attorneys general – but not Brnovich – went to federal court to protect the constitutional rights of those involved.

“What is alarming to me is how often, in the case of the cases I’m talking about, it’s aligning with political donors,” she said.

That question of money and politics spilled into the decision in August by Brnovich to alter the description of Proposition 127, a mandate that utilities use more renewable energy. The Secretary of State’s Office originally wrote the description. Brnovich added language that some considered to be unfair and uneven.

Contreras charged that Brnovich was influenced by money that Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service, has given to the Republican Attorneys General Association; RAGA, in turn, helped Brnovich get elected in 2014 and is spending money on his reelection campaign.

Brnovich responded that California billionaire Tom Steyer, who is financing the Prop 127 campaign, is now funding a $3.6 million media campaign urging Arizonans to turn him out of office. He called such out-of-state influence to help Contreras win the race “improper.”

“I think it’s funny coming from you when you have Arizona in a California courtroom defending the secrecy of donors to the Koch brothers network,” Contreras responded.

In that case, Americans for Prosperity sought to overturn a California law that requires certain nonprofit corporations to submit on a confidential basis a report of their large donors to that state’s attorney general as part of enforcing its laws governing tax-exempt groups. While Arizona was not affected — and Arizona has no similar laws – Brnovich submitted an amicus brief urging the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule that California had no “legitimate governmental interest” in such a mandate.

The federal appellate court concluded otherwise.

After the debate, Brnovich defended his decision to intercede on behalf of Americans for Prosperity. He said forcing release of the names of donors amounts to “trying to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Brnovich said even if he did take positions on these cases that does not reflect the vast majority of how his office has operated.

“My opponent wants to point out one or two or three cases,” he said.

“We have almost 500 lawyers in our office,” Brnovich continued. “What we do touches people’s lives every day.”

Conservatives oppose proposed ban on taxing services



Marking A Tick Box

To hear the supporters of Proposition 126 tell it, Arizona lawmakers are chomping at the bit to tax medical services, child care and even veterinary bills.

Never mind that lawmakers already can do that now – and have not.

But the sponsors, financed by Arizona Realtors and their national parent organization, want to put a provision in the state constitution to forever preclude the Legislature from expanding the current sales tax base to services that are not already taxed. And they have amassed $6.1 million as of the last campaign finance report filed in the middle of August to get voters to approve.

For the moment, the campaign operating under the umbrella of Citizens for Fair Tax Policy is the only game in town on the ballot measure. There is no organized opposition.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

But the proposal has generated some resistance from an interesting and unlikely alliance, ranging from  the Grand Canyon Institute which looks for ways to increase funding for public education, to Andrew Clark, the state director for Americans for Prosperity, a political action group funded by the conservative Koch brothers.

And even Gov. Doug Ducey, who is campaigning for reelection on a pledge he will never raise taxes, does not think a constitutional ban on taxing services is a good idea.

“He does not believe that tax policy should be set at the ballot,” said press aide Daniel Scarpinato. “It’s permanent and unchangeable and he would encourage folks to vote ‘no.’ ”

As it turns out, this is one of the few issues where the Republican incumbent finds common ground with his Democratic challenger. David Garcia also opposes the constitutional change.

“It ties the hands of the governor and Legislature to make important budgetary decisions, particularly dealing with the education crisis we’re in,” said spokeswoman Sarah Elliott. “We think that’s going to be a problem.”

The commercials funded by the Realtors are not subtle.

“The politicians are looking for more money,” viewers are told as they watch a Godzilla-sized man in a suit and tie vacuum up dollar bills from office buildings, a woman waiting at a veterinarian’s office with her dog, a man laying on a hospital stretcher and a child being dropped off at a daycare center.

“If they have their way, it could stall the economy and hurt small businesses,” the announcer says.

What’s behind the proposal appears to have been an ill-fated 2016 bid by Rep. Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Goodyear, to expand the sales tax base to certain services.

The biggest chunk — about $100 million a year in revenues — would have come from taxing auto, home, and personal property maintenance and repair.

Right now the parts are taxable. So the state’s 5.6 percent levy, plus any local sales taxes, are applied to the cost of, say, a new air conditioning compressor.

But the cost of the service – the labor in installing it – is not.

Darin Mitchell
Darin Mitchell

Mitchell’s bill also would have taxed some other services, ranging from child care and driving schools to barber shops, parking fees, health clubs and “death care” – though not medical or veterinary services.

There was, however, a flip side: Mitchell proposed to reduce income tax rates – by half for the state’s lowest income residents and smaller amounts for those in other tax brackets.

The net result after the pluses and minuses would have been a $584.6 million increase in state revenues.

But Mitchell’s bill did not even get a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee. And opponents of expanded taxes used his sponsorship to quash his reelection bid in the August Republican primary.

GOP lawmakers are so opposed to even looking at the issue that they denied a hearing to a proposal by state Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, to at least look at all of the sales tax exemptions and determine whether they make sense.

And there’s something else standing in the way of a new tax on services: A 1992 constitutional provision requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to approve anything that results in a net increase in state revenues.

But Wes Gullett, whose consulting firm is running the campaign for the Realtors, said they have seen what has happened elsewhere – including other “red” states.

North Carolina, for example, expanded its sales tax base to various repair, maintenance and installation services. Oklahoma also taxes some services.

And just this year, Kentucky lawmakers expanded the sales tax base to things like pet grooming, car repairs, limo rentals and fitness classes.

Gullett also pointed out that the protection of the need for a two-thirds vote does not exist if the final bill reduces taxes elsewhere in equivalent dollar amounts.

And he said there’s a fundamental difference between a tax on, say, clothing, than there is on a tax on gym memberships, stock broker services or even the commissions of real estate agents.

“People who run small business and are providing service are already taxed,” Gullett said.

“They have an income tax,” he said. “And now you’re saying, ‘We want to tax you again for that same work, for your same labor.’ And that’s not fair.”

Gullett dismissed the opposition, particularly from the conservative side of the spectrum.

“Tax policy is frequently made at the ballot,” he said of Ducey’s concerns, though the only example he cited was a 2010 vote to approve a constitutional amendment which enacted a temporary 1-cent hike to sales taxes during the recession.

As to Clark, Gullett said his organization has ulterior motives.

“The goal is either to pay for vouchers or lower the (state) income tax with tax reform and spread that tax onto other people,” he said, the “other people” being owners and operators of service businesses.

