Audit stirs dissension among GOP senators

Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, tells GOP lawmakers about irregularities he said have been found so far in the review of Maricopa County ballots and equipment. With him is Ken Bennett who is the Senate's liaison with the audit. (Capitol Media Services photo from video feed)
Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, tells GOP lawmakers about irregularities he said have been found so far in the review of Maricopa County ballots and equipment. With him is Ken Bennett who is the Senate’s liaison with the audit. (Capitol Media Services photo from video feed)

In letting the Senate’s audit drag on as auditors demand more subpoenaed materials, Senate President Karen Fann has managed to delay a fight within her caucus over how to handle the eventual results. 

The July 15 impromptu broadcast meeting with Fann, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Warren Petersen and the audit team they hired laid bare ongoing rifts in the Senate Republican caucus, as some responded with calls to overturn election results and others stepped up criticism. 

Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican who has been among the most vocal to question the 2020 presidential election results, tweeted partway through the meeting that she had heard enough and it was time to remove President Joe Biden’s Arizona electoral votes – something the Senate cannot do, and that wouldn’t affect Biden’s national victory.  

On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, has renewed his criticism of the audit. Boyer, like all Senate Republicans, supported the concept of a Senate-led audit last winter, but quickly soured on the idea after Fann attempted to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt and selected the Cyber Ninjas, a firm that lacks election auditing experience and has a CEO who promoted election conspiracies on since-deleted social media accounts.  

“You told us in closed caucus the ‘audit’ would not cost taxpayers more than 150k and you wouldn’t divulge who you were hiring,” he tweeted at Fann. “Had you told us it was an inexperienced, partisan firm, I wouldn’t have been the only one to object.” 

Boyer did not return a call Wednesday. Sen. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who with Boyer is widely viewed as the closest thing to a moderate left in the Senate Republican caucus, said he wants to get a second opinion on any audit results before the Legislature tries to pass new laws.  

He worked closely with election officials across the state this year to introduce a rare noncontroversial election law bill, with adjustments to filing deadlines and a ban on using slogans as part of a nickname on a ballot.  

“I’ve been at this thing for nine years,” Shope said. “I’ve made relationships with different county recorders across the state and elections department officials, obviously good enough to run a bill that was written the way that they wanted it earlier this year, so there are people that I trust that I would go to with any of these findings.” 

Fann said during an interview last week that she stood behind the audit and would repeat the whole process over again.  

“I think that it’s going to open up a lot of eyes about some improvements that we can make in our system,” she said.  

But her insistence that the Senate is only looking forward at how to pass laws affecting the next election, not changing the results of the prior one, is an unpopular opinion among some in her caucus.  

Along with Rogers, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, has said the Legislature should consider reconvening to attempt to overturn the 9-month-old election results. Townsend is also seeking an Attorney General investigation into Maricopa County based on last week’s hearing, though she said she has yet to hear back about whether Attorney General Mark Brnovich will take up her request. 

Townsend said she wants to change a state law requiring the House or Senate to vote on a resolution to hold anyone who refuses to comply with a legislative subpoena in contempt, thus enabling Fann or House Speaker Rusty Bowers to send the sergeant at arms to fetch recalcitrant witnesses without needing the support of a majority of a legislative body.  

Instead, she said, it should be a class one misdemeanor – punishable by up to six months in jail – for anyone to ignore a Senate subpoena.  

“We’re not going to give up,” Townsend said. “I’m not giving up, and I will do what’s necessary to complete the people’s audit. And if they can’t do it on their own, we will find a way to force them to do it, either now or next year, and if laws were broken, people need to go to jail.”  

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the auditing team came across as professional and competent to him during last week’s hearing, and he blames Maricopa County for delays in completing the Senate’s review. While he hoped the investigation would have been completed a long time ago, he said the Senate can’t stop now.  

“If folks know that they can obstruct and delay, and that if they do that long enough and persist in it that you will just walk away, then everybody will do it,” he said.  

Mesnard, who represents a district won by Biden and Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, said he isn’t concerned about the audit’s political effect in swing districts like his. The 2022 election should favor Republicans because Democrats hold the White House, House and Senate, and voters don’t usually make their decisions based on a single issue, he said.  

The Senate’s audit has thus far been an entirely partisan affair, and Senate Democrats are waiting to see if they’ll get the chance to review the final results and question the auditors. Ahead of last week’s meeting, Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said he received no notice that it was a hearing or he was invited until a Senate staff member sent him a picture of a seat in the audience with a sign saying it was reserved for him. 

Quezada watched the meeting from afar and marveled at why anyone thought it was a good idea. He can only see one way out of the ongoing investigation: for Fann to announce that it’s gotten ridiculous, she’s ending the audit and she’ll accept the consequences.  

“I think that would be a good way, and a good reason to be dethroned as Senate president,” he said. “That’s what I would do if I was her. I would say, ‘Look, guys, this is stupid. We’re ending this.’” 

Audit Twitter accounts suspended, Bennett frozen out

Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

When the Arizona audit of the 2020 election began, the public had two avenues to receive information – former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and the Arizona Audit Twitter account. Three months later, it has neither. 

Tuesday’s suspension of the account comes a day after Bennett, Senate audit liaison, said he is considering resigning his post after being permanently barred from the building where the audit of Maricopa County 2020 ballots is taking place.   

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said in a statement Tuesday that Bennett would still “be involved and a vital part of the draft and final reports to ensure their accuracy with his knowledge and contributions throughout the audit process.” 

However, Fann said Bennett’s disclosure of “unconfirmed information” led to his removal from the hands-on part of the process. 

“It is irresponsible to disclose partial information to the media since they are not ‘confirmed’ facts until the audit is final,” Fann stated. “This only leads to confusion and misinformation with the public.” 

Bennett, who has been involved with the Senate’s review of the Maricopa County 2020 ballots since April, was considering calling it quits entirely after a few incidents he discussed in radio interviews Monday.  

The latest was on July 23, when he arrived at the Wesely Bolin Building – where the ballots are currently housed after leaving Veterans Memorial Coliseum – and was not permitted inside.  

The election review is now entering its fourth month. Workers are wrapping up an additional count of ballots and vacating the Wesley Bolin Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds by the end of this week, said Randy Pullen, audit liaison and former Arizona Republican Party chairman. 

Pullen said that Bennett was told Friday he would not be allowed back in the building while counting continued, though that was unclear in Bennett’s public remarks Monday. 

The Arizona Senate also issued new subpoenas Monday for more election information from the county, including mail-in ballot envelopes or images of them, voter registration records with change histories, information about security breaches of elections systems, passwords and information for administrator access to tabulation machines, network logs and router information. 

Fann and Bennett attributed his barring to sharing information about ballot counts in some of the ballot boxes with Larry Moore, the retired founder of Clear Ballot, who, along with Republican analyst Benny White, has conducted his own analyses of the 2020 election.  

“I shared some box counts of how many ballots were in each box, and that got leaked to the press,” Bennett said. “I apologized to the Senate, to President (Karen) Fann. I had promised that information would not be leaked to the press, but it indirectly got done. So, that’s how I got barred from the audit.” 

Pullen said it was one of many incidents where Bennett “violated his commitment not to release information” and that Bennett, the spokesman, had declined to sign a nondisclosure agreement earlier on in the review. 

“Frankly, he was asked to sign an NDA that week they had the hearing, and he refused to sign the NDA,” Pullen said. “Again, it’s unfortunate that that he chose to do that.” 

Pullen notably is also the treasurer for the 501(c)(4) nonprofit Guardian Defense Fund, created by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, to raise money and pay for audit security. The lead security officer known only as “Cowboy Hat Andy” told Bennett he could not speak to a 12 News reporter last week because he was no longer spokesman. Bennett said it was a “power play.”  

Pullen said he spoke to Fann Thursday evening after becoming aware that Bennett had shared the data with Moore. Pullen said it was the Senate’s decision to bar Bennett. 

“Once it became clear that he was the source of the problem, on Thursday, Karen Fann and I agreed that he wouldn’t be let back into the building while counting was going on,” Pullen said, adding that Fann tried to “relay that information” to Bennett Thursday night but was unable to reach him. 

Fann wouldn’t confirm or deny that detail Monday evening. She instead sent a general statement. 

“Ken is a valuable asset to the senate audit and will continue to be so,” Fann said via text. “The physical work is expected to finish up in the next few days and the auditors will take all the data back to their labs for analysis.” 

She would not specify if one of those labs was in Montana where audit subcontractor CyFir founder Ben Cotton took data recently.  

Fann also did not address the conversation in her Tuesday comments, but took several shots at Maricopa County for “withhold[ing] vital information from the public and the auditors which has created additional costs, months of delays and a lack of transparency on their part.” 

She did maintain that Bennett was still part of the team.  

“When the draft report is ready for review, it is planned for Ken, Senator (Warren) Petersen, myself and our legal team will be reviewing the report with the auditors to ensure all information is clearly explained and documented correctly,” Fann continued.  

“Regarding access to information: our senate members nor I have access to the numbers of the ongoing audit except for the information we were provided at the public hearing on July 15th,” she said, adding that the media has as much info as the Senate does.  

She added that she hired the auditors to do a job and nobody should “be looking over their shoulder telling them how to do their job or asking for premature information.”  

That seemed like a swipe at Bennett who was asking questions to which Cyber Ninjas and Pullen would not provide answers.  

“I cannot be a part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate and have integrity when we produce the final report,” Bennett told James T Harris of “The Conservative Circus” on 550 KFYI. “And unfortunately, there have been too many of those situations.” 

Bennett was one of the only signs of transparency coming out of the Senate’s audit, helping walk through details for the press corps and answering questions as best he could. He was never willing to admit he was intentionally being left out of the audit’s inner circle.  

Fann would not comment on whether she was concerned over Cyber Ninjas and Pullen withholding information from Bennett — the one person involved with extensive election oversight knowledge — or whether she could trust that information since Bennett was hired as her liaison to transmit information between the parties involved. If he wasn’t getting all the information, it’s unclear if she was. 

“When the audit is complete then they will need to provide us with all their proof and documentation of their results,” Fann said. 

Bennett said via text he has no comment at this time. 

Bennett was there to operate as the messenger between the contractors and Fann, so his banning raises more questions than before.  

On the radio Monday, Bennett said he’s still fully committed to the audit but called being denied entry “the tip of the iceberg.” 

He gave a couple examples of what’s underneath the surface.  

Early on, Cyber Ninjas were not forthcoming with how they were counting boxes of duplicate ballots, Bennett told Harris, and he heard the auditors were telling workers, “Don’t share anything with Secretary Bennett.”  

Bennett said that when he learned the Senate wanted a third recount of the ballots, he went to Pullen and asked for the procedures because he was concerned about the independence of the count.  

“He refused to tell me,” Bennett said. 

Bennett said he was concerned there would be “force balancing” to make it match the Cyber Ninja’s count. Harris pointed out that Bennett does not know the Cyber Ninjas’ count because it has not been shared with him.   

Now with Bennett’s access kneecapped and the suspension of the “official” Arizona Audit Twitter account, it’s unclear how much information the press and public will receive moving forward — or where that information will come from.  

Twitter also banned the Audit War Room account, which was created after the official account was criticized for being inflammatory. (All other state war room accounts were also suspended likely due to one person running them, something Twitter tries to avoid.)  

The Audit War Room account has attacked elected officials and the media. In one instance, it mocked an Arizonan whose dog died. 

It is still unclear who was posting to the accounts. 

 Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include a statement from Senate President Karen Fann on Ken Bennett being involved in the final report of the audit. 

Bipartisanship to be tested in House with 31-29 split

(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
(Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

No election cycle would be complete without a cadre of candidates preaching about the importance of working across the aisle.

But that line will really be put to the test in the Arizona House of Representatives in 2019.

Nineteen true freshmen will join the chamber, 13 of whom are Democrats. And four of those Democrats represent districts where the minority party was able to flip a seat out of Republican hands. Their combined effort now leaves the House with a 31-29 split.

That means Republicans still have the majority, but their losses this year significantly reduced their ability to pass legislation without Democratic support. Just one or two stray Republicans who disagree with their party on, say, funding for public education could upset that delicate balance of power.

For now, plenty of current and incoming representatives are still promising bipartisan efforts in the next legislative session. But it’s no surprise they rarely agree, and it doesn’t take much to coax the party politics out again.

That was evident when a panel of lawmakers talked about the next legislative session at a November 16 conference of public school board members, administrators, and finance officials.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, was optimistic about bipartisanship.

“Everything good about the state of Arizona has happened because Democrats and Republicans worked on it together,” she said.

Fernandez will lead Democrats in her chamber as House minority leader starting in January.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, will serve in leadership with her as co-whip.

He said Democrats are open and ready to work with the majority from day one, but he put the onus on the Republicans to include them.

“Members of the majority will have to step back and ask themselves if they want to really work with the other side,” he said.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, was the contrarian.

Mesnard will be joining the Senate in 2019 after fending off a challenge by Democrat Steve Weichert in Legislative District 17, but he had some parting thoughts for the House and its new dynamic.

Despite the tight split coming to the House, he said Republicans would still be in the majority in both chambers. Conversations will have to happen on both sides, but he said they’re bound to diverge.

“That’s just the way politics is,” he said. “We’ll get along when we can. … Obviously, we have disagreements, and I think that will continue to be the case.”

He certainly had his disagreements with Bolding, who placed blame for Arizona’s education funding crisis squarely on the shoulders of the GOP.

“If you consistently are cutting taxes 25 of the last 26 years, you don’t have revenue, and then a crisis occurs, then you have to sell the buildings – you were in the majority,” Bolding said. “You made the decision, and now we have to suffer.”

Mesnard did not take the critique lightly.

“Time and again, this is the Republican perspective, we see the Democrats being late to the game, saying, ‘Oh, you should’ve done this.’ Except when we tried to do that, you opposed it,” Mesnard said, referring to a proposed temporary tax increase that went to the voters during the recession. “Whatever we do is wrong, according to you.”

Mesnard offered the 20 by 2020 teacher pay raise plan as an example.

He said Democrats would never say the plan was a good thing, and he criticized them for characterizing the plan as a drop in the bucket.

Fernandez did applaud Republicans for the raise, but not without a caveat.

“Yes, the Republicans did pass the 20 by 2020 plan,” she said. “But by golly, it took about 70,000 people in red to come to state Legislature to make it happen.”

