2018 law bars candidates from free association, Democrats say

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

Candidates running with public funding through the Clean Elections program say a new voter-approved state law that prohibits them from paying political parties for services impedes their constitutional right to associate with whoever they choose.

This is the first election cycle since voters approved 2018’s Proposition 306, which outright banned candidates who participate in Clean Elections from directly or indirectly paying campaign funds to political parties or political action committees. Leading up to the candidate filing period, the Arizona Democratic Party actively urged candidates to eschew Clean Elections for traditional financing so they could still buy voter registration information from the party.

That led some incumbent Democrats who previously ran with Clean Elections funds to drop it, but overall numbers for participating candidates haven’t decreased, said Tom Collins, director of the Clean Elections Commission. In 2018, 32 primary candidates qualified for public financing. So far this year, 37 have.

However, Collins said, the new statute has led to multiple complaints from candidates, complaints he would prefer they take up with the legislative Republicans who drafted the law. He was the single largest contributor to the anti-306 campaign, and one current and one former commissioner unsuccessfully sued the state to keep the measure off the ballot.

“This amendment impinges on associational freedoms, which are guaranteed in the Constitution,” Collins said.

Athena Salman
Athena Salman
Running with public financing is such an important part of Rep. Athena Salman’s political ethos that she, Sen. Juan Mendez and newcomer Melody Hernandez call themselves the Millennial Clean Team. But the north Tempe Democrat said the new law makes her campaigning more difficult.

For one thing, Salman can’t purchase a private voter registration tracking system, the Voter Activation Network, through the Democratic Party. This limit primarily affects Democrats, as Republican candidates buy their own system, i360, a Koch brothers-founded data platform, directly from the private owner.

Salman said she also misses the ability to hire campaign staff through the Democratic Party.

“We can’t do that anymore,” she said. “In previous election cycles, we hired some phenomenal field organizers through the party.”

When lawmakers first drafted the law in spring 2018, it contained an explicit exception to allow candidates to pay parties for access to voter files. At the time, Republican lawmakers and lobbyists insisted the measure had nothing to do with weakening Clean Elections; they described it as merely a response to the 2016 election, when several Democrats paid into the party’s “coordinated campaign” fund without specifying what they received for those payments.

A Republican political consultant filed a complaint alleging that the payments were used to subsidize races in more contested districts. Collins led a Clean Elections investigation into the complaint and determined the candidates didn’t break any rules, but the commission then decided to set stricter rules governing how publicly-funded candidates could coordinate with political parties.

The new law, as amended in the Senate and approved by voters, goes much further, banning all payments to political parties. Because of that, Collins said he’s heard complaints from primarily Republican candidates who want exceptions for smaller expenses, such as paying their county parties for table space at fairs. Those candidates argue that the law was intended for a specific problem with how Democrats used Clean Elections.

“If folks for some reason believe this was intended to address a specific practice, that practice is also disallowed,” Collins said.

The law officially infringes on the ability of publicly funded candidates to associate with their party, Salman said, but perhaps more nefarious is the chilling effect it has on candidates and parties who don’t want to push boundaries or risk ending up in a lawsuit.

“I do think if there were a lawsuit Republicans would lose,” she said. “This is black and white an infringement on the Constitution.”

Bob Karp
Bob Karp
Bob Karp, a Democrat running a long-shot race in the southern Arizona district now represented by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said his decision to run as a Clean Elections candidate meant he can’t even communicate with the party leaders over email anymore.

Originally, he said, he planned to drop Clean Elections because he couldn’t get any help from the state party if he ran with public financing. But Clean Elections allows him to access about $45,000, more than he could raise from private contributions.

“This is an infringement on the party’s ability to work with their candidates in any way,” Karp said. “I cannot even get a guidebook from the state party about running for office as a Democrat.”

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, is using Clean Elections in her run for the state House. She said she already has limited interaction with the state party, but the new law prohibits her from buying voter registration information or giving any extra money left over at the end of her campaign to the county party for its election night gathering.

Running with Clean Elections means she can focus on her Senate work instead of fundraising, and she doesn’t plan to give it up, Dalessandro said. But the “silly” new law has made it harder, she said.

“I don’t know for sure, but I think there was one person in the history of Clean Elections who abused this, and the rest of us had to pay,” Dalessandro said.

2019: Moments of bipartisanship mixed with rough politics

Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, in this screenshot testifies February 20 before the House Judiciary Committee about her bill to repeal an abortion law. The committee’s chairman, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, refused her request to hold the bill and made a political example of it.
Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, in this screenshot testifies February 20 before the House Judiciary Committee about her bill to repeal an abortion law. The committee’s chairman, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, refused her request to hold the bill and made a political example of it.

The highs and lows of the 2019 legislative session can be measured by how well legislators worked together with the smallest of margins.

Republicans in both chambers could have accomplished everything that needed a simple majority vote without the help of a single Democrat – save for a few holdouts as seen during budget negotiations – but that’s not how the session went.

At the highest, the Legislature voted unanimously 108 times in the House (when all members voted) and 178 times in the Senate. At the lowest, the House voted 64 times down party lines; the Senate 22 times. But there were also lows where bills did not make it past a committee hearing.

On February 20, Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, was used by the Republicans as an example of what can happen when ideas aren’t fully fleshed out.

The Phoenix Democrat introduced legislation that would repeal a law that requires a doctor to ensure all available means and medical skills are deployed to promote, preserve and maintain the fetus’ life if the baby is delivered alive during an abortion.

Terán asked the House Judiciary Committee chair, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, to hold the bill because she knew it would not have enough votes. Allen denied her request and heard the bill anyway.

Terán introduced the bill for a personal reason – her sister had a miscarriage – and said that Republicans were not looking at this to have a conversation.

“It’s totally political,” she said.

Allen didn’t relent.

“The idea that you drop a bill and never want it to be heard is not lawmaking. It’s politics,” he said.  Nobody voted for it.

The 134-day session was not all ugly, as legislators were able to unanimously vote on a bill regarding empowerment scholarship accounts – one of the most divisive issues.

Several Republicans support an ESA-expansion, while Democrats don’t. Voters overwhelmingly rejected an expansion in 2018, but that didn’t stop Republicans from introducing legislation this year.

No ESA expansion bill came to fruition during the session, but one bill through ups and downs was able to make its way to the governor’s desk.

In the eleventh hour, controversy started brewing as a direct result of an Arizona Department of Education audit into ESAs. The ADE found several families in Window Rock on the Navajo Reservation who were using their approved-ESA vouchers for private schools across the state border in New Mexico, though the school was still on the reservation and only minutes away from the border itself.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona''s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona”s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

This was mistakenly approved by the previous administration, a spokesman for ADE said at the time, and the ESA director sent letters to the families demanding repayment of the amount used or they would lose voucher access.

Once the Legislature found out, both majority leaders sponsored mirror bills to fix the issue. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman did not work with Rep. Warren Petersen or Sen. Rick Gray directly, but had discussed potential solutions with other legislators – including the three who represent the Navajo Nation in Legislative District 7.

Once a solution was reached, one that did not involve a voucher expansion, both the House and Senate approved the measure unanimously, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it at the deadline, vowing to make it part of his agenda next session to allow Native American students to spend public monies outside the state’s borders.

The ESA bill was one of the final decisions Ducey made during the session, which means the session began and ended with immense bipartisan supported bills.

The first piece of legislation Ducey signed this session was the Drought Contingency Plan. There were a few bumps in the road, even post-signing, but the state was able to make its first DCP deadline with all but three legislators voting “aye.” The three Democratic senators voted against it because they thought the drought plan didn’t adequately address the issues of water scarcity and conservation.

The Legislature completed its two bills in time to meet federal standards, except it wasn’t good enough.

On January 31, the day Ducey signed the measures, he was with Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and members of the Legislature and boasted about the historic moment.

“We did it by bringing everyone to the table, putting party labels aside and placing Arizona first,” he said. “The Drought Contingency Plan is a historic, bipartisan achievement.”

Other instances of highs and lows involved a religious mocking and a heartwarming moment in the final minutes before sine die.

Rep. Athena Salman, a known atheist, was in charge of delivering the opening prayer and chose to do so about nature. Rep. John Kavanagh, the following day, decided to introduce his “guest” in the gallery – it was God, and that led to a protest from Salman.

The final moments of the session did involve an uplifting situation in which Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix was physically lifted, in her wheelchair, onto the speaker dais. All other 59 representatives were able to sit in the chair all year, but not Longdon who has pushed for accessibility even before she was elected.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers then pulled out a measuring tape and vowed to fix this problem for next session.

“We can do this,” he said.

3 Democrats jockey for position of House minority leader

Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, Minority Whip Charlene Fernandez and Rep. Reginald Bolding
Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, Minority Whip Charlene Fernandez and Rep. Reginald Bolding

Two House Democrats who planned to run as a team for separate caucus leadership roles are now challenging each other for the top spot.

Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, D-Tucson, said he is running for minority leader and he confirmed that Minority Whip Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, is also seeking the position.

In addition, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, also entered the race for minority leader.

The fact that the minority leader race is shaping up to be a three-way contest caught many Democratic House members by surprise, given that Friese and Fernandez were initially planning to run together for the leader and assistant leader positions.

Friese said he originally planned to run for minority leader while Fernandez eyed the assistant minority leader position. While they had pledged to support each other, they weren’t running on a slate, he said.

But Friese said Fernandez decided to run for the leader position instead.

Fernandez did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Friese said the competition hasn’t discouraged him.

“I believe in my vision and I’ve explained to my caucus what my vision is, and that’s what leadership elections are about – what vision we want to take into account when we go into the session,” he said.

Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, who is running for the Senate in District 27, said members expected the leader race to come down to Friese and Bolding, and she was surprised to learn that Friese and Fernandez are now running against each other because they get along so well and have worked as a team the past two years. Still, she said she anticipates it will be a friendly race.

“Regardless of who won, the other would jump in and support them,” she said.

If Friese were to be elected minority leader, it would be a natural succession for the Democratic caucus and Friese, who has served as assistant minority leader the past two years.

Friese said as leader, he would continue building on what the leadership team has accomplished under Rios.

He touted his leadership experience and his relationship with Democrats and Republicans as reasons why his colleagues should elect him.

“My leadership vision absolutely includes working with Republicans when we find common ground. I think that we’re always working together. But I feel comfortable drawing a line and telling them what you’re offering is not good enough,” he said.

Friese said in the past couple of years, the caucus has come together on important issues, such as university bonding, a public assistant program for the needy, and teacher pay raises, and has made it known to the GOP caucus and governor what they would need to come on board with those proposals. He said while Republicans weren’t willing to negotiate, his plan as minority leader is “to continue to hold that line.”

“Hopefully next year, we’ll have 28 votes and I’ll be able to say, ‘We ask for this one thing and you can choose [to] negotiate with 28 Democrats or strike six different deals with Republicans.’ And I believe the larger our caucus is, the more power and more leverage we’ll have to get something meaningful,” he said.

As for Bolding’s credentials, the two-term lawmaker said he has had a bill signed into law by the governor each year he has been in office, a feat for Democrats whose bills are rarely even heard in committee.

Bolding has also been a part of Democratic efforts to kill Republican legislation he said would negatively affect Arizonans, such as payday lending, election-related measures and criminal justice matters. He said he has also been instrumental in leading education funding discussions and has successfully brought together education stakeholders and teachers.

He said he has developed good working relationships with members of both parties, but like Friese, he’s also not shy about holding his colleagues’ feet to the fire, he said.

Bolding said if he’s elected he will fight for Democrats to be at the table during discussions rather than trying to negotiate after the fact.

“For too long we’ve had to fight to make sure that we’re in the room and that’s what you’re going to get from a Bolding leadership,” he said.

Bolding said while a three-way race could lead to the contenders splitting the vote, the caucus has a good idea of what it’s looking for in its next leader.

“The caucus wants a pragmatic, progressive champion that is going to help lead the caucus and I think that’s the reputation that I’ve had down there,” he said.

Bolding is running on a slate with Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, who is seeking the assistant minority position, and Rep. Kristen Engel, D-Tucson, who is running for minority whip.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, is also running for minority whip.

Democrats and Republicans will elect their leaders shortly after the November 6 general election.

Arizona prisons up number of sanitary napkins for inmates

The Arizona Department of Corrections on Tuesday said it would immediately triple the number of free sanitary napkins it automatically provides each month to female inmates as it works to head off a Democratic proposal in the Legislature to provide unlimited free tampons, pads and other feminine hygiene products.

Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge)
Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge)

That legislative proposal was being held up by Republican Rep. T.J. Shope, who chairs the Rules Committee. He said the issue should be handled by the state prisons agency and not through state statute and hailed the prison agency’s decision.

“Every human being is deserving of respect, and I applaud ADC for revising their policy to provide female inmates with as many feminine hygiene products as they need,” Shope said in a statement. “When I first became aware of this issue, I reached out to ADC and urged them to explore changing the policy, as an administrative change can be implemented much quicker than a change in statute. I thank ADC for their responsiveness.”

Democratic Rep. Athena Salman was pushing the proposal to provide an unlimited number of free napkins, tampons or other feminine hygiene products. She called the new policy “a huge victory for women,” but said she wants guarantees a new governor or corrections department director can’t reverse it.

Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)
Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)

“We will also remain vigilant to make sure it’s implemented as promised, with no unnecessary barriers to women receiving any products they need,” she said in a statement. “I also have a commitment from the governor’s office to explore expanding the policy to include tampons.”

Female inmates will now be issued 36 sanitary napkins a month for free and can get more if needed. Tampons are only provided free when medically needed, but inmates can buy them at the commissary.

Before Tuesday’s policy change, the agency provided inmates with 12 free pads each month and inmates could get more if needed. They could not keep more than 24 at any one time.

“We believe this change addresses and resolves, in an appropriate and timely fashion, the concerns raised in the last week,” the Department of Corrections said in a statement.

There are about 3,900 female inmates at the state’s women’s prison west of Phoenix.

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Bad handwriting could lead to criminal probe


So how has your signature changed over the years? 

And is it different when you’re not feeling well? 

All that could mean a call from state or county investigators and possibly a criminal probe. 

Legislation being pushed by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would alter state laws on early ballots. 

Those statutes now say that when a ballot comes in by mail, election workers compare the signature on the envelope with what they have on file, whether from prior elections or other records. If they appear to match, that’s the end of it and the ballot is tallied. 

If they don’t, election workers attempt to contact voters to find out if they actually cast the ballot and any reasons why the signature has changed. The most common reasons include age or illness. 

An affirmative response from the voter cures the ballot and ends the process. Otherwise, the ballot is not counted. 

What Kavanagh wants in SB1241 is all those unmatched signatures and “uncured” ballots to be referred to state or county attorneys who then would launch their own investigation. 

“We’re just having somebody else follow up with a check in the event that the elections people have no way of contacting this person,” he said. 

That alarmed Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who said it would have a “chilling effect” on the disabled and the elderly, the people whose signatures on the ballot envelopes are most likely to have changed. 

Kavanagh, however, said that doesn’t automatically mean a criminal probe. 

“If they also can’t contact them, then it goes nowhere,” he said. “If they suddenly discover, though, that the individual, say, doesn’t live at that address any more, then maybe they’re going to want to take the original ballot and iodine-fume it for prints and see who was handling it.” 

And Kavanagh insisted that individuals who ignore an inquiry will not end up being investigated. 

“The case is dropped,” he said. “You can’t open a criminal probe when you have no evidence and you can’t even find the person.” 

But lawmakers on May 26 defeated a more far-reaching measure that would have required Arizonans to provide more information to get their early votes counted. 

On a 29-31 margin the House on May 26 rejected a Senate-passed measure that would have added identification requirements for mail-in ballots. Republicans Michelle Udall of Mesa and Joel John of Buckeye joined with the Democrats to quash the measure. 

The vote drew an angry reaction from Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City. 

“In places like Afghanistan to vote, they require a biometric technology, retinal scans and your fingerprint on each ballot,” he said. “So the fact we’re voting ‘no’ on simple ask to put your birth date is quite mind boggling.” 

But the foes said it’s more complex than that. 

Under current law the only thing required on an early ballot envelope is a signature. Election workers then compare that with what they have on file from other sources, including previous election information and other records. 

If they match, that’s the end of it and the ballot is counted. If they do not, an effort is made to contact the voter and find out whether they did, in fact, cast the ballot and why a signature might not match. 

Usual reasons include age or illness. If election workers are satisfied, they submit the ballot for processing. 

SB1713 sought to add a new requirement that those voting early fill out and submit with their early ballot an affidavit that includes their date of birth and then either their driver’s license number, non-operating state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. 

The change crafted by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, comes on the heels of historic turnout and record early voting in the 2020 election. 

“There is some feeling that signature verification, while a good thing, is not enough to establish a level of confidence that I think we need,” Mesnard said when he pushed the measure through the Senate. 

But it also follows highly publicized claims by then-President Trump prior to and even following the last election that early voting leads to widespread fraud. 

Trump lost Arizona to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes. And Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said Arizona should not be changing laws because of “the fact that he didn’t like the outcome of the election.” 

“It will disenfranchise voters,” said Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley. And Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, called it “just another form of voter suppression.” 

Kavanagh said the new requirements hardly present a hurdle. 

“Everybody knows their date of birth, so I don’t see how there could be a problem here,” he said. And for those who don’t have – or don’t know – their driver’s license number, there’s the alternative of the last four digits of the Social Security number “which everybody has since childhood.” 

But Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, D-Red Mesa, said it’s not that simple. 

Take her grandmother, who she said was not born in a hospital and has no birth certificate. 

Her driver’s license lists November 15, an arbitrary date only because the family says she was born in the fall. By contrast, she is listed as born on November 17 on her Indian Health System documents and November 16 on her Social Security card. 

And Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, said many Native Americans are unaware of their Social Security number as the ID they need on reservation is their tribal identification card. Yet that is not one of the permissible pieces of information that can be included to verify a ballot. 

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion, said SB1713 by itself won’t kill democracy. 

“Democracy will be killed by thousands of cuts,” he said. “This is one of those cuts.” 

Bill changes how much lobbyists must report when they spend on legislators

A House committee approved a bill that would potentially lower how much lobbyists report compared to what they actually spend for events where lawmakers or state employees are invited.

The measure would change the reporting rules by requiring that only the fair market value of the food, beverage and other tangible benefits received by the state officer or employee is reported. Currently, reportable expenditures are based on the total expenditure incurred by the lobbyist for the benefit of the organization hosting the event.

It’s not uncommon, for example, for lobbyists or companies to sponsor tables at charitable events. Currently, if they invited legislators to sit at their table, they must report the total amount they spent, even though the market value of food and beverage may be considerably less.

Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)
Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)

SB1118, sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, was approved on March 1 by the House Government Committee, 6-2, with Democrats Ken Clark, of Phoenix, and Athena Salman, of Tempe, voting against it.

Kavanagh said the bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate, was brought to him by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which argued that current reporting requirements are unfair.

Mike Huckins, a lobbyist for the chamber, said because the value of the ticket can vary depending on where someone is sitting or how much a sponsor donated to the organization running the event, it’s not an accurate representation of what the lawmaker or public employee received. The cost of the event, he added, goes toward the organization and does not benefit the public official.

However, Clark argued that lawmakers get more than just a meal and a drink out of attending these events. He said lawmakers are invited to them “because they play a prominent role,” and groups want to influence them.

“When I first saw the bill, it seemed reasonable to me to report the fair market value,” Clark said. However, as he looked further into it, he became concerned that reporting the fair market value alone is not transparent, he said.