Clark said the voucher claim is pure fantasy. But he did acknowledge that his organization does want to keep the door open for a tax on services.

“We all know that goods as a share of the economy is shrinking,” he said. And that has implications.

“You’re going to have to raise the rate of taxes on goods or you’re going to have to go back and raise the rate on income tax, you’re going to have to go back and raise the rate on property tax,” Clark said. “And that’s just ridiculous.”

Not all the arguments submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office in favor of Proposition 126 came from the Realtors.

“If a new service tax were passed, it could have a very negative impact on all pet owners that care for their pets,” said Wayne Anderson, CEO of AzPetVet, in his statement of support. And Tammie Neary, owner of Beauty Bungalow in Phoenix said she does not want her customers “to pay more than what is fair for a quality haircut.”

But of 10 support statements where the author’s affiliation is not identified, nine were either Realtors or working for the organization.

“We’re not hiding it,” Gullett said of the Realtors role in the campaign.

The Realtors are no strangers to funding the kind of preemptive strike that is in Prop. 126.

A decade ago the same group spent $5.8 million to convince voters to constitutionally ban imposition of a real estate transfer tax.

Arizona did not have one at the time. But proponents, in a preview of what is happening this year, argued the move was necessary to keep lawmakers, potentially looking for new sources of revenue, from deciding a transfer tax was appropriate.


Democrats, Ducey PAC, begin election spending

(Deposit Photos)
(Deposit Photos)

Democratic PACs are beginning to spend on the general election, spreading money far and wide in an effort to support the party’s attempted takeover of the Legislature. 

Two independent expenditure groups – a type of organization that allows (sometimes anonymous) donors to funnel money into elections, so long as they don’t coordinate with candidates – have spent a combined $200,000 across the state to elect Democrats in GOP-controlled legislative districts. 

And they’re just getting started. Campaigns and PACs don’t have to report their third quarter finances for another month, so this figure just represents initial spending, an early peek at where political influencers are throwing their weight. 

If these figures are an indicator, Democratic groups see a wide-open map. 

Forward Majority Arizona and Opportunity Arizona, the two Democratic PACs spending the most so far, are allocating in the expected places: Legislative Districts 6, 17, 20 and 21, all places where demographic shifts give Democrats hope that they can nab a seat from Republicans. 

But the money is going beyond the usual suspects. Forward Majority, for example, has spent around $5,000 each opposing Rep. Mark Finchem and Sen. Vince Leach in Legislative District 11 and Reps. David Cook and T.J. Shope in Legislative District 8. 

It’s part of what communications director Ben Wexler-Waite calls “an aggressive portfolio strategy.” In other words, spending on Democratic candidates in districts where the odds are stacked high against.

LD8 has been comfortably in Republican hands since 2016, when incumbent Sen. Barbara McGuire lost a re-election bid to Sen. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande. McGuire is now challenging Shope, R-Coolidge, for her old seat, but the district hasn’t shown that it’s trending bluer. LD11, meanwhile, is solidly Republican, and would seem a stretch for Democrats to mount a credible campaign – Republicans there enjoy a sizable 10,000-voter registration advantage. Leach and Finchem, Republicans from Tucson and Oro Valley, respectively, are among the most conservative lawmakers in the Legislature. 

Finchem, for example, is a member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization whose members often show up armed at demonstrations for racial justice. 

 “Nobody has ever run a real campaign against him,” Wexler-Waite said, adding that it’s important that Democrats are aggressive in what they hope to be a wave year.

“I think that the conventional wisdom of the past decade is going to be radically changed,” said progressive lobbyist Geoff Esposito. “There are definitely new opportunities and investments are going to reflect that.” 

Forward Majority, a Super PAC founded in 2017, is one of the several national groups working to turn statehouses to Democratic control in 2020. Arizona is one of its four targets. Since July, the group has spent more than $120,000, primarily on House races in LD6, LD20 and LD21 – all districts that Democrats see as among the most achievable wins. 

If Democrats hold all their House seats, and pick up two of the three, they’ll gain a slim majority in an Arizona body for the first time in recent memory. 

“They’re using millions of dollars against the limited amount of money that I have,” said Rep. Walter Blackman, a Republican from Snowflake – he and former Republican lawmaker Brenda Barton are facing off against Democratic Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans. 

While it’s not quite millions, money is materializing for the Democrats. Opportunity Arizona, for example, has spent more than $23,000 on ads and mailers against the incumbent Blackman in August alone. And Evans is far outpacing both of the LD6 Republicans in fundraising, 

Generally, Republicans have been slow to respond, though there’s plenty of time for that to change.  

Conservative groups have ponied up less than $2,000 to support Blackman. In LD20, Americans for Prosperity has spent $2,525 to support Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, a number dwarfed by the nearly $13,600 that Opportunity Arizona has spent in August to oust the incumbent Bolick. The trend holds for other candidates in these key districts – of all Republicans running for House in LD6, LD20 and LD21, only Bevery Pingerelli in LD21 has made it to the end of August without large spending by outside Democratic groups. 

Prominent Republicans and their bundlers have been more active on the Senate side. Arizonans for Strong Leadership, Gov. Doug Ducey’s PAC, has since July spent more than $211,000, largely for Republicans and against Democrats in Senate races in LD20, LD17 and LD6 – where it spent $42,000 on newspaper and radio ads targeting Democratic Senate candidate Felicia French, Democratic House candidate Coral Evans and Independent House candidate Art Babbott. 

The ad buys are handled by Mentzer Media, a Maryland-based firm that designs and places ads for conservative groups and is perhaps best known for handling the 2004 campaign “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. 

As of the pre-primary reporting period that ended July 18, Arizonans for Strong Leadership held just over $2 million in cash on hand, nearly a quarter of which is from a $500,000 March 4 contribution from GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. 

Ducey is also directly helping some vulnerable incumbents through a second PAC, the Arizona Leadership Fund. Since December, Arizona Leadership Fund has given $33,500 directly to incumbents in five swing districts: LD6, LD8, LD17, LD20 and LD28. Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Frank Pratt, and Reps. Anthony Kern, T.J. Shope and Jeff Weninger each received $5,200 from the PAC. Blackman, Bolick and Rep. David Cook of LD8 each received a single contribution of $2,500 on December 31. 