And she said the people who marched on the Capitol were there for much more.

“It wasn’t just teacher pay raises that they were coming for,” she said. “They were talking about their classrooms not being equipped with the resources that they need. They were talking about their roofs leaking. They were talking about classrooms that had 30 kids and 25 desks. This is what the teachers asked of us. … Our constituents wanted public education funded.”

Mesnard acknowledged the Red for Ed movement had an effect on everyone, not just lawmakers, but he said to suggest Republicans weren’t already heading in that direction before the teachers’ strike earlier this year was factually inaccurate.

Ultimately, it was just another disagreement not likely to be resolved anytime soon, with or without Democrats closing in on the majority.

And it’s a disagreement that is sure to arise again in the upcoming session.

C.T. Wright: Politically active clemency chairman prays for unity

Cap Times Q&A

If you’ve sat through a day at Arizona Senate in the past three years, there’s a chance you’ve heard a booming prayer delivered by C. T. Wright. His prayers have also been heard in the Arizona House of Representatives, at state GOP meetings, and even at a campaign rally for President Trump in 2016. As a politically active resident of Fountain Hills, Wright has served in the past as a delegate at national political conventions, a member of the Arizona Electoral College, and currently as chairman of the Board of Executive Clemency.

C.T. Wright (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
C.T. Wright (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

What do you enjoy about delivering the prayer before the Senate?

I enjoy being there and meeting and getting to know the senators, the staff, and getting to, hopefully, influence them just a little bit. Because one of the things I truly believe in, that is unity. If you’ve heard me several times, I like to say, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is together, together in unity.” And that’s one of the things that I like to try and get over to the senators, for them to hopefully come together, work together in unity, rather than divided as so oftentimes we are.

Do you get to do more than just pray? How else can you reach out to lawmakers?

It’s through the prayer, but I spend a great deal of time over there, knocking on doors, both Senate and House. I also had the opportunity to pray on the House side. But I enjoy talking to them, getting to know them, and I think I can say safely that I probably know at least 90 percent of the ones on the Senate side. On the House side, because you had so many freshmen this year, I’m gonna say that I probably know maybe about 60 percent of those on the House side.”

How long have you been in Arizona?

I came to Arizona in 1989, but from ’89 until ’04 I was traveling all over the world doing some work for Africa. But in ’04 I had an illness — my back went out on me — and I made a commitment at that time, rather than trying to travel over the world and that type of thing, I should concentrate on Arizona, and I’ve been concentrating on Arizona since then.

I’ve heard you say this plenty in the Senate, so I can’t help but ask: What’s the greatest city in the world?

The greatest city? Let’s say first of all the greatest state on the planet is the state of Arizona. Arizona is a great state. We have great leaders here in Arizona, and they really position Arizona into the 21st century and beyond. And that started with Governor Doug Ducey, to the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House, all the way down to, as I like to say, to the doorkeepers, to the dog catchers and everybody else – Arizona is really an outstanding place. Now you get me when you say city. I’m going to have to say, although initially I was staying in Scottsdale, but I’m going to have to say Fountain Hills is the greatest town in the world. I am going to make that distinction between city and town, because Fountain Hills is really outstanding, and that’s one reason I’ve become so involved, because of my respect for Fountain Hills.

What to you is the overlap between the spiritual and the political?

I think that my philosophy is to try to help to create an environment to bring leaders together — political, economic leaders, all leaders. We can come together and they can truly make a difference. I think that one of the problems that we have today at the federal level, at the state level and at the local level, we are not talking to each other. We are talking over each other. We never listen to each other, and that’s a problem, in my opinion. If we begin to listen to each other, then we can achieve so much more. America is the greatest nation in the world, Arizona is the greatest state in the world, in the United States of America, but now that we are so great, if we don’t work together, we’re going to be divided. Together we stand… We need to come together – otherwise we are going to fail. I believe, I hope, that I can have some influence through prayers, as well as behind closed doors.

How do you aspire to accomplish that?

My philosophy is quite simple. Let the work that I do speak for me. I don’t need to be in the press every day, I don’t need to be out there every day. But if I can do something behind closed doors to truly make a difference, to bring people together who ordinarily would not talk to each other — and that’s one of the things I try to do, through prayer, through spirituality, as well as an individual who is somewhat involved in the political process.

Unity is clearly your focus, but at this point in time, is the nation even close to accomplishing that?

I think at the moment we’re totally divided, and I think that is quite evident. I don’t have the data that you would have, but I’m going to make up some numbers at the moment, some percentages: About 40 percent in my opinion are Republicans, about 40 percent are Democrats, and then you other 20 percent somewhere out there. That’s where we don’t have unity at the moment. But I have faith in this country that unity will come. I go back to the 1860s, with Abraham Lincoln. The country became totally divided at that time. But the country came back together. We’re divided now, but the country can come back together. But in order for the country to come back together, our leaders are going to have to work together to truly make that difference. And if our leaders begin to work together, and I’m going to say something else, and most people won’t say this anymore, not only must they work together, but they must pray together. I think if we begin to pray, forgive me for saying that, if we begin to pray, I think we will come together. We’ll get to know each other better.

County starts process for lawsuit against Senate

Allister Adel

Maricopa County is taking the first steps to what could be a lawsuit against the Senate.

In a letter Friday, County Attorney Allister Adel demanded that Senate President Karen Fann preserve all communications related to the audit. These range from internal memos within the Senate all the way to social media posts.

All that, she said, is part of a legal maneuver known as a “litigation hold notice and document preservation request.” That allows attorneys contemplating a lawsuit to demand that a prospective defendant does not destroy materials that could help prove their case.

More to the point, it puts prospective defendants on notice they have a duty to preserve evidence that they know or should know is relevant or face court sanctions.

Strictly speaking, Adel does not explain her legal theory.

But her letter suggests, at the very least, a libel suit against senators and those involved in the audit who put out what Adel said were false statements that the county had deleted an entire database directory from the election equipment. That even included a post on the Senate audit’s official Twitter account saying the directory was deleted days before the election equipment was delivered.

“This is spoliation of evidence!” the post reads.

And there’s something else.

“We have reason to believe that this audit is not being done in accordance with Arizona law,” Adel wrote.

She did not spell out exactly what the county believes is illegal. But such a claim would lead to yet another lawsuit between the county and the state.

Earlier litigation concerned whether the Senate had a right to subpoena the ballots and voting equipment. A judge eventually concluded that the legislature has broad powers to demand pretty much whatever it wants.

But a claim of impropriety or illegality in how all this is being conducted would require a judge to take a closer look at exactly how the Senate — and its hired contractors — have been handling everything they have.

There also could be a financial component to any litigation. That follows a statement earlier in the week by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs that the decision by the Senate to turn the county’s voting equipment over to the outside contractors it hired makes those machines unusable for future elections.

Fann had only a brief comment on the letter.

“Boy, they really don’t want us to finish this audit,” she told Capitol Media Services.

Adel, in her demand letter, was quite comprehensive.

For example, she wants “all communications and correspondence, whether paper or electronic, including but not limited to written correspondence, voice mails, emails, calendar invites, text messages, instant messages, third-party message systems/applications, messages and data chat/chat strings, video files, audio files, and social media posts and messages, whether designated as public or private.”

Adel also is telling Fann to have the Senate and its contractors preserve all cell phones, tablets and computers used by her, agents, clients and contractors for the audit. And she wants these devices “preserved in their entirety for forensic imaging and electronically stored information.”

And if Fann did not get the significance of the message, Adel cited case law which she said empowers judges “to impose significant sanctions against parties who fail to preserve evidence.”


Court awards former Senate Dem staffer $1M


The Arizona Senate fired a former Democratic policy advisor because she complained that she was being paid less because of her race and gender, a federal court ruled Friday evening. 

A U.S. District Court jury awarded Talonya Adams $1 million, according to court documents filed Monday. The jury found that Adams, a black attorney who was fired in 2015 after asking about a raise, had been discriminated against because of her race and gender.

According to court documents, Adams worked for the Senate from December 2012 until February 2015 as a Democratic policy advisor, earning $60,000 per year during her whole tenure. Adams also ran for a seat in the House in 2018, finishing last in a four-way primary in Legislative District 27. 

Talonya Adams
Talonya Adams

A few weeks before she was fired, she emailed Minority Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler and then-Minority Leader Katie Hobbs with concerns about her committee workload and whether she was being paid accurately because her timesheets only reflected eight hours of work per day. Adams then met with Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, who oversees all employees, to discuss those concerns in early February.

A few days later, the Legislative Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, published the salaries of all state Senate employees and Adams learned that she made nearly $30,000 less than Garth Kamp, a white male policy advisor for the majority caucus who had similar committee assignments. Adams emailed Baldo the next morning to ask about protocol for requesting a raise, and Baldo told her she needed to go through Democratic leadership. 

Adams emailed all six members of the elected Democratic leadership team to ask for a meeting to discuss her position, and Hobbs told her to discuss the matter with Winkler. 

At the same time, Adams planned to travel to Seattle to care for her sick son. She was away in Washington when Winkler learned that she hadn’t completed a briefing project due that day.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Baldo, Winkler and Hobbs agreed to fire Adams, citing a lack of confidence caused by her failure to complete projects before leaving for Seattle. Adams was fired by phone later that day.

She sued in federal court in 2017, alleging that the Senate violated the federal Civil Rights Act by paying her less than white male employees and firing her in retaliation after she complained. 

Adams said she couldn’t speak about the case until after an Aug. 14 evidentiary hearing, at which the court will decide whether she’s owed additional damages. That could include the Senate making up the difference between the salary Adams was paid for three years and the salaries of white male colleagues in similar roles, said Jocquees Blackwell, an attorney who worked with Adams on the case.

 A spokesman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office deferred comment to an attorney with an outside firm, Ryley Carlock & Applewhite PA, that also represented the Senate, and a call to its attorney was not immediately returned.

The Arizona Senate is working on adjusting its pay scales because some employees are not paid commensurate with their experience. Baldo told the Arizona Capitol Times those discussions are not related to Adams’ suit, but said she couldn’t comment further on the case. 

The $1 million, like other penalties against state agencies, would be paid through the Arizona Department of Administration’s Risk Management division, and not the Senate’s $12.9 million budget, Baldo said. 


Fired Senate staffer who won discrimination suit reinstated

Talonya Adams outside U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Talonya Adams outside U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

The Arizona Senate has reinstated a former Democratic policy adviser who won a federal discrimination lawsuit over being paid less than white male employees with similar jobs. 

Talonya Adams returned to the Senate as a senior policy adviser Monday, Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler announced in an email to legislative staff obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times

Adams will advise Democratic senators on bills before the Commerce and Transportation and Public Safety committees, according to Winkler’s note. 

She has a salary of $113,300 — the same rate as three senior GOP policy advisers, and thousands of dollars more than Democratic policy advisers. It’s nearly double the $60,000 Adams worked for during her first stint in the Senate, from December 2012 to February 2015. 

Adams, like all Senate minority caucus employees, will report to Winkler and Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, two of the three people she accused of discriminating against her. Katie Hobbs, the Senate Minority Leader in 2015 and the third person involved in the decision to fire Adams, is now Secretary of State. 

Working for Winkler was a sticking point in negotiations between Adams and a Senate attorney, and one of the key reasons why the Senate didn’t meet an Oct. 31 deadline a federal judge set for her reinstatement. 

A federal jury found this summer that the Senate paid Adams, who is black, less than colleagues because of her race and gender, then fired her for complaining about it. Judge Douglas L. Rayes awarded her more than $350,000 in damages and ordered that the Senate reinstate her. 

The Senate has a pending motion for a new trial in the case, arguing that Adams did not lay the groundwork for a legal claim because she didn’t explain when she asked for a raise that she thought she faced discrimination. 

 Adams did not immediately return a phone call. 

GOP senator starts contempt proceedings for county supervisors


The chairman of the Senate judiciary committee is drafting a resolution that could end in Maricopa County supervisors being held in contempt and frog-marched to the capitol.

After the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday afternoon to reject the Senate’s latest request to hand over 2.1 million ballots, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, announced on Twitter that he was drafting a resolution of contempt for the board. 

“It is truly unfortunate that today Maricopa County has refused to comply with the subpoena and allow the Senate to conduct a forensic audit of the election,” Petersen tweeted. “There is no legal consequence if they allow us access to the machines and ballots. However there are serious legal consequences for failing to comply with the subpoena.”

Because Monday was the Senate’s deadline to introduce bills, Petersen will need permission from the Senate Rules Committee to introduce his resolution. That committee, the only one that doesn’t broadcast its meetings, is inaccessible to anyone but senators and staff because of Covid restrictions. 

If a majority of the Senate approves Petersen’s proposed resolution, state law would allow the Senate to send its sergeant at arms to arrest the board of supervisors. That is, however, a huge if — all 14 Democrats are guaranteed to vote against the resolution, so a single Republican opposing it would spell defeat.

Warren Petersen
Warren Petersen

The Senate Republican caucus contains members like Sens. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who have called for their fellow Republicans to acknowledge that the election is over. And others who may support the Senate’s audit plans could balk at the idea of arresting fellow elected officials.

Petersen’s call to hold county officials in contempt is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between the county board and the Senate, both of which are controlled by Republicans and both of which wanted a forensic audit of the county’s election equipment.

The county began its audit today, with the first of two independent firms the county selected analyzing equipment to ensure it didn’t switch votes, wasn’t connected to the internet and isn’t vulnerable to hacking. But the county’s plans didn’t go far enough for Senate Republicans, who have been pushing to do their own audit.

Senate Republicans have demanded, through multiple subpoenas, that the county turn over election equipment and ballots for the Senate to run its own audit. On Jan. 29, Petersen and Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, announced that they had hired an “independent, qualified, forensic auditing firm,” though they declined to provide basic details including the name of the firm.

Prescott eNews, a conservative site operated by disgraced former Rep. David Stringer, reported that the Senate’s chosen auditor was retired Army Col. Phil Waldron, who traveled to several of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s unofficial meetings with Republican legislators and shared claims of fraud that election officials in multiple states were able to easily disprove. 