“If a lobbyist gets you into a $500-a-plate meal or gala, the public has a right to believe that there’s some kind of expectation there,” he said, adding, “If you’re going to report the fair market value, you should also report the total ticket value so the public knows.”

Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)
Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)

Salman said she has had the opportunity to meet lobbyists and industry representatives at these events, an opportunity she otherwise wouldn’t have had if she isn’t a legislator.

“To me, there’s a value in that,” she said, adding that the current reporting requirements capture that. “To argue the only benefit someone who votes on laws is getting by going to these events is a free meal and a free drink, I think, is misleading to the public.”

Huckins disagreed.

“Obviously, there are other incidental benefits from going to an event, but how do you put a price tag on that?” he said.

An amendment Clark proposed but later withdrew would have addressed this point by requiring that the fair market value and the total value of the ticket be reported. Kavanagh said he hadn’t seen the amendment but would be open to discussing the issue further with Clark.

Rep. Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, who voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee, said he reserved the right to later change his vote if some of the concerns brought up by Clark and Salman aren’t addressed.

Bill for free tampons to female prisoners likely dead

Tampons and Pads

A House bill that would require the Department of Corrections to provide an unlimited supply of free feminine hygiene products to inmates is most likely dead after it was left off the Rules Committee agenda today.

Rep. Athena Salman’s HB2222 would require DOC to supply an unlimited amount of feminine hygiene products, like tampons and pads, to inmates upon request and would prohibit the agency from charging the women. The bill would also appropriate $80,000 in FY19 to purchase feminine hygiene products.

On Sunday, after noticing that the bill wasn’t on the Rules agenda for Monday afternoon’s committee hearing, Twitter user Steph H. started a campaign titled #LetItFlow where she encouraged users to tweet at or call Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, chairman of the committee, in an effort to get the bill a hearing.

She also asked Twitter users to donate feminine hygiene products to DOC and mail them to Shope’s office.

In a video posted to Twitter by the Arizona House Democrats, Salman also urged people to reach out to Shope.

“If we are going to keep this issue alive, if we are going to keep it moving, your voices are the most critical thing in the bill’s survival,” she said. “We need to do this, we need to make this commitment to the women in our prison system who deserve just basic dignity and respect.”

Shope told the Arizona Capitol Times that he didn’t hear the bill in committee because the issue should be handled administratively, rather than through statute. He added that DOC also assured him the agency would look into it.

Currently, women inmates receive 12 free pads a month. They may request an additional 12 pads, but cannot have more than 24 in their possession at one time.

DOC spokesman Andrew Wilder said the department’s policy provides for a baseline monthly quantity to all female inmates, regardless if they need or use femnine hygiene products. Additional free pads are provided, upon request, he added, though former inmates testifying before the all-male Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee last week said it can be difficult for such requests to be approved.

Inmates are not supplied with tampons, but they can be purchased in the commissary – a financial burden given that they make roughly 15 cents an hour.

Salman’s bill barely made it out of the Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee after Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, joined his Democratic colleagues in supporting the legislation. Rep. Jay Lawrence, chairman of the committee, said he was hesitant at first to hear the bill, and after debating it, said he regretted giving it a chance.

“I didn’t expect to hear about pads and tampons and the problems of periods,” he said.

Without being heard in the Rules Committee, the bill is most likely dead as this is the last week to hear bills in committee in the chamber they were introduced.

The committee is not scheduled to meet again this week, however, unlike other House commiteees, the Rules Committee can meet at any time on any day and is not bound by the rules that govern other committees. But even if the committee does meet again this week before Friday’s deadline to hear bills in committee, Shope said he will not consider it.

It can be resurrected through a strike-everything amendment.

Shope said though he believes 12 pads isn’t enough, the department can correct or address the issue quicker than a legislative solution would.

Wilder said DOC is considering changes to its policy.

“The agency is evaluating revisions to current policy relative to the quality and minimum quantity of feminine hygiene products provided free of charge to all of its female inmates,” he said. “We are confident that concerns can be appropriately addressed administratively rather than through statute.”

Shope said he has yet to receive any donations, but he’s speaking with the House rules attorney to see what he can do with the donations if they do come in. He said he can’t accept them if they’re considered gifts, and he noted that DOC may not be able to accept them either because of procurement rules.

He added that if he is able to receive the donations, but DOC can’t accept them, he’ll donate the supplies to a women’s shelter in his district.

Bill improves treatment of pregnant prisoners

Prison - barbed wire in front of the guard tower - selective focus

It was after lockdown when Analicia Campas told her bunkie that her water had broken. 

“She gets down and she sat at the door, waiting for the officer to pass by, and it took a while,” Campas said. 

Prison staff took Campas to the hospital where she gave birth to her daughter a couple of hours later. 

“The officers, they left me alone for the most part,” Campas said. “They were in the room, but they would leave me alone to take care of my daughter for the … day-and-a-half that I had her.” 

Campas was seven-and-a-half months pregnant when she was sent to Arizona State Prison Complex – Perryville. She had tried, unsuccessfully, to get her sentencing delayed until after she gave birth. Campas didn’t have too many complaints about her treatment during her pregnancy. She said the other inmates supported her and she got extra food – a special pregnancy lunch of chicken salad or egg salad, a snack of a sandwich and milk at dinnertime, and sometimes an extra milk with breakfast. 

“Everybody has their own experiences while being pregnant in there,” she said. “Mine, I was just blessed to be nice and calm. I was able to just be there with good people and not really worry about it.” 

However, she said not everyone has the same experience she did. Sometimes, she said, women who are in labor will be sent back because doctors don’t think they’re dilated enough and end up giving birth so quickly their bunkmates have to help them deliver the baby. 

“I’ve known a couple people to give birth in their cells,” Campas said. 

Arizona lawmakers are weighing whether they should enshrine in statute rules governing access to feminine hygiene products for female prison inmates and regulating the treatment of pregnant prisoners. After a bill to do this passed the House unanimously in February but never got a hearing in the Senate, its House sponsor, Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, revived it as an amendment to the prisoner job training bill, SB1526, and passed it again 53-6 on May 13. 

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, a strong supporter, said, “The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act is one step in the right direction, but it’s the first step in a system that needs a lot more complete work to guarantee that the people who are in the custody of the state are treated with respect and get the health services and other services that they need in order for them to be able to re-enter our society as productive citizens and people that can reintegrate seamlessly. 

Salman sponsored a bill in 2018 to guarantee prisoners access to feminine hygiene products. She was a co-sponsor of this year’s bill. Its main sponsor, Blackman, is chairman of the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee. His committee advanced numerous bills this year aimed at remaking Arizona’s criminal justice system, some of which have become law, others of which stalled in the Senate without a committee hearing. 

“These are not animals,” Blackman said. “These are human beings. And these human beings we are treating like animals are going to be released from prison someday and in our neighborhoods.” 

SB1526 went through the Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses on May 17, but had not yet been scheduled for a floor vote as of press time. A group of pro-criminal justice reform groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the American Friends Service Committee and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, wrote to senators on May 19 urging them to pass it. 

“The Dignity Act is an opportunity for Arizona to improve healthcare outcomes for incarcerated women in a way that promotes self-respect, strengthens families, and reduces recidivism,” they wrote. “Additionally, it will benefit children and babies who have parents in prison. We can achieve bipartisan criminal justice reform that improves healthcare and treatment for incarcerated women while enhancing public safety and supporting families.” 

The bill requires Arizona prisons to provide female inmates with feminine hygiene products on request. It says women who give birth in prison must be allowed to stay with their newborns for the first 72 hours after giving birth; requires parents be incarcerated within 250 miles of their minor children if possible; and requires, with certain exceptions, children be allowed to visit their incarcerated parents twice a week. It also contains several provisions regarding the treatment of pregnant women, such as mostly barring the use of restraints or restrictive housing on pregnant prisoners and requiring they be provided with sufficient food and dietary supplements. 

In response to the 2018 bill, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry changed its policy to provide female inmates with 36 free tampons or pads a month. (The previous policy had been 12.) That the department was addressing the problem itself was the reason given at the time for holding the bill. 

Corrections spokeswoman Judy Keane said the department doesn’t discuss pending legislation. However, she said many of the policies in this year’s bill are departmental practice now. 

She pointed to the policy on feminine hygiene products and regulations requiring strip searches to be performed by staff of the same gender. The bill would also limit the performance of cavity searches on pregnant womenKeane said cavity searches are already only performed by a doctor after a probable cause warrant has been obtained. And, she said, “restraining pregnant inmates is done in the least restrictive way possible and is consistent with national standards put forth by the (National Commission on Correctional Health Care) and the (American Correctional Association).” 

Salman said the department hasn’t fixed the problems.  

“Over the course of the years, I have received information that it continues to be a problem that women are arbitrarily denied not only the menstrual products they need based on the whims of the correctional officer or the deputy warden, but also what is not in the department order is not protected that the Dignity for Incarcerated Women (Act) would protect is other hygiene products, such as access to soap,” Salman said. 

Salman said she got involved in the issue after meeting with Colorado state Rep. Leslie Herod, who has sponsored similar legislation in her state, and learning access to menstrual products is an issue nationwide, including in Arizona prisons. Another inspiration of Salman’s has been Sue Ellen Allen. Allen served seven years in prison in Arizona for securities fraud. After her release, she settled down in Scottsdale and became a nationally recognized prisoners’ advocate, working with presidents from both parties. Allen died in February. 

“I think that would just be a phenomenal and profound way to honor her legacy,” Salman said. “I applaud all the lawmakers who are working to make this happen.” 


Blanc to take on Mendez in 2020 LD26 Senate race


The 2020 race for Legislative District 26’s state Senate seat is on with the emergence of an unexpected primary challenge.

Rep. Isela Blanc announced today that she will run for the district’s Senate seat in 2020, setting up a primary battle with her fellow Tempe Democrat, incumbent Sen. Juan Mendez.

“I grew up in this district, raised my family here and it’s here where I want to continue fighting for our communities. I will continue to be a fierce advocate. #unbossed #unbought #unapologetic,” she tweeted today.

The decision came as a shock to Mendez and her seatment in the House, Rep. Athena Salman, neither of whom were given a chance to weigh in before Blanc declared her candidacy.

Mendez said Blanc did make a courtesy call of sorts before her public declaration.

“Her courtesy call was pretty much to just tell me that she had decided to do this and that this was in our best interest, for all of us,” he said, noting she made the call Friday on her way to file paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Blanc did not immediately return a call for comment.

The trio teamed up in 2016 and remained a united front until something went awry after last year’s election.

“She broke up with us in December. We literally got a text that our relationship has changed and we need to talk,” Mendez said.

They all met and agreed not to run another coordinated campaign. But when Mendez and Salman tried to put a plan for their seats in writing, Blanc would not participate, Mendez said.

Instead, she seems to have expected him to go along with her decision and swap seats, Mendez said. He told the Arizona Capitol Times he absolutely intends to run for re-election to the Senate.   

“This was just her unilateral decision that we were going to move,” he said. “I was under the impression that I was going to be here for at least another term.”

He recalled telling Blanc Friday that he does miss the House, but insisted he never gave her any confirmation that he go along with her “weird power-move flex.”

Correction/clarification: This story has been revised to eliminate incorrect information that Blanc was using private campaign financing instead of public financing. The error was the result of a lag time for information to travel between the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and the Secretary of State. The eliminated portion of the story also included a history of Blanc’s use of public campaign funding and a verbatim quote from Mendez questioning Blanc’s values. Rep. Blanc will receive public funding through the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission. 

Capitol reacts to allegations Rep. Shooter harassed women, fellow lawmakers

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

After seven women publicly accused Rep. Don Shooter of sexual harassment, the Capitol community has taken to social media to condemn – or defend – the Yuma Republican.

The accusers include Shooter’s fellow lawmakers Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe; and Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock; lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez; two unnamed lobbyists and former Arizona Capitol Times intern Kendra Penningroth, who was 19 at the time of the incident she reported. Their allegations against the 65-year-old Shooter range from sexually charged comments to unwanted touching.  

As of Friday afternoon, Shooter was suspended – not removed – from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee.

Also on Friday, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce joined calls for Shooter’s resignation.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, and Democrat David Garcia, both candidates for governor, made earlier calls for him to resign, as did the Arizona Democratic Party and House Democrats.

“Rep. Shooter should resign immediately so the women who have come forward with details of his unwelcome sexual advances can avoid publicly reliving their traumas,” Farley tweeted on Wednesday evening, adding Shooter had disrespected Arizonans and disgraced the Legislature.

Garcia called for an end to the “‘good-old-boys’ club that tolerates the harassment and abuse of female legislators and staff.”

He also expressed outrage that Shooter attacked Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, after initially issuing an apology, calling his actions “unconscionable.”

After Ugenti-Rita named Shooter as one of her harassers during an interview with KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch on Tuesday, Shooter issued a written statement and said he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.”

However, later that same day, he retracted that statement, stating he had previously been told only that Ugenti-Rita was upset by comments he made but wasn’t given details.

“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me, and I have asked Speaker Mesnard to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee/Counsel,” he said. “At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”

Nathan Schneider, a Democratic candidate for the House in Shooter’s Legislative District 13, said the accusations were evidence of a “pattern of abuse and unprofessionalism.”

“When will Republicans join us in calling for Don Shooter’s resignation?” he added on Twitter.

Some Republicans have condemned Shooter’s actions, but unlike their colleagues across the aisle, none have yet publicly demanded his removal.

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, was one of the first to defend Ugenti-Rita after the KTVK report, and said the allegations must be investigated.

“Sexual harassment should never be tolerated … Lead by example!” he wrote on Twitter.

In a statement, Arizona Republican Party spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair acknowledged the allegations were serious and applauded the decision by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to open an investigation.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard addresses his decision to suspend his Republican colleague Rep. Don Shooter from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee on Nov. 10. Shooter's suspension came after several women publicly accused him of sexual harassment. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard addresses his decision to suspend his Republican colleague Rep. Don Shooter from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee on Nov. 10. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

According to a statement from Mesnard on Friday announcing Shooter’s suspension, the House’s bipartisan team assembled to investigate the allegations decided to employ outside investigators as they move forward. The team is set to meet Monday to discuss next steps.

Gov. Doug Ducey joined the party in supporting Mesnard and broadly condemned sexual harassment at the Capitol, though he made no specific reference to Shooter.

In a press release, Shooter’s primary challenger for next year’s Senate race, Republican Brent Backus, said that “the House will have to seriously consider discharging Rep. Shooter from the Chamber” if the investigation finds that the allegations are true.

He also called for Shooter to withdraw from the LD13 Senate race if expelled from the House.

And his Democratic challenger, Michelle Harris, compared the Legislature’s response to Shooter’s alleged behavior to her experience with the “old boys club” during her time in the U.S. Air Force.

“The military is far from perfect in this respect, but what we had was accountability at every level of the chain of command.  So far, the Arizona Legislature has shown it has little appetite to police itself,” she said in a written statement Thursday afternoon.

Harris went on to say the only way to change the culture would be to “confront it head-on,” and she supported a call from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, to codify Capitol sexual harassment policies.

Contrary to much of the outrage that followed the women’s public comments, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she’d never experienced harassment since being elected in 2015 and hadn’t witnessed inappropriate behavior toward others at the Capitol either.

“I have been treated with the utmost respect. You’re in a man’s world, and there’s harassment, but the harassment you usually get is because of… not going along with your party line or something like that. It’s not necessarily because you’re a woman,” she said.

She added that she was surprised by the allegations against Shooter, the legislator she said she’s grown closest to during her time at the Legislature.

“I can make him blush telling him he’s got a nice suit,” she said. “So, for me, if those accusations are made, they better have something substantial to back them up. That could hurt somebody’s life personally and professionally.”

Cobb said Shooter is “a good guy,” and repeatedly commented that the women who have accused him of sexual harassment should be sure of their allegations.

“If it was truly something that you felt was strong and should have been brought out, bring it out. And I think it should be brought out when it happens,” she said, adding the allegations came up because of a “fish-finding expedition” by an unnamed party.

Dem House freshmen break tradition, turn up the ‘volume’

(Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Democratic Rep. Isela Blanc said before being sworn in to represent Tempe’s Legislative District 26, she got some questionable advice: “Sit back. Watch. Avoid talking.”

“I heard it more than once, and I’ve heard it more than once since,” Blanc said.

She didn’t take the advice very seriously though. She was elected to represent the needs of her constituents, she said, and the only power she has is her voice.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said during orientation, she was told to “trust the process” at the House.

“‘It’s very good. It works,’” she said staffers and other lawmakers told her.

But as a member of the minority party, Epstein said, the process doesn’t work if you don’t speak up.

Blanc and Epstein are two of the eight freshmen women Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The Arizona Legislature welcomed one of its largest freshman classes in 2017. More than one-third of the members of the House – 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans – were newly elected lawmakers, never having served as elected officials in any capacity.

But the lack of governmental or lawmaking experience hasn’t stopped the women from using this opportunity to speak out for causes that are important to them and for pushing for changes at the Legislature.

The group is outspoken, often questioning the status quo and challenging their Republican colleagues, many of whom have accused them of grandstanding on the House floor, activism and theatrics.

They are also very active on social media, engaging with constituents on Twitter and Facebook, posting photos and live streams of colleagues as they speak on the floor, and encouraging voters to reach out to lawmakers to demand changes.

It’s in sharp contrast to the attitude of freshmen in previous legislative sessions that have typically spent their first year or two listening and learning, said Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

“This is a really intelligent, assertive group of freshmen,” Rios said.

A different tactic

It’s also a different tactic than those used by more seasoned Democrats in the House and Senate, or Democrats in swing districts, who often vote alike with Republicans and for the most part keep quiet during debates on the floor and in committee.

And it’s a different approach than those used by freshmen Republicans who have an easier time bringing their issues to the forefront given that it’s a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Freshman Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, for example, said he’s more of a “sit back and watch approach kind of guy.” If he needs to push one of his measures through committee, he’ll reach out to the committee members first. If the bill gets to the floor, he’ll whip votes.

He said it’s rare for him to stand up to explain his vote on the floor, and usually he’ll only speak if he gets riled up.

“We are in the position as the majority party that we really don’t have to twist arms to the level they (Democrats) seem to have to,” he said.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, another freshman, said it’s easier for him and his GOP colleagues to debate issues that are important to them on the floor without having to go to the same lengths as Democrats.

“We can get our bills through committee, we can get our bills out on the floor, and we have a chance of voting them off the floor. That’s just the way it works,” he said.

However, despite being criticized by their Republican colleagues for what some see as antics on the floor, and efforts to prevent them from speaking up, the women said they won’t be stopped.

“Being quelled is just the best reason to speak up more,” Epstein said. “And I always think in terms of I’m here to represent other people. So somebody else tells me hush. What? You’re telling the 250,000 people I represent to hush? No.”

Fire to speak

Democratic lawmakers have long accepted that as the minority party, their bills typically won’t get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature. After years of being bashed over the head with that notion, many have learned to “play the game,” and fall in line with the long-held traditions of the chamber.

But the freshmen Democrats have challenged the status quo these past two sessions. They stand by their convictions and values and won’t let other members roll them over.

“As a Democrat, we are not included in any policy discussion,” Blanc said. “As a Democrat, our voice is shut down, our bills are not heard, and that’s not OK. In previous years, maybe we’d say ‘This is how the game is played.’ Well guess what … the only thing I have is the power of my voice. The tool in my toolbox that I have to display on the floor is to speak authentically, to ask questions, to use my voice, and to exercise my freedom of speech.”