Generation Opportunity’s Chalon Hutson: Policy over party

Chalon Hutson (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Chalon Hutson (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Chalon Hutson found his passion in freedom a la libertarian principles.

But when he graduated from Grand Canyon University and left the Army Reserve – in the same week no less – he wanted to “focus on the policies and the principles over the parties and the politicians.”

He struck that balance first with the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity. Now, at 27, he’s focusing on the issues that affect young Americans most as the field director for Americans for Prosperity’s sister organization, Generation Opportunity.

This is his first session at the Capitol for the Arizona chapter, but he’s already involved in some of the year’s hottest topics.

Cap Times Q&AWhat should be the focus of major reform in the country and Arizona right now?

Here in Arizona, we’ve been focusing on criminal justice because it’s an issue that disproportionately affects young people. In this state, we have 42,000 prisoners in state prisons, and 60 percent of those are under 40. We want to make sure that we utilize our criminal justice system to keep society safe, but we also … want to make sure that we have people in prison who are a danger to others, and that we treat everybody else with respect and the dignity that they deserve.

You clearly lean libertarian.

I’m a philosophical libertarian. I want to distinguish it from the party. I don’t work for the party or anything. Our organization is nonpartisan. We’ll work with anybody willing to advance liberty issues. I want to see the most prosperous society with the most amount of people lifted up out of poverty and have the best standards of living with the most amount of opportunities to find the most happiness. And I just think that comes from whenever you maximize voluntary interactions and minimize the amount of coercion and violence that happens.

I found a Red Millennial post you wrote in which you describe yourself as a “Millennial with atypical opinions.” What did you mean by that?

Typically, people view Millennials disproportionately as believing in socialism as opposed to free market capitalism, which I’m a huge advocate for. Of course, recently I’ve come around to believing maybe Millennials just don’t really understand what socialism is. And you don’t always see a ton of libertarian Millennials out there … Part of the issue with the narrative is Millennials – we’re the generation of Netflix and YouTube and Uber and Venmo. We want to have things fit us individually. We want to make sure that we’re using our money efficiently, and we’re very entrepreneurial as a generation. Those are things that, typically, fit within a free market, capitalist mindset.

In that post, you also mentioned the concept of “juvenoia,” which is defined as “a fear or hostility directed by an older generation toward a younger one, or toward youth culture in general.” Do you think that’s played a role in our policies and how they relate to young people?

Possibly. Regardless of what other generations might think about young Americans, we’re going to continue to want to be entrepreneurial and continue to want to have the most amount of freedom. That’s why I do think it’s important for organizations like Generation Opportunity that solely focus on young Americans to give an avenue for them to get active … We need to give them a “why” to get active.

You once retweeted a libertarian account that wrote, “What’s so bad about baby selling?” And you added, “Headline = Why people think Libertarians are crazy 101.” Why are libertarians “crazy?”

I always like to make sure that whenever you’re messaging the ideas of liberty, you meet people where they’re at. Even if you might be right in principle on an issue, and I’m not saying that they were on that one … it’s important that you drive a message about liberty and the principles of free society in a way that people are going to be receptive to. A lot of philosophical libertarians like to get on their high horse. They want to make sure that all of the principles are perfect, and they want every other libertarian to be perfect. Whenever you’re messaging the principles to people that might not have all the information or might not be aligned with what you believe, it’s important that you do it in a reasonable and kind manner.

I hope you remember this tweet, or it’s going to sound weird: What on earth is NAP, and why does the Dalai Lama endorse it?

The NAP is the non-aggression principle, which simply means don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff. There’s a ton of figures out there that spread that message. I can’t remember what the Dalai Lama’s particular tweet was, but he said something about being kind and not hurting people. It’s a general principle that we all learn from being a child … And it’s important that whenever you become an adult that you keep that in mind.

What else should people know about you?

Do you think my cat is interesting enough?

Talk about your cat, man.

I don’t think a lot of people would assume I have a cat, but cats are very independent. I think cats are pretty libertarian. I actually named my cat Mises after free market economist Ludwig von Mises, who wrote on the ideas of free market economics. And he debunked a lot of myths of socialism, as well. So, I wanted to honor him by naming my cat after him … That’s pretty much the most interesting thing about me.

Grassroots school group to tackle ‘dark money’ measure


The group responsible for forcing a public vote on the future of vouchers will now help a bit to block “dark money” in future political campaigns.

But it won’t be backing a plan to hike taxes on the rich to help fund schools.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, spokeswoman for Save Our Schools, acknowledged that an initiative filed last week for an income tax surcharge is designed to raise about $690 million a year for K-12 education. And she said a dedicated source of dollars is needed to ensure that there are sufficient dollars to support schools in case of a future recession.

She said, though, that raising taxes on only those in the top 2.5 percent of income appears more divisive — and more partisan — than her organization likes. Anyway, she told Capitol Media Services, her group has its own battle to fight in convincing people to vote in November to kill voucher expansion.

But Penich-Thacker said the “Stop Dirty Money” campaign is different. She said the movement to use taxpayers dollars to send children to private and parochial schools is financed to a great extent by organizations whose donors are shielded from public view by state laws.

And there’s something else: It was a “dark money” group, Americans for Prosperity, that filed suit last year to kill the Save Our Schools referendum which seeks to give voters the last word on 2017 legislation expanding the voucher program to allow any parent to get state dollars to send a child to private or parochial schools.

The legal challenge failed and the measure will be on the ballot as Proposition 305. But Penich-Thacker said fighting that lawsuit to preserve the referendum “burned up every bit of donations we had been getting in.”

So she’s ready to help remove the legal veil over the donors.

“That dark money is where our problem arose,” Penich-Thacker said, saying there’s a “natural connection” between Save Our Schools and the initiative.

That backing — and the volunteers that Save Our Schools can generate — could provide the push to get the measure on the ballot.

The proposal being pushed by former attorneys general Terry Goddard, Tom Horne and Grant Woods, the first a Democrat and the other two Republicans, would put a “right to know” provision in the Arizona Constitution, requiring public disclosure of the names of anyone who puts at least $10,000 into any campaign, whether for public office or a ballot measure.

That’s already required now.

But there’s an exception: Groups organized under the Internal Revenue Code as “social welfare” organizations can refuse to disclose their donors, leaving voters with a name — like Americans for Prosperity.