House adjourns, bringing session to uneasy close

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, left, talks with Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during a vote in the Arizona House of Representatives to end the 2020 session due to the coronavirus Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Phoenix. Arizona House voted Tuesday not to join the Senate in ending the the 2020 legislative session, going ahead with legislation that had been in the pipeline before lawmakers paused the session in March amid concerns about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, left, talks with Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during a vote in the Arizona House of Representatives to end the 2020 session due to the coronavirus Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Phoenix. Arizona House voted Tuesday not to join the Senate in ending the the 2020 legislative session, going ahead with legislation that had been in the pipeline before lawmakers paused the session in March amid concerns about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The state House of Representatives has finished its work and notified the Senate of its intent to adjourn sine die today, bringing one of the strangest legislative sessions in recent memory one step closer to its end.

Typically, such a motion, carried out at 5:55 p.m. today, would terminate the session. But the House only adjourned after sending two pieces of late-introduced legislation to a Senate that hasn’t yet indicated whether it would come out of its slumber to consider the final House bills.

The first of those bills, which the House passed on party lines, increases the legal standard under which individuals can sue a business or non-profit if they suspect they contracted COVID-19 on the premises. The second appropriates tens of millions of dollars in CARES Act monies to support childcare centers.

Thursday’s action on the floor concludes a last-ditch effort by the House Majority to restore some normality to the chamber. GOP leadership concocted a plan to hear dozens of Senate bills this week – almost all without amendments, which would allow the Senate to return and transmit the bills to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey with minimal effort.

For the most part, these bills passed out of the Senate with broad support and little fanfare.

Rusty Bowers
Rusty Bowers

But they led to fierce debates and animosity in the House, where the minority party members took nearly every opportunity they had to admonish their colleagues for considering legislation that didn’t directly address COVID-19, for fast-tracking the two final House bills and for using procedural maneuvers to stymie Democratic outrage on the floor.

That much was clear from the start, when on Tuesday, Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, made a motion to immediately end the session that failed on party lines.

“I believe that as a body that is looking to the best interests of Arizonans … we can successfully, cooperatively end today’s session, and proceed with special sessions that will be specific to the COVID pandemic,” Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, said, citing the havoc that COVID has wreaked on the Navajo Nation, which has the highest rate of infection in the country.

But the Republican membership has for weeks been agitating for a return to the Legislature, especially now that the state is in the early stages of reopening.

“We told Arizona that it’s time to get back to work. But if we’re not getting back to work we’re setting a bad example,” said Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers had promised to govern based on a majority of the majority — and his own members held his feet to the fire for nearly reaching an agreement with Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, to adjourn earlier in May.

“When I first said we would sine die, they didn’t accept that,” Bowers said.

Now, a special session is likely right around the corner. While the two parties have agreed upon very little, they’ve both come to accept one or more special sessions to address COVID-19 and right the state’s budgetary ship as an inevitability.

One item that might be on that session’s agenda is the legal liability bill, the brainchild of Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, also a Gilbert Republican.


The Senate intends to return Tuesday to accept the House’s sine die motion, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said. The Senate itself has already asked the House for permission to adjourn, and has sat in recess, waiting for the House to accede to its request, since.

As such, the chamber can technically return with a quorum at any time. Senate President Karen Fann left open the idea of passing two or three COVID-19-related bills, though support is unlikely there in the Senate for the liability measure.

This will come as welcome news to Democrats, who lamented the fact that the bill received a hearing only in the Rules Committee with minimal input from the public. Some in the minority have expressed support for a liability protection bill if it stipulates that businesses have to take the necessary precautions to protect their patrons and employees from COVID-19.

Lawmakers will also have to contend with a budget shortfall that could potentially exceed $1 billion, the result of a state economy devastated by COVID-19.

“There will be more than one [special session],” said Bowers, R-Mesa. “The budget, if there’s any discrepancies in the things we passed or didn’t pass today, there will be more on childcare, more on liability.”

The House’s final week was a fitting encapsulation of the session as a whole. It began with the hope that lawmakers from the two parties would put their differences aside, unite behind bills that passed with little controversy in the Senate and expedite the end of the session.

But any feelings of good-will quickly evaporated. Bruising committee hearings and floor debates dashed any hopes of a smooth session. Democrats, who felt shut out, tried to block Republican-backed proposals.

“We’re in this weird situation where … we’ve been adjourned for about a month and a half (and) they’re calling us in. Our hope and our expectation was that if they’re not going to follow suit with the Senate and sine die so we can go into special session, maybe we’re here to do the work of COVID-19,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “Instead, we see, we’re playing politics. Instead we see we’re doing business as usual.”

In this case, business as usual mostly meant spinning the wheels of policymaking but rarely moving forward. Republicans mustered the support necessary to pass significant legislation, such as a bill to require school counselors and social workers to be trained in suicide prevention.

However, lawmakers spent about as much time debating bills that had little relevance to COVID-19 or that are likely doomed to never get the blessing of the governor’s pen.

Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

“This pandemic has revealed deep, systemic problems in our unemployment insurance program. Over the past three days since coming back into session, our efforts to bring those issues forward in this session were shut down in one of the most undemocratic processes I’ve ever witnessed,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, in a written statement. “Hopefully we can all do better in a special session.”

Democrats attempted to introduce amendments to a variety of legislation throughout the week — such as on a controversial bill that will force insurers to cover pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act is overturned but doesn’t place price caps on coverage — and were outmaneuvered almost every time.

They were also unable to introduce their own version of the liability legislation, as the Rules Committee on Monday voted only to allow the late introduction of Kavanagh’s bill.

“They know just like we know that the Senate is unlikely to come back and do anything substantive,” said Toma. “Them getting an amendment is not them getting a win, it’s them killing the bill.”

But the week wasn’t for naught, even if the liability bill that was this week’s focus doesn’t have support in the Senate, Republicans said.

“The point is that I committed to these people that this is what we’d do, and we did it,” said Bowers.

That’s an important point, as division within the Republican Party has characterized much of the past few weeks. Bowers twice committed to come back to adjourn, only to face harsh criticism from the more fervently conservative elements in his caucus.

“I hope the Senate tries to join us, but even if they don’t, we’ve shown that we have 31 votes when everyone thought we didn’t,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge.

Jury awards Senate staffer $2.7M in discrimination suit

A jury awarded Senate policy adviser Talonya Adams $2.75 million on Wednesday after finding she was fired due to racial and sex-based discrimination. 

It marks the second time Adams, who represented herself, won a lawsuit against the Senate in U.S. District Court over her termination in 2015. 

At the time, Adams, a Black woman, claimed that a white male majority caucus adviser was making over $30,000 more than her. She requested a raise but was later fired while in Seattle taking care of her son, who was sick at the time.  

Adams filed a lawsuit against the Senate in 2017, and a jury ruled that then-Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, former Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs – now the secretary of state – and Democratic caucus Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler were among those who discriminated unfairly against Adams.  

Talonya Adams

The court ordered the Senate to rehire Adams and awarded her $1 million in damages in 2019.  

Adams asked that her lost wages be calculated based on the higher salary of a white male colleague in the same position and asked to be reinstated with a higher salary than any of her white male Democrat colleagues. 

In 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes granted the Senate’s request for a new trial to relitigate the retaliation allegation after finding that Adams did not present evidence to the jury to back up that claim. 

On Wednesday, the jury again sided with Adams. 

The Arizona Capitol Times confirmed earlier reporting by 12 News’ Brahm Resnik that the jury awarded Adams $2.75 million, including $750,000 for discrimination and $2 million for retaliation. 

It is still unclear whether Adams will walk away with the $2.75 million, though. 

After the original jury awarded Adams $1 million, U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes reduced that award to $350,000 in accordance with federal discrimination laws, which imposes a cap on damages based on the number of employees a company has. 

That’s because Adams was – and continues to be – a staffer for Senate Democrats. And part of her lawsuit was based on her contention that she informed Katie Hobbs, now a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, of her concerns about discrimination by her immediate superiors but that Hobbs, then Senate Minority Leader, did not deal with it but instead was at least part of the decision to fire her. 

Adams did not respond to a request for comment. 

The verdict already is causing political ripples. Other candidates in Arizona’s 2022 governor’s race are already commenting on the verdict, using it to question Hobbs’ qualifications for the job. 

“There is no place in Arizona for hate or discrimination,” Democrat Marco Lopez said in a statement provided by his campaign. “This raises serious questions that Secretary of State Hobbs must answer and will cost taxpayers millions of dollars. As governor, I will not tolerate this type or any kind of discriminatory behavior in my administration,” 

Former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, another Democrat running for governor, said, “This type of discrimination is abhorrent to all Arizonans. As Democrats, it is unacceptable from someone who wants to serve as our Governor.” 

A spokeswoman for Hobbs’ declined to speak on the record but forwarded an emailed statement that largely blamed the Senate Republican Caucus for underpaying Democratic staffers.

“The state legislature, both in 2015 and today, is run by Republicans who pay their staffers more than the Democratic Senate staff – which is dramatically more diverse than the Republican staff,” the statement read. “This problem is systemic, it persists today, and it needs to be fixed.”

But 12 News reported that Hobbs testified at the new trial this week that the dismissal was a “group decision” done by “consensus,” with the ultimate dismissal done by Baldo, then the Senate chief of staff.  

Hobbs, then two months into the job of minority leader, also testified that she had “lost trust’” in Adams over several issues, including her decision to take emergency leave to care for her son in Seattle – leave Adams’ supervisor approved. 

“I do not question that she felt discriminated against,” Hobbs said in an earlier interview with Capitol Media Services after the first verdict. But Hobbs also said that no one was wrongfully fired when she was heading the Senate Democrats. 

But Adams, also talking with Capitol Media Services after the first trial, took a swat at Hobbs for maintaining her position that her firing was justified, even after jurors concluded otherwise. 

“To have a sitting secretary of state state that there was no discrimination I think is disrespectful to our judicial system,” Adams said. 

In her 2019 interview, Hobbs said the fact that Adams was paid less than some others had nothing to do with race, calling it an issue with the salary structure. 

“Democratic staff get paid less than Republican staff,” she said. 

Hobbs testified at the new trial that she did not know that anyone had, in fact, approved the emergency leave. And she said that she wished he had been a “better ally” for Adams. 

Hobbs also issued a statement to 12 News stating, in part, “I should have been a stronger ally in this instance.” 

“I apologize to Ms. Adams,” she wrote. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report 

Kelly takes commanding lead after early votes counted

Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, for the U.S. Senate race against Republican incumbent Martha McSally, poses for a photo outside of the Udall Park Main Recreation Center, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, for the U.S. Senate race against Republican incumbent Martha McSally, poses for a photo outside of the Udall Park Main Recreation Center, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated as more results become available. This story was first published at 9:04 p.m., and last updated at 1:13 a.m.

Democrat Mark Kelly will be the next U.S. Senator from Arizona flipping the second seat in as many years, defeating Republican Martha McSally who also lost in 2018.

Kelly has 53.4% of the vote compared to McSally’s 46.6%. Kelly is crushing McSally in Maricopa County by nine percentage points, where only one candidate has won a statewide race without taking the largest county in the state, which makes up about 60% of the electorate. 

McSally will also make history, but not for something in her favor. She will be the first candidate to lose two consecutive elections for the Senate to Democrats in state history. The last time Arizona had two Democratic Senators was in 1953 with Carl Hayden and Ernest McFarland.

There are still several votes to be counted. 

Now Kelly will join Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in Washington D.C. 

In the 2018 election between Sinema and McSally, it was much tighter and took several days to get the final results. But this cycle, Kelly led in virtually every poll by an average of 5.2 percentage points. 

McSally held a lead on election night and Sinema began to eat into that lead days later eventually coming out on top and emerging victorious by 2.4 percentage points.

Another difference this cycle is the amount of money each candidate raised. While the campaign trail was rough for both candidates each brought in an historic amount of cash. McSally broke records every fundraising quarter raising roughly $56.9 million to date, but Kelly outpaced her at every turn – raising nearly $90 million in total, which is unheard of in Arizona.

Sinema and McSally raised $44.5 million combined in 2018.

This Senate race is a special election after the death of Sen. John McCain in 2018 and the subsequent appointments of Sen. Jon Kyl and McSally. McCain was re-elected to the seat in 2016 so the winner will only hold it for two years before having to run again in 2022.

Kelly will be the sixth person to represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate since August 2018 – joining the aforementioned four and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake who Sinema replaced after he retired.

And the winner of this race can also be sworn in as soon as canvassing is complete, a talking point that came up before the nomination and confirmation of SCOTUS Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Marilyn Szabo: A cactus-free look at Arizona in black and white

Marilyn Szabo (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)
Marilyn Szabo (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)

A walk around the horseshoe-shaped second floor of the Arizona state Senate provides a glimpse of Arizona history, thanks to a gallery of 40 photos curated by Marilyn Szabo. The photographer and historian has her collection, “At Work in Arizona: The First 100 Years” on display, featuring photos of the historic state Capitol, craters in Flagstaff and barbers in Mesa. Some of the images were taken by Szabo, but others she found during a 15-year process of locating the hundreds of photos featured in the collection, which was hired to curate by former Western Alliance Bank CEO James Lundy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Cap Times Q&AWhat made you so well-suited for this history/photography project?

Well, I grew up in southern Virginia, and of course you know every year we got taken to Yorktown, Williamsburg, Jamestown, dah da dah da dah, so history was sort of embedded in me. So I got a degree in history, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and then I started taking a photo course. So in the meantime, photography wasn’t something anyone told me I could make a living at, which, I would not tell anyone that now. Anyway, I got a degree in history, and when I met up with James Lundy, who wanted to do this project, he asked me what my background is. Of course they liked that I had a degree in history and I’m a photographer.

What fascinates you about history?

I don’t know. I think history, what happened yesterday is history. So it’s important in our lives to understand what went on to understand what’s going on now and what’s gonna go on. And I just find that, the first thing that I always think about is, what’s the history? What happened here?

What was the vision for this project?

Mr. Lundy wanted the economic and commercial history of Arizona in black and white photography, old and new. He wanted to represent the iconic people of Arizona that helped the economy of Arizona, some of it good and bad, and of course the entrepreneur, and whether they won or not, and then the future, what’s happening now. Then of course some of it was based on their clients, and their clients were very interesting people that they dealt with. It’s a business bank, so he would lead me towards certain people.

Such as?