For many of the women, that fire to speak out comes from their previous line of work as lawyers, activists, and nonprofit workers.

Others have felt the need to challenge the status quo since they were teenagers.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she became politically active in college, eventually lobbying for higher education funding, working on local and national public policy issues, and local election campaigns before running for office.

After President Trump was elected in 2016, Salman said she felt a same sense of urgency and a greater responsibility to act considering that she had also just been elected to the state House of Representatives. Her goal, she said, is to give a voice to those who typically haven’t had one.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She said she has always been naturally inquisitive, and takes nothing at face value.

“It has come in handy with this job,” she said.

Powers Hannley said before she was elected, she would attend community events in Tucson where her representatives would often say that because they were in the minority there was nothing they could do. She refused to believe that.

“The people back in Tucson, they expect me to speak up. That’s why I persist,” she said.

Epstein said when she was 16 years old she worked in a dress shop selling shoes. The store had a strict dress code policy – employees had to wear solid colors, no patterns. However, one day she decided to wear a brown dress with little flowers on it, which she thought was close enough.

One of the managers, she said, thought otherwise, and he reprimanded her for wearing the dress.

“And I’ll never forget him telling me with his nose raised in the air ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ And at the time I thought? “Why? Why not rock the boat? Maybe the boat needs to be rocked,’” she said.

She’s approached her job at the Legislature in a similar manner, she said. But it’s not just about rocking the boat, it’s about looking at how what they’re doing really impacts constituents’ lives.

And she said all of her colleagues should be doing the same thing.

“This should be normal. What we’re doing should be normal. Why isn’t everybody speaking up like that? That’s what surprises me,” she said. “We have to have the courage of our convictions to speak up.”

More to come

The women’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

On several occasions, Republicans have accused Democrats of political theater, grandstanding, and protesting rather than debating issues on the floor.

And Republicans have actively worked to shut down their efforts by refusing to answer questions during debates on the floor, or limiting the debate to one question. On several occasions, Republicans have called for a point of order to prevent Democrats from continuing with their line of questioning, arguing that their questions are irrelevant to the debate.

During a Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on March 12, Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, shut down a lengthy debate on an insurance bill by calling for the question, meaning members would have to stop discussing the bill and instead vote on the measure, after Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, questioned the intent of the bill and grilled the expert witnesses.

The following day, during points of personal privilege, Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, criticized Democrats for what he perceived to be political theater on the floor.

In response, Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock, said if Democrats were included in discussions they wouldn’t have to speak out on the floor. However, as she tried to make her point, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, tried to end the discussion by calling a point of order.

On March 29, while debating a bill during Committee of the Whole, Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, accused Blanc of impugning members and asked the chairman to force her to sit down. That move led other members to try to actively prevent the discussion on the bill from continuing.

But the women said they won’t be deterred.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said if Democrats were allowed to be a part of the process they wouldn’t have to go to these lengths.

“You don’t want to be seen as problematic and you don’t want to slow things down,” she said. “But on the other hand, you also want to make sure that people know what we’re thinking when we’re passing bills.”

Salman said she was elected to the Legislature just like every other member and it’s her duty to represent the needs of her constituents.

“We were elected to ask questions and to really do our due diligence and dig deeper into the policies that we’re trying to pass,” she said. “If they are concerned about the volume at which we’re speaking, then why do they shorten the process so much?”

For others, like Benally, their motivation is paving the way for future women lawmakers.

“Not only are we going to keep doing what we’re doing, there’s going to be more of us,” she said. “This class of freshmen women, if they think we’re difficult, wait for the women who will come after us because there will be more women coming into this chamber.”

Democrats seek ouster of Republican Finchem

Democratic Rep. Athena Salman on Monday introduces a resolution to expel Republican Mark Finchem from the House based on his activities before and including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Democratic Rep. Athena Salman on Monday introduces a resolution to expel Republican Mark Finchem from the House based on his activities before and including the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Rep. Athena Salman and 22 other House Democrats introduced a resolution Monday to expel Rep. Mark Finchem from the body.

“Every day the member remains in office is a threat to the Arizona House of Representatives, a threat to national security and a threat to our democracy,” Salman, a Tempe Democrat, said at a news conference.

Finchem, R-Oro Valley, was a vocal supporter after the election of efforts to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona. He was in Washington, D.C. to speak on Jan. 6 and he had planned to deliver evidence of fraud in Arizona to Vice President Mike Pence. Although Finchem said he wasn’t near the Capitol when a pro-Trump mob stormed it trying to stop the certification of the electoral vote, he said he learned of it hours later and put out a statement blaming the violence on Antifa.

Since then, Democrats have been trying to keep the spotlight on Finchem’s role in challenging the election results and in the Jan. 6 riot that led to five deaths. House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to the FBI on Jan. 13 asking the bureau to investigate Finchem’s conduct, and Rep. Cesár Chávez, D-Phoenix, on Jan. 14 formally called on the House Ethics Committee to investigate Finchem’s actions and possibly recommend his expulsion.

Salman, who is leading the effort, conceded under questioning that many of the individual allegations detailed in what was introduced as HR 2006, by themselves, might not rise to the level of her contention that the conduct of the Oro Valley Republican “was dishonorable and unbecoming of a member of the House.” She also contends that his activities “undermine the public confidence in this institution and violated the order and decorum necessary to complete the people’s work.”

“When you look at these things in a vacuum, sure, they can appear random,” she said,  But Salman said that, taken together, they amount to evidence that Finchem “participated in, encouraged and incited the events of Jan.6,” making him complicit of “insurrection and rebellion” and therefore unqualified to serve.

Finchem declined to comment “on advice of counsel.”

He already has obtained legal representation in connection with at least one issue not now in Salman’s bill of particulars: his refusal to turn over text messages sought as part of a public records request. His attorney, Alexanader Kolodin — the same lawyer who filed lawsuits to challenge the results of the Arizona election — argued that the messages are on their own personal devices and therefore not public.

Although several dozen people, many of them residents of Finchem’s Legislative District 11, have filed complaints with the committee also calling for an investigation, it has not scheduled any hearings or taken any other action on the matter yet. Salman said the FBI has acknowledged receiving the Democrats’ letter but she hasn’t heard anything else. She acknowledged that the apparent disinclination from House Republicans, who hold a 31-29 majority, to act on the Democrats’ complaints could be an obstacle.

“The conservative majority has made it very clear that they’re not responding or even doing anything,” she said.

The resolution recounts the actions of the mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and highlights Finchem’s membership in the Oath Keepers, which the resolution describes as “a far-right group with a well-documented history of domestic terrorism and violence against the government, and whose founder threatened to hang Arizona’s former United States Senator  John McCain in 2015.” Several people affiliated with the Oath Keepers are facing federal conspiracy charges, over their alleged actions on Jan. 6.

It also highlights Finchem’s ties with Ali Alexander, one of the “Stop the Steal” organizers. And, the resolution says Finchem has “failed to denounce these domestic enemies, and further, has sought to conceal the consequences of his actions by promoting a baseless conspiracy blaming leftists that has been disproven by federal law enforcement agencies” and has “a documented history of pushing conspiracies that blame the left for violence by white nationalists, including deflecting blame for neo-Nazi violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.” It concludes by calling for his expulsion for taking part in an attempt to overthrow the government.

“Finchem has no honor, is unfit to serve in the Arizona state Legislature and poses a clear and present danger to American citizens,” said Dana Allmond, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who lives in LD11. “We cannot settle for anything less than his expulsion now.”

Allmond accused Finchem of violating his oath of office.

“It’s apparent Finchem doesn’t understand what that oath embodies,” she said. “He claims a stolen presidential election and celebrates murder.”

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Disabilities council offers legislative fixes to sexual abuse of vulnerable adults


The Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council is recommending several legislative changes to prevent sexual abuse in the disabilities community in response to an incapacitated patient at Hacienda HealthCare who was raped by a caretaker and gave birth at the facility.

The council, members of which are appointed by the governor, released a report today after receiving feedback from the community before and after the Hacienda story broke in December.

According to the report, people with cognitive disabilities are seven times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general public, and 12 times more likely if the victim is also a woman.

“While these estimates clearly show the high incidence of sexual abuse suffered by those with disabilities, there has been almost no implementation of policies designed to recognize and stop it – until now,” the report states.

The council started with recommendations regarding the state’s “duty to report” laws, reflecting numerous comments made at a recent meeting to gather public proposals.

The disability community certainly has the attention of lawmakers in the wake of the Hacienda case. House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, Christina Corieri, Ducey’s senior policy analyst, representatives for Arizona’s congressional delegation all attended the most recent public meeting seeking input from members of the community. State Reps. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler,  and Athena Salman, D-Tempe, also participated.

And Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, has been a particularly vocal advocate as a member of the community herself. Longdon uses a wheelchair after being struck in a random, drive-by shooting.

She has said the proposal to eliminate the licensure carveout for centers like Hacienda is a “no-brainer” to start with and has also voiced support for tougher rules on background checks and improved education for staff, individuals with disabilities and their families.

And Longdon has emphasized the importance of including the community in this conversation, invoking a saying among people with disabilities as she spoke on the House floor last week: “Nothing about us without us.”

Whether the council’s recommendations and others from lawmakers will be adopted into law is yet to be seen.

The council did acknowledge in the report that its recommendations come with a price tag in one form or another.

But the report also made it clear that all eyes are on Arizona’s elected officials to act.

“Carrying out each of these recommendations will require resources, whether it be money, time, staffing, or something else,” the report said. “In the wake of the Hacienda case, what Arizona decides to do, or not do, and how the state leverages its resources will signal to Arizonans with disabilities, their families, and the rest of the country where their safety and well-being stand among a list of competing priorities.”

The recommendations include:

  • Require annual training for staff at any agency who are mandatory reporters of abuse on recognizing the signs of abuse among other things;
  • stiffer penalties for failing to report the abuse of vulnerable adults;
  • adopt language that protects the reporter of abuse from retaliation;
  • eliminate a licensure exemption for intermediate care facilities, like Hacienda;
  • require the Department of Economic Security’s Division of Developmental Disabilities to annually review a patient’s rights and the signs of abuse with the individual and the family;
  • allocate funding for additional counselors, advocates and forensic nurses who can support victims;
  • create legislation on special rules for people with disabilities who testify at criminal trials, such as allowing a victim who is incapacitated to be represented by a parent or legal guardian;
  • require that Adult Protective Services investigate every claim of abuse and neglect and be given the funding to do so, and;
  • require the Division of Developmental Disabilities to publicly post performance reports for group homes and adult developmental homes.

Ducey goes partisan in 2020 State of the State Address

Gov. Doug Ducey makes his way through the Arizona House of Representatives on January 13 to the podium to deliver a speech on his priorities to a joint session of the Legislature. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey makes his way through the Arizona House of Representatives on January 13 to the podium to deliver a speech on his priorities to a joint session of the Legislature. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

As Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed in a new decade with his address to the joint session of the Legislature on January 13, it became clear that he left the Era of Good Feelings behind in 2019.

Just over a year ago, Ducey’s State of the State Address delivered a simple message: “Bipartisanship is a word that gets tossed around a lot,” he said.

“So let me be clear on the approach I intend to take,” he continued. “I’m not here just to work with Republicans on Republican ideas. And bipartisanship doesn’t simply mean working with Democrats on Democratic ideas. I’m here as governor of all the people to work with all of you on good ideas.”

He welcomed a host of new faces from both parties to the chamber, expressed gratitude for the lifetime of service by former Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat; and talked about bringing politicians and regular people from all walks of life together to address the viral spread of mass shootings on school campuses. He put front-and-center the need to come together on the opioid crisis, teacher pay and reduction of the prison population. He waxed effusive about key Democrats like Senate Minority Leader David Bradley.

There was a clear reason for such feelings of goodwill: With a water crisis looming, it was existentially important that lawmakers came together to pass the Drought Contingency Plan.

And while the ink has dried on the water plan, many of the issues that Ducey centered in last year’s State of the State speech have resurfaced in this year’s nascent legislative session: sex education, K-12 funding, criminal justice changes, infrastructure spending. However, he made it clear it’s a new day.

Things began on January 13 earnestly enough, with namedrops of Arizona icons like John McCain, Raul Castro and Sandra Day O’Connor. But by the speech’s 14th paragraph, the usually demure, business-forward Republican came out swinging.

“Let’s continue hacking away at the permanent bureaucracy and the ‘mother may I’ state,” he directed.

He took shots at liberal states like California and New York for their tax rates and their regulatory environments, took aim at the so-called “spending lobby” and, to rousing applause from his caucus, paid homage to the late President George H. W. Bush: “No new taxes; not this session, not next session; not here in this chamber, not at the ballot box, not on my watch,” Ducey said.

In short, if last year’s speech created an opening for togetherness, this year’s made it clear that the GOP is in charge, and that in the upcoming election cycle, it plans to keep it that way.

Lawmakers took note.

“It was a true, Republican, conservative speech,” said Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, on the House floor. Compared to last year’s, which he didn’t like, this was a speech that made him happy, he said.

Ducey didn’t hesitate to twist the knife where he saw Democratic governance going awry. He called out the city of Phoenix for its game of chicken with rideshare companies over increased airport fees and called upon a Republican Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge to carry a bill that would ask voters to make so-called sanctuary cities unconstitutional following the 2019 defeat of a sanctuary city initiative in Tucson, one of the state’s most progressive cities.

“If anyone needed a reminder … here in Arizona, we respect the rule of law,” he said.

Democrats, who for a brief moment last year convinced themselves that they liked the governor’s speech, were aghast, if not surprised.

“It’s the most partisan speech that I’ve seen the governor make,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “They’re doubling down on the extremist agenda.”

Campaign Season

It’s impossible to divorce this from the looming campaign season. Not only is Republican leadership under attack at the White House, Democrats in the state are bullish on their chances to swing the state House, where the Republican majority tiptoes on a razor’s edge.

The irony, said Democratic consultant Ben Scheel, is that on economic policy, Ducey was not actually at his most conservative. While he talked a lot about cutting taxes, the only concrete cut he announced was the elimination of state income taxes on veterans’ military pensions. He also implored insurance companies to cover mental health treatments, announced Project Rocket, a $43 million funding plan for underprivileged schools, and touted big infrastructure projects and the replenishment of HURF funds.

“Some of those budget items, I don’t think legislative Republicans are gonna go for,” Scheel said. “I think that he included more funding measures than usual.”

To compensate, Scheel claims, Ducey needed to allude to other conservative causes.

“We believe in the free market, the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to make your own way,” Ducey said in his speech. “We believe in life and the potential of every child, along with the dignity of every individual.”

This could also explain the governor’s proposal that for every one regulation that’s passed, three need to be rolled back — a literal one-up of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump stipulating that for every regulation enacted, two need to go.

What went unsaid in the speech, aside from infrastructure spending, were issues that could likely garner support from both parties, such as sentencing law changes favored by Reps. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, and Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

While Ducey did mention criminal justice, his two biggest announcements were the closure of a prison and the rebranding of the Arizona Department of Corrections as the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Re-entry.

Toma acknowledged that these weren’t quite the overtures to revamping sentencing laws that some might have hoped for, but placed blame on Democrats.

“Part of the frustration at least from me has been that the other side seems to talk about bipartisanship, but when push comes to shove and it’s time to vote, they seem to take this stance of resisting anything that’s pushed by Republicans,” he said.

And because Democrats weren’t willing to embrace the spirit of bipartisanship last year, Ducey had no reason to offer that same olive branch, he said. And if Ducey’s amped-up rhetoric can stave off a Democratic majority in the House, or even pick up some extra seats, then all the better.

“In terms of tone, I don’t know if trying to hold out an olive branch when it was snubbed last session is a winning policy,” Toma said.


Ducey signs bill to prohibit changes to election deadlines

A school crossing guard stops cars for voters entering a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A school crossing guard stops cars for voters entering a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Gov. Doug Ducey on May 24 signed into law a measure that prevents government officials from changing election deadlines established by statutes.  

HB2794, sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, was created to address changes in voter registration deadlines that occurred during the November 2020 general election.  

“This is something that we saw in an unprecedented election,” Hoffman said. “We saw all across the country, including here in Arizona, the attempt to change statutorily prescribed deadlines. This is a bill that says that in Arizona, the legislature as granted by the Constitution of the United States, has the authority for the management and administration of elections; that those deadlines should not be changed, and that if they are there is a penalty for doing so.” 

Hoffman’s bill, which passed both the House and Senate by narrow margins of two and three votes respectively, received unanimous support from Republicans but was largely shunned by Democrats, who claimed that it violates separation of powers and gratuitously punishes election officials. Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, was the only member of her party who did not vote against the bill, instead opting to refrain from voting altogether. 

A U.S. District Court judge in 2020 extended Arizona’s statutory deadline to register to vote by 2½ weeks. The judge accepted arguments by Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change that the Covid pandemic and restrictions on travel, businesses and public gatherings imposed in March 2020 by Ducey made it difficult to sign up voters.  

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voided the ruling but allowed those who registered after the deadline to still vote. Republicans registered more voters than Democrats during the short extension. 

“We’re adding a criminal component because we disagree with what the court did last year,” Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said. “We’re seeing a trend to now throw our election officials in jail when they do something we disagree with. It’s very concerning.” 

 While Democrats in the state legislature made their disdain for the bill very clear, they were not alone. Alex Gulotta, director of the Arizona chapter of All Voting Is Local, said the bill would create more problems than it would solve and that it could limit the ability of judges to resolve election cases.  

“If that’s what we think this does, I think the bill may have constitutional problems,” Gulotta said. “If you bring your nominating petition to the recorder’s office five minutes before the deadline and they don’t want to take it, they refuse to take it because of your party, this [bill] says ‘a deadline’s a deadline, you don’t have a remedy.’ It’s bad policy.” 

Gulotta also raised questions about the harsh penalty that comes with violating the law. Anyone who does so risks a class 6 felony conviction, which carries a maximum sentence of 5.75 years in prison. 

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “It puts [election officials] in a position where to follow the court order, they have to put themselves at risk of a felony. That seems to be how it’s designed.” 

The Republican legislators who sponsored the bill disagreed with Gulotta’s assertion that it undermined the role of the courts in determining how elections are held, arguing instead that the bill prevents individual election officials from influencing how the elections are run.  

“The courts make a ruling on law,” House Government and Elections Committee chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said. “That’s how the courts have a say. When a single elections official cuts a deal [with a judge], that’s a lot different than a court saying ‘as a matter of law, you are wrong. You must do this.’” 

Hoffman reiterated chairman Kavanagh’s arguments, stating that the courts and Legislature each play a part in determining the law, and that the bill simply clarifies the courts’ responsibility. 

“[The bill] is simply further defining and providing clarity in the law,” he said. “The settlements that are reached in those courts or in those negotiations must comply with [this bill]. The legislature sets these deadlines for an intentional reason, and they should not be changed on a whim.”  


Ducey signs controversial bills

Gov. Doug Ducey explains Thursday how any decision he makes on signing bills to impose new voting restrictions will be based on what he considers "good policy" and not based on opposition from the business leaders -- or the sports community. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey signed two controversial bills late Friday — one that exempts businesses from following mask mandates and another that bans private funds for election administration. 

The first bill is HB2770 from freshman Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, who argued in favor of the legislation on the House floor that masks were unnecessary because they weren’t needed for viruses in the past like the HIV/AIDS crisis. That virus, however, did not spread through respiratory droplets like Covid, but through bodily fluids, typically sexually transmitted. 