What Save Our Schools provides is motivated bodies. Its volunteer organizers were able to gather more than 110,000 signatures in less than 90 days last year to put the referendum on the ballot.

The initiative to ban dark money could benefit from volunteers. It faces a stiffer hurdle, needing more than 225,000 valid signatures on petitions by July 5 to put it on the November ballot.

That issue of “dark money” has become an increasing problem for voters interested in finding out who is behind commercial, mailers and other campaign materials.

In the 2014 gubernatorial race, for example, the $5 million spent on the general election directly by Ducey and Democrat Fred DuVal was eclipsed by the $9 million others spent trying to influence the race. Most of that cash flowed in Ducey’s benefit.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has shown little interest in providing more information on donors.

In fact, lawmakers earlier this year approved a measure blocking cities from enacting their own financial disclosure laws. That most immediately voided an ordinance approved by 91 percent of Tempe voters.

If the initiative is approved it would not just force disclosure in statewide and legislative races but again empower cities and towns to enact their own similar requirements.


Jeremiah Cota: Bored student teaches school choice

Jeremiah Cota
Jeremiah Cota

Jeremiah Cota didn’t have many education options available to him in high school. On the White Mountain Apache Reservation, there were two poorly-rated public high schools, and not much else to choose from. After working for U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and Americans for Prosperity, now Cota is working to ensure that students from his own tribe, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, have alternatives with Prenda, a company trying to establish “micro-schools” on the reservation and elsewhere.

Where’d you grow up?

I grew up mainly in Prescott, Arizona. My dad was a minister, so I’m a preacher’s kid. So we kind of moved around a little bit, but mainly I grew up in Prescott, Arizona. We moved out to the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation when I was in high school. My dad got a church out there, so we were out there for my high school years… I’m actually a tribal member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, but we were living on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation at the time. Sister tribes, basically.

What schools did you attend, in Prescott and then on the reservation?

I went to public school in Prescott the entire time, except for high school. So elementary school and middle school I went to public schools there. And then I went over to public high school on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation…. There was a difference. Even though I’m basically from the same culture, there’s still a cultural difference. There’s learning styles that are different. I do remember, when I went to the school on the reservation, being bored out of my mind. They were teaching stuff that I had already learned several years ago.

How so?

There’s this idea that the classroom couldn’t move forward until every single person understood. I remember in Prescott there was much more emphasis on math and science. And then going out to the Indian reservation, there was much more emphasis on making sure everyone understood very basic premises. There was a lot of students who couldn’t read, who didn’t know basic math functions, and the class wouldn’t move forward until those students, everyone in the class knew… I would get my assignments done in 10 minutes and then sit there for an hour and just be bored out of my mind. I think that helped shape some of my policies on school choice, and why school choice is so important. There are individuals in our school systems who are literally just being held back for the collective whole, I guess is what you want to call it… It’s a similar experience within my own tribe, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. We just want to do the best. Let’s try to improve the entire system.

Were there any other high schools to choose from?

There was one private school there. We went to go visit the school, and it was super tiny… Your options are very limited there. There’s a boarding school there, which, I was not going to do a boarding school. And those are your only options. You don’t have much choice.

Was your high school experience what helped pique your interest in politics?

I was already kind of tuned in to politics, so it was just something I did. I was always in student government in high school and college. It was always something of interest to me, just being politically minded and politically in tune. The real issues that drove me to a more conservative side is the faith-based element and the pro-life issues. Those are what really attracted me to the movement. And what really drove me to Congressman Paul Gosar’s office was, during the Obama years, the expansion of health care, and the Affordable Care Act that came out of that. I looked at that as basically socialized medicine — this is not the solution for our country. Growing up on the Indian reservation, we do have socialized medicine there already. It’s called the Indian Health Service. Yet we have some of the lowest life expectancy rates of any demographic group out there, and our care is already rationed.

When did you start to focus specifically on school choice as a policy issue?

So this happened last year. This happened during the Red for Ed movement. They were screaming, “More, more, more funding,” that we need more and more money. It was telling to me when they just kept saying, “More money, more money, more money.” And then you go back and look at the district schools on the Indian reservation that receive $20,000 per kid. My district at the time was receiving $21,000, my tribal school district, yet they’re F-rated. They only have two public schools, and they’re both F-rated… They haven’t improved. So this idea that more money will translate into higher academic performance, I don’t know where that comes from… In this case, I was just alerted to the fact that I don’t think money is always the solution here.

Is school choice the solution then?

What do we have to lose? That’s kind of where it came from. I looked at my own school district on the Indian reservation, which was like, we can only go up! That was really what it came down to. We can only go up. Frankly, I care about the community and I care about the kids, so this was just like, why not? Let’s try it. Let’s try something else. What we’re doing isn’t working, so let’s try something else.

Where does Prenda come in?

Prenda is just a school start up. We’re micro-schooling, kind of a blend of home schooling and traditional schools. My base there is just recruitment of more students and teachers. Just saying, hey, let’s try this… Their kids aren’t doing well in school – they may be being bullied, they may be bored. That’s sometimes the issue. And just connecting those parents, connecting teachers and then connecting them with guides, as we call them — people that want to teach those kids. In the past year, we did the San Carlos school. We had six kids when we started. We set up the class. We painted walls, we put fixed furniture in there. We were literally bringing school to kids, like school in a box.

Legislature joins push to delicense, deregulate all sorts of professions and jobs


If there’s a professional license, there’s probably an Arizona lawmaker who wonders if it should exist.

And the Arizona Legislature, following the example of the Gov. Doug Ducey, is attacking with increased vigor the government licenses required for some jobs.

More than a dozen bills this session take aim at various professions, from taxidermists to embalmers, as part of a continued push in Arizona to deregulate occupations. Some seek to deregulate specific industries, while others push for broader limits to licenses on the whole.

Arizona has effectively become a breeding ground for licensing changes, something that states led by both parties have undertaken in recent years.

The efforts come after years of advocacy from a handful of libertarian-leaning groups like the Goldwater Institute, the Institute for Justice and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. The groups claim the growing number of occupational licenses keep people out of certain jobs and protect the pocketbooks of the folks who already work in those fields.

More than a quarter of jobs in the United States require a license, they say, and such licenses can edge out young people, the poor, military families and people with criminal histories. The licenses can also serve as economic protectionism for the licensed, the groups say.