Well there’s Herb Owens. Herb Owens is a fantastic guy. He owns a company at 35th Avenue and Buckeye, (Precision Components, Inc.). And he started off, he managed Turf Paradise and was involved in that. And then he bought that piece of land the railroad runs through. So all the timber and building supplies were coming from the Northwest, and they were coming in there, and the truckers came in there to pick it all up — PCI Loading. So he was getting phone calls from some of the contractors around Arizona complaining, “You’re late. We never got it, we’re waiting.” And he said, “I don’t own that part.” So he bought his own trucks, and he guaranteed the delivery and eventually from that lot, he only delivers. He also has, he has race horses there, and then he has a palm tree farm, and it’s, all the weeding is done by the goats. And then he also had the El Mercado Grande, which he sold the most beer on the weekends in the entire state of Arizona… An incredible man.”

How’d you find all these photos?

Archives, research. I went online at 2 a.m. in the morning on eBay, I found great stuff. I went to estate sales, I found all kinds of photos. And I also bought photos from many of the photographers that I know, because I wanted to spread it. It wasn’t just about me. I have 80 photos in this book and over 100 in the collection, so I was taken care of. But since I came to Arizona I took photographs of everything. I went out and took photographs of the Concorde when it was at Sky Harbor (in 1998). No one paid me for that, I just did it because I wanted to see it. So when I stood in front of my negatives – the wall of negatives – and Mr. Lundy says, “What do you have?” what an opportunity. I just went through every notebook and said what about this? A picture of the Concorde at Sky Harbor? I think so.

Why black and white photos only?

I’m a black and white photographer. I began that way… the older photographs are black and white. And we didn’t want it to be like, it’s not a tourism thing like we’re trying to get you to come and look at the cactus. But we wanted a balance, we wanted to appeal to the masses and the people that live here. And this way, it was more informational. I don’t have pictures of cactuses.

What do you think the collection says about Arizona?

It was the wild, wild West. Arizona was amazing. It’s the same as all the Western states. You had all kinds of people coming here, to get here, and how they got here. I mean, Herb Owens is an amazing example.

Power plant closure hurts tribes that offered land, energy


Reliable power, affordable water and good jobs are essential elements of Arizona’s productive economy. Without these fundamentals, not much else matters.

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)
Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

For Navajo and Hopi people, preserving skilled jobs and tribal revenues to keep their economies running matters a lot. Yet these sovereign nations face a very real economic threat in the months ahead. We should all pay far more attention to the alarming economic impacts that early closure of the Navajo Generating Station will have on Navajo and Hopi people. They are the ones who have offered their land and energy resources to sustain our economy for decades.

They are the backbone of the supply system for Arizona’s energy and water.  These traditional families in the northernmost part of our state clearly have the most to lose if the plant is forced to shut down decades before Congress intended. We cannot allow this to happen.  When the late U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden, D-Ariz., led the effort to create the Central Arizona Project in the 1960s, the federal government loaned about $4 billion. The Central Arizona Project has an obligation to the federal government – and the American taxpayer – to repay the construction debt, which remains north of $1 billion. Revenues that come from the sale of surplus power are used for that purpose. Why would we retire the asset the federal government designed to pay back the debt?

It makes no sense to close the Navajo Generating Station more than 20 years ahead of schedule. Without baseload power from the Navajo Generating Station, our electric grid becomes less reliable, and we will certainly lose thousands of direct and indirect jobs, many of which are held by Native Americans.The value of these jobs is spread far and wide across tribal communities, supporting immediate and extended families. Remember, the Navajo Generating Station was developed on tribal lands to create economic opportunity for tribal people, enabling workers to support their families and communities on their traditional homeland. These jobs keep families connected and preserve cultural ways that span centuries.    The mine and the power plant also play a crucial role generating revenues that keep tribal governments funded. At risk are 85 percent of the Hopi general fund and 22 percent of the Navajo general budget. Early closure would severely impact governments, curtailing necessary services like schools, police and fire protection.The silver lining to all of this is the path ahead. One company, Middle River Power, has started key negotiations with the utility owners and other stakeholders to acquire the plant. The company has worked through late stage diligence and believes it can achieve dramatic efficiencies and cost savings that would enable the plant to operate well into the future. That is good news.

One thing needed to secure the deal is assurance that the Central Arizona Project remains the plant’s reliable customer. A recent lawsuit seeks to force the CAP board to honor its decades-old statutory requirement to use power from the Navajo Generating Station. Stakeholders also are calling on the CAP board for a 90-day moratorium on the process to procure power from sources other than the Navajo Generating Station.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke supports the effort as well. That’s important, given the U.S. Interior essentially owns 25 percent of the plant and intends to maintain its position long-term. With Interior leading, others should follow.

The Navajo Generating Station was built at the direction of the federal government to serve as a power source for the Central Arizona Project, pumping water from northern sources to families, farmers and many tribes across the state. Much of Arizona’s growth and prosperity has come from the access to this water.

We can’t lose sight of the value the Navajo Generating Station provides to so many. We must recognize the federal trust responsibility to protect tribal people, preserve the economic strength of Navajo and Hopi economies and keep families strong. Let’s work together to make it happen. It’s time to say “Yes to NGS.”

— David Farnsworth, a Republican, is a member of the Arizona State Senate and chairs the Finance Committee


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Q&A with Senate Minority Leader David Bradley

David Bradley (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
David Bradley (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

As he enters his final year in the Legislature, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley is in a contemplative mood.

Bradley, first elected to the House in 2003, is reflecting on decades of tax cuts and what he describes as the “hollowing out” of government. And while he remains bullish about his chances of being the last Democratic minority leader the Senate will have – with the emphasis on minority – he fears that the bill for years of cuts will come due soon.

“It’s easy to get seduced by looking into the light, and by that I mean looking at the rainy day fund and the fund balances, and going, ‘Hey, we’ve got this thing down,’” Bradley said. “But alas, something wicked this way comes.”

How long do you think we’re going to be here this session? 

I’m guessing fairly quick, on the premise that there’s issues, obviously, but there’s not that big one like last year when we had taxes and water issues. Assuming that both the Republican caucuses have their act together — and I don’t know that for a fact at all — but if they do, I suspect it will be pretty quick.

There’s no pressing tax conformity, but we do have a Republican here in the Senate who wants to cut hundreds of millions in taxes, and other people pushing all sorts of controversial issues. Do you think that will drag out session at all?

If we do, it will be because the other caucus can’t get its act together or they’re so divided that they can’t get to 16 or 31, and of course 31 over there is much harder.

This is my last go-around, so my thoughts center around just looking back over the last 30 years, not screaming or yelling at the current governor or the current majority. But over this period of time, the term I’m using is “hollowing out.” I keep hearing this principle of running it like a business, and I ran a business for 30 years. I don’t recall saying as a first move, “Let’s figure out how to cut our revenue” as the first thing we think about. What I think you do when you run a business, unless I got this wrong, is you look at your mission and your vision and your values, what is it you’re trying to do, and what you need to exist to be in operation.

I’m assuming that folks are going to be looking at the rainy day fund and what they’re calling a surplus and I call a fund balance. They’re going to say, “Everything’s rosy; let’s cut taxes.” The metaphor I’m using is that they’re kind of looking into the sun and everything’s bright, and if you do that long enough you’ll start to see mirages. No matter where we look, whether it’s the Department of Revenue, or water, or health care, developmental disabilities, schools, prisons, it doesn’t matter. Everywhere you look, there’s a hollowing. There’s a need that can’t be addressed because we have cut all this revenue. If you’re hollowing out functions of government that we have kind of agreed that we should do and we don’t have the resources to do it, then who pays? Because eventually, somebody’s gotta’ pay.

My swan song message is that you can’t rectify this in one session. You can’t just go back and re-establish billions of dollars in taxes, but at a bare minimum, when you’re in a hole, stop digging.

As you and Leader (Charlene) Fernandez are developing your blueprint for the 2020 session, how much are you focusing on what can realistically be done working with the majority here versus. a blueprint for what could happen after the 2020 elections if they go your way?

I’ve said, only moderately facetiously, that the next minority leader will be a Republican. With the exception of four years, it’s been 60 years with the current majority where they’re at, and it’s time to do something different here. And of course there’s the session-to-session need to work with the majority where we can. I don’t use the term “conservative” as a pejorative. What I ask of a person who labels themselves that way is what is it you’re trying to preserve, and how can I help you. That will remain true during session.

How is your relationship with President Fann now?

We’re still friends. Last session ended ugly, but I think through it all we were able to maintain our relationship as friends. I disagree vehemently with what happened and made that clear, and it was a rough ending last time around. It may end that way again, particularly if they’re going to hold on to a huge tax cut that will be a stumbling block for us. Maybe I’m attending the wrong meetings or talking to the wrong people, but I just don’t hear clamoring for tax cuts.

What areas are you expecting to really have to play defense on this session? 

From what I hear, some of the social issues. I’m sure you saw the sex ed bill drop. I think it’s a great bill for 1920, but unfortunately it’s 100 years later and in 2020 I think we can see things a little differently. (Rep. John) Fillmore has dropped a bunch of curious bills that I hope don’t get any traction. I don’t know if he’s worked those and has a constituency behind them or is just kind of pulling them out of his ear.

Do you have a final personal priority?

My personal one is the community schools piece. It’s just a pilot program, and it reduces itself to a simple concept: You cannot teach kids who are not present. What community schools try to do is figure out what’s in this kid’s way, why can’t this kid attend.

Will we see a separate Democratic budget proposal again this year?

Yeah, we had talked about having it before session, but our dilemma is we don’t want to be negotiating against ourselves. At this point, we’re going to see where the governor’s at on some issues. I’m appreciative that Senator Fann tries to go to every member and ask about their personal priorities, but the drawback is that our more global issues, whether in health care or housing or education, are our priorities and we don’t get bought off. And if they’re going to be serious about another tax cut, that will be front and center for us. There’s always good things in the budget no matter who does it, but sometimes the bill has a death pill in it that you can’t accept. The death knell would be yet again if there’s a huge tax cut in the works. I’m hoping that there isn’t a big tax cut in there, and then it’s easiest for us to look at the individual budget bills. In some cases, we might be able to support pieces of it.

Recording: Rogers wants reporter to ‘learn their lesson’ with injunction

Sen. Wendy Rogers R-Flagstaff/Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

The Flagstaff Justice Court will hold an in-person hearing to consider a challenge to an injunction against harassment the court issued against an Arizona Capitol Times reporter at the request of state Senator Wendy Rogers.

Rogers, R-Flagstaff, requested the injunction last week against Capitol Times Senate reporter Camryn Sanchez, who was investigating whether Rogers lived in the legislative district she represents.

Listen to hearing in which Sen. Wendy Rogers asks for an injunction against harassment against a Senate reporter.

The investigation included an examination of publicly available property records that show Rogers and her husband bought a 2,200-square-foot home in Chandler for $750,000 in January and signed a trust document that said she resided in Tempe, where she owned a home for many years.

Rogers’ legislative district includes Payson, Williams, Flagstaff and Show Low but not Maricopa County. According to her most recent financial disclosure, Rogers claims she lives in a 1,000 square foot mobile home in Flagstaff.

At an April 19 ex parte hearing, Magistrate Judge Amy Criddle declined Rogers’ request to bar Sanchez from the Arizona Senate but issued an injunction ordering Sanchez not to go to any of Rogers’ residences.

Because it was an ex parte hearing, meaning without notice to Sanchez, Criddle relied on Rogers’ opinion before deciding to issue the injunction preventing Sanchez from contacting Rogers at her home.

“Is that a standard practice for reporters to track senators at their residences? Do you know if that’s normal?” Criddle asked Rogers during the short hearing

“Judge, to my knowledge, it is not normal,” Rogers replied.

Rogers declined an offer by Criddle to hold a hearing with Sanchez present to consider the request to bar her from the Senate.

Rogers indicated she sought the injunction to teach Sanchez a lesson.

“So the idea here is for the person to learn their lesson and then leave the situation alone?” Rogers asked Criddle shortly after she agreed to sign the injunction.

According to court records, attorney Christopher Hennessy filed a request for an in-person hearing to challenge the injunction on April 25. The court scheduled a hearing in Flagstaff on May 10.

Judge Howard Grodman, the elected Flagstaff Justice of the Peace, will preside over the May 10 hearing. Grodman is a Democrat who has served since 2011.


Republican legislator calls for a state Lt. Gov.


A Republican lawmaker is again asking voters to give Arizona a lieutenant governor, a role that would supersede the secretary of state as first in the line of succession for the governor’s office.

The maneuver may raise eyebrows given its timing. Arizona voters just elected a Democrat, Katie Hobbs, as secretary of state, making her the first Democrat to serve in that capacity in more than two decades. If Republican Gov. Doug Ducey leaves office for any reason in the next four years, a Democrat would rise to the most powerful political office in the state.

But this is not a new effort for Sen. J.D. Mesnard. As a state representative, the Chandler Republican sponsored a nearly identical measure in 2015 to shake up the line of succession in a way that ensures the next-in-line as governor is from the same political party as the governor that voters elected.

Twice since the late 1980s the governor of one party was replaced by a secretary of state from a different party.

Mesnard wants to ensure that never happens again, at least not after another eight years.

His resolution wouldn’t take effect until 2027, meaning the 2026 gubernatorial race would be the first election that candidates for governor would have to choose a lieutenant governor to be named alongside them on the ballot. Gubernatorial candidates would have to pick their running mate no later than 60 days before election day.

Delaying the resolution’s effective date ensures that Hobbs, the newly elected secretary of state, would still be first in the line of succession for at least two terms. That way, she could continue to serve under the rules that were in effect when she ran for office until she’s termed out in 2026.

Mesnard’s proposal has some renewed support from his fellow Republicans, but bipartisan support as well from Democrats like Rep. Randy Friese, the assistant minority leader in the House. Friese supported Mesnard’s approach in 2015, and previously said he’d support it again, as long as it doesn’t take effect until after Hobbs leaves office.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Mesnard is voters themselves.

Efforts to create a lieutenant governor have twice been rejected at the ballot in the last two decades – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by roughly 59 percent of voters.

If lawmakers approved Mesnard’s resolution, voters would settle the matter on the 2020 ballot.

A companion bill to Mesnard’s proposed ballot measure details the job duties for a lieutenant governor. In addition to sitting atop the line of succession, lieutenants would serve as the director of the Arizona Department of Administration, a role that’s currently occupied by an appointee of the governor.

Sen. Engel resigns, runs for Congress

Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)
Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)

Democratic state Sen. Kirsten Engel resigned September 8 to focus on her congressional campaign in an open southern Arizona seat. 