It passed the Senate April 1 also along party lines. The bill does not become law until the state’s general effective date at the end of August. 

Ducey wrote a note to the bill along with his signature saying that he will work with Chaplik on another bill this year to fix what he called “an error in drafting.”  

“The state needs to be able to enforce long-standing workplace safety and infection control standards, unrelated to COVID-19,” he wrote, while also seizing every opportunity to take a shot at Democratic mayors Kate Gallego, of Phoenix, and Regina Romero, of Tucson.  

“Our largest cities opted not to enforce their mandates, leaving the responsibility up to local businesses,” he said, after reminding everyone that Arizona never had a statewide mandate, but local mandates existed across about 90% of the state.   

Most of the bill’s language was moot by the time it reached the governor’s desk due to the fact he had already lifted the executive order allowing local governments to enact their own mask ordinances, but Chaplik’s bill makes the rule permanent.  

Mask wearing at the Capitol, let alone in general, has been a heated topic as most Republican lawmakers feel it is a breach of their individual freedoms while most Democrats say it’s common decency and a minor inconvenience to wear a mask to protect others — especially the vulnerable and elderly.  

Still Republican lawmakers refused to wear masks on the House floor (or wore them improperly exposing their noses), and the senators who refused could participate via Zoom in their offices. Once the chambers revoked their mask requirements nearly every Republican in both chambers emphatically removed their own masks.  

There has also been some confusion over Ducey lifting the mask order, despite Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tempe, Tucson and Pima County opting to keep theirs in place.  

At a Trader Joe’s in Central Phoenix, a maskless man claimed Ducey’s order allowed him to walk freely throughout the store without a face covering. He was captured arguing with employees and patrons saying he was allowed to cough on anybody because “it’s a free country.”  

Ducey was asked about the incident on KTAR after the video had already circulated for more than a day and said people should listen to businesses. 

“When private businesses are asking people to wear a mask, let’s respect the private business and wear a mask. They’re a good idea. Arizonans have been among the leading states in the nation in mask participation and compliance. Let’s keep that up as we move through this,” he said. 

Ducey also signed HB2569, a controversial election bill from Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, and is viewed as an anti-Mark Zuckerberg bill.  

But the bill would also block counties from applying for private grants to make up for shortfalls in what they say they need to properly run elections.  

Ducey also wrote a note while signing this bill. 

“I was proud to partner with you on the AZ Vote Safe Program allocating more than $9 million in discretionary federal relief dollars to state and county agencies in support of the 2020 primary and general election to prioritize the safety of poll workers and voters,” he wrote to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. “When private monies were offered, our election officials used these dollars with integrity for which they’ve become known. This may not have been the first time election officials relied upon private monies to conduct elections, but it should be the last.” 

Hobbs opposed the bill.  

“Lies, conspiracy theories, and disinformation pose a real threat to our democracy,” she tweeted after the bill passed the Senate 16-14. “Until the legislature is willing to commit to funding robust public education efforts around our elections, open and transparent partnerships like this will continue to be vital.” 

During debate in the Senate, GOP lawmakers said that the more than $6 million in grants that nine counties got from Center for Tech and Civic Life in 2020 was really just a thinly disguised effort by Zuckerberg to turn out more Democrats. The center gave out about $400 million to about 2,500 jurisdictions nationally, with reports by the organization showing the lion’s share came from Facebook founder Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. 

While the bill went through the tense House Government and Elections Committee, Democrats Athena Salman and Kelli Butler said the bill would diminish efforts to combat the spreading of misinformation.  

They said that it benefits Hoffman, the bill’s sponsor, who spread misinformation through his “troll farm” Rally Forge that resulted in his permanent suspension from Facebook and Twitter.  

Rep. John Kavanagh, the chairman of House Government and Elections Committee, while arguing in favor of the bill said, “One person’s disinformation is another person’s truth.” 

It was characterized as a “troll farm” because teenagers would write posts on social media on behalf of Turning Point Action, a conservative group working to elect Republicans. 

Ducey also wrote, “If third party groups want to engage in advocacy and encourage people to vote that’s great, but the mechanics of all elections cannot be in question and therefore, all third-party money must be excluded going forward to avoid any possible allegations of wrongdoing.” 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.  

Failed union legislation drives primary challenges to incumbent Democrats


As she remembers it, the first time Charlene Fernandez ever had her picture in the newspaper was in 2015, when a photographer caught her on the House floor pushing back on a Republican plan to limit the role of labor unions in construction projects.

That role was already in question. In 2011, the Legislature voted to prevent governments from requiring project labor agreements – a type of pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with a given union – in public projects. Four years later, it was debating a bill prohibiting public entities from requiring that workers on government projects participate in U.S. Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship programs.

But Fernandez, then just a freshman in an impotent House Democratic minority, couldn’t stop Republicans from passing the bill, which Gov. Doug Ducey eventually signed.

In the time since, Democrats have inched closer and closer to a majority in the state House. Fernandez has ascended to minority leader, with a caucus of vocally pro-labor lawmakers at her back. But Democrats have been unable to make any headway on the labor agreement issue – a central desire of the union constituency that is key to progressive power in the state.

Now, the ghosts of defeat, of deals gone awry and of soured relationships are haunting Fernandez and several of her close allies in the party.

Influential labor attorney and lobbyist Israel Torres is flooding contested Democratic primaries with union cash, using an independent expenditure group run out of his firm to put new bodies in the Democratic caucus, even as most of the party and its allies have turned their attention to November, when Democrats hope to at long last topple a Republican House majority.

Israel Torres
Israel Torres

Revitalize Arizona, a PAC helmed by staffers from the Torres Consulting and Law Group, spent more than $129,000 in the last quarter alone, largely in support of candidates vying for a seat in progressive districts currently represented by progressive Democrats with close ties to Fernandez.

Torres’ enemies – of which there are quite a few – see a personal, petty attempt at consolidating power and settling scores, a union big shot embarking on a perplexing crusade against progressive incumbents with union ties, hoping that his chosen candidates will arise from the ashes of burnt bridges.

“He’s running non-union members against union members,” said Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale. “It’s disgraceful.”

But Torres sees it differently. Democrats in Arizona take union support for granted, he said, and they made promises they couldn’t fulfill. Multiple attempts to restore project labor agreements have surfaced since 2015, and all have failed, including a 2019 effort that is fueling this batch of primary challengers.

“If an elected is in a place to help a worker agenda and chooses not to, or worse — takes a role behind the scenes to kill a worker agenda — then that elected or leadership team should be held accountable by workers,” Torres said. “It’s actually not very complicated.”

Revitalize Arizona, which has raised almost $1.3 million to date, gets almost all of its funding from a group called Residents for Accountability – itself a Torres-run political spending arm for Arizona Pipe Trades Local 469, one of several building trades unions for which Torres acts as a political consultant. It’s been active in Arizona elections for the better part of a decade, and generally supports candidates on both sides of the aisle who could be amenable to union agendas. The size and political influence of the PAC and of the Pipe Trades union make it something of a state chamber of commerce for the left, several lawmakers suggested.

Athena Salman
Athena Salman

Revitalize is spending most heavily on challengers to Andrade and Tempe lawmakers Rep. Athena Salman and Sen. Juan Mendez, who all take pride in their progressive bona fides and their friendliness with organized labor. This is especially the case with Andrade, a vocal advocate for union-backed bills at the Legislature and a rail conductor organized with SMART-TD, a large industrial union.

And yet Torres’ PAC spent more than $1,000 against Andrade just last week, and makes regular expenditures in support of his challenger, a Realtor from Litchfield Park named Teddy Castro, as well as Andrade’s more moderate seatmate, Rep. Cesar Chavez.

The group began its support of the Castro campaign – which Andrade called “bought and paid for” by Torres – in June, when it paid $12,000 to a consulting firm called FieldCorps LLC to support Castro’s run. Around that same time, Castro received a $10,400 donation from Arizona Pipe Trades 469, which consults the Torres Group when making political decisions, a spokeswoman for Torres said.

In LD26, Revitalize has thrown its weight largely behind Debbie Nez Manuel and Jana Lynn Granillo, though the PAC has hedged its bets and spent in support of Salman as well.

Nez Manuel, a Navajo activist who helped lobby the Legislature to approve a study on missing and murdered indigenous women last year, is hoping to take the vacant House seat in the district. But Salman has no intentions of letting Nez Manuel be her seatmate. She’s running on a slate with Mendez – her husband, the district’s incumbent senator and Granillo’s opponent – and Melody Hernandez, a paramedic and union shop steward who’s able to keep up with Salman’s progressive rhetoric and politics.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

Nez Manuel has found herself the darling of several outside groups aside from Revitalize, including the Arizona Integrity PAC, Better Leaders, Better Arizona and others. Integrity PAC, an operation of former Mike Bloomberg 2020 adviser Joe Wolf, is funded mostly through the Arizona Association of Realtors and corporations like Pinnacle West and Southwest Gas. Both it and Better Leaders, Better Arizona are backing business-friendly Democrats in several primaries – as Wolf put it last week, PACs like these support the candidates that are most likely to take meetings with them.

For the record, Nez Manuel denies knowing anything about Revitalize or any of the other groups spending on her behalf, and expressed bemusement with Salman’s attempts at painting her as a corporate-bought moderate.

But Torres said that his electoral spending has nothing to do with broader debates within the party over ideology, bipartisanship and the strength of the leadership team.

“Our strong preference is to not play in Democratic primaries,” Torres said. “However, Revitalize has and will continue to hold electeds accountable — even if that means supporting challengers to … incumbents.”

Torres is mostly referring to a tiff that arose over failed union legislation in the 2019 session. That year, Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, introduced HB2406, a bill that would have effectively reversed the state’s ban on project labor agreement requirements in public works contracts – the logic being that a center-right Republican had a better chance of getting the bill passed than a progressive Democrat.

The previous year, Salman tried and failed to run a similar bill, HB2641, which predictably did not get a hearing in the House Government Committee. Torres had convinced Democratic leadership to let a Republican run the bill that time around, several lawmakers within the party said.

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

But Shope’s bill fared no better, bouncing from committee to committee without a hearing. Even if it passed, its path in the Senate was uncertain. But Andrade hatched a plan. Rep. Noel Campbell, a Prescott Republican who chaired the Transportation Committee, was running a bill to increase the state gas tax, something of a masochistic annual tradition for Campbell. The legislation would substantially increase the tax, which had sat dormant since the 1990s, in order to fund transportation improvements.

The issue could prove toxic for members of both parties, but especially Campbell’s fellow Republicans, who resent increasing taxes for any reason. He would need bipartisan support to get it done, and Andrade told Cambell that Democrats could help if he allowed an amendment restoring project labor agreements on the bill.

How certain Andrade was that this would be possible isn’t clear. He maintains that he knew the plan – which amounted to tacking one controversial bill to another – was full of pitfalls, though it likely presented the only path forward. He said that he was able to convince David Martin, the president of the Arizona Chapter of Associated General Contractors of America, to remain neutral on the bill, clearing a potential hurdle.

Campbell, however, said Martin was vociferously opposed to the labor amendment, which Democrats hoped to offer during floor debate.

“The contractors did not want to be tied to that,” he said. “I couldn’t convince Fernandez … to support me without the amendment included in it.”

Without the amendment, Democrats would have to tell their constituents that they backed a tax increase without any wins for unions. It became, in effect, a poison pill: no amendment, no bill.

Ultimately, a last-ditch effort to include the amendment in the bill on the floor failed, as did the gas tax legislation itself.

The failure of those bills outraged Torres, several lawmakers said, but the apparent disinterest by Democrats to push harder for the legislation was even more frustrating. In Torres’ eyes, Andrade and his allies in Democratic leadership espoused union values but couldn’t deliver results. And in private meetings with other Democrats, Andrade was frequently critical of Torres and his personality, several of his colleagues said.

“Andrade was out of his lane,” Torres said. “It’s just politics.”

A year later, Torres is delivering on his promises for accountability. While he’s not funding a challenge against Fernandez, his support of Nez Manuel, Castro and Granillo amounts to a challenge against her coalition ahead of an election that could very well propel her to House speaker – assuming her members don’t back an alternative.

“If [Revitalize’s spending] happens to affect that race, then the leader has nobody to blame but herself,” Torres said.

To Andrade and his allies, the whole affair is preposterous. Democrats are still in the minority — with or without a purported deal to get the labor bill passed, they can’t set the Legislature’s agenda, he said.

“It goes to show, holding personal vendettas is what this is really about,” Andrade said. “Instead of investing money to turn Arizona blue, so we can get PLAs, he’s running his core to basically say that he controls the Legislature.”

It’s just Israel being Israel, suggested Delbert Hawk, the political director of IBEW Local 640 — which used to employ Torres as a consultant.

“The problem I have with him is bully tactics,” Hawk said. “We used to employ them, but we let them go. It wasn’t working … we weren’t seeing anything for that kind of money. People would say, ‘Oh, Israel said to do this.’ I don’t give a (expletive) what Israel said. That’s my local. That’s when I knew we had a problem. It became the Torres Show, the Torres Brand.”


Finchem retaliates, files ethic complaints against Democrats

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Freshly cleared of violations by the chair of the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Mark Finchem is now turning the tables on some of his accusers and political foes.

The Oro Valley Republican has filed his own complaint against 28 House Democrats and 14 Senate Democrats charging them with having conspired to punish him for exercising his First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble and contest the legitimacy of the recent presidential election.” He contends that the decision of those Democrats to sign a letter asking the FBI and Department of Justice to look into his activities before and during the Jan. 6 demonstration in Washington and the insurrection that followed runs afoul of not only House ethics rules but also is libelous and violates federal law.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, told Capitol Media Services the Democrats were well within their rights — and had enough evidence, direct or circumstantial — to ask for a federal investigation. And she dismissed Finchem’s new complaint against them as “retribution” for their own complaint to the Ethics Committee.

That original complaint was dismissed last week by Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who chairs the committee. Nutt said the Democrats presented no evidence to back their charges that Finchem “supported the violent overthrow of our government” or that he directly participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

At best, Nutt said, the allegations against Finchem amount to his “advocacy of controversial political opinions.”

Finchem, through his attorney, also released what appears to be a partial record of his texts from that period. It starts with planning efforts for the a “Stop the Steal” rally in Phoenix and ends with Finchem, after attending the event outside the White House where he was supposed to speak and then ending up at the Capitol.

There is at least one text that suggests Finchem, in publicly describing his activities in Washington on Jan. 6, may have been less than forthcoming.

In a statement in the days following, Finchem said he was unaware until 5 p.m. that the Capitol had been breached.

Finchem has not denied going there, saying in a text he was “swept up” by the crowd.

But he also was aware there were plans to march on the Capitol — something not in the event permit — having been told in a text from activist Michael Coudry that was the plan all along to go there after the legal rally near the White House.

He later got a message from Coudry saying “They are storming the capital, I don’t think it safe.” That was followed up by a response from Finchem saying he was on the side of the Capitol facing the Supreme Court. “Is that the right side?”

But there is nothing in what his attorney released — or anywhere else so far discovered for that matter — showing that Finchem had breached the barriers around the Capitol or entered the building.

The heart of Finchem’s new complaint goes to the letter last month by the Democrats to federal officials saying that Finchem and now-former Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, were not only present in Washington but “actively encouraged the mob, both before and during the attack on the Capitol.” They also said the pair “sought to conceal the consequences of their conduct by falsely blaming Antifa.”

In the letter to the federal agencies, the Democrats said there is “evidence” that the two Arizona lawmakers, along with Arizona Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, “encouraged, facilitated, participated and possibly helped plan this anti-democratic insurrection on January 6.”

“It is vital to any current or future federal investigation, and ultimately to the Arizona public they represent, that we learn what these elected officials knew about this planned insurrection and when they knew it,” the Democrats wrote.

Finchem, in his ethics complaint against the Democrats, called them “tyrants” for contending that his activities in questioning the outcome of the election were criminal.

“Their tactics are repugnant to our foundational belief in open and robust debate, and as such smack of the very tyranny that, only a few decades ago, we spent so much blood and treasure to defeat,” he wrote.

“What are they so afraid of that they and their allies in the media deem it necessary to remove any question of election integrity from the table of legitimate discourse?” Finchem continued. “Do they hope that shutting people up will make the controversy go away?”

He contends several things make all this a violation of House rules.

First, the letter went out on a letterhead of the “Arizona State Legislature” with the state seal, making it look like an official act of the legislature, which it was not.

More to the point, Finchem says the letter “was replete with material factual misrepresentations that were unsupported by evidence and known to be false by the House and Senate members at the time of issuance.”

Finchem said he released a statement on Jan. 11 detailing what he had and had not done in Washington. That included he went there to attend and speak at the rally, that he never came within 500 yards of the Capitol, that he did not see any activity about the building being breached and didn’t learn about that until just before 5 p.m. that evening.

Yet it was the very next day that the Democrats asked for a federal investigation.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that I engaged in any activity that could be objectively viewed as sedition, treason or any federal crime,” Finchem wrote. “The implication that I have, or every possibly have, is entirely baseless.”

He said the activities of the Democrats are within the purview of the House and Senate ethics committees to investigate. That includes his contention that the letter to the federal agencies “was issued in bad faith for political purposes, and not out of a legitimate, well-founded belief that I had engaged in any criminal activity of any nature.”

And Finchem said that conclusion is supported by the fact that a copy of the complaint was released to the media at the same time the complaint was filed.

He also said if the committee needs a specific criminal charge against the Democrats they can look to a section of federal law which makes it illegal for government officials to make a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation.”

Salman, who has been at the forefront of the Democrats efforts to get an investigation of Finchem, said the new complaint won’t deter them from their demands for further inquiry.

“The member was involved in inciting a rebellion against the government which is not only a violation  of the oath of office that he took but a violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution,” she said.

Salman does not dispute that the initial rally near the White House was legal. But she contends that what happened next can be tied to Finchem.

“The people who stormed the Capitol with the intention of not only overthrowing the election results but with the intention with also killing national and federal elected officials were doing so on the basis of falsehoods and conspiracies that were laid out by the president all the way down to local lawmakers in the days following the general election,” she said. And Salman contends that, absent those statements, the riot never would have occurred.

But Finchem, in his own complaint against the Democrats, pointed out that he is hardly the only one who questions the results of the election. He said that does not make him — or them — liable for “rogue actors” who chose to invade the Capitol.

“He’s not an innocent actor,” Salman responded.

“The First Amendment protects you from the speech that comes out of your mouth,” she said. “But it doesn’t protect you from the consequences of your actions.”

In a separate development, Finchem is asking supporters for money for what he said is $15,000 in debt he incurred in organizing the faux legislative hearing at a Phoenix hotel in late November to have a handful of GOP lawmakers hear Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani present what he said was evidence of fraud in the Arizona election returns. He is using his Gab account — a conservative alternative to Twitter — to request money be spent to a PayPal account.

The Trump campaign already has reported it paid a firm owned by Finchem $6,037 for “recount: legal services.” Finchem has said he used it to pay for the costs of security for that hearing.

The lone Democrat not cited in Finchem’s new complaint is Rep. Aaron Lieberman of Paradise Valley.

He was not around and did not sign the original complaint to federal officials. But Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the House Democrats, said he signed an updated complaint a day later.


Finchem, Kern claim in lawsuit Fernandez defamed them

From left are Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, former Rep. Anthony Kern, and Rep. Charlen Fernandez, D-Yuma.
From left are Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, former Rep. Anthony Kern, and Rep. Charlen Fernandez, D-Yuma.