Delicensing is an active front for Ducey, the businessman-turned-governor who has repeatedly criticized government regulation and sought to diminish state boards and commissions. In recent years, the Legislature, with the governor’s support, has sought to deregulate landscape architects, geologists, driving school instructors, fruit packers and yoga instructors, with some success. Ducey pushed to delicense talent agents.

Not all professional licenses are created equal. Some delicensing doesn’t inspire much resistance – virtually no one clamored for fruit packers’ licenses – while others, like landscape architecture, have sparked fierce debate.

For people in regulated professions, the repeated knocks against their jobs and their colleagues are troublesome. They worry the public’s health and safety could be damaged if certain jobs don’t require licenses.

Janice Burnett, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona, said her group is always concerned the Legislature or Governor’s Office could come for engineers next.

Burnett, who is not an engineer, said, “You do not want me doing your engineering. It is a true science that has to do with true health and safety. You will lose your life if an engineer screws up. A school will fall down.”

The measures often result in heated hearings where people call the licensing boards “cartels” and members of a profession claim there will be massive negative consequences, including the spread of diseases, if a job is deregulated.

HB2011, a bill to allow people to blow dry hair without a cosmetology license, caused an uproar earlier this session after Ducey highlighted the measure in his State of the State address. Cosmetologists turned out, calling the bill disrespectful and saying it could lead to lice and staph infections.

“What you usually see at these things are just ridiculous threats,” said Paul Avelar, an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Arizona. His group has been lobbying for delicensing at the Legislature and suing the government over regulations for decades.

The institute’s 2012 “License to Work” report, which studied specific licenses in all 50 states, found Arizona to have the fifth most burdensome licensing laws and called Arizona the “most extensively and onerously licensed state.”

Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Some bills seek to delicense specific jobs, including behavioral health professionals, embalmers and funeral directors, massage therapists, barbers, taxidermists and athletic trainers. Republican Rep. Paul Mosley, who sponsored all of those measures, said he wanted to “start a conversation” about whether boards and licenses are needed in certain fields. Most of his delicensing bills haven’t gotten a hearing in any committee.

“How dangerous is it to be a massage therapist, and does the board actually prevent bad things from happening? Bad things are still going to happen whether you have a board or not,” Mosley said.

Multiple women alleged last year that they were sexually abused while getting massages at Arizona establishments, which the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy is now investigating.

Mosley said he’s been targeted by some of the boards, which told their members to contact him about the licensing bills. But the discussion has to start somewhere, he said.

Another bill, HB2532, would prevent cities from requiring licenses or fees for soothsayers, palm readers, phrenologists, buskers, junk dealers and several other businesses.

Ken Strobeck, the head of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the bill is unnecessary because cities don’t heavily regulate professions now. But the occupations listed could be licensed to protect consumers, he said.

“These are the kinds of things that cause problems in neighborhoods and communities and even in the business community that the rest of the neighborhood says, you’ve got to do something about this,” he said.

One measure would ask voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to affirm the “right to engage in occupation.” SCR 1037, sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Smith and pushed by the Goldwater Institute, says no state law should prohibit or regulate a person who wants to engage in any job unless such a law would clearly be necessary to protect health and safety. The state would have to prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that a rule is necessary to protect health and safety. The ballot referral also says local jurisdictions can’t put their own licensing regulations in place.

Advocates for delicensing say it’s a bipartisan issue, though the major groups that push such measures are decidedly right-leaning.

They point to a 2015 report from the Obama administration that compiled research from a variety of sources on licensing. While the report recognizes licenses can benefit public health and safety, it says “current systems of licensure can also place burdens on workers, employers, and consumers, and too often are inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary.”

Indeed, at least one bill this session found unanimous bipartisan support in a committee hearing because it combines two areas that frequently cross party lines, criminal justice reform and occupational licensing. SB1436 prohibits state boards from denying a qualified person a license because they have a criminal record, with some exceptions.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that holds a lot of sway at the statehouse, has model legislation on various licensing issues. But Arizona’s bills go further and address topics not seen in model laws.

In fact, one of the bills Arizona passed last year has since become model legislation for ALEC. The Goldwater-backed “right to earn a living act” gives people a legal pathway to challenge regulations that don’t relate to public health, safety and welfare.

Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Christina Sandefur (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute, said this is a top issue for the think-tank because people have to basically get government permission to enter a whole host of jobs, which gets in the way of economic freedom.

She questioned whether any field needed to be licensed by the government. There’s always private certification, apprenticeships, laws that hold bad actors accountable, even something like a Yelp review that can replace the need for licenses, she said. But she said licenses that truly protect health and safety are more justifiable.

“Most of the licenses today that we see aren’t justifiable,” she said.

And it’s not typically the general public who turn up to advocate for licensing a particular profession, said Avelar of the Institute for Justice. It’s entrenched interests, so getting rid of licenses will always be a battle, he said.

“I would like to think that we have won the policy argument. I don’t think that anyone can say with a straight face that licensing is only good. … We’ve won the policy argument, now we have to win the politics,” he said.

But filing bills to deregulate professions without studying the licenses in-depth beforehand isn’t the best approach, say many whose job is regulated. It’s not a bad idea to look at all the licenses and see what may be changed, multiple industry sources said, but it’s vital to take deliberate, measured steps to study the issues.

Melissa Cornelius, director of the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration, said the board formerly regulated assayers, people who test metals for coins and bullion for quality, but noticed it wasn’t really necessary anymore after talking to stakeholders on both sides of the debate and researching the license and its use. The board asked the Legislature to deregulate assaying, and it did in 2016, she said.

Rushing the process can have unintended negative consequences, she pointed out. In the late 1980s, the state deregulated commercial construction, then saw more fraud and harm to the public and swiftly re-regulated it, she said.

John Glenn, a licensed architect, said the approach to licensing changes so far has seemed disjointed. There hasn’t been an overall look at each license and why it may be needed or discarded, he said. Instead, people who are regulated are constantly looking out to see if their livelihoods will end up in a bill, he said.

The biggest challenge has been the broad brush strokes with which the think tanks, Governor’s Office and Legislature have painted licenses, Glenn said. While deregulating something like hair-braiding, which the Legislature did in 2004, makes sense, getting rid of highly technical licenses is scary, he said.