Engel, D-Tucson, is expected to face fellow Democratic lawmaker Daniel Hernandez in the 2022 primary, depending on how new congressional districts take shape. A third legislator, Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, ended his campaign for the seat last week, saying he wasn’t ready to give up his work as a doctor.  

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., who represents Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, is not running for re-election. 

Engel told the Arizona Capitol Times she’s been thinking about resigning for a while and decided to end her run in the Senate to give her legislative district and the Pima County Board of Supervisors enough time to appoint a replacement – and give that replacement enough time to get to know the job – before the next legislative session begins in January. 

“I want to make sure the constituents of LD10 have a good, committed senator,” she said.  

Engel was elected to the Senate last year, replacing term-limited Senate Minority Leader David Bradley. She previously served two terms in the state House.  

Engel and Rep. Domingo DeGrazia said their third seatmate, freshman Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, is interested in the Senate appointment. Stahl Hamilton, who did not return a phone call, already filed to run for Senate next year anticipating Engel’s absence. 

DeGrazia announced last week that he will not seek re-election, and he said he isn’t interested in moving to the Senate.  

Two Democrats, Morgan Abraham and Charles “Charlie” Verdin, have already filed statements of interest to run in LD10, and DeGrazia said he has heard from a few other Democrats who are interested in running. 

“There’s kind of a lot of paperwork in assembling campaign committees, and your team and all that stuff, and because the district lines are not set yet, or at least not known, I think some folks are just waiting,” DeGrazia said. 

Provided LD10 still has at least 30 elected Democratic precinct committeemen, that group of party faithful will pick three top candidates and forward them to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. The board will then pick a candidate to replace Engel.  

The same process would repeat for a House seat if Stahl Hamilton receives the appointment. While appointments take place during a matter of days during the legislative session, the process can take close to a month in the interim.  

 Engel said she hopes her successor will continue her work on climate bills, which she couldn’t get through the Legislature. 

“I really would have liked to have made more progress on water and addressing the climate crisis,” she said. 

Several other lawmakers, most of them Democrats, are expected to resign before the end of the year to focus on campaigning for higher office.  

  • Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting. 


Senate abruptly adjourns, House bills go down without vote

From left, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, speaks with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, in the Arizona Senate on May 26. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Arizona Capitol Times)
From left, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, speaks with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, in the Arizona Senate on May 26. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)


The Arizona Senate abruptly ended the 2020 legislative session today, catapulting leaders into planning for a special session an hour or so earlier than they expected.

Senators, who already voted to end the session once this month, planned to return to the Capitol Tuesday morning to pass a final list of “non-controversial” House bills and ceremonially end the session. Instead, seconds after Senate President Karen Fann banged her gavel to call the Senate back from its May 8 recess, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, rose to call for an immediate adjournment.

Avondale Democrat Lupe Contreras, back at the Capitol for the first time since he tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-April, quickly seconded. And three moderate Republicans who have long pushed for adjourning sine die joined the 13 Democratic caucus members in voting for the motion.

Within three minutes, the 2020 legislative session was over.

“I heard that there was going to be that motion made,” Fann said. “I just thought it would take another five minutes, at least.”

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

But while the regular legislative session may have ended, Fann said lawmakers’ work is just beginning. She plans to immediately get back to planning for the two special sessions Gov. Doug Ducey has assured her he will call to deal with economic and budgetary fallout of the ongoing pandemic.

And while she said she wouldn’t presume to tell the governor what to do, she wants to see the special session on economic development happen within 30 days.

By mid-June, lawmakers also will have a more clear picture of the state’s finances, after analysts have had a week or two to parse April sales tax figures and determine just how badly the shutdown hit retail and restaurants. At that point, they could return to make budget cuts, raid funds or change policy to address the early stages of an expected $1.1 billion shortfall.

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

Some of the 28 House bills Fann hoped to vote on today could resurface during a special session, she said. While lawmakers may be hard-pressed to make the case that measures on Holocaust education and setting aside traffic violation convictions, both of which were on today’s calendar, are related to the coronavirus, others might find a way to live this year.

“We have some really good economic development (bills) which can be COVID-related bills, so yes, and hopefully we get as many as possible,” she said.

A special session is the right time to deal with two outstanding COVID-19-related House bills that didn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate, said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. Brophy McGee and Republican Sens. Heather Carter of Cave Creek and Paul Boyer of Glendale voted with Democrats to adjourn the session.

Today’s vote was consistent with the mantra Brophy McGee has repeated since April: it’s time to go home. She said the quick move to adjourn staved off expected moves from sine die opponents to push for action on other bills.

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)
Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

“I guess there’s some things that are problematic procedurally if you don’t go immediately to that vote,” Brophy McGee said. “We just needed to get that done, so we did. I thought I was being very consistent with my vote two weeks ago.”

The end of session means lawmakers can focus entirely on responding to the coronavirus, Brophy McGee said, and it gives a chance to fix two hastily-thrown-together measures dealing with childcare funding and liability for businesses from the House. Neither measure had the 16 votes it needed in the Senater.

Boyer, likewise, said he wanted to see focus shift to business that needs to get done during a special session. All legislation in a special session called by the governor must relate directly to the topic on which he called it, meaning lawmakers are limited in what they can introduce.

“We’re not picking winners and losers on who gets their bills on the board and who doesn’t,” Boyer said. “And we will be solely focused on whatever their respective issue is.”

He said he’s particularly interested in seeing what the governor’s office or Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, produce in terms of a business liability bill after working with businesses. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, have crafted to exempt businesses from civil lawsuits if an employee or customer contracts COVID-19 and to protect anyone who disobeyed Ducey’s stay-at-home order from legal consequences including fines, jail time and the revocation of business licenses.

“The real important thing is the liability bill, but not the Eddie Farnsworth version,” Boyer said.

Fann said a liability measure should be retroactive and pass with an emergency clause, necessitating Democratic votes. To get those, Contreras said, Republicans need to welcome Democrats to the negotiating table and listen to their ideas.

For his vote, he said, a business liability measure would have to include requirements that businesses take actions to protect public safety.

“I don’t want to just open the floodgates of letting them do whatever they want, and not making them liable for their negligence,” he said. “Some people out there, they just want money. They care about making money, they don’t care about public safety, and I think we need to put public safety ahead of that.”

Most lawmakers left the Senate soon after the motion to adjourn. Sen. Dave Farnsworth, perhaps the Senate’s fiercest advocate for resuming business as usual, stayed to film a Facebook live video updating his followers on the sudden end.

The Mesa Republican told the Arizona Capitol Times he hoped his peers would show “courage and common sense” and continue their work, at least passing the House’s liability measure.

“We have thrown away all the efforts of the Arizona House, and we have not supported small businesses,” Farnsworth said. “I have been in a room full of politicians rather than a room full of statesmen.”

In a short statement, Ducey thanked the Legislature for working in a bipartisan fashion on COVID-19 response.

“I look forward to continuing to work together in this spirit to address Arizona’s economic and budgetary needs, while protecting public health and all of our state’s citizens,” he said.

Senate argues against release of audit records


The Arizona Senate doesn’t have to produce records for its election audit because they aren’t in the physical custody of the chamber, the Senate’s attorney said Wednesday in court.  

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp heard oral arguments today in the public records lawsuit brought by liberal watchdog group American Oversight against Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, Senate Judiciary chairman Sen. Warren Petersen and the Arizona Senate. 

The group sued in May, seeking a bevy of records from communications between Senate audit liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett and people involved in planning and executing the audit, contracts between the Senate, Cyber Ninjas and other third-party vendors. They’re also looking for records related to the budget and funders of the audit, plans about the audit’s operations and plans for direct voter contact, but the group was met largely with responses that the requested records were not in the Senate’s possession. 

Since then, the group has received some records – emails to-and-from Fann, service agreements with groups providing security and other communications. The Senate has released about 1,200 pages of records, attorney Kory Langhofer, who’s defending the Senate, said. He said that about 15,000 more documents are being reviewed for release as long as they’re not found privileged or confidential. 

“That’s what the Public Records Act requires and that’s what the Senate is doing,” Langhofer said. “What we’re litigating here is additional set of documents: documents that are not in our custody and that are only available to the vendors.” 

However, the Senate has released little more in regards to its contractors, nor does it intend to.  

Langhofer said that because these other records are in the physical custody of the Senate’s third-party contractors, not the Senate itself, they’re not subject to public records laws. 

Attorneys for American Oversight said that kind of interpretation would gut the statute.  

“Those documents need to be produced; otherwise, the public record statute will have a gigantic loophole that agencies can drive a truck through that will shield them from permitting the public to know what the government is up to,” American Oversight attorney Keith Beauchamp said. “No matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, that’s a bad thing.”  

Kemp noted the public doesn’t know the cost of the audit.   

“Mr. Langhofer, isn’t the public entitled to know who was paying for this, what President Fann referred to as ‘constitutional and legislative function,’ this important constitutional duty, isn’t the public entitled to know who’s paying for this? Besides the $150,000 that the senators already appropriated?” Kemp asked. 

Langhofer said that the public is entitled to “know the information that’s in records that the public records law requires to be produced,” adding that the Public Records Act is the only basis for the public’s claims to records, not the state constitution or common law.  

“That’s a great political argument,” he said. “They should talk to the legislature about it.” 

Kemp said he would have a written ruling in seven to 10 days. 

Last week, The Arizona Republic filed a special action in Maricopa County Superior Court seeking financial records and communications about the audit. The Senate has moved to consolidate the two. 

Senate audit fundraising boon for GOP

concept dollar get more and more valuable isolated on white

The Arizona Senate’s election audit has become a fundraising tool for candidates and state parties since it began in April, and the past three months have shown Republicans coming out on top.  

Between April 1 and June 30, the second quarter of the election cycle, the Arizona Republican Party raised more than $1 million for its federal campaign account and another $171,000 statewide. The Arizona Democratic Party under Raquel Terãn’s new leadership raised just $583,000 over the past three months federally and another $206,000 statewide.  

Ward was first selected as party chairman in 2019 and then won her second term in January while Terãn replaced Felecia Rotellini this year, serving double duty as party chairman and state representative in Phoenix. 

What favors the Democratic party is that despite a burn rate of 173% combined, it has a lot more money on hand than Republicans. Democrats have stashed $2 million compared to the GOP’s $1.35 million cash on hand.  

In an election cycle pundits think will be great for Republican candidates, the coffers for their state party should, in theory, only benefit local candidates.  

Under Ward’s reign, the party has aggressively used the audit as a fundraising tactic, sometimes misleading people into believing the money would go toward the audit itself.  

In April, for example, the party asked supporters to “support the Maricopa County forensic audit.” The party also claimed that, “working together with the Arizona Senate,” it has “accomplished something no other state has achieved.”  

But in fine print the email says the contribution will go to the party – not the Senate audit.  

A more recent email encouraged supporters to “chip in now: finish the audit!”  

The same email also asks people to “make a donation to the audit fund.”  

It’s unclear if the party is making financial contributions to the Senate audit – or how exactly that would be accomplished, as the auditors and the Senate who ordered the work have so far refused to divulge information about who is funding the audit.  

What’s clear is that the “audit fund” is the Arizona GOP’s treasure chest. 

Republicans are pushing a message of a stolen election and restoring election integrity, and Democrats are falling behind in fundraising.  

Democrats had the upper hand with President Biden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly on the top of the ticket during the 2020 election cycle, giving the local party a bluer hue. Some of that amount carried over in the bank account that’s sitting pretty with $2.17 million. But the party could be in real trouble if recent fundraising numbers don’t increase at a rapid pace.  

The Democrats came into the year with $2.7 million left over from last cycle’s federal account, and the Republicans had just $202,000. Now, Democrats are being outraised by Republicans while also overspending in comparison.  

Looking further into Republican spending shows another connection to the Senate audit, though it’s unclear if there is a direct connection or just an eerie coincidence. 

The party listed Ken Bennett, the Senate’s liaison to the audit, and his deputy Julie Fisher on the party’s payroll only days after their apparent volunteer positions began for the audit, according to state campaign finance records.  

Bennett said that it wasn’t for services relating to the audit, but for a volunteer effort through the Arizona 51 Voter Project.  

“AZ51 was under AZGOP for administrative reasons, so we showed up as AZGOP employees,” Bennett said. “That ended a couple of months ago.”  

The goal for AZ51 was to sign up 250,000 new Republican voters, but Bennett would not answer any questions about whether that goal was reached.  

Bennett was paid under three separate organizations – one as himself with his Prescott home address, a second as the general manager of Bennett Oil and a third for a real estate company.  

In total, the party paid Bennett nearly $10,000, with his final payment coming on May 13.  

Fisher, Bennett’s deputy liaison and a President Trump campaign field organizer, received roughly $12,000 through the entire campaign cycle so far.  

The venture is being funded, at least in part by “philanthropic patriot” Jim Lamon, CEO of a Scottsdale based industrial solar energy company, DEPCOM Power, who contributed $2 million to help register Republican voters.  

 Lamon, is now better known as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, hoping to take on Kelly in 2022.  

DEPCOM provided the bulk of the Arizona GOP’s coffers in this year’s second quarter with $95,000 and $395,000 over the entire cycle. Lamon was also listed as a consultant for the party, but received his last payment in April before he announced his bid for the Senate. The party paid him $15,000 over the cycle. 

It wouldn’t be the first time that Ward’s Republican Party had questionable – at best – ties to a Republican candidate for office, which is viewed as a conflict of interest. State political parties typically stay out of endorsing or working with candidates during the primary to keep a neutral appearance.  

The Arizona Mirror previously reported that Ward and her husband Michael solicited work for legislative candidates under their co-owned consulting firm Atlas Alliance.  

The next statewide filing deadline for the parties will be October 15 covering contributions from July 1 to September 30, but they are required to file monthly reports for the Federal Election Commission. 

Senate audit inches closer to conclusion

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

It’s been two months since the Senate and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors agreed the county would turn routers and Splunk logs over to a “special master” and team of IT professionals after the county repeatedly refused to give access to the Cyber Ninjas auditing team.  

But former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg – the “special master” who will oversee answering the Senate’s questions about the materials – hasn’t told the county yet who will be on the IT team. 

John Shadegg

He also hasn’t received questions from the Senate yet, though Senate President Karen Fann said Senate attorneys plan to submit them by November 19. 

Shadegg comes at a rate of $500 per hour, paid by the county. So far, he has billed the county $10,500, county spokesman Fields Moseley said. 