A current and a former state House member are suing Rep. Charlene Fernandez, saying the Democrat defamed them when she asked the FBI to investigate their connections to the deadly Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.

Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and former Rep. Anthony Kern, also a Republican, allege in Yuma County Superior Court  Fernandez “baselessly accused Plaintiffs of the highest possible crimes against the Government of the United States.”

“The malicious purpose of Defendant’s action was to chill debate, not encourage it; to shut down any discussion of election fraud in the 2020 Presidential election and of the larger question of election integrity in general; and, if possible, to criminally punish Plaintiffs for exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully demonstrate and petition the Government for redress of grievances,” the complaint says. 

Fernandez, D-Yuma, and the rest of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses signed a letter in early January to FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen asking for help determining the roles of Finchem, Kern and Republican U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar in the riot.

“What they did outside of plain view we do not yet know,” they wrote. “But there is evidence to indicate that Arizona Representatives Mark Finchem, Anthony Kern, Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs encouraged, facilitated, participated and possibly helped plan this anti-democratic insurrection on January 6.”

The lawsuit details why Finchem and Kern believed there were problems with the 2020 election and says neither one of them took part in fomenting violence on Jan. 6. It says Fernandez “falsely accused plaintiffs of being either directly involved in, or of aiding or abetting, the crimes of terrorism, insurrection, treason, and sedition” and of implying they were responsible for the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

Fernandez said Tuesday that she hadn’t seen the lawsuit yet.

The FBI has acknowledged receiving the Democrats’ complaint against Finchem and the others but has not publicly announced any action on it. Rep. Cesár Chávez, D-Phoenix, filed a complaint in mid-January asking the House Ethics Committee to investigate Finchem’s advocacy for overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election and his presence in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 the day a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. Committee Chairwoman Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, said in February she would not be acting on the complaint, calling it an attempt to use the ethics process to settle a political dispute. Finchem filed a retaliatory complaint against House and Senate Democrats that Nutt similarly dismissed.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, and 22 other House Democrats also filed a resolution seeking Finchem’s expulsion from the Legislature, but it was never assigned to a committee.

Finchem and Kern are being represented by Alexander Kolodin, Christopher Viskovic and Bryan Blehm of the Kolodin Law Group of Phoenix, and by George Wentz Jr. and Brant Hadaway of the Davillier Law Group of Sandpoint, Idaho.

GOP House leaders to appease Townsend with bill to organize national convention

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

As budget negotiations remain stalled, House GOP leaders decided to grant one conservative holdout a late hearing on a bill to organize a national convention to combat federal policies perceived as threatening “constitutional and traditional rights.” 

But Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said while she’s glad the House will take up her proposal for a new convention of the states in a special meeting on Tuesday, it doesn’t change her opposition to the budget deal. Townsend is adamant that the Legislature hold off on voting for a $1.9 billion tax cut package pushed by Gov. Doug Ducey until the Senate’s ongoing election audit is completed and she’s positive that a voter-approved tax hike on the wealthy – which Ducey’s plan aims to negate – really passed. 

In the meantime, she supports passing a so-called “skinny budget,” with enough funding to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year on June 30, and remaining in the legislative session long enough to complete the audit, end Ducey’s Covid state of emergency and pass any additional bills. 

Townsend has not yet met with GOP leaders to discuss her concerns – they expect to sit down Monday – but in the meantime leaders are trying to appease her. Rep. John Kavanagh, the Fountain Hills Republican who chairs the House Government and Elections Committee, said House Speaker Rusty Bowers asked him to run the convention of the states bill through his committee for Townsend.  

“We’re all team players, but she wanted this bill so we’re going to run it,” Kavanagh said.  

The proposed amendment, in Kavanagh’s name, states that the federal government has recently endangered rights to religious freedom, ballot integrity, personal security and the rights to travel freely and be protected from “excessive and unconstitutional fiscal policies.” 

While it does not name specific federal policies or actions, the language reflects conservative criticisms of various policies proposed by the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress, including HR 1, the sweeping voting rights law that progressives most want to pass. The right to travel freely appears to refer to talk of “vaccine passports” and the idea that people must provide proof of vaccination to travel or attend events in some states.  

“We’ve had a big upheaval with elections and we had a big upheaval with people’s rights under the pandemic,” Townsend said.  

She stressed that the proposed convention is not a constitutional convention, and no constitutional amendments will result from it. However, it’s something more than the annual gatherings of lawmakers at organizations like the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council or the liberal State Innovation Exchange, as each state would have a delegation with legal authority to vote on behalf of the state.  

In 2017, Townsend was one of the chief organizers of a similar convention in Phoenix, which brought together 19 states to recommend rules for a potential future constitutional convention. If at least 38 states agree to a convention, they can propose amendments to the constitution, though this has not happened in U.S. history.  

Tempe Rep. Athena Salman, the ranking Democrat on the House government committee, said the decision to move this bill is completely reactionary – whether to Townsend’s budget threats or to the Arizonans who just left the state on a “Freedom Ride” to pressure Congress to pass federal voting rights laws. 

With less than two weeks left to pass a budget, Republican leaders should be working with Democrats to pass a spending plan, not holding hearings on interstate conventions, she said.  

“It’s not a good use of my time,” Salman said. “It’s not a good use of anyone’s time, but I think at this point Republicans are just so reactionary that they don’t know how to govern.”  

GOP lawmaker pushes ‘dignity’ measure to benefit women prisoners

Row of bars and American old prison cells
Row of bars and American old prison cells

A Republican lawmaker intends to introduce legislation designed to improve the dignity of incarcerated women as the Arizona Department of Corrections plans to reopen a motel-turned-prison to house a continually growing female population.

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said this week he will introduce a bill he’s calling the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” to ensure women behind bars have greater access to sanitary products and bonding time with babies born during their sentences. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has a model policy with an identical name and similar provisions.

Blackman’s comments came a week after he ended his sentencing reform ad hoc committee work by forgetting to schedule a presentation from a subcommittee on women’s issues, and just before another legislative committee approved a request from the Department of Corrections to reopen an additional women’s prison in a former motel in Douglas.

In a party-line vote December 11, the Joint Committee on Capitol Review approved the department’s request to provide up to 340 additional prison beds at Douglas Prison’s Papago Unit, a converted motel that previously housed drunk drivers. Formerly incarcerated women, and their advocates, were not allowed to address legislators during the meeting.

Merissa Hamilton, a former aide for Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio and co-chairwoman of Blackman’s subcommittee on women in prison, said she and other advocates hope their concerns and recommendations will be heard during the next legislative session. Subcommittee members shared an informal survey with women who were previously locked up in the state’s women’s prison, Perryville.

“Women have unique and special needs just by the virtue of us being women,” Hamilton said. “We have unique health needs.”

One of those health needs Blackman intends to address with his bill is providing sufficient feminine hygiene products. Prior to February 2018, the Department of Corrections gave each woman 12 sanitary napkins per month.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, introduced legislation last year to require an unlimited supply of products, including not just sanitary napkins but tampons and reusable products. Following public hassling of Republican lawmakers and testimony from former prisoners, the Department of Corrections changed its internal policy to provide 36 pads, tampons or some combination of the two each month. 

However, Blackman said he continues to hear from inmates’ parents and spouses that women don’t receive adequate supplies to manage their periods, either because department officials aren’t providing 36 products a month or because that’s not enough. 

“Everybody is different, so I think we need to increase those things,” he said.

Department policy allows women with medical disorders such as endometriosis to receive more products for free, but they first have to confirm those issues in a medical appointment. The subcommittee’s survey found that incarcerated women rated the health care they received at Perryville very poorly.

And Blackman said he has heard stories of inmates not bothering to make medical appointments because waiting lists are too long. This means that despite the new policy, the department hasn’t fixed the underlying issue, he said. 

“We have to get involved and force them to do it,” he said. “It’s not a big thing to make sure the law is being carried out.”

Another provision of his bill would require the department to allow women who give birth in prison longer visits with their infants than would normally be allowed. Arizona should be looking to other states that have policies that let women develop and maintain relationships with their new babies, he said. 

One example he cited was Tennessee, which allows weekend-long visits. A handful of facilities in other states have full-time prison nurseries, where infants live with their incarcerated mothers, but Blackman said he’s not interested in going that far. 

“The baby’s not growing up in prison,” he said. “We’re talking about visitation.”

Women who responded to the subcommittee’s survey cited a need for help in regaining custody of their young children upon release and making visiting easier. 

“We know that for children to be able to visit their parents frequently when they’re in prison, they should be incarcerated within 100 miles,” said Hamilton, the subcommittee’s co-chairwoman. 

Blackman said he can’t guarantee that his bill — or the women advocating further reforms — will be heard next session. He’s advocating to have his criminal justice bills assigned to multiple committees, a move lawmakers generally oppose because it increases the procedural hurdles legislation faces, just to increase the chances the bills will be heard if not passed. 

“God willing that I have an opportunity to come back and serve next term and the speaker sees fit to put me in a position to hear these types of bills,” Blackman said. “The bills that didn’t get heard when we’re talking about criminal justice reform will get heard. Every bill that’s serious enough should have the opportunity to speak for itself and have the members vote yes or no on the merits of the bill.”

Government bodies should drop the prayers and get to work


Arizona has a problem with public prayer.

Both houses of the Legislature open with invocations. Cities and counties across the state open their meetings with prayer, as well. Yet for whatever reason, government-sponsored prayer has a way of making the news, sometimes nationally or globally so, and when it does make the news, it’s not pretty. In the year since Rep. Kavanaugh said “God was in the gallery” to mock his colleague for her atheism, that’s only become more apparent.

That includes the antics at the State Senate earlier this week. It includes the expensive lawsuit between the City of Scottsdale and the Satanic Temple. It includes the years-long history of heckling, theatrics, and mockery that attend atheist legislators when they open the House or Senate with a non-theistic invocation rather than praying to God.

Secular invocations are very simple. During the time traditionally set aside for prayer, community members will sometimes read from philosophy, poetry, or literature to inspire the dignity and gravitas of an occasion that does not require a God.

Don’t get me wrong: The Supreme Court is abundantly clear that the First Amendment  – and the Separation of Church and State it guarantees – allows government bodies to open with prayer, given certain constitutional requirements. When done without discrimination, an opening prayer is legal under the current case law. But that doesn’t mean public servants can pick favorites among the countless faiths,and lack thereof, to which their constituents subscribe.

Politicians work for all their constituents, not just those who share their faith, after all.

The Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that a government body opening with prayer must be open to all voices. The Eleventh Circuit elaborated on this precedent in Williamson v. Brevard County, in which an organization of humanists and atheists successfully challenged their County Board of Commissioners for excluding them from invocations. The case law surrounding government-sponsored prayer is clear. If someone gets to pray in a government meeting, then it needs to be offered without discriminating between faiths.

Even when done constitutionally, public prayer often tends to polarize. It places our public policy makers in the position of arbitrating whose faith can be heard and whose cannot. That brings us to this week. Several years of secular invocations have done little to soften the discrimination faced by open atheists and humanists at the State Capitol. Nonbelieving legislators have been ruled out of order, mocked, and had their colleagues follow up with unofficial prayers just to de-legitimize them. All this historical baggage adds context to the events this week at the Arizona State Senate.

Senator Juan Mendez makes no secret of his secular humanism. Along with his support of secular government, he’s been giving non-theistic invocations in both chambers for years. During the first week of this session, he requested to give the invocation on the day of Secular Coalition for Arizona’s Secular Day at the Capitol. Supporters of secular government from across the state were planning their trip to Phoenix to speak to their legislators, and he chose this time to exercise his right to open the legislative day.

Senate President Karen Fann’s office gave him the runaround for weeks. They gave him uncertain responses and, after more than a few emails and phone calls, scheduled him to speak on Secular Day. Imagine his surprise, much less the surprise of secular activists who traveled from as far as Kingman, when he was snubbed at the last minute. During the time for opening prayer, the Senate President called on Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, instead, the same former representative who ruled Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, out of order for her secular invocation three years prior. Mesnard went on to give an explicitly Christian prayer, and Fann went on to apologize for what she called a simple scheduling error.

Assuming she’s telling the truth, and Mendez was snubbed by accident, it speaks to Fann’s priorities and competence to deny secular Arizonans their voice on their long-planned Day at the Capitol.

Given the historic pattern, though, I don’t believe her.

The Secular Coalition for Arizona has a public records request pending. So if Fann complies, we should know more soon about whether this was a scheduling mistake or an intentional slap in the face of her colleague and the thousands of secular constituents he represents around the state.

Either way, the sheer controversy that surrounds public prayer and the petty theatrics it seems to attract testify to the fact that Arizona can do better. Arizona’s humanists and atheists will show up and speak up for equal representation as long as our government opens official meetings with prayer, but we could all get along a lot better if we cut out the prayer and got down to business instead.

Luke Douglas, Esq. is a member of the board of directors for the Secular Coalition for Arizona.

Hope dims for 3 losing incumbents as vote results trickle in

An official at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office reaches for ballots after votes were counted for the Arizona primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
An official at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office reaches for ballots after votes were counted for the Arizona primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Struggling incumbents in too-close-to-call races didn’t see much change as county elections officials began making a dent in the roughly 210,000 mail ballots that remained to be counted after Tuesday’s primary.

Republican Sen. Heather Carter of Cave Creek, Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale and Rep. Frank Pratt of Casa Grande still trail their challengers, and with fewer votes left to count, their odds of returning to the Capitol grow slimmer. 

In Legislative District 15, Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, leads Carter by 956 votes, after steadily increasing her slim lead with each round of results Tuesday. 

“We are waiting for the final ballots to be counted, but we have continued to extend our lead through last night and this morning and the outcome looks promising in our favor,” Barto said in a written statement Wednesday morning. 

From left are Nancy Barto and Heather Carter
From left are Nancy Barto and Heather Carter

House Republican hopeful Justin Wilmeth — who is running on a slate with Barto and newcomer Steve Kaiser — led Jarret Hamstreet by 1,074 votes, slightly increasing his morning lead of 1,030. 

Maricopa County still has more than 80,000 ballots left to count, and it’s unknown how many are in each district. 

Pratt trails challenger Neal Carter by just 22 votes, down from 30 earlier Wednesday. Pinal County, home of most Legislative District 8 voters, will not update results until Thursday. 

“It’s kind of nerve wracking,” Pratt said. “You’re still waiting on the last votes to be counted.”

Insurgent Scottsdale Republican Joseph Chaplik has maintained  his lead in Legislative District 23 over the incumbent Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale. Chaplik now leads Lawrence by 643 votes, or around two percentage  points— more or less the same as this morning, when he led by 647 votes. 

In the closely-watched Legislative District 26 Democratic House primary, Melody Hernandez has broadened her lead over Debbie Nez Manuel to 261 votes, a slight increase from this morning’s tally of 245 in Hernandez’s favor. Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who ran on a slate with Hernandez and Sen. Juan Mendez, is all but ensured to get the most votes in the district. She sits comfortably in first with 9,491 votes. 

Former lawmaker Judy Burges slightly increased her lead over nurse Selina Bliss for the second GOP spot on the House ballot in Legislative District 1. Bliss trails by just over 2percentage  points. 

And former lawmaker Steve Montenegro narrowed the gap between him and Rep. Joanne Osborne since Wednesday morning, though he still trails Osborne by 392 votes in Legislative District 13.

House approves bill permitting ‘God enriches’ motto to be posted at schools

state-sealHouse Democrats failed Tuesday in their bid to keep the name of the Almighty out of the classrooms – at least the English version.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said there is legal precedent to allowing schools to post the state motto. And that motto, as on the state seal, is “Ditat Deus.”

SB 1289, however, would permit not just those words to hang on classroom walls.

The measure, which now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey following the 33-23 party-line vote, also would allow the English translation which is “God enriches.” And that, Salman told colleagues, is an illegal religious reference.

But the debate about the change in law went far beyond the words and what they mean. It turned into an often spirited discussion of who believes in God and whether some people were trying to eliminate religion in public life.

Existing state law has a list of things that teachers can read or post in buildings.

It includes the national motto, national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, preamble to the Arizona Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact. Also permitted are writing, speeches, documents and proclamations of Founding Fathers and presidents, published decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and acts of Congress.

SB 1289 would actually add the words “In God we trust” in explaining what the national motto is.

But the bigger concern was adding the state motto — and, specifically, the English translation.

Salman said court rulings have accepted the use of the national motto as not so much a statement of religious belief but instead as “ceremonial deism.” That’s how the motto even shows up on U.S. currency.

And Salman even appeared willing to accept allowing the posting of the words “Ditat Deus” since those are, in fact, the words on the seal.

“This bill goes a step further and translates the Latin meaning into ‘God enriches,’ which loses its protection under the ceremonial deism,” Salman said.

“This bill walks down a dangerous pathway of then having a religious interpretation,” she continued. “And that puts our schools at risk for lawsuits.”

Salman’s efforts to curb the measure drew derision from several Republicans.

“I find it interesting that we have people who want to protect us from God at almost any cost,” said House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

“The idea that you interpret something from Latin to English all of a sudden makes something objectionable is really kind of silly,” he said. “The idea that somehow children … are not going to live up to our expectations that they become good people because somebody mentioned God to them I think is really one of the crassest political things I’ve ever heard.”

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said the opposition left him confused.

“I would truly like to know how many members do not trust in God,” he said. “And I wonder how many members think that God does not enrichen our lives.”

And then he got more personal, saying he knows his “Democrat friends” believe in God and trust God.

“Why you would vote to take that out of the state motto is beyond belief,” Campbell said.

But Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said those comments ignore the fact that out of her 200,000 constituents “there certainly may be those who do not believe in God.”

“I think we want to be very careful when we use that term in schools,” she said.

There also are atheists in the Legislature itself including Salman.

And Rep. Eric Descheenie, D-Chinle, spoke about the forced conversion of indigenous people. He also told colleagues that he, too, used to be a Christian “until I came to the realization of how oppressive the mindset can be.”

“It has substantiated and justified slavery,” Descheenie said. “It has substantiated and justified acts of genocide.”

For that matter, he is not exactly pleased with existing law about the posting of the Declaration of Independence, pointing out it refers to the native tribes as “merciless Indian savages.”

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, told Salman he does not understand all the fuss about posting “God enriches” in classrooms.

“It’s an accurate translation of the Latin,” he said.

“It’s a good translation,” Boyer continued. “And so I guess I don’t see the problem that you do.”

House approves bill to ban abortions for genetic reasons

Medical Concept: Black Chalkboard with Abortion. Medical Concept - Abortion Handwritten on Black Chalkboard. Top View Composition with Chalkboard and Red Stethoscope. 3D Rendering.

After more than two hours of impassioned and at times acrimonious debate, the House voted 31-29 along party lines Thursday to advance a bill that would put several new restrictions on abortion in Arizona. 

SB1457 will, among other provisions, ban abortions performed due to a non-fatal genetic abnormality and ban the mailing of abortion drugs. It also contains “personhood” language, declaring an unborn child has “all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court.” Cathi Herrod, president of the influential socially conservative group the Center for Arizona Policy and a backer of the bill, watched from the gallery as lawmakers debated. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the provision prohibiting mailing abortion-inducing drugs would prevent needed medication from being delivered to women having a miscarriage. This led Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, to object that Butler’s comments weren’t related to the bill. 

“There is nothing in that part that says anything about a miscarriage,” Cobb said. “It says they cannot give the abortion pill.” 

House Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, ruled in Cobb’s favor. The Democrats objected, but the House upheld Grantham’s ruling on a party-line vote. 