“When we’re just haphazardly throwing stuff out there and seeing what sticks … how do I know architects aren’t next?” he wondered.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s spokesman, said certain professional licenses will bubble up if something “ridiculous” happens, as was the case for a man cutting the hair of homeless people who was then investigated by the Board of Cosmetology, which dismissed the complaint.

The governor thinks there does need to be an overall look at licenses, why they’re required and what could be canned or added, Scarpinato said. It’s necessary to look at all licensed professions and see what the point of regulation is, who it’s protecting, and whether health and safety are compromised without licenses, he said.

“I think there may be an illusion that by a faceless government board at the Capitol putting their stamp of approval on it and charging people a fee that that is providing the public some guarantee and often it’s not. It’s simply a way for incumbent interests to limit who can participate in a certain field of work,” Scarpinato said.


Players in movement to remake Arizona’s criminal justice system

(AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Since conservatives got on board with revamping Arizona’s sentencing laws, bills to do that no longer lay unheard, not considered. And as the movement has taken hold over the past few years, a host of groups and people have made their presence known at the Legislature. Following are some of them.

John Allen
John Allen

Rep. John Allen

John Allen, R-Scottsdale, chairs the House Judiciary Committee, so he’ll have a say on whether any bills that propose changes to the sentencing laws.

Allen has exercised that power by giving a hearing to only two of 13 bills sponsored by Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, that proposed changes to the criminal justice system. He allowed a hearing on Blackman’s bill that allows nonviolent prisoners to earn credit to be released at a faster pace, but on the condition an amendment he proposed be attached.

In an act of political retaliation on February 5, Allen held a slate of criminal justice bills and said they would likely never be heard when Blackman joined Democrats on the committee to vote to hold one of Allen’s bills. Although two of the bills he held were his own, Tucson Democrat Rep. Kirsten Engel’s proposal to expand the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission was a casualty.


Americans for Prosperity

With chapters throughout the country, Americans for Prosperity is a conservative libertarian political advocacy group working to build grassroots campaigns, work with coalitions and put policy first. Their national efforts include expanding educational opportunities, implementing discretionary and mandatory spending to reverse the debt crisis, reform current immigration policy and more. In Arizona, the mission is more direct – restore all human dignity and work with legislators who align with the values of the organization.

This year, the group has focused their lobbying efforts on remaking criminal justice at the local level. They have worked closely with Blackman to ensure that their policies provide long-term solutions, like removing barriers for individuals post-release and determining which programs are actually attainable.

While Americans for Prosperity has a specific slant, the group cares more about the position of legislation and initiatives than the position of whoever proposed it.


American Friends Service Committee

Founded more than 100 years ago, the American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization working for peace and social justice as a practical expression of faith. They have volunteers in states all over the country who advocate for international peace building, inclusivity, immigrant rights, economic justice and ending mass incarceration.

Arizona’s chapter is based in Tucson where they challenge criminalization, oppose prison expansion and are constantly working to change public opinion. In 2012, the Tucson staff published an in-depth critical analysis of the for-profit prison industry in Arizona. The report claimed the state was wasting money on prison privatization and the prison corporations were buying influence in Arizona government.

Today, the group is educating people on the law that requires Arizona inmates to serve at least 85% of their sentence. They also submitted a proposal this session, reflected in HB2069, that would create a Citizens’ Oversight Committee to hold the Department of Corrections accountable.

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

Rep. Walt Blackman

Walt Blackman, who represents Snowflake in the House, has made the remaking of the state’s sentencing laws his signature issue this session, working with several lobbyists and across party lines to propose a host of bills that would ease access to prison data, provide specific definitions and ranges for punishment and change health care options within correctional facilities.

He even turned down entreaties from the National Republican Congressional Committee to run in the swing 1st Congressional District because he wanted more time in the Legislature to work on criminal justice issues, and he spent the summer leading an ad hoc committee focused on changing how Arizona sentences prisoners.

As the deadline neared for bills to be heard in their chamber of origin, only two of his 13 proposals have gotten a hearing. Blackman has spoken boldly as he’s gone about his crusade, saying he doesn’t answer to influential people at the Capitol who might stand in his way. For instance, when Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery was the Maricopa County attorney he wielded a lot of power at the Legislature and was a barrier to many proposed criminal justice changes, but that only seemed to spark Blackman’s fighting spirit.

“I do not need Mr. Montgomery’s permission to do what I plan to do,” he said in August, before Montgomery’s appointment to the high court.


Creosote Partners

As a progressive lobbying firm that supplies Arizona organizations with money, advice and direct legislative action, Creosote Partners wants to ensure that the politics and legislation reflect the changing diversity of the state. Some of their clients include the American Friends Service Committee, CHISPA, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Arizona School Counselors Association and more.

The organization works with other lobbying groups to create a coalition that builds “consensus” policy that aids both political parties, said Marilyn Rodriguez, one of the four main Creosote lobbyists.

“The advocacy community has done a great job at making sure [criminal justice policy] doesn’t become too political,” Rodriguez said. “By the sheer magnitude of the problem, we cannot be partisan.”

Rodriguez pointed out a disconnect between criminal justice change and immigration policy in Arizona, saying that “immigration policies are criminal justice reform” and she took a long pause before saying that it is “difficult to point to public policy” that has been good for the criminal justice system in Arizona.

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

Rep. Kirsten Engel

Democrats have long sought changes to Arizona’s criminal code, but their bills – even in this era with a conservative push to revamp the criminal justice laws – have been left to die without a committee hearing. And although Engel’s bills this year were killed by Allen as the House Judiciary Committee he chairs was about to hear them, she’s still the voice of the Democrats on the matter.

The Tucson lawmaker said she was not optimistic about what the incident with Allen may mean for the rest of the criminal justice change agenda from the Democratic caucus or Republicans who are also in favor of revamping the criminal justice laws, at least in the House.

“We haven’t seen any of the reform bills that we have introduced or we’re supporting that are being introduced by Republicans,” Engel said.

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth

Eddie Farnsworth, the Gilbert Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is perhaps the ultimate committee gatekeeper, and many criminal justice bills die without hearings in his committee. He’s also, ironically, the legislator with the best track record when it comes to passing bills to change the criminal justice system. The only criminal justice reform bill to pass in 2019 was a Farnsworth measure to allow certain people convicted of low-level drug offenses to earn time off their sentences by completing treatment programs. He also championed legislation to overhaul the state’s civil asset forfeiture statutes in 2017.