The county formally retained Shadegg for the job on October 20. Before adding experts to his team, Shadegg is supposed to send their proposed rates to Tom Liddy, head of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s civil division, for approval, according to the engagement letter. 

In September, faced with the prospect of losing about $700 million in state-shared revenue, the supervisors agreed to foot the bill for Shadegg and his team and let the Senate and its contractors ask them questions about the routers and Splunk logs. They also agreed to eat another cost by dropping efforts to have the Senate reimburse $2.8 million the county spent to replace voting equipment that may have been compromised during the Senate’s audit.  

In return, Fann told Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the subpoenas had been fulfilled and no further action was needed from his office. The supervisors previously faced a September 27 deadline to resolve the subpoena issue or face loss of state-shared revenue for violating state law. 

Fann and Board Chairman Jack Sellers, along with their legal counsel, signed that settlement agreement September 17. The county had repeatedly declined to turn over its routers and Splunk logs subpoenaed by the Senate, saying that giving that access to an outside firm could result in sensitive private and law enforcement information being compromised. 

Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors presented their “final” audit reports on September 24, though they still wanted to access the denied materials. The contractors provided no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election in those reports but insinuated impropriety, suggesting future investigations, such as the attorney general’s, may uncover wrongdoing.  

The Senate and county agreed to appoint Shadegg, a Republican, as the special master. Per their settlement agreement, Shadegg is to hire a team of one to three computer technology experts. Those team members will have to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement.   

Ben Cotton, the CEO of CyFIR, one of Cyber Ninjas’ subcontractors, was directly involved in deciding which IT experts the Senate would suggest for Shadegg’s team, Fann said. Cotton also wrote many of the questions the Senate plans to submit, giving his list of questions to Senate attorney Kory Langhofer to review last week, Fann said. 

“(Langhofer) has been working with Ben over these last few days, trying to tweak those questions, add a few more and then tweak those so that we’re 100% clear exactly what it is that he needs, what he wants,” Fann said. 

Shadegg told the Senate and the county he would take suggestions for IT experts from both, Fann said.  

“It was my understanding that he was going to work with both lists to try and find experts that would be acceptable to both sides,” she said. 

Moseley confirmed that Shadegg was open to suggestions from the county and the Senate. Asked if the county would be comfortable with one of the IT experts having been suggested by a Senate auditor, Moseley said the county had confidence in Shadegg’s choices. 

“The County trusts Mr. Shadegg to choose qualified third-party technology experts who will simply focus on answering the Senate’s questions,” Moseley said in an email. 

Ultimately, it is Shadegg’s decision, according to the settlement agreement. 

Neither the settlement agreement nor the letter specifies a timeline for Shadegg’s work or how much it will cost taxpayers. 

Fann said it was difficult to assess how long the process will take because she said the county’s answers to the Senate’s questions may prompt more questions from the Senate. 

“I think everybody is anxious to get this done – the constituents are as well as Maricopa County and the Senate and everyone else,” she said. 

Moseley said the county understood that there would be a timeline set. 

“It is in the best interests of the citizens for this matter to be concluded expeditiously,” he said. 

Senate Democratic staff gets large raises


The Senate handed every Democratic policy staffer a raise of at least $10,000 at the end of August, a month after a federal jury awarded $1 million to a former Democratic policy adviser who argued she was underpaid. 

Every Senate employee received a raise of at least 3 percent in August, but many partisan policy staff, nonpartisan research employees and assistants received larger bumps in pay. It was all part of a new salary schedule Senate President Karen Fann and Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo worked on this summer to bring salaries in line with those paid by other government agencies, including the House. 

In an email to senators last week, Fann said she and Baldo “worked very hard on assessing (employees’) time of employment, responsibilities, skills, supervisory duties and comparison with counterparts in the House.”

Among other changes, the new salary schedules bring Baldo — who has 10 years in the role to House Chief of Staff Michael Hunter’s three and was previously making nearly $20,000 less than Hunter — to a salary of $164,800, about $4,500 less than Hunter.

Baldo previously told the Arizona Capitol Times work on new salary schedules was unconnected to former Democratic policy adviser Talonya Adams’ ongoing lawsuit, which alleged the Senate paid her less than it should because she’s a black woman and then fired her for complaining about unequal treatment. 

The Senate argued that Adams was paid less because she worked for the minority party, not because of her race or gender. With the new raises in place, most Democratic staffers still aren’t making what their Republican counterparts are, but the differences are smaller.

Democratic senior policy adviser Sean Laux had the single largest raise, a nearly $29,000 jump. He now makes about $10,000 less than the two Republican staffers with the same title — one of them, senior policy adviser Brooke White, used to outearn Laux by $34,000.

The Democratic caucus’s three other policy advisers, Selianna Robles, Vicente Reyna and Roxanna Pitones, previously made between $50,000 and $60,850. That range is now between $61,800 and $82,400, comparable to the $65,000 to $82,400 the House pays policy advisers in both parties and the $82,400 the Senate majority pays its sole non-senior policy adviser.

Democratic Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler, staff attorney Patricia Osmon and spokesman Aaron Latham each received about $10,000 in raises, putting them in line with their counterparts in the House Democratic caucus. But while top House Democratic staffers collected between $10,000 and $20,000 in bonuses over the past year, Senate spokesman Mike Philipsen said the Senate did not provide any bonuses or stipends.

Senate Democrats have long been advocating for higher wages for minority caucus employees, and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said caucus policy staff received even more than they asked for in a March request.

“As I understand it, the actual raises were above what we were requesting,” Bradley said. “On the policy side, from a salary point of view, things are pretty good as far as I know.”

Bradley said he welcomed Fann’s establishment of a salary schedule and ongoing work to create set standards to evaluate Senate employees based on performance. He said he hasn’t personally been involved in discussions about employee standards but knows that Democratic staff members have, and said having standards and policies in place could prevent the issues that led to Adams’ lawsuit.

“This is making some headway,” Bradley said.

Senate fast-tracks confirmation of executive nominations


The Arizona Senate is moving quickly to confirm Gov. Doug Ducey’s nominees, including his pick to replace Frank Milstead as head of the Department of Public Safety.

 The chamber’s leadership this week withdrew the executive nominations from committees, skipping formal committee hearings and votes.

 Instead, leaders sent the nominations to the Rules Committee, which met this morning to fast-track the 20 outstanding nominations to state boards and two agency heads.

The three Democrats on the committee — Senate Minority Leader David Bradley of Tucson and Sens. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, and Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, voted against Ducey’s nominees for DPS director and his picks for the Coconino County Commission on Trial Court Appointments.

The full Senate is expected to confirm the nominations in the next few days.

 The full list of nominees is below: 

State Board of Funeral Directors and


 Joseph Hornat

State Liquor Board

 Lynn Shulman

State Personnel Board

 Mark D. Ziska

Board of Physical Therapy

 Nushka Remec

Arizona Power Authority Commission

 Philip Bashaw

Psychiatric Security Review Board

 Gwen Levitt

State Board of Psychologist Examiners  

 Aditya Dynar

 Stephen Gill

 Tamara A. Shreeve

Department of Public Safety

 Heston Silbert, Director

Residential Utility Consumer Office

 Jorge Fuentes, Director

Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority

 Deborah S. Johnson

 Douglas Yonko

 Kimberly Sabow

State Transportation Board

 Richard Searle

Commission on Trial Court Appointments,

Coconino County 

 Benjamin Crysler

 Dural Browning

 Myrna Goldstein

 Noah Stalvey

 Randon Cupp

Senate staffer who won discrimination suit wants job back

Talonya Adams outside U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Talonya Adams outside U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Oct. 18, 2019. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

A fired Senate staffer said Friday she hopes to go back to work even though it would mean working with – and for – some of the same people who a federal court jury said discriminated against her.

“Not only do I want my job back, I’m entitled to my job back,” Talonya Adams told Capitol Media Service. That relates to the fact that federal law allows someone who is found to have been the victim of illegal employment discrimination to be restored to the prior position, with no loss of pay or benefits.

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Senate, where she had worked until 2015, to reinstate her no later than Oct. 31 “pursuant to terms negotiated by the parties.” That followed a unanimous jury verdict in July finding that her dismissal was not only unjustified but that she was the victim of discrimination and illegal retaliation for complaining.

Adams acknowledged that one option would be to negotiate some sort of severance deal, giving her money in lieu of going back to work at the place where she was fired and allowing her to take up her legal practice elsewhere. But she said that’s not what she wants to do.

“I have a love of public policy,” Adams said.

Adams also was critical of Senate President Karen Fann who late Thursday, after the reinstatement order was issued, said “something like this would be awkward in any circumstance.”

“I’m not sure what’s awkward about treating an African-American policy adviser with a law degree an international MBA that has been wrongfully discharged fairly, professionally, non-discriminatorily and in an equitable manner to her peers,” Adams said.

Fann, however, also said that, ultimately, it will be up to Adams.

“If that’s what she wants to do and that’s what we need to do, fine,” the Senate president said. “Or, if there’s another alternative, that’s OK, too.”

Not everyone who was there in 2015 and who Adams charged was culpable in her dismissal is still at the Senate. One of those is Katie Hobbs who, at the time, was the Senate minority leader.

“I do not question that she felt discriminated against,” Hobbs, now secretary of state, told Capitol Media Services in a separate interview. But Hobbs also said that when she was heading the Senate Democrats that no one was wrongly fired.

Adams said that’s no surprise.

“She testified at the trial, of course, and she’s made subsequent statements,” Adams said of Hobbs.

“She’s very proud of her decision and I suppose she stands by it.”

But Adams said that’s not what the jury concluded. More to the point, she said that stance is reflective of a larger issue.

“I find it unfortunate because that’s exactly why discrimination exists,” she said.

“It’s invisible, it’s intangible, it’s hard to quantify, ”Adams said. “Systematic racism is everywhere.”

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

And she took a swat at Hobbs for maintaining her position that her firing was justified, particularly in the face of a unanimous jury verdict saying she was entitled to $1 million.

“To have a sitting secretary of state state that there was no discrimination I think is disrespectful to our judicial system, to democracy,” Adams said.

“And it gives me grave concern about someone that sits at the helm and governs one of the most sacred rights to people of color,” she continued. “And that’s the right to vote.”

Hobbs is the state’s chief elections officer.

Adams is not going to get $1 million, with Judge Douglas Rayes saying federal law caps such awards at $300,000. But it was Rayes who in Thursday’s final judgment said she was entitled to some of the pay she missed – about $50,000 – and her job back.

In filing suit, Adams said she was paid less than her colleagues with similar experience. Hobbs, however, said that had nothing to do with sex or race.

“There is a problem, and it’s institutional, in the salary structure,” Hobbs said.

“Democratic staff get paid less than Republican staff,” she continued. “This has been an issue for a long time.

Hobbs said she worked during her four years as head of the Democrat caucus to create pay parity.

In the past year there have been adjustments. But Hobbs said those changes are not enough and that Democrat staffers generally are paid less than those for the Republican majority.

“That is still an ongoing issue, it is still something that’s being worked on,” she said.

Salary issues aside, Adams said – and jurors concluded – that she was discriminated against with respect to the amount of leave she was allowed to take. And they said she was fired for complaining about the discrimination.

Adams said the fact that she got the case into court and got that $1 million verdict, even though it was reduced by the judge, is an accomplishment in itself.

She said it is difficult to prove charges of racism, particularly in convincing jurors that the actions of the employer were intentional. In fact, Adams said, that’s why it’s difficult to find attorneys to pursue these cases and why Adams represented herself.

Senate wants host of Ninja records protected

In this May 6, 2021 file photo Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool,File)

A judge on Thursday said he’s not ready to cite the Arizona Senate and Karen Fann, its president, for contempt of court.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp heard arguments by Keith Beauchamp, the attorney for American Oversight, that little has been done since the judge in early August ordered the Senate immediately produce the records it has related to the audit of the 2020 election. That specifically includes those in the hands of Cyber Ninjas Inc., the private firm Fann hired to conduct the review.

Kemp, however, noted that his order was stayed while appellate courts weighed the issue. And that stay, he said, was not dissolved until Sept. 14.

But Beauchamp who represents the self-described nonpartisan watchdog group said little has been done since then other than Fann sending a letter to Cyber Ninjas asking for the records. And he told Kemp that the company has pretty much told the Senate it doesn’t intend to comply.

“That letter to Cyber Ninjas in no way constitutes sufficiently reasonable steps by the Senate to meet their obligations to provide documents on behalf of their various respective agents,” he told the judge. “And given that we don’t have compliance with the court’s order yet, I think the burden is on the Senate to show they have taken all reasonable steps within their power to comply with the court’s order.”

But there’s an even larger fight looming.

Kory Langhofer, attorney for Fann and the Senate, contends that some of what American Oversight wants is protected by “legislative privilege.” That includes not just what may yet be produced by Cyber Ninjas but about 1,000 records the Senate already has but is refusing to surrender.

Beauchamp, for his part, wants Kemp to rule that the privilege — to the extent it exists — covers only communications which are part of the process of lawmakers to craft legislation.

In this case, he said, what is sought relates to how the audit was conducted and the documents that led up to the three-volume report released late last month. And Beauchamp told Kemp none of that relates to the act of legislating.

What Kemp ultimately rules could set the bar for future cases of how much — or how little — lawmakers can shield from public view.

Hanging in the balance is Kemp’s order that the records of Cyber Ninjas are public.

Arizona Senate Republicans hold a hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

That was affirmed by the Court of Appeals which said the company was performing a core governmental function. And that made its records related to the audit as public as if they were produced by the Senate itself.

Nor was the court impressed by arguments by the Senate that it did not have the records.

“The requested records are no less public records simply because they are in the possession of a third party,” wrote appellate judge Maria Elena Cruz.

That was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The trick now is actually getting them: Beauchamp told the judge the company is balking.

“Cyber Ninjas is not going to give to the Senate all of the documents that the Senate is obligated to produce pursuant to the Court of Appeals order and pursuant to this court’s order,” he said. So he wants Kemp to order the Senate to do more than simply send a letter.

If and when that happens, that still leaves Langhofer with his argument that some of what American Oversight wants is protected by legislative privilege. He said there’s a reason to keep certain documents secret, including things that lawmakers — and, in particular, Fann as Senate president — get from outside contractors like Cyber Ninjas.