“Nothing the member said was out of line,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. “It was germane. She believes that this will be the effect of the legislation.” 

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, then “called the question,” which meant that, after brief debate where one person on each side could speak for three minutes, the House voted along party lines to advance the bill out of the House’s Committee of the Whole and onto the third reading calendar for a final vote. 

Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to limit debate on the bill, bringing up shades of last week when they made similar complaints about committee chairmen limiting both testimony and comment from Democratilawmakers on several controversial bills that advanced on party-line votes. 

“I protest the process that we just went through today while we were debating 1457,” said Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson. “I protest that our debate was shut down. We had yet even to begin debate on the bill as amended. I protest that I was not able to make my point and explain to my constituency why I opposed 1457.” 

The bill will have to return to the Senate now to see if the chamber agrees to an amendment Cobb, who said in March that she was opposed to the bill in its form then, proposed. Cobb’s amendment would allow abortion in cases of life-threatening genetic abnormalities, as well as making it a Class 6 – instead of a Class 3 felony – to perform an abortion due a genetic abnormality, race or sex. This reduces the penalty in current law for a race- or sex-based abortion, while adding the criminalization of ones performed due to non-fatal genetic abnormalities. The bill will go to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk if the Senate concurs with the House’s changes. 

Both supporters and opponents of the bill spoke at length as the House cast its final votes, with each side at times breaking into loud applause in support of someone’s point. Democrats said the bill would unacceptably intrude on the doctor-patient relationship. Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, said she felt fear, not joy, when she got pregnant, because she was barely scraping by, didn’t have health insurance, and had recently been sexually assaulted and didn’t know if the rapist was the father. 

Melody Hernandez
Melody Hernandez

“We don’t seek (abortions) because we hate children, we seek them because we are scared to bring them into this world,” Hernandez said. She added that some people say “all lives matter,” but the Legislature has debated whether people should have to wear masks during a pandemic and don’t want to adequately fund public schools. 

“It is very clear that only some lives matter and they tend not to be Latinas like me who grew up in poverty and without health care,” she said. “Give us the resources to live with dignity and then maybe, maybe I would feel blessed to be pregnant in this world.” 

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said when a woman gets pregnant there are two patients – the woman and the unborn child – and that she believes it is reasonable, and even “quite generous,” that a doctor who intentionally kills one of those patients should only face a class 6 felony. 

“I have not been blessed to have children yet, but I cannot imagine anything more selfish than terminating a life out of convenience,” she said. “We have far too many women who are literally fighting for the right to kill their own kids. That’s outrageous to me. I believe as women we are capable of being responsible with our bodies without terminating the life of another person.” 

S1457 is one of two major bills to restrict abortion working its way through the legislative process. On Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to advance HB2140, which would ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. However, this bill would still need to pass the full Senate before making it to the House, and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, expressed concern about the bill’s language during the committee hearing and suggested it would need some changes for her to support it. Either bill would almost surely result in a court challenge were it to pass. 

House approves easier access to birth control for women

Medicine health care contraception and birth control. Oral contraceptive pills, blisters with hormonal tablets
Medicine health care contraception and birth control. Oral contraceptive pills, blisters with hormonal tablets

Women in Arizona may soon find it a lot easier to get to get birth control.

On a 32-24 vote, the House on Monday approved allowing pharmacists to dispense certain kinds of contraceptives without getting a prescription. More to the point, it would eliminate the need to first go to a doctor.

SB1082 would have Arizona join more than a dozen states that already have eliminated the requirement for a prescription.

But the change, which still requires Senate ratification, does not mean women could simply march in to a pharmacy and demand birth control of their choice.

Pharmacists would first be required to screen would-be recipients to determine if they are candidates for the kinds of contraceptives that use hormones. That includes not just the birth control pill but also other hormone-infused devices like a vaginal ring and patches.

And only those 18 and over are eligible.

At the heart of the debate is how difficult it should be for women to avoid conception.

“Pregnancy should be the decision of the woman,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

“Right now women face barriers in our community because they don’t have access to doctors for a variety of reasons, one of which is because health care premiums keep going up,” she continued. “We should be making it as accessible as possible for women who want to plan their pregnancies to be able to do that.”

No one spoke against the idea of easier access. But several wanted more guardrails.

Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Buckeye, said she has no problem with women getting up to two years of refills without having to go back to a doctor.

She proposed, however, that any initial prescription require an order from a physician. And there would need to be new medical assessment performed by the woman’s primary care physician every other year.

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who is a dentist, said that is designed to ensure that the chemicals in the contraceptive devices are not causing problems. She noted a link between certain types of birth control, particularly those using estrogen, and potentially fatal blood clots.

“Prescribing without actually doing a complete exam and questionnaire from a medical professional I think is irresponsible,” Cobb said.

But Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who is a doctor, said he doesn’t see that as necessary.

He pointed out that SB1082 still requires patients to fill out self-assessments. Those would have to be reviewed by a pharmacist before dispensing any form of birth control.

Friese said, for example, a pharmacist would not prescribe a form of birth control with estrogen to someone who is a smoker or over a certain age, both of which he said are risk factors for clots. But he said they may be good candidates for contraceptives with progesterone.

He said the questionnaire also would point up other risk factors that would cause a pharmacist to decline to provide hormonal birth control, like pregnancy. It also would disclose other conditions like breast feeding or diabetes that might be affected by hormones.

Cobb said that’s hardly enough.

She said her own patients, filling out questionnaires at her office, might answer one way in writing. But when questioned in person, where more detail can be solicited, Cobb said sometimes the answers change.

And that, she said, makes what’s in SB1082 inappropriate.

“We’re taking about medications here that could be life threatening,” Cobb said.

“And yet we’re taking it lightly as if it’s taking an ibuprofen or an aspirin,” she continued. “And that’s not what this is about.”

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, agreed that every women should see a doctor every two years.

“And that would be better,” she said. But Butler said it doesn’t match reality.

“In fact, many, many people in Arizona don’t have insurance, don’t have the opportunity can’t afford to go see a physician, don’t have the time,” Butler continued. “Of course we want people to take the time for their own health but the reality it sometimes it doesn’t happen.”

Butler also suggested that foes of birth control without a prescription were not being consistent.

“That is more than is required for taking a drug like Viagra, for example,” she said.

“For Viagra, there are serious side effects including cardiovascular problems, heart attacks,” Butler said. “I mean, people could die and we’re not so worried about that.”

But Butler conceded after the debate that it remains a legal requirement to get a prescription for Viagra.

The measure still needs approval by the Senate. That’s because the version previously approved there had something the House found unacceptable: immunity for pharmacists from civil suits for damages resulting from their decision to dispense contraceptives.


House approves measure to govern ‘controversial issues’ in class


Republican lawmakers voted today to punish teachers who don’t present both sides of controversial science or events, a move that some lawmakers say could force them to seek out and present contrary views on everything from climate change and slavery to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust – and even whether Joe Biden really won the election. 

The measure approved along party lines requires that any “controversial issues” discussed in the classroom must be done “from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” 

Michelle Udall
Michelle Udall

“Propaganda has no place in our classrooms,” said Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa. She said there have been complaints by parents that their children are being taught things that some people do not believe to be true. 

Much of what is in her amendment to SB1532 is aimed at precluding instruction that one race, ethnic group or sex is “inherently morally or intellectually superior to another.” Udall’s measure also would bar teaching that any individual bears responsibility for actions committed by others of the same race, ethic group or sex. 

“It simply prevents teaching our students that their race determines their character, treatment or worth,” she said. “Biased, unbalanced teaching hurts children.” 

But Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said the measure is based on a false premise. 

“It is not propaganda that our country enslaved people for 400 years,” he said. “It is not propaganda that native tribes had their land taken by our forefathers.” 

Udall insisted that nothing stops that from being taught. 

“We all acknowledge that these things happened,” she said. 

But Udall’s legislation contains no definition of what is “controversial” and, under her proposal, could not be presented as fact but instead would require a teacher to provide an alternate view – or face discipline. Friese suggested that might only be defined in retrospect after a parent objects to something that already was taught. 

And that lack of definition alarmed some legislators who pointed out that any teacher who violates the law is subject to not just a $5,000 fine, but would be forced to reimburse the school for any “misused monies.” 

Udall brushed aside some of the examples of what might land a teacher in trouble. For example, she said, a teacher would not have to present alternate theories about whether the earth is round. 

She said an “accurate portrayal of historical events” would be permitted. And she said that “largely discredited” theories do not need to be presented as fact. 

But then legislators started asking about specific examples. 

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said there are those who believe there were positive aspects of slavery and that some slaves were treated better than others. 

“Suppose that a teacher were to teach, and believed was an accurate portrayal, that all slavery was bad, that all masters were bad?” she asked. 

“If the sources are well understood and if it’s well-cited, that would be considered an accurate portrayal,” Udall said. “If it’s not something that has been discredited, it would be considered an accurate portrayal.” 

But Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, said Udall’s measure makes issues where there should be none. 

“It is not a controversial statement to say slavery was the cause of the Civil War and not an issue of states’ rights,” he said. Ditto, Rodriguez said, would be a statement in a current events class saying that Joe Biden was elected in a fair and free election. 

“And now we’re going to have to ‘both-sides’ to this?” he asked. 

And what of climate change, Salman said, where there is a small group of scientists who contend either it is not occurring or that humans play no role. Does that, too, she asked, require equal time? 

“If they’re working on controversial topics, they should teach them from diverse and contending perspectives without giving preference to either side and let students draw their own conclusion,” Udall responded. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, asked about the 9-11 terrorist attacks. 

“There are ample conspiracy theories as to whether that happened, how it happened,” she said. Butler wanted to know if a teacher who believes the attacks occurred and who caused them would then have to bring in someone with an alternate viewpoint. 

“Because there are a lot them,” she said. 

“You can just Google it,” Butler continued. “There are all kinds of videos. It’s a pretty established conspiracy theory.” 

Udall said she wasn’t concerned. 

“Largely discredited arguments don’t need to be presented as fact,” she said. 

But Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said even local issues can fall into the same category. 

She told colleagues about Felix Longoria who died during World War II, came home in a flag-draped coffin but was denied a wake at a Texas funeral home “because white people would be upset.” 

“Our teachers should be allowed to speak about Felix Longoria,” Fernandez said. “But they can’t teach it unless they can talk about why his family was denied a place to honor their father, their son, a husband, a friend and a neighbor.” 

Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, said he sees the legislation as simply an extension of existing law, which declares that parents have a right to direct the education of their minor child “without obstruction or interference from this state.” 

“So this is for the parents and this is for the children to be able to stand up against the bad actors,” he said, meaning teachers who don’t honor that law. 

And Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, compared all this to the move by some to remove monuments because of what they represent. 

“That’s called rewriting history,” he said. “Whether you like that monument or not, that monument exists as a marker in time to provoke thought which, of course, provokes critical thinking.” 

Even the method that Udall used to bring the issue to the full House for a vote was itself controversial. 

Rather than going through the full process, which would have guaranteed at least one public hearing, she attached it to a semi-related measure which would make it illegal for teachers to use school resources to “organize, plan or execute any activity that impedes or prevents a public school from operating for any period of time.” 

That followed a decision by some teachers in the Peoria Unified School District to stage a sick-out in January after the board decided to reopen schools for in-person learning despite the fact that the “metrics” of the level of infection showed it was not yet safe to do that. Heather Rooks, a parent in the district, testified at a hearing that she had evidence that teachers were sending emails from school servers during school hours to organize the event. 

The now-amended version of SB1532 returns the bill to the Senatewhich approved it without that language. And it, like the House, can approve it without a public hearing. 

House Democratic leadership calls for Lewis Prison whistleblower investigation


Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey today calling for an investigation into allegations in a recent whistleblower report that administrators at a state prison suppressed evidence that hundreds of cell doors were broken or damaged. 

This marks the second time that lawmakers have called for corrective action at DOC in a year — a unit of the prison was already closed for repairs after similar allegations were made in media reports in the spring.

The whistleblower disclosure, which was filed on December 2, was written by an associate deputy warden at Arizona State Prison Complex – Lewis named Shaun Holland. In a letter to the governor and Department of Corrections Director David Shinn, Holland wrote that doors across the prison were failing “at an alarming rate,” and that the prison administration was hiding the disrepair by closing out repair orders without fixing any of the locks. 

Today’s letter, authored by Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, and Reps. Randall Friese D-Tucson, Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, and Athena Salman, D-Tempe, states that party leaders were optimistic that a sea change would come after the retirement of former director Charles Ryan, who helmed DOC for 10 years, but stepped down in August following growing criticism and media reports that he was aware of the extent of the dysfunction in Lewis Prison. However, the letter says that optimism was “premature.”

“It should go without saying that simply writing down that a broken door as ‘repaired’ without actually repairing it does not fix the problem and puts both Corrections Officers and inmates in danger,” the letter states. “ADW Holland has gone on the record to report an unacceptable lack of action to address known, documented hazards that put the lives of officers and inmates at risk every day. It is vital that you initiate an immediate investigation of ADW Holland’s allegations and, if verified, hold those responsible immediately accountable.”

Gov. Doug Ducey said he was aware of the letter and that fixing the locks is a “top priority,” and that the problems would be addressed with new doors and additional resources.

Ducey said he trusts the information he is getting from DOC.

“It’s deja vu all over again,” Fernandez said in an interview. “We’re talking about the people who work in our state, and any way you look at it, the inmates are under our care. We have a responsibility to make sure they’re safe as well.”

She said it’s urgent that the governor lays out a corrective course of action, and that while she trusts his judgment, Democrats will be vigilant in ensuring that changes are made quickly. That said, she said it’s important not to overreact, and that asking for the resignation of DOC officials would be premature.

In a statement provided to the Arizona Capitol Times, Rev. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said he will look into the issue.

“This is certainly an issue I will be looking into during this upcoming legislative session. I look forward to gathering accurate information on the allegations and taking any necessary steps to ensure that our prisons are secure and public safety is maintained,” Payne said.

DOC spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said in an email “the implementation of a long-term solution is currently underway.”

For criminal justice advocates, the persistence of the problems at Lewis – and further allegations of evidence suppression – mean that it’s time to take serious corrective action.

“This isn’t just about not fixing the locks,” said Donna Hamm, director of Middle Ground Prison Reform. “We knew that was going to be a project that took quite some time. What is most disturbing is that (Holland) is essentially reporting crimes – falsification of public records.”

She said that not only is an investigation necessary, it could be time for firings – either of lower administrators who hid evidence from Shinn that security problems persisted, or Shinn himself. 

In September, Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, wrote a letter to Ducey calling for the appointment of a citizens oversight board for the department and expressing that the resignation of Ryan presented a “historic opportunity” to reform the department. 

While she told the Capitol Times today that it may be too early to place the blame on Shinn, who is still early in his tenure, it is “unbelievably discouraging” that problems at Lewis have continued months after the regime change. 

“This still does not appear to be a high enough priority,” she said. 

Hamm, for what it’s worth, said that even a citizens oversight board would not be a sufficiently meaningful remedy. She is sending a letter to Ducey today to that effect, calling this a “litmus test” of his leadership and asking that an outside expert be hired to monitor operations at the prisons with near unlimited access. 

“Frankly, Middle Ground is disappointed in the seemingly lackluster beginnings made by Director Shinn, especially given the multiple crises impacting the Department,” a copy of her letter obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times states. “Whether anyone realizes it or not, there are most likely lawsuits on the horizon. This can all be avoided with decisive, focused and immediate actions.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Gov. Doug Ducey, Rep. Kevin Payne, and Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and the Department of Corrections. 

House panel OKs changes to redistricting commission

Republican state representatives advanced a resolution to overhaul the membership of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in ways that some worry will disenfranchise minority voting blocs.

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)

On a 4-3 party-line vote March 22, GOP lawmakers on the House Government Committee approved SCR1034, which would increase the number of commissioners on the IRC to nine from five. The resolution’s sponsor, Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, has said he’s hoping to make improvements to the redistricting measures to ensure that the process of redrawing Arizona’s legislative and congressional district boundaries is as nonpartisan as possible.

But at every turn in the legislative process, Democrats have rejected his efforts to alter the IRC. Yarbrough has offered multiple amendments to address those concerns, but Democrats say the resolution – which would still need to be approved by voters to take effect – would simply politicize the process.

On March 22, critics of SCR1034 focused on a change in the rate at which the size of Arizona’s legislative districts may vary. Under current law, the largest and smallest district may not vary in the size of their voting population by a more than 10 percent deviation.

Yarbrough proposed changing the deviation limit to plus or minus 2 percent, the same as congressional district boundaries, and he refused to budge from that position. The current deviations of up to 10 percent create a situation where votes in some districts are worth more than votes in others, Yarbrough said. In the last redistricting round, some districts were greatly overpopulated, he said.

“You will see even more unfairness built into the system if we don’t change it” before the next census, Yarbrough told the committee.

Joel Edman
Joel Edman

Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said that change could result in more cities and towns split between two legislative districts in the name of arguments favoring “one person, one vote.” Even with larger deviations, states must still make good faith efforts to not have districts vary too much in size, but “allowance for small deviations within constitutional limits can make a real difference in the map-drawing process,” Edman said.

“It can mean the difference between leaving a small city or town intact, or carving it up. It can help keep rural districts relatively compact, rather than stretching out their lines to take in yet another population center,” he said.

Lauren Bernally, policy analyst for the Navajo Nation’s Human Rights Office, said that’s the case for the legislative district covering her tribal lands. Creating stricter deviations between districts may dilute the voting influence of the Navajo Nation, she said.

Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)
Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, criticized Yarbrough for failing to address the concerns of minority communities before introducing his resolution. Yarbrough said he relied on legislative staff to draft SCR1034, and that his own observations guided the resolution.

“I think that the shortcomings of the IRC are relatively apparent, and I’m trying to do whatever I can to make sure it is more fair, more bipartisan and less likely to be hijacked,” he said.

House panel OKs purge of early voter list


A bill to remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they miss four elections in a row is headed to the full House.

After more than an hour of debate Wednesday, the House Government and Elections Committee voted 7-6 along party lines to advance SB1485. Sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, the bill would take people off the list if they skip four elections in a row, primary or general, and then don’t respond to a notice asking if they would like to stay on the Permanent Early Voting List.

The bill’s opponents said it would make things more difficult for senior citizens and people serving in the military or traveling overseas on missions and that it would be especially bad for independents, who would only have to miss two general elections in a row to be removed from the list.

“This bill is a step back from participation and a step back from freedom,” said Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation.

The bill’s supporters characterized it as a housekeeping measure that would remove people from the list who aren’t voting anyway and save the expense of mailing them ballots.

“It just cleans up the Permanent Early Voting List and enables us to have some control over a potential fraudulent situation,” said Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction.

The bill could remove about 143,000 from the list, Edman said. Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said it will result in removing a disproportionate number of Latinos and Native Americans from the list. If the bill had been passed in 2019, she said, it could have resulted in removing from the list 50,000 Latinos who voted in 2020, more than enough to have changed the outcome given President Joe Biden’s 12,000-vote victory in the state.

“This is not housekeeping,” she said. “This is the tip of a pyramid of a massive voter suppression campaign to make it harder for you to vote. … We’re seeing it in state legislatures across the country. And especially in a state like Arizona, it makes all the difference.”

Committee Chairman Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the bill would prevent some election fraud, although he said he didn’t know how much fraud it would prevent or even how much fraud there is. He referred to the “pyramid of crime” he teaches about in his criminal justice class at Scottsdale Community College, with the bottom being the total number of crimes committed and the top being crimes that are recorded in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.