Farnsworth enjoys a cozy relationship with Montgomery and the two men share a skepticism of sweeping changes to the criminal justice system. But in his last term before retirement from the Legislature, Farnsworth has relinquished his iron grip a little, voting on the floor for bills he may have opposed in previous sessions and joking about “senioritis.” He agreed to hear one Senate criminal justice bill — a proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to require counties to report sentencing data — and hasn’t entirely ruled out entertaining House bills that make it his way.

Donna Hamm
Donna Hamm

Middle Ground Prison Reform

By working with public education, legislative advocacy and litigation, Middle Ground Prison Reform uses volunteers to address issues that concern prisoners and their families. They highlight that Arizona has a harsh criminal code with a lack of medical care, negligent treatment of the mentally ill, overuse of solitary confinement and a shortage of adequate rehabilitative opportunities.

Last year, the group was the only prisoner rights advocacy group to support SB1310, which passed, requiring the Department of Corrections to notify prisoners of the credits they earned that could lead to their early release.

The organization has taken a position on 25-30 bills that were introduced this session and has worked closely with Blackman on revamping sentencing laws.

The director, Donna Leone Hamm, has been appointed to two committees within the Department of Corrections that are now inactive. The department “didn’t appreciate input [from constituents] so meetings stopped,” Hamm said. Hamm said that it was “unfortunate” that the department is still not receptive to constructive criticism and only responds to litigation.

Sheila Polk
Sheila Polk

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk

Even though Montgomery’s influence on criminal justice policy diminished at the Legislature because of his new role on the Supreme Court, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is still around and not shy about sharing their opinions with lawmakers.

Polk, who has held office since 2001, has long been an ardent opponent of legalized marijuana – medicinal and recreational – and uses hardline policies in enforcing drug laws.

She was also instrumental in 2019 in the passage of a bill that aimed to stop prosecutors from using enhanced sentences intended for repeat offenders on people who don’t have previous convictions. Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed the bill after Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Montgomery bent his ear.

This year Polk persuaded Senate President Karen Fann to introduce legislation to require mandatory five-year prison sentences for people selling even small amounts of fentanyl.

Kurt Altman
Kurt Altman

Right on Crime

Emphasizing cost effective ways to approach enhancing public safety, Right on Crime works with several states and their conservative caucuses to pass juvenile justice reform bills, close prisons and establish committees that oversee the use of taxpayer dollars when it comes to state corrections.

The organization says the ideal criminal justice system works to rehabilitate for reentry into society.

Kurt Altman, whose career includes stints as a federal and county prosecutor and with the Goldwater Institute, is the Arizona director for Right on Crime. He promotes the organization’s positions in the Arizona and New Mexico legislatures while simultaneously running a law firm that defends criminals of all types.

Altman has published several articles, all about the organization’s values applied to policy in Arizona. In a recent article, Altman suggested that Phoenix jails should follow the models in Tucson and Pima County by reducing jail populations to save tax dollars.

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

Rep. Ben Toma

Ben Toma, R-Peoria, made his criminal justice debut last year as he shepherded to passage a bill that aimed to stop prosecutors from using enhanced sentences intended for repeat offenders on people who don’t have previous convictions. Toma made changes to the bill to appease county attorneys and get them to accept the legislation even though they weren’t in full support. But Ducey vetoed the bill after top prosecutors in Arizona’s largest counties turned around and lobbied him for the veto.

The problem when someone doesn’t keep their word is that you can’t trust them anymore,” Toma said at the time. “I don’t know where we go from here if someone has no honor.”

Toma said Blackman’s plan to go around Allen’s committee is good, but Toma tried the same last year with then-House Speaker Mesnard’s help. It appeared to work until Ducey vetoed the measure. Toma feels there is enough support for revamping criminal justice in both parties, but sometimes things don’t always make it “across the finish line.”

This year, one of his proposals, HB2359, would prohibit state agencies from denying an occupational license to any qualified applicant who happens to have a past drug offense. The bill has the OK from the House Rules Committee, so far.

Toma also proposes an expungement bill that would allow courts to seal arrest and conviction records, although it hadn’t received a committee hearing.

“From a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to have people stigmatized forever,” Toma said.

Reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this report. 

Stringer continues criminal justice reform effort amid controversy

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

At a meeting with a group of African Americans last month, Rep. David Stringer didn’t exactly apologize for his remarks that immigration is “an existential threat” to the United States.

An apology is not what Renee Huff wanted to hear from the Prescott Republican.

“I didn’t come here just because I was offended. I came here because I want to know what comes next,” Huff told Stringer on June 27. “And the judicial system and the criminal justice system is very important, and yes, it is overloaded with people of color.”

Stringer would like to keep working to improve outcomes in the judicial system. That day, he promised that he would continue efforts behind the scenes to advocate for criminal justice reforms at the Legislature.

As the chairman of an ad hoc committee formed to study that very topic, Stringer was poised to have a leading role in that endeavor. That committee was disbanded following news of Stringer’s remarks on immigration, as House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, feared Stringer’s comments would overshadow the committee’s work.

Stringer and the committee are still moving forward, although in a less public setting.

Reps. Tony Rivero, Ben Toma, Kirsten Engel and Tony Navarrete met with Stringer and representatives from various organizations advocating for criminal justice reform on June 26, to plan how to keep studying the issues they would have tackled as an ad hoc committee.

Sam Richard, a lobbyist for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, arrived at the June 26 meeting expecting an apology and for Stringer to step away from the conversation. Instead, Stringer expressed regret that his comments affected the committee’s agenda, and announced he’ll continue to be a part of discussions going forward.

That arrangement is disappointing to the American Friends Service Committee, which works closely with other groups advocating for criminal justice reform, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice on the left, and Americans For Prosperity and Right on Crime, more right-leaning organizations.

“His comments were deeply and gravely offensive to many of the people that we are in that room on behalf of,” Richard said. “So his continued presence is a distraction, both from a political perspective but also from a policy perspective, because it’s hard to divorce the two during an election year.”

“Mr. Stringer’s public involvement in the conversations at any level is a distraction to meaningful progress on these issues,” he added.

Stringer declined to comment, citing a desire to avoid hurting the committee’s effort, and referred questions to Rivero.

Rivero, a Peoria Republican, acknowledged that he’d been asked to be “somewhat of a spokesperson,” the public face of the group’s work, rather than Stringer.