“The quality of discussion inside the legislature, the advice that consultants and staffers give to the president will be muted,” Langhofer said. “If what you have to say, particularly when it goes against your own party’s base, is immediately available for public inspection … it will do lasting damage to the quality of discussion and argument behind closed doors of the legislature.”

Kemp, however, suggested that the privilege is not as broad as Langhofer claims.

He said it would be one thing if lawmakers were deliberating on a specific piece of legislation.

“This is an audit, this is kind of an investigation,” the judge said.

“And there isn’t any proposed legislation or anything that they’re deliberating about,” he continued. “So how would the procedures and policies and the way that the audit was conducted, how would that chill deliberations?”

Langhofer argued the judge is looking at it from too narrow a perspective.

For example, he said, there might be communications over whether the audit itself is a good idea or whether the scope of the audit should be expanded. Langhofer said lawmakers need a “safe space” to have those discussions.

And he rejected the idea that the privilege applies only after a bill is proposed.

“What we want the legislature to do is figure out the facts before introducing legislation,” Langhofer said. “That’s the legislature we want, right?”

Beauchamp disagreed.

“The Senate must demonstrate that the disclosure of the record that they’re withholding would impair legislative deliberation,” he said. “Well, they haven’t made that showing. And there aren’t any deliberations.”

Kemp has other issues he needs to decide.

One is whether to consolidate this lawsuit with a separate one brought by Phoenix Newspapers, owners of the Arizona Republic. It filed its own public records lawsuit.

In that case Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah already has rebuffed a claim by Cyber Ninjas that, as a private entity, it cannot be sued under the state’s public records law. Hannah essentially reached the same conclusion as Kemp that the audit the company performed is a government function, making its activities and records public.


Senate, Maricopa County reach deal on audit dispute

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates said Friday he believes that settling the dispute with the state Senate was preferable to the potential loss of nearly $700 million in state funds should the case wind up in court. With him is supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Maricopa County will avoid losing nearly $700 million in state-shared revenue and the Arizona Senate will be able to pose the questions it has about previously withheld materials that it subpoenaed for its review of the 2020 election results in the county. 

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the Arizona Senate came to an agreement Friday to resolve the state attorney general’s finding that the county violated state law by not turning over routers, splunk logs and certain administrative passwords subpoenaed by the Senate in January and July. 

The settlement, signed by Senate President Karen Fann, board Chairman Jack Sellers and their legal counsel, states that the county and the senate selected a special master to handle the process of answering the Senate’s questions about the routers and splunk logs. That’s in lieu of turning the materials over to the Senate and its contractor, Cyber Ninjas. 

The whole purpose behind obtaining the routers was to see if the election equipment had been connected to the internet at any time during the tabulation, a situation that could have resulted in vote tallies being altered. Fann said the routers, which direct computer traffic, would show if that had occurred. 

Fann and the county each claimed victory. 

Fann said it is no longer necessary to give the routers to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm she hired to audit the 2020 returns in Maricopa County. 

The supervisors, in turn, believe it is a victory because it ensures that the routers won’t wind up in the hands of Cyber Ninjas, a firm headed by Doug Logan who said even before the audit began that he believes the election results were fraudulent. More to the point, the supervisors said giving that access to an outside firm could result in sensitive private and law enforcement information being compromised. 

“It’s very important for people to understand that the Cyber Ninjas will not have access to the routers,” board Vice Chairman Bill Gates said during the supervisors special meeting, which started at 4:45 p.m. Friday. 

Gates said that the settlement avoided costly litigation while also keeping data on the county’s routers safe. The county has repeatedly withheld the routers over security concerns. 

In exchange, Fann, R-Prescott, will inform Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the county has fully complied with the Senate’s subpoenas and no further action is needed from him. 

They chose former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, a Republican, to serve as the special master. He will hire a team of one to three computer technology experts to help answer the Senate’s questions, according to the agreement. Those team members will have to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement.  

The county will pay all costs for Shadegg and his team’s employment. The board also agreed that the county would drop its efforts to have the Senate reimburse $2.8 million the county spent to replace voting equipment that may have been compromised during the Senate’s audit. 

The final report from the Senate contractor Cyber Ninjas is set to be released on September 24. 

“We’re certainly not giving up the rights to take action once the audit report is released next week. We will always protect the rights of our voters,” Sellers said. 

Fann painted the agreement as a victory for the Senate, saying it gave them the data needed to complete its review. 

“We got everything we need and more,” she wrote on Twitter. “Maricopa County goes home with its tail between its legs.” 

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, was the only supervisor to vote against the settlement. He said he didn’t think this was the end of the dispute between the county and the Senate and that the board was “dealing with unhinged people” who couldn’t be trusted. 

“The folks that are trying to find a smoking gun — if it’s not in the routers, they’re going to go somewhere else,” he said. “But this whole issue of trying to challenge the election will not stop.” 

The supervisors faced a September 27 deadline to resolve the subpoena issue or face loss of state-shared revenue, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in an August decision. Their options were to either turn over the requested materials or negotiate a settlement with the Senate or through the courts. 

Brnovich’s involvement was spurred by a request from Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, to investigate the county’s noncompliance. Borrelli’s request took the form of a 1487 complaint, the mechanism lawmakers have to seek investigations of local governments when lawmakers believe the latter’s actions contradict state laws. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Showdown over election audit looms on Monday

Phoenix, AZ - Nov. 30, 2019: The State Senate building is directly beside the Arizona State Capitol building. (Stock/Deposit Photo
Phoenix, AZ – Nov. 30, 2019: The State Senate building is directly beside the Arizona State Capitol building. (Stock/Deposit Photo

The game of political chicken between the Arizona Senate and Maricopa County supervisors comes to a head Monday as lawmakers weigh holding board members in contempt, opening the door for the apparently unprecedented possibility of county officials being charged with a crime or even immediately locked up.

Senate President Karen Fann told Capitol Media Services on Friday she remains hopeful the supervisors will realize they are obligated to provide what lawmakers are demanding, including access to voting equipment and ballots. Beyond that, she said it makes sense for them to cooperate in what the Prescott Republican says is an attempt to answer questions from constituents about the accuracy of the results of the Nov. 3 election.

But Fann got her answer as board attorney Steve Tully filed suit late Friday asking a judge to dismiss what he called a “sham subpoena.”

Tully noted the senators are not asking board members to appear to answer questions. In fact, he said, there isn’t a hearing even scheduled.

Steve Tully
Steve Tully

Instead, he said, the subpoena demands the county give access to the companies they hire to the voting equipment and the 2.1 million ballots cast.

And then there’s the fact that the one firm that Fann has said she is considering, Allied Security Operations Group, was involved in efforts by the Trump campaign to overturn election results in Michigan.

“You don’t just hire a bunch of clowns that run around for Trump,” Tully charged.

Hanging in the balance is the extent of the power of state lawmakers to issue subpoenas to poke around into whatever they want.

The supervisors are trying to be careful in what legal fight they pick.

Tully said they acknowledge the Senate does have subpoena power. In fact, he said, the county already has turned over 11 gigabytes of data ranging from the voter registration database to computer logs and ballot tabulation reports associated with the November election.

What they don’t have, Tully said is the authority to now say they want the auditor they hire to go out and poke around to see what the company can find. He now wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish to rule in the county’s favor.

Fann bristled at questions about whether this all amounts to a fishing expedition.

“A fishing expedition is someone that’s going out there purposely looking for something,” she said, something that is not the case here.

“We are trying to dispel any of the allegations that are out there,” the Senate president said. “We are trying to answer the constituents’ questions about why they think something went wrong here or didn’t go wrong.”

That, however, still leaves the question of whether those questions are due to actual evidence of fraud or the fact that Trump told backers before the election the only way he would lose is if there was cheating and the voting machines were rigged, a theme he continues to repeat.

All that has had an effect. A new OH Predictive Insights poll finds that 26% of Arizonans and 54% of Republicans believe Trump won the election.

Fann said the posturing by Trump and his allies is irrelevant.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“With all due respect, four years ago it was a lot of Democrats who were questioning these machines,” she said, with some national reports suggesting that Dominion Voting Systems equipment could be hacked. And Fann said perhaps if there were audits done at that time — like the kind she and senators now want — questions about the vulnerability of those machines would have been answered before the 2020 election.

“I’m not saying there was any fraud,” she said of this year’s results. And Fann said people keep asking questions because “we haven’t had an audit.”

That could depend on how one defines an “audit.”

There were “logic and accuracy” tests before and after the election, using pre-marked ballots to see whether the machines recorded the votes that were cast. Those tests, Tully said, came up with a 100% match.

Then, as required by state law, officials from both major parties selected ballots from random voting centers for a hand count. According to the audit report, a review of more than 47,000 ballots showed not a single difference between what the machines recorded and what the hand count revealed.

Separately, a judge let state GOP Chair Kelli Ward, who had filed suit, get a review of several thousand ballots which had to be duplicated by hand after the originals could not be read by machines. While there were some discrepancies, the judge found — and the state Supreme Court affirmed — that if the error rate were extrapolated out over all the duplicated ballots it would have gained Trump no more than 153 votes, far short of the 10,457 vote margin of Biden over the now-former president.

And Ward’s own expert witness was unable to find a single instance of a clearly forged signature on the envelopes of early ballots she reviewed.

Fann was unimpressed, saying if the supervisors have nothing to hide “why are they refusing to let us do this.”

“We’ve offered to pay for this ourselves,” she said. Instead the county has hired two firms for its own review, one of which Fann said is not really qualified to do the kind of audit the Senate believes is necessary.

Anyway, she said, the Senate is not asking for the county to physically deliver the ballots or the machines to the Capitol but simply to give access to an auditor the Senate finds acceptable.

That, however, still leaves the question about Allied Security Operations Group and its link to trying to overturn Michigan voting results.

Fann insisted that firm has not yet been hired despite the fact that her attorney, Kory Langhofer, sent the supervisors a copy of a “scope of work” plan from Allied. Fann said she sent that because it was the only proposal she had at the time and that she continues to speak with other companies.

Still, she conceded that the firm’s reputation of trying to help overturn election results for Trump does raise questions.

“My intention at this point is not to hire them,” Fann said.

“I do believe that they are qualified, they do have the experience,” she continued. “But the mere fact that the perception is out there that they have ties with Trump or they would be less than totally independent, then it would be very difficult for us to hire them.”

All that comes back to the question of what happens Monday assuming all 16 Republicans vote to hold the board in contempt.

That would empower Fann to send out the sergeant-at-arms to arrest board members.

Only thing is, what the Senate wants now is not testimony from board members but access to those ballots and equipment. Tully said he is prepared to go to court to prevent board members from being arrested.

Option 2 is for Fann to ask Attorney General Mark Brnovich to file criminal charges against board members, as it is a Class 2 misdemeanor, subject to four months in county jail, to disobey a legislative subpoena. That, however, could result in months of litigation and appeal.

What that could leave Fann is what Tully already started: taking the matter to a judge.

Mikitish has not set a hearing on that matter.

Sinema takes lead in U.S. Senate race as ballots are counted


Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talks to campaign volunteers at a Democratic campaign office on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. Sinema is seeking the current U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, and will face the Republican primary winner of the race between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if Sinema wins the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talks to campaign volunteers at a Democratic campaign office on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. Sinema is seeking the current U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, and will face the Republican primary winner of the race between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if Sinema wins the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The latest returns from the state’s two largest counties has given Kyrsten Sinema the lead in her bid for U.S. Senate — barely.

New figures late Thursday from the Secretary of State’s Office find the Democrat has opened up a 9,610-vote edge over Republican Martha McSally out of about 1.9 million votes already counted, or about half a percentage point. That is a sharp reversal from just 24 hours earlier when Sinema trailed her GOP foe by about 15,000.

Those newly counted ballots also have given Democrat Kathy Hoffman the lead in her race for state superintendent of public instruction. She is now up by 20,348 over Republican Frank Riggs; a day ago he had 7,200 more votes than she did.

The change in fortune comes as the Arizona Republican Party and four of its county affiliates are trying to get a judge to block election officials in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Apache counties from counting some late-cast early ballots. Voters in those four counties all were breaking for the Democrat contenders.

At the same time, the Arizona Democratic Party filed its own lawsuit against Maricopa County in a bid to boost the Democrat edge there even more by helping to “rehabilitate” some ballots that were set aside for a variety of reasons, like lack of identification.

Sinema’s big surge comes as Maricopa County elections officials processed an additional approximately 127,000 ballots on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, Sinema had just an 8,000-vote edge in the county. But by the end of the day that had tripled, giving her more cushion to offset the lead that McSally has in 10 of the state’s 15 counties.

Sinema, who currently represents a congressional district that takes in portions of Phoenix, Tempe and Chandler, also boosted her lead over McSally in Pima County by about 7,000, up to more than 44,000.

The McSally camp indicated late Thursday it was not worried, saying they believe the latest batch of ballots to be counted arrived at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on days when Republican early voting turnout was low. They contend the trend will change when the county gets to the approximately 200,000 early ballots dropped off on Election Day based on their belief that many Republicans who had requested early ballots had not turned them in before.

The change of fate for Hoffman also got a boost from Maricopa County, where she opened up a lead of more than 22,000, along with her now having a 55,000-vote edge in Pima County. Here, too, those strong numbers from the two largest counties helped offset the fact that Riggs outpolled her in 10 counties.

But Democrat Katie Hobbs, running for secretary of state, still remains more than 19,000 votes behind Republican Steve Gaynor.

That big dump of heavily Democratic votes in Maricopa County also breathed some new life into the hopes of the party to win a new seat in the state Senate.

Incumbent Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, now has a lead of just 808 votes over Democratic challenger Christine Marsh; that’s close to half of just a day ago.

What makes that significant is that Maricopa County Recorder said late Thursday he still has about 345,000 ballots left to be processed, with another 61,000 in Pima County. If the trend continues, that will boost the lead of Sinema and Hoffman.

The Maricopa numbers might even provide enough votes for Marsh to oust McGee. And if that happens, the Republican margin in the state Senate will be reduced to just 16-14.

The new ballots also have increased the chances that Democrat Jennifer Pawlik has of getting elected to the state House. On Wednesday she was up over her nearest Republican challenger by fewer than 500; that figure has now tripled.

They also represent bad news for incumbent Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, who seeks to hold onto her seat. Democrat Aaron Lieberman now has doubled his lead over her, with about 1,500 more votes.

In Pima County, the latest count also puts incumbent Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, further behind in his bid for reelection. He now trails Democrat Domingo DeGrazia by about 2,700 votes.



Sinema, Kelly, uncommitted on D.C. statehood

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Thirty-three Democratic state senators and House members are calling on the state’s congressional delegation to support Washington, D.C., statehood, in advance of a June 22 U.S. Senate hearing on the topic. 

Washington D.C. statehood is a politically divisive issue – Democrats see giving the federal district’s almost 700,000 residents, a majority of whom are non-white, full representation in their national government as a civil rights question, while Republicans see it as an unconstitutional power grab that will all but guarantee the addition of two more Democrats to the Senate. 

The D.C. statehood bill that passed the U.S. House in April split the state’s congressional delegation on the expected partisan lines, with all the Democrats voting for it and all the Republicans voting against it. And when a resolution opposing D.C. statehood came up in the Arizona House earlier this year, it passed 31-29 along the expected party lines. 

However, what remains in question is how Arizona’s two Democratic U.S. senators, both of whom have sought to cultivate reputations as moderates who sometimes buck their party, would vote on a D.C. statehood bill. When asked this week, both indicated they haven’t decided whether to vote “yes” or “no.” 

In a letter to the state’s federal delegation this week, the Arizona state lawmakers wrote: “No other democratic nation denies the right of self-government, including participation in its national legislature, to the residents of its capital. The residents of the District of Columbia lack full democracy, equality, and citizenship enjoyed by the residents of Arizona and all other states.” 

The letter says the United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on the U.S. to address D.C.’s “lack of political equality” and that the Organization of American States has declared the city’s disenfranchisement a violation of its charter agreement. Twenty-three state House Democrats and 10 senators signed the letter, including the House and Senate minority leaders. 

“Congress has repeatedly interfered with the District of Columbia’s limited self-government by enacting laws that impact expenditure of its locally raised tax revenue, including barring the use of locally raised revenue, which violates the fundamental principle that states and local governments are best suited to enact legislation that represents the will of their citizens,” they wrote. “Although the District of Columbia has passed consecutive balanced budgets since 1997, it still faces the possibility of being shut down yearly because of Congressional deliberations over the federal budget.” 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. speaks during a luncheon at the Arizona Biltmore, Friday, May 17, 2019, in Phoenix. Arizona Senators Sinema and Martha McSally spoke to a crowd at an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry event to give an update on action in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. speaks during a luncheon at the Arizona Biltmore, Friday, May 17, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Next week’s hearing before the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will start at 10 a.m. Eastern time and will feature testimony from several statehood supporters, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and former Connecticut senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and has 45 co-sponsors, all Democrats. Arizona’s senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly are among the few members of their caucus who have not signed onto the bill, and neither Kelly nor Sinema, who is on the committee, has publicly committed to voting for or against D.C. statehood. 

“While no legislation on Washington, D.C. statehood is currently scheduled for a Senate vote, Kyrsten has said that the admission of new states to the union is one of the most important responsibilities granted to Congress — and that having all Americans’ voices heard in our federal government through elected representatives is fundamentally important to Arizonans, and to all American citizens,” Sinema spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said June 16. “Kyrsten believes that any change to the District’s status should be fairly considered by Congress, and she will continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to honor and protect our nation’s capital. If legislation is brought to a vote, Kyrsten will — as always — vote based on what’s right for Arizona.” 

Kelly spokesman Jacob Peters pointed the Arizona Capitol Times to comments Kelly made to Politico in late April, when he indicated he hadn’t made a decision on the issue. 

“Like a lot of things like this, I want to see the details,” Kelly said. “This is pretty straightforward, but in general I feel that every American has a right to representation in the United States Congress. And there are a lot of folks that live here in D.C. There are a lot of options to do that … I think our democracy is best served when folks have representation in the United States Congress.” 

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., listens during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 11, 2021, to examine the reliability, resiliency, and affordability of electric service in the United States amid the changing energy mix and extreme weather events. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., listens during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 11, 2021.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A poll conducted in April by McLaughlin and Associates and commissioned by the conservative United States Justice Foundation showed 50% of Arizonans opposed to D.C. statehood and 42% in favor. Former Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is chairman of the Justice Foundation’s Advisory Committee, predicted in a newspaper column in May that supporting D.C. statehood could hurt Kelly politically and called on him to join Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., in opposing the elimination of the filibuster, which would likely need to be done to get a vote on D.C. statehood anyway. 

“If so, Mark Kelly could claim the mantle of John McCain, describing himself as a ‘principled pragmatist’ and making a midcourse correction common in spaceflight, and not unheard of in public office,” Hayworth wrote. “If not, the third astronaut-turned-senator could see his political mission grounded early.” 

The Arizona House weighed in on the issue in March, voting along party lines to approve a resolution opposing D.C. statehood. Democrats said the current situation “disenfranchises many minority Americans, and that is fundamentally wrong, un-American and un-Arizonan,” as Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, put it. 

“D.C. statehood is a civil rights issue,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. “There are 700,000 mostly black and brown citizens in D.C. right now who do not have the ability to have their issues heard.” 

Republicans said making D.C. a state would be unconstitutional, and that the federal district was intended to be a place where the government could meet with no undue influence from any particular state. Some said that if D.C. residents want elected representation in the federal government, they can move, or suggested ceding parts of it back to Virginia or Maryland. 

“To say that people have been deprived of statehood, well yeah, that was the original intention of the federal city,” said Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. 

The state Senate never took up the resolution. 

Supervisors appoint ex-legislator Rick Gray to replace Debbie Lesko

Supervisor Steve Gallardo. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed former
Rep. Rick Gray, third from left, to fill the Senate seat vacated by
Debbie Lesko in Legislative District 21. From left: Supervisor Bill
Gates, Board Chair Steve Chucri, Gray, Supervisor Clint Hickman, and
Supervisor Steve Gallardo. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors today appointed ex-legislator Rick Gray to replace former state Sen. Debbie Lesko in Legislative District 21.

Lesko had resigned at the end of the opening day of the 2018 legislative session to run for Congressional District 8.

Gray, who will be sworn in on Jan. 19, edged out Rep. Tony Rivero and former Rep. Jean McGrath, whom LD21 precinct committeemen also nominated last week to replace Lesko.

Supervisor Clint Hickman, whose district includes LD21, said it was a tough decision to choose from among the three people who had already served the West Valley, but Gray, who was in the House from 2011 to 2016, is knowledgeable and will continue to work hard for his constituents.

After the appointment, Gray told the board that the title of “senator” is not particularly important to him.

“The idea of a title of senator is about as appealing to me as if somebody says, ‘I’m gonna take you out for dinner and we’re going to have a great bowl of kale.’ But the opportunity to serve, to me, is what’s important,” he said.

He added that the appointment is both humbling and exciting.

Gray, who had first filed to run for election in the House, said he expects Lesko to win her congressional race, which means he’ll run for the Senate. However, he added that it’s still too early to say if he would close his House campaign.

“The first thing on my mind is prepping myself for all the legislation that is going to be coming through,” he said. “When you’re in the Legislature, you’re inundated with stuff.”

The Breakdown, Episode 3: The special session clock is ticking


Gov. Doug Ducey convenes a special session on the opioid crisis on Jan. 22. (From left) Senate President Steve Yarbrough, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and a litany of other lawmakers and supporters joined the governor to advocate for various changes in law related to opioids. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey convenes a special session on the opioid crisis on Jan. 22. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The governor will convene the special session on the state’s opioid crisis today, and he wants to see legislation approved by Friday.

The clock is now ticking while lawmakers consider a proposal approaching the problem on numerous fronts. Additional treatment options for people with addictions, increased penalties for doctors unnecessarily prescribing the addictive medications, oversight for manufacturers – the list goes on.

Meanwhile, campaign finance reports show the governor far ahead of his challengers in this year’s gubernatorial race, and a House attorney has some interesting thoughts on public records.

The Breakdown, Episode 4: Moving on – or trying to


Gov. Doug Ducey looks up at the gallery of the Old Capitol where elementary school children watched as he signed the opioid omnibus on Jan. 26. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey looks up at the gallery of the Old Capitol where elementary school children watched as he signed the opioid omnibus on Jan. 26. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The special legislative session on opioids is over, and now, it’s time to move on.

But that can be easier said than done. As the Capitol holds its collective breath for the report on the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Don Shooter, one woman wonders if there is room in the national dialogue for people like her – people who experienced abuse as they served time behind bars.

As for legislators, efforts criminal justice reform is expected to make another appearance this session, and there’s a water bill out there somewhere waiting to be revealed.

Reporter’s note: The officer accused of unlawful sexual conduct with a former prisoner, Kenneth Couture, and mentioned in this episode of The Breakdown did not return requests for comment.

Music in this episode included “Man Down” and “Despair and Triumph” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com).

The Breakdown: A sine die surprise


The Arizona Legislature is officially done, and what a weird session it’s been.

After convening for three minutes on Tuesday May 26, the Senate could not have adjourned faster than it did, leaving roughly 30 House bills dead in the water … at least for now.

The Arizona Capitol Times reporters have returned for this special episode given the circumstances, but hopefully will be back soon to cover the inevitable special session – or sessions – and upcoming election cycle.


Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


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

Wendy Baldo

Wendy Baldo (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Wendy Baldo (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The sand upon which the state Capitol sits shifts every two years to produce a changing cast of politicians, and that’s why its inhabitants value stability and consistency like desert creatures pang for water.

And few provide a stabilizing presence like Wendy Baldo, the Senate’s longtime chief of staff, who offers not just knowledge, but institutional knowledge, and not just any counsel, but counsel rooted in experience.

Baldo cut her teeth on state government in 1988 in Gov. Rose Mofford’s administration, and she has worked in the Arizona Senate in various capacity since 1993. In 2009, then-Senate President Bob Burns hired her as chief of staff, and her counsel proved indispensable to leaders as the state careened toward financial and political chaos following the Great Recession.

She has since served four more Senate presidents in succession – Russell Pearce, Steve Pierce, Andy Biggs and currently, Steve Yarbrough.

Yarbrough said for a chief of staff to survive that many leadership changes is rare.

“She manages somehow to persuade you that she will be fiercely loyal to you even though she apparently was able to persuade, in my case four predecessors, that she was going to be fiercely loyal to them as well,” Yarbrough said and chuckled. “Secondly, this is an obvious answer. Her knowledge and her experience from all of those years is just enormously valuable to a presiding officer.”

Burns, who is now a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, said he has a tendency to get into trouble and Baldo could spot it miles away and head it off.

Melissa Taylor, her deputy, said Baldo doesn’t shy away from candidly mapping out a proposal or idea’s implications and complications, including analysis that members may not necessarily want to hear.

“And I think that’s what you should do (as a staffer),” Taylor said.

Yarbrough bill to curb STO tax credits called ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Republican proposal to end the dramatic annual growth of tax credits for private school scholarships also expands access to those scholarships in ways that makes public school advocates wary.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s SB1467 would phase down a 20 percent annual increase in the cap on a corporate tax credit for School Tuition Organizations, or STOs, that provide scholarships to help cover the cost of private school tuition. Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican who for years ran such an organization, pitched the bill as a bipartisan offering to accomplish a goal Democrats have long sought – a halt on such a large annual increase to the tax credit.

But the bill also makes it easier for some students to receive scholarships, allows School Tuition Organizations to charge families an application fee to apply for scholarships, and raises the size of the scholarships themselves.

And once the 20 percent growth of the cap on corporate income tax credits is fully phased down by 2021, the cap would still grow annually by 2.5 percent or the percentage of the annual increase of the metropolitan Phoenix consumer price index – whichever is greater.

That’s higher than the annual rate of growth applied to the formula for funding Arizona public schools.

Dana Naimark, president of Children’s Action Alliance, said, “This is not a bill to rein in the growth of STOs, this is a bill to grow STOs more. And it’s obvious that that’s what it is. What he called sweeteners … are all expansions.”

Yarbrough has said it’ll be difficult to convince Republicans to lower the annual growth of the STO tax credit, which currently allows $74 million annually to be collected and then distributed by STOs to families for private school tuition. Such a vote could be considered anti-school choice, so the Senate president said he’s included sweeteners to persuade his GOP colleagues to vote yes.

It’ll take a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to approve the bill due to the restrictions of Proposition 108, a voter-approved measure that requires a supermajority vote, because lowering tax credits increases revenue.

If Yarbrough thought he could count on Democrats, he’s mistaken, said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs.

“I certainly think it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the Phoenix Democrat said. “We have put forward capping the expansion every year. But a clean cap. So there’s a lot of provisions in there that would make it really hard to swallow.”

Yarbrough said he was “flummoxed” by the opposition to his bill, and that measures to alter the program beyond reducing the annual inflation rate are not expansions of the program.

“They’re all within the extraordinarily reduced cap that’s going to be going forward under this bill,” he said.

Naimark said Yarbrough is trying to use a fiscal reality as an opportunity to expand private school scholarships, which Democrats argue siphons public monies away from public schools. It has taken longer and longer each year for the aggregate cap on corporate income tax credits to be met, indicating that the corporate appetite for claiming the credit is waning, which Yarbrough has acknowledged.

Now the Senate president is using that opportunity to expand a program, Naimark said.

“The only reason (Yarbrough’s) saying he’s willing to lower the 20 percent growth is because he realizes they’re not going to keep meeting that each year. So he’s giving up nothing,” she said.

Yarbrough’s bill would also enact or create an annual increase into another corporate income tax credit used for students with disabilities; raise the annual growth of a cap on the size of scholarships; allow students who are home schooled or moved from out of state the school year prior to immediately be eligible for private school scholarships; and clarify that scholarships can meet, but not exceed, the tuition at a family’s school of choice.

The provision to allow STOs to charge application fees also drew criticism. School Tuition Organizations already get keep up to 10 percent of the tax credit to pay for administrative expenses. Much has been written about how STO operators like Yarbrough, who until December ran the state’s oldest school tuition organization, have personally profited from those dollars.

Charging application fees will only make it harder for low-income families to obtain scholarships, Naimark said. Many families apply for multiple scholarships to cover the full cost of private school tuition.

“It’s just another thing that shows this is not designed to open up opportunities to low-income children,” Naimark said.

Yarbrough said the fee will be “reasonable,” and that it’ll help ensure that STOs don’t make quid pro quo deals with families in exchange for scholarships.