“Crimes that we actually know are the tiny tip of a massive iceberg of criminal activity in this country, and I suspect the same is true of election fraud,” he said. “You just don’t get it all. So I don’t know what the number is, but it’s there.”

He also told the committee not to characterize the bill as part of an effort to suppress the vote.

“That impugns the sponsor and the integrity of the people that support the bill,” he said.

Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, said the bill would send a message to lower-propensity voters that the state doesn’t want to hear their voices.

“Restricting this program is undemocratic,” she said. “We don’t know what people’s circumstances are, why they didn’t vote. … It should not be on our Legislature to punish these voters for not voting.”



House panels Oks bill to let college athletes profit from skills

State lawmakers are just a step away from allowing athletes at Arizona colleges and universities to profit from their skills, at least indirectly.

With only one dissenting vote, the House Education Committee approved a measure requiring all schools to allow student athletes to earn compensation from the use of their own name, likeness or image. That would pretty much place them on par with professional athletes who now can get cash for endorsements and other products and services bearing their names.

Potentially more significant, SB1296 would ensure that any student who takes advantage of this does not lose a scholarship or forfeit the right to compete. And Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said that, by extension, it means that their schools don’t end up getting dinged by the National College Athletic Association which sets the rules that schools must obey.

Only Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, voted against the measure.

With the Senate already having approved the measure on a 29-1 margin, the bill now goes to the full House. And Gov. Doug Ducey has previously indicated he is open to the idea.

All this is occurring as the NCAA itself is trying to figure out ways to update its own rules. That, in turn, was forced by several states already approving laws like the one being considered here.

Shope told lawmakers that the underlying issue goes back even further to when an UCLA athlete found that an image of someone who looked particularly like him, right down to skin tone and jersey number, was being used without his permission in a video game. Joined by other athletes, that resulted in a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He said the athletes, most of whom were at least 18, should have had the right to consent to — and profit from — those images.

Shope stressed that nothing in the legislation would result in students actually being paid to play. But he said there is no reason they should be precluded from profiting from their abilities.

The shortcomings of the current law were pointed up by Mike Haener, lobbyist for Arizona State University. He cited the case of Anthony Robles, an ASU wrestler, who won the NCAA individual wrestling championship in his weight class in the 2010-2011 season despite being born with only one leg.

“He actually did write a book,” Haener told lawmakers. But that could not happen until after Robles graduated because he would not have been allowed before then to make money from it.

“He had to wait until he was out of college before he could profit from his own story,” Haener said.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said the change in law makes sense. She said universities have been able to profit from the images of their athletes in ways that have been denied to their students solely because they participate in interscholastic sports.

“If they were not an athlete but were any other student on the campus, be it a regular student, be it an activist, a performative student, other avenues, they could write books, they could set up training camps, they could make money through YouTube channels,” she said.

The measure does have some restrictions.

Most notably, it bars a student athlete from entering into a contract if it would interfere with any contracts that the team and the university already have with a company that may have a conflict.

Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, expressed some concern about ending the nature of amateur sports. But he agreed to support the measure based on the “free market capitalism aspects” of the bill.



House passes measure to thwart boycotts of Israel

Claiming boycotts are anti-Semitic, the state House voted Monday to deny public contracts to firms that refuse to do business with other companies that do business in Israel.

Athena Salman
Athena Salman

The 37-21 vote came over the often-tearful statements of Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who told her colleagues of how her family members, some now here, some still living in occupied territories, have been treated. She said the movement, formally known as BDS – for boycott, divest, sanction – is designed to put pressure on Israel to end what she said are “Israeli human rights abuses” and illegal settlements in the West Bank.

“People have a right to boycott,” said House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. And he said he did not doubt that there have been “immoral acts” on both sides of the conflict.

But he said these were decisions taken in the heat of battle and in the heat of self-preservation. And Bowers said that the state has a legitimate interest in using its economic power – the power to deny public contracts – to keep people from boycotting Israel and, to his way of looking at it, the right of that country to exist.

SB 1167 still needs final Senate approval of some minor House-made changes before going to Gov. Doug Ducey, who actually signed a virtually identical bill in 2016.

Last year, however, U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa enjoined the state from enforcing the law. She said the state cannot use its economy power to deny people their right to speak out and act on their personal beliefs.

A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments in June.

This new version is virtually identical to the law Humetewa found flawed – but with one key difference: It applies only to companies with 10 or more employees with public contracts worth at least $100,000. That would mean that Flagstaff attorney Mik Jordahl, who filed the original lawsuit with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, no longer has a case because his firm and his contract with the Coconino County Jail are too small.

It would then be up to someone else to start the legal challenge over from scratch.

Salman spoke of how her father, as a child in the occupied territories, was detained and how such practices continue today. And she said that the ever-expanding Jewish settlements on the West Bank are cutting off access to family-owned land

“If that land is annexed it is no longer our land,” Salman said.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said he could not support putting pressure on Israel, saying the BDS movement is fueled by “its anger at Israel and its anger at the Jewish people.”

“Arizona will not be anti-Semitic,” said Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. “We’re not going to discriminate against Israel.”

And Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he sees the BDS movement as an impediment to peace, seeking to force terms on Israel rather than requiring both sides to recognize each other’s right to exist.

The House action comes as Israelis go to the polls to decide whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets another term in office. Netanyahu, facing a difficult campaign, has teased that he might annex the occupied territories – the ones at issue in the whole BDS movement – and make them permanently part of Israel, killing any chance of a two-state solution and a Palestinian homeland.

House Republicans take another crack at control of local elections; bill passes 34-22

(Deposit Photos/Bizoon)
(Deposit Photos/Bizoon)

Claiming it will increase turnout, the Republican-controlled House voted March 7 to set up a system that could force cities to move their local elections to even-numbered years.

HB2604, crafted by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, does not automatically void the practice in several Arizona communities of having elections on their own schedule. Lawmakers tried that before, only to have that swatted down by the state Court of Appeals as unconstitutional.

Instead, the proposal by the Chandler Republican allows cities to keep their off-year elections – but only if the difference in turnout is within 25 percent of what it was during either of the two most recent comparable statewide elections. If local turnout drops below that trigger, then local elections are declared illegal.

The 34-22 vote came over objections of Democrats who argued the move is not only unnecessary but an infringement by state lawmakers on the rights of cities and their residents to decide what works best for them.

“People in cities want the freedom to have their own preferences,’’ said Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe. “I see no reason to hammer down on cities and refuse them their local control.’’

Mesnard disputed that premise.

“I don’t see how changing the timing of election to a time where more people are going to be showing up is the equivalent of strangling of cities or placing a hammer on the cities,’’ he said. Anyway, Mesnard said, a city’s loss of the right to set election dates will happen only if there is significant drop off from turnout in even-numbered years.

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, said when local elections in his home community were consolidated with other races “the amount of people showing up to vote skyrocketed.’’

But Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, suggested that the claims of Republicans wanting to boost voter turnout ring hollow. She said the Republican leadership refuses to even consider Democrat bills to make it easier for people to participate in elections.

One proposal that did not get a hearing would have allowed people to register to vote right up through Election Day.

Now, Salman said, the cutoff is 29 days before the election. She said that ended up locking out people in the 2016 presidential race who became energized during the last weeks of the campaign.

One argument in favor of allowing cities to have their own, separate elections is that it helps ensure that local races and local ballot measures get the attention they deserve. In a consolidated election, those local issues end up near the bottom of the ballot, opening the possibility that some voters may just quit before getting that far.

But Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said that wasn’t his experience when he was a member of a local school board, an election that already occurs at the same time as other state and federal races. He predicted the same would happen if city elections are consolidated into the same ballot.

“If you’re worried about your trash, if you’re worried about your streets getting swept, if you’re worried about community events I have to believe that you’re going to make your way and just have the strength to get to the bottom of the ballot and vote for city council members,’’ Shope said.

The House vote sends the measure to the Senate.

But even if it is approved there and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, that does not necessarily end the matter. It still leaves the question of whether this version is any more constitutional than the one the Court of Appeals voided in 2014.

In that ruling, the judges decided that, at least when it comes to the state’s 19 charter cities, they have a right to decide matters of strictly local concern. And the judges said that when and how cities run their elections fits within that category.

House resumes work, pushes liability bill

Members of the House Rules Committee, all masked and socially distanced, discuss what bills will be as the House resumes work May 18. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Members of the House Rules Committee, all masked and socially distanced, discuss what bills will be as the House resumes work May 18. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Republican lawmakers are moving to make it harder for someone who contracts COVID-19 to sue the business where they believe they were infected or a company that made a device that did not provide the promised protection from the virus.

Legislation introduced Monday still preserves the right of all to sue those whose actions or inactions exposed them to the virus.

But the measure spells out that simply proving negligence by the business owner is not enough. They would have to show that there was gross negligence. And that generally requires someone to convince a jury not only that the business failed to take some action to preclude the spread of the disease but that it was done in reckless disregard of the consequences.

And there’s something else.

This proposal says that when the claim involved COVID-19, the standard for proof becomes “clear and convincing evidence.”

That is a higher burden than “preponderance of the evidence,” essentially asking a jury to decide if the allegations are more likely true than not. But it is not as strict as the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)
Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, did not dispute that if this becomes law employees will have a more difficult time of proving that the unsafe conditions at a workplace are responsible for their illness. But he said that’s not the focus of what Republicans are trying to do: stimulate and reopen the economy.

“There is a very large segment of the public that runs our economy, that we have to quickly empower and build their confidence that they’ll be able to reopen and have an acceleration where they can feel comfortable hiring the employees, the employees can feel comfortable, all working responsibly together to move the needle,” he said. “And I think a liability protection bill that has a higher standard on two counts is a good thing to do.”

And what of protections for workers who believe they are being put in unsafe situations?

“I don’t believe any employee is being forced to go into any situation,” Bowers responded. Ditto, he said, of customers having to go to any business.

“We’re not saying, ‘You must go patronize,’ ” the speaker said. But Bowers said COVID-19 requires special protections for employers.

Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)
Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)

“One of the major challenges to all businesses right now, that they have expressed to us, is their fear of uncontrolled liability in a very hyper-litigious society,” he said.

“The trial attorneys may want to have open season and lean on people,” Bowers said. “In a pandemic, I would think that would be a well-based fear.”

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, the House co-minority whip, said it is true that workers can refuse to return to what they believe are unsafe situations. But she also pointed out that they would forfeit their unemployment benefits.

Federal law allows people to refuse available work under only narrow circumstances, like being quarantined, caring for a family member who is infected, or being a member of a population that is particularly susceptible to COVID-19. Anyone else offered their old job back has to return or stop collecting benefits, a situation she said that creates real problems.

“If you are a restaurant worker and your employer says, ‘You can’t be wearing a mask while you’re serving food,’ and you’ve been self-quarantining this whole time until you’re forced to come back to work … you have to go back to work,” she said. More to the point, Salman said if an employee in that situation gets sick, “it is likely that that person probably contracted it while they were at work.”

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

Bowers said COVID-19 is different, requiring special protections for businesses.

But Barry Aarons, lobbyist for the Arizona Association for Justice, said the problem is that nothing in the proposal helps employees who may become ill due to the negligence of others. In fact, he said, the reverse would be true, making it even more difficult for them to hold others liable.

Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak said the governor is focused on ensuring that Arizona “safely opens.” And that, he said, requires the cooperation of employers.

“He knows the challenge this has placed on our small business and wants to work with the business community on solutions that protect consumers and entrepreneurs,” Ptak said.

That leaves the question of what is different now that requires special rules for lawsuits.

Glenn Hamer, CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, defended special liability rules for COVID-19 cases.

“What’s different right now is the severity of the disease and the speed for which we need manufacturers to step up and produce the products necessary to keep Americans alive,” he said.

Consider ventilators.

“Some are literally starting from scratch in putting these together,” Hamer said. The same thing is happening as distillers are now manufacturing hand sanitizer.

“The reward shouldn’t be, ‘Hey, they accidentally screwed something up’, they’re sued into oblivion,” he said. “It should be, if there’s a mistake, they’ll change it quickly.”

Anyway, Hamer said, the law applies only to lawsuits involving COVID-19.

The plan is to have the House vote on the measure this week and send it to the Senate which, while having voted to say it had completed its business, is technically in recess.

One question that remains is whether courts will uphold the special rules even if they are enacted. The Arizona Constitution specifically bars lawmakers from limiting the right to recover damages for injuries. The question that remains is at what point imposing a higher burden on plaintiffs effectively eliminates their right to sue.

Salman said the GOP plan is paying attention to the wrong issue.

“The focus should be that we are living at the beginning of a global pandemic that is costing people’s lives, now how do we open up the state when every single reputable public health expert is saying it is way too soon,” she said.

House set to begin votes on bills Tuesday

House Speaker Rusty Bowers votes Monday in the Rules Committee on what bills will be heard this week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
House Speaker Rusty Bowers votes Monday in the Rules Committee on what bills will be heard this week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The Arizona House of Representatives is set to hear potentially dozens of bills this week — including a measure to shield businesses from legal liability if a patron or employee gets COVID-19 — even as the Senate sits recessed, poised to finalize last week’s adjournment motion and end the session. 

Work officially began this today with a meeting of the House Rules Committee, which gave party-line approval to ten Senate bills and voted to allow the late introduction of a liability bill sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. The Legislature has long passed the official deadline for the introduction of new bills, which can only be circumvented through a vote in the Rules committee. 

In the coming days, 11 House committees will meet to hear a bevy of unamended Senate bills leftover from the first half of the session, according to an email House Speaker Rusty Bowers sent to members and staff obtained by the Capitol Times. These committees may consider more than 60 bills, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen told the Associated Press this weekend — though how many will actually make it to the floor is unclear. 

And Tuesday at 1:15 p.m., the House will take to the floor for the first time in months to begin voting on some of the bills that will have by then made it out of committee. 

Rep. Athena Salman checks messages as the House Rules Committee votes Monday on which bills will be considered this week by the Legislature. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Athena Salman checks messages as the House Rules Committee votes Monday on which bills will be considered this week by the Legislature. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

House leadership is imposing a variety of safety protocols — members, staff and guests in committee hearings must wear masks and follow federal social distancing guidelines, for example. 

The primary reason for returning to work is to pass that liability bill, Petersen, R-Gilbert, said in the Rules committee today. If passed, the bill would require those who sue a business as a result of contracting COVID-19 to prove gross negligence with “clear and convincing evidence,” a lofty legal standard. The legislation would also decriminalize violations of executive orders related to COVID-19 and stop the state from seizing the licenses of non-compliant businesses, churches and other entities.

Kavanagh had hoped Democrats would come on board, giving him the two-thirds supermajority necessary to pass the bill as an emergency measure that can be enacted quickly. 

Kavanagh has yet to file a final version of the legislation, though Petersen today referred to it as a liability, enforcement and licensing bill, which could hint at its content. Kavanagh said the language is “up in the air,” as he had hoped Democrats would come on board, giving him the two-thirds supermajority necessary to pass the bill as an emergency measure that can be enacted quickly. 

But if today’s Rules meeting is any indicator, the proposal has few fans in the Minority. Three of the committee’s four Democrats  — Rep. Domingo Degrazia of Tucson was absent — voted against the motion to allow the late introduction of the bill. 

They said they wouldn’t vote for a motion to only allow a single liability protection bill from one Republican, effectively preventing them from introducing their own version of the bill. Plus, they said, the language wasn’t yet publicly available. 

“This is not a bipartisan process,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

Democrats have been working on a similar proposal that would include protections for workers, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.  

“We have to make sure … that if we’re going to hold a business harmless, they have to be doing everything they can to protect the patrons and the workers that are there,” the Yuma Democrat said. “You can’t protect a business that has everybody crammed in there.” 

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

She said her caucus members might vote for the Kavanagh bill if he’s open to an amendment. But she said she hadn’t seen a copy of the bill yet, and as such, can’t commit to voting one way or another.

The liability measure, as Petersen said, is this week’s primary focus. The hope is that the chamber adjourns by Thursday night, prompting the Senate to get the votes together to come back to the Legislature — currently, it’s in a recess as it awaits the House’s approval on an adjournment measure passed last week — and hear the bill.

What might sweeten the pot is the dozens of other Senate bills the House will be taking up this week. In theory, these are non-controversial bills that passed out of their chamber of origin with broad bipartisan support. These range from symbolic resolutions to a bill that would facilitate adult adoptions.

“We have no plans to put up bills with amendments since the senate has indicated they won’t do anything but the liability bill and a couple bills that are ready for 3rd read on their side,” Petersen said to his fellow Republicans in a text obtained and verified by the Capitol Times. 

But Democrats are poised to put up a fight, as they see these bills as extraneous distractions that are diverting time and resources from further coronavirus aid.

“My caucus has been and remains ready to work on COVID relief,” Salman said this morning. “But the time has passed to resume business as usual. As you can see, every person in this room is wearing a mask. We are not living in usual times.” 

She continued: “This agenda does not reflect that.

If Democrats succeed in pushing back, Republicans will paint them as an obstinate opposition that’s stopping the state from returning to those halcyon pre-COVID days.

“We need to constantly push the narrative that the Ds are stalling and keeping AZ society from getting back to normal as needed,” Petersen said in the text. 

Regardless, it’s not yet clear whether every bill that lawmakers debate this week will be as uncontroversial as promised. 

Rep. Kelly Townsend’s House Elections Committee was on Tuesday set to hear SCR1018, a voter referral that would limit the ability of the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw legislative district boundaries, constitutionally prohibiting the population of the largest legislative district from exceeding the population of the smallest district by more than 5,000 people. But the committee meeting was abruptly canceled Monday evening.


As is often the case with the House, there are no guarantees. The tempestuous chamber has twice promised to return to the floor only to balk at the last minute. Ill-will between the parties has intensified during the break, and the Senate’s role in all of this is still an unknown variable. 

“I don’t necessarily buy that this will go off without a hitch,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who serves as speaker pro tempore. “Now we’re just waiting to see where the hitch is.”

Julia Shumway and Hank Stephenson contributed to this report. 

Incumbents kill union ploy to shape Democratic caucus


When Democratic primary voters rebuked a series of challengers to progressive incumbents and their allies on August 4, they weighed in on the identity crisis of a long-suffering party finally approaching the precipice of success.

Democrats want a legislative majority come November. But getting there requires answering some existential questions: Who leads the party? Who should they listen to for input? Who deserves to serve? 

Central to this self-interrogation is Israel Torres, a labor attorney and lobbyist with a long list of clients and considerable political ambitions. Torres, through a well-funded PAC called Revitalize Arizona, was involved in several primaries on both sides of the aisle, ostensibly to promote the interests of the unions and labor interests he represents. 

He had a special interest in Democratic races in Legislative Districts 26, 27, and 29. In each contest, Torres and Revitalize – which is largely funded through the Pipe Trades Local 469, one of Torres’ main clients – spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on challengers in these districts. 

Israel Torres
Israel Torres

In LD26, he backed Debbie Nez Manuel, an indigenous rights activist who made a state Senate bid in 2018, and Jana Lynn Granillo, who had a long tenure in Tempe Democratic politics, over a slate of progressives called the “Millennial Clean Team,” a reference to their publicly funded campaigns.

But Rep. Athena Salman and Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, all prevailed, and it’s looking like Melody Hernandez, a paramedic that Salman hoped would take the district’s empty seat, will as well. She currently leads Nez Manuel by 261 votes – not an insurmountable deficit, but one that has grown with each new tally. 

And in LD27, Torres-backed challenger Catherine Miranda, a former Democratic lawmaker whose anti-choice attitudes and 2014 endorsement of Doug Ducey went against the grain, failed to unseat either Reps. Diego Rodriguez or Reginald Bolding, who serves as House minority co-whip. In LD29, Teddy Castro, a West Valley Realtor, couldn’t topple Rep. Richard Andrade, a vocally pro-union lawmaker with close ties to House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.

“For the most part, the status quo has been retained,” said Democratic consultant Ben Scheel. 

And that status quo is expensive. Between independent expenditures from Revitalize and direct contributions from Pipe Trades, Torres spent more than $60,000 of union cash to support Nez Manuel (and an extra $2,400 on a mailer encouraging voters to support Nez Manuel, Granillo and Salman, though not the other Clean Team members). 

In LD27, Torres spent just under $10,000 backing Miranda, and hedged his bets with a $1,700 investment in Rodriguez. And in LD29, he besieged Andrade, spending more than $67,000 on Castro’s behalf and an additional $11,000 on anti-Andrade campaign materials. And he spent almost $44,000 in support of Andrade’s more moderate seatmate, Rep. Cesar Chavez, D-Phoenix. 

As Torres saw it, the spending was all about accountability – the current batch of Democrats and Democratic leadership had largely failed to deliver on legislation

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

that the labor groups he represents supported. But to the candidates who found themselves on the wrong side of Torres’ spending, he was bullying otherwise loyal progressives for something that was outside their control: ultimately, Republicans have the majority. 

And even when Republicans were on board, such as in 2018, when Rep. T.J. Shope ferried a labor bill, the Legislature couldn’t give Torres what his clients really wanted: the restoration of project labor agreements in public contracts. 

Primaries don’t necessarily have to succeed to be effective. They can be a means of showing force, and instilling discipline. 

But that doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance.

“I think this is a little bit of a different scenario, in part because it was not clear what the intent was beyond personalities and personal views,” said Geoff Esposito, a lobbyist with progressive firm Creosote Partners. “Possibly this means that there’s a focus on (project labor agreements) next year, but I already think that was going to be the case. All this does is make it so that he’s not welcome around the table.” 

Incumbents in these districts took Torres’ involvement personally, painting his spending as a tactic in a business-backed war against progressives, especially those close to Fernandez, who hopes to be House speaker next year. 

“I will say, when you go out to kill the king, you better make sure he’s dead,” said Barry Aarons, a longtime Arizona lobbyist who was a side-player in the 2018 attempt to bring back project labor agreements. “The fact that none of the candidates that Israel supported were successful – it sends the message that he can’t threaten members with, ‘if you don’t support our positions, we’re going to primary you.’” 

Revitalize wasn’t the only outside player to spend in Democratic primaries. In general, the election was full of bitter races and awash with outside money, exposing divides between rival factions and interests that the party had largely been able to paper over – at least in public – until now. 

But the chaos that extra attention created doesn’t bother Fernandez, who now must help the party lick its wounds and mend bridges in preparation for next year. 

“It tells me how powerful we are that so much money has been poured into these races,” she said. “This goes to show you that there are some people out there that know we’re going to be in the majority. They’re trying to establish what our caucus is going to look like. That’s the nature of the game of being in power.” 

Judge rules AG missed deadline to sue regents

An artist’s rendering of the planned 330-room Omni Hotel in Tempe.
An artist’s rendering of the planned 330-room Omni Hotel in Tempe.

A judge has once again rejected efforts by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to challenge what he contends is an illegal deal by the Arizona Board of Regents to build a hotel and conference center.

In a ruling late Wednesday, Tax Court Judge Christopher Whitten does not address Brnovich’s contention that the deal violates the Gift Clause of the Arizona Constitution. That claim is based on the idea that the Arizona Board of Regents is effectively providing a subsidy to the private developer by paying for a conference center that the university would be able to use just seven days a year.

There’s also a separate legal question of having what amounts to a tax exemption for the hotel because it is being built on tax-exempt university property.

What Whitten does say is that the legal claim came too late, meaning he has no legal right to decide if Brnovich is right or wrong.

In a prepared statement, Larry Penley, president of the Board of Regents, praised the ruling − and the implications for similar developments.

“Leveraging our real estate provides an entrepreneurial opportunity to increase revenues to benefit students, the community and the state of Arizona,” he said.

Appeal to Come

Brnovich press aide Ryan Anderson vowed an appeal. He said the judge got it wrong in deciding the claim came too late.

And even if Brnovich ultimately loses, Wednesday’s ruling does not provide a clear legal path for the regents to engage in similar deals. It still leaves the door open for Brnovich to sue to block similar deals in the future at any of the state’s three universities − if he files suit on time.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Central to Wednesday’s ruling is the fact that lawsuits of this kind must be filed within a year of someone learning about a questionable legal practice. And Brnovich did sue on Jan. 10.

But the paperwork filed at that time dealt only with questions about the authority of the Board of Regents to enter into a deal to create a 330-room Omni hotel and a 30,000-square-foot conference center on land that is owned by Arizona State University.

It was only on April 3 that Brnovich amended the complaint to add the Gift Clause allegations.

Whitten said that means if the attorney general knew or should have known about the issue before April 3, 2018 − that one-year statute of limitations − he should have acted by then.

Whitten said the evidence shows that attorneys within Brnovich’s office circulated and discussed a report by the Arizona Tax Research Association as early as January 2018, which criticized the regents for leasing its property to private entities. That report, the judge said, opined that such transactions were “dubious” under the Gift Clause.

Whitten also noted that Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic that same month critical of the deal, though it focused more on the $21 million in tax breaks from the city of Tempe. That article, the judge said, also circulated within the Attorney General’s Office, with one of the lawyers there commenting that an element of the deal “sounds pretty suspicious.”

He acknowledged there were certain elements about the Omni deal which the Attorney General’s Office did not actually know about until after April 3, 2018, one year before the amended complaint was filed. That includes things like the number of days Arizona State University would have free use of the conference center.

But the judge said that didn’t matter.

Christopher Whitten
Christopher Whitten

“The statute of limitations … does not accrue when all the details of a claim became known to the plaintiff,” he wrote. “It accrues when enough details of the deal were known, or should have been, that the plaintiff could identify that a wrong had occurred and caused injury.”

And in this case, Whitten said, the key elements were known more than a year before Brnovich filed his amended complaint in April of this year. That specifically includes the fact that ASU would pay $19.5 million to build the conference center − a facility it would have use of without cost only seven days a year − and that the hotel operators would not pay property taxes because the facility was built on property owned by the regents.

ASU officials, in a prepared statement, said the school is “committed to transparency and welcomes inquiry from anyone at any time, including the attorney general, about our projects.” But it also took a slap of sort at Brnovich.

“At no time did he bother to inquire,” the statement reads.

Brnovich, for his part, is undeterred by the ruling.

“Any time you take on the establishment, it’s never an easy fight,” he said in his own prepared statement. “We will continue to fight for Arizona taxpayers, for greater transparency and fiscal accountability from our public universities.”

That issue of transparency came up earlier this year in a review by the Auditor General’s office of the practices of the regents in leasing out their property for commercial use. That report concluded there was a lack of proper oversight and limited transparency, creating a “risk of inappropriate use of public resources.”

Previous rulings

The appeal Brnovich promises will address more than just Whitten’s ruling on the timeliness of the Gift Clause claim.

Earlier this year Whitten threw out other parts of the challenge by Brnovich, including whether state universities can lease out the land they own for private, for-profit operations.

The judge said Arizona law gives the Board or Regents the authority to buy, hold and sell real estate. That power, he wrote, specifically includes the power to enter into leases of the land it owns.

And in this case, Whitten said, the deal to create the hotel and conference center on land that is owned by Arizona State University clearly is a lease.

The judge also would not let Brnovich claim that, by seeking to void the deal, he is enforcing laws to ensure that all property is being properly taxed.

“As a matter of law, the property on which the Attorney General seeks to collect tax is constitutionally exempt from taxation,” Whitten wrote, because it belongs to the universities and the regents. “There is no tax owing, and nothing for the Attorney General to enforce.”

Lawmaker apologizes for Kotex-pillow delivery gone awry

From left, prisoner rights activist Sue Ellen Allen, #cut50 co-founder Jessica Jackson Sloan and Camaron Stevenson stand beside a pile of Kotex pillows they helped deliver to legislators on March 6. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
From left, prisoner rights activist Sue Ellen Allen, #cut50 co-founder Jessica Jackson Sloan and Camaron Stevenson stand beside a pile of Kotex pillows they helped deliver to legislators on March 6. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A freshman Democrat in the House apologized March 7 to colleagues and staff who said they were offended by pillows made of feminine hygiene products she and activists handed out the previous day.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she didn’t know the policy that requires deliveries to lawmakers by outside groups are to be made by House pages.

“That was a mistake and I am sincerely sorry to any of my colleagues or staff who felt uncomfortable. … It will not happen again.”

On March 6, Salman was joined by activists from several criminal justice reform groups, including Reinventing Re-Entry, which was founded by former Arizona state prisoner Sue Ellen Allen, and #cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to reduce the number of people in prison, to bring attention to the plight of inmates.

During the events, marking the 2018 National Day of Empathy, Salman and the groups intended to hand out Kotex pillows, one each to the 90 members in the state Legislature. The pillows represented a pillow that inmates made for Allen after Maricopa County Jail denied her one following a mastectomy.

However, not all members agreed with Salman’s actions, with one Republican, Rep. T.J. Shope, calling it “purely theatrical.”

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said a “litany” of members took issue with the pillows and how they were delivered. GOP spokesman Matt Specht said staff received several complaints from members and staff.

“Members’ offices are their domain,” Mesnard said, “and it’s not really OK to kind of interrupt them without an appointment. You can certainly knock and see if they’re free but my understanding was that’s not what happened.”

He said the “salt in the wound” was that Salman was being followed by what he described as an entourage of cameras, and members felt it was a “gotcha’ moment.”

“There were a variety of reactions to it but they were universally negative,” he said.

Mesnard said Republican and Democratic leadership met prior to the March 7 floor session to address members’ concerns.

Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said leadership met with Mesnard and Republican Reps. Mark Finchem, John Allen and Jay Lawrence who felt that Salman and the groups had intentionally created a gotcha’ moment when they approached members with cameras in tow.

Rios said that Salman also walked into the Democratic caucus with what she described as a trail of TV news cameras behind her, and though it caught people off guard, there was nothing hostile about it.

It was just a mistake made by a freshman legislator, Rios said.

“I could understand how Republicans thought it was intentional but when we approached Athena she had absolutely no qualms about apologizing and there was no hesitation about issuing a public apology,” Rios said, adding that Salman had already privately apologized to at least one member.

During her apology, Salman explained that it wasn’t her intention to offend anyone. She said that she only wanted to bring attention to the need for criminal justice reform and better health care in prison.

Mesnard said he did not question Salman’s intent or motivation, and added that he felt her apology was sincere. He will not be taking any further action and said he considers the matter closed now that she has apologized.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the Arizona Department of Corrections denied Sue Ellen Allen a pillow. 

Lawmaker wants 60% of voters to OK ballot measures


A Yuma Republican wants voters to make it more difficult for themselves to pass ballot propositions.

Coming on the heels of a narrow victory for proponents of Proposition 208, a tax hike on the state’s richest people to pay for public education, Rep. Timothy Dunn, R-Yuma, filed HCR2016, which would require ballot measures to get 60% of the vote to pass. This would also apply to vetoes of initiatives and referendums as well as constitutional changes.

In 2020, Prop. 208 received 51.75% of the vote, which was good enough for more than 1.65 million voters, but under Dunn’s proposal would not have passed.

The other 2020 ballot measure, Proposition 207, which legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and up, just barely would be enacted under the proposed referendum. It received 60.03% of the vote and became the largest vote-getter in state history with more than 1.9 million people choosing “yes.”

Ironically, for Dunn’s referendum to become law, it would only need a simple majority of votes. Since it is a ballot referral, it would not need the signature of Gov. Doug Ducey, and it would instead go directly to the Secretary of State’s Office to be put on the ballot for 2022.

Dunn did not immediately return a voicemail to explain why he was pushing this measure.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has noted the concept. The chamber, which has been a staunch opponent of laws through the initiative process over the years, spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat measures, especially ones pushed by progressive Democrats like the two in 2020.

Chamber spokesman Garrick Taylor previously told Capitol Media Services a change of the threshold for victory to 60% like in some other states would be merited, but told Arizona Capitol Times on January 20 that the chamber would not take a stance “at this time.”

“We’re encouraged that the Legislature wants to dig into initiative reform this year,” Taylor said.

If enacted, HCR2016 would have killed at least two earlier efforts the chamber opposed — the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010 and the minimum wage hike voters approved in 2016. Those received 50.13%percent and 58.33%, respectively.

In fact, even the Voter Protection Act, approved in 1998 and which effectively makes it impossible for the Legislature to change ballot measures, would not have become law as it only received 52.26% of the vote.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she could not think of any conceivable reason why this measure is even necessary.

“Here we are again with legislators holding the people to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to,” she said, adding that in order for a bill to become a law through the legislative process it would only need a simple majority vote, not 60%.

“This is a part of a multi-year agenda that is effectively a power grab away from the people and concentrated in the hands of a party that is becoming increasingly less popular with the majority of both Arizona and voters in the entire country,” Salman said about Republicans.

Several efforts aimed at changing the initiative process were introduced last session, but died in the pandemic-shortened session.

Salman sees this as another attempt to silence the voices of Arizona voters because even if 59.99% of the vote, or more than 1.6 million people choose to approve a measure, it won’t be enough.

Lawmakers hear testimony on abuse of people with disabilities

FILE - This Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, file photo shows Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix. State regulators reportedly wanted to remove developmentally disabled patients from a Phoenix long-term care facility years before a woman in a vegetative state gave birth. The Arizona Republic reported Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, that Hacienda HealthCare faced a criminal investigation in 2016. The facility allegedly billed the state some $4 million in bogus 2014 charges for wages, transportation, housekeeping, maintenance and supplies. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
Hacienda Healthcare (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

In the wake of horror at Hacienda HealthCare, there is no shortage of ideas for how to prevent abuse in the disability community. But what action can and will actually be taken at the state Legislature this year is not yet clear.

What is clear is that lawmakers are paying attention.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council hosted a public meeting at the historic Capitol building on Jan. 23 to explore potential solutions offered by people with disabilities and advocates. Dozens of people came simply to listen, including House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, and representatives for Arizona’s congressional delegation.

State Reps. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, and Athena Salman, D-Tempe, also participated.

Fernandez said the recent case of an incapacitated woman giving birth after being raped represented “failure at every level.” And while she and Bowers commended Phoenix police for the arrest of Nathan Sutherland for the assault earlier in the day, they acknowledged that was just one win in a long fight – and no one knows how many others like Sutherland have escaped judgement.

“This is all too common, and it needs to be addressed,” Bowers told the crowd. “We want to do all we can so this doesn’t happen again.”

Members of his party have already proposed some solutions, from video monitoring to eliminating a decades-old state law that allowed centers like Hacienda to operate without a state license.

But yesterday’s public meeting demonstrated how those early proposals are just the beginning of a much deeper conversation that comes too late for so many victims.

Christina Corieri, Ducey’s senior policy analyst, said the administration is looking for a two-track approach: to deal with the specific vendor and facility, Hacienda, and to prevent such a case from happening again, whether through regulation or legislation.

She called the rape of a 29-year-old Hacienda patient, which was only discovered when the woman gave birth on Dec. 29, a “monstrous and unspeakable crime.” But if ever there was a non-partisan issue in need of a solution, she said this is it.

Members of the public offered a wide range of ideas, from a requirement that Adult Protective Services investigate every report of abuse to strengthening criminal penalties on individuals offenders and facilities.

Asim Dietrich, a staff attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law, started with staff at centers for people with disabilities. Like numerous others, he called for improved training on sexuality and recognizing signs of abuse.

But he also said that while staff at these facilities are required to provide their fingerprints for background checks, they are only renewed every six years. Dietrich recommended annual background checks to close that gap.

And he argued for another fix at a more personal level: that people with disabilities should be believed when they report abuse.

Melissa Van Hook, vice chair of the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, called it the elephant in the room. She said nothing is protecting people in care facilities from abuse, and everyone who has the power to do something in the justice system needs guidance.

She told the story of a young boy with autism she worked with seven years ago. He told his family when he was sexually assaulted, but despite his ability to clearly communicate what had happened to him, Van Hook said the police doubted his credibility because of his autism.

Van Hook had to help his family fight for the case to be sent to a prosecutor and for the case to go to yet another prosecutor when the first expressed concern for the perpetrator rather than the victim.

The second prosecutor still told the boy’s family that his autism would be a challenge to the case, but she at least believed they could get a conviction, Van Hook said.

Finally, the judge continued the cycle, struggling to understand the child and his autism, too.

Yet he was one of the lucky few who got results – the case resulted in the felony conviction of his attacker.

Van Hook said that were it not for the attorney’s determination to understand her client’s disability, the family would never have seen justice in that case.

“It took tremendous courage for this boy to speak up about his assault,” she said, adding he was afraid that no one would believe him – a fear that was validated by his experience. “In this country, we are all entitled to fair and equitable treatment in the justice system. It’s time to stop treating people with disabilities as though they are invisible and somehow less than.”

Lawmakers jockey for leadership roles in House, Senate

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

The day after the November 6 election will be followed by another kind of vote, as elected Arizona senators and representatives will meet with their fellow Republicans and Democrats to choose leaders for their respective parties.

Some of those leadership races are all but decided, but others may hinge on who gets elected, and who doesn’t, when voters head to the polls.

Those elected leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate will be responsible for shepherding policies through the Legislature in 2019, and just as importantly, will have the power to block the passage of bills they oppose. The House speaker and Senate president are responsible for assigning bills to committees and scheduling bills for votes on the floor of each chamber.

And caucus leaders help set agendas for Republicans and Democrats, while also serving as a unifying force to keep their respective party members working in concert to back those agendas.

Republican and Democratic caucuses in both chambers will cast leadership votes on November 7, less than 24 hours after polls close on election night.

Arizona House of Representatives
Arizona House of Representatives

House GOP

Rep. Rusty Bowers of Mesa is considered a shoo-in to serve as the next House speaker, though he’s not running unopposed. Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley claims he’s one of the “serious contenders,” while Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott has flirted with running for the post.

Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale is locked in a two-way race to serve as the GOP majority leader against Sen. Warren Petersen of Gilbert, who’s running for the House this election while also seeking a leadership post. Kern claims to have 18 votes in his favor, enough to win the chamber assuming the 35 member Republican Caucus doesn’t grow in size.

Reps. David Cook of Globe and Becky Nutt of Clifton are the two Republicans running to serve as majority whip. Sen. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican running for the House, recently dropped out of the race for whip and threw his support behind Cook.

House Democrats

Reps. Reginald Bolding of Phoenix and Charlene Fernandez of Yuma are locked in a battle to lead the House Democratic Caucus. Bolding can boast of a slate of supporters, having teamed up with Rep. Diego Espinoza of Tolleson, who would serve as assistant minority leader, and Rep. Kirsten Engel of Tucson, who would serve as whip. Fernandez, the current whip, has the mutual support of Rep. Randy Friese, who would like to continue to serve as assistant minority leader.

Reps. Athena Salman of Tempe and Richard Andrade of Glendale are also running for whip, though Fernandez has not endorsed either candidate.

Fernandez said she’s expecting more legislative success from Democrats in the next session: “We had like six bills that went to the Governor’s Office, which is