The arrangement was struck as lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, try to find a way to keep the conversation moving forward.

Engel, a Tucson Democrat, said, “We all continue to think, especially Tony (Navarrete) and I and others, the work on criminal justice has to continue. And that’s really the most important thing to do. What we have done is committed to continue to meet.”

As for Stringer’s involvement, Engel said, “I think it’s up to him if he’ll continue attending the meetings… It’s fine so far as he’s not the face of this group.”

Rivero said he wasn’t aware that any organizations were concerned by Stringer’s continued presence in conversations about criminal justice reform, but said he’s happy to sit down and talk about any concerns.

“But as far as David Stringer goes, I don’t agree with his opinion or his comments, but the reality is he’s still a legislator. And if he’s re-elected, he’s one vote that’s needed on this specific issue,” Rivero said.

Kurt Altman, a lobbyist for Right on Crime in Arizona, said Stringer has a passion for criminal justice reform, and some insight. Stringer has boasted of pro bono work he did as a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., and was the one who advocated for the creation of a committee to study the issue this summer.

And Stringer isn’t naive about the spotlight he’s placed on himself, and indirectly, the committee’s mission, Altman said. That’s why he’s stepping back a bit to allow someone else to address questions about the committee’s work.

“He’s a smart guy when it comes to these issues,” Altman said. “People might not agree with his views on all issues regarding criminal justice, but he has some insight, and I think his input is good.”

As an advocate for criminal justice reform, Altman said organizations have to make the best of their situation – in this case, like any other issue at the Capitol, that means working with whoever is in office and has the power to pass laws.

“We don’t get to make the choices on who’s driving policy. It’s a good policy. So whoever’s at the table, I would sit at the table with him,” Altman said.

Despite their disappointment with Stringer, the American Friends Service Committee will also take that approach, Richard said.

“If there is a conversation happening about criminal justice reform at the Capitol, we feel like it is our duty to be a part of that conversation,” he said.

Voucher expansion on hold as effort to kill campaign begins

A Save Our Schools Arizona volunteer hands off a box of signatures to another helper. The anti-school voucher expansion group delivered 111,540 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
A Save Our Schools Arizona volunteer hands off a box of signatures to another helper. The anti-school voucher expansion group delivered 111,540 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

School voucher expansion legislation is on hold after Save Our Schools Arizona delivered, by the group’s count, 111,540 signatures today to refer the law to the 2018 general election ballot.

A yellow school bus decked out in SOS Arizona banners carried the signatures to a loading deck below the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. Volunteers in red SOS Arizona shirts loaded wagons full of petition boxes, and children dressed as professionals carted them to the building.

Children of Save Our Schools Arizona volunteers cart boxes of signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Children of Save Our Schools Arizona volunteers cart boxes of signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Beyond the spectacle, spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker was clear that the effort to quash the expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program was far from over.

“The supporters of voucher expansion will tell you this is about choice, but so far, the only choice that SB 1431 respects is that of out-of-state, dark money groups who created it,” she said to crowd gathered after the signatures were delivered. “What about the choice of 111,540 Arizona voters who want to have their say?”

Penich-Thacker said she received word that opponents were already asking that signatures be invalidated – signatures that were still in the boxes.

By the time SOS Arizona delivered its signatures, opponents had already made their first effort to hinder the campaign.

Republican elections attorney Timothy La Sota, who represents the Arizona Republican Party, sent a letter to the secretary of state requesting that it invalidate all signatures collected by three of the campaign’s paid petition gatherers on the grounds that they registered incorrectly with the state.

Elections Director Eric Spencer said La Sota alleged that one of the three had impermissibly listed a post office box as his home address, while the other had information missing from the street addresses they used in their registration. Spencer said he didn’t know how many signatures might be affected.

Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker addresses a crowd of volunteers and reporters after submitting more than 110,000 signatures to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot. The signatures were enough to put the legislation temporarily on hold on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Save Our Schools Arizona spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker addresses a crowd of volunteers and reporters after submitting more than 110,000 signatures to refer school voucher legislation to the 2018 ballot. The signatures were enough to put the legislation temporarily on hold on Aug. 8. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

In response, Dawn Penich-Thacker accused ESA supporters of trying to stifle democracy.

“Instead of listening to their constituents, they are plotting ways to squash us,” she said. “Let me be clear: Every lawsuit to throw out a voter signature is an attempt to silence us. Every challenge to a retiree who spent this summer getting signatures is an affront to our democracy in Arizona. Every trick they pull out of their deep pockets is putting their political ambitions ahead of the future of Arizona.”

She predicted supporters of the legislation would use “fear tactics” to sway voters and exploit the current rules around ESAs, which, she said, SOS Arizona does not oppose.

The anti-voucher expansion side will certainly be up against legal challenges and high-dollar investments against SOS Arizona’s cause.

Hours before the signature delivery, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation joined the fray by announcing in a press release it will be “spending six figures to tell Arizonans the facts about how charter schools, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, and other policies are enabling more Arizona children to obtain a quality education.”

“The facts are clear: Arizona schools have made great strides by increasing the opportunity for all Arizonans to get a quality education,” said Andrew Clark, the foundation’s state director. “Arizona has five of the seven best schools in the nation, led the nation in academic gains for six consecutive years, and has the top charter schools in the nation. Arizona is doing something right, and families and taxpayers deserve to hear the facts.”

Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who sponsored Senate Bill 1431 for the voucher expansion, put out her own statement on the halting of the voucher expansion legislation triggered by the submission of the referendum campaign’s signatures.

Lesko said she spoke with three “confused and upset moms” Monday night who had already selected new schools and purchased uniforms for their children. They are now left wondering what to do now that the legislation has been put on hold, Lesko said, and they are the ones hurting.

“I support public schools AND I support giving more choices to parents,” she said in her press statement. “I hope someday opponents of my legislation realize we can do both and will work with me to improve education for everyone so no other Arizona parents have to feel the way they do today.”

Stacks of voters' signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Stacks of voters’ signatures were delivered to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 8 after Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 110,000 signatures in three months. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Eric Spencer said the final verdict on valid signatures submitted Tuesday is not expected until the last week of September at the earliest.

However, his estimate is absent litigation, which Spencer said is “100 percent ensured.”

And without a looming ballot-printing deadline, a legal battle is likely to be long drawn out and expensive.

Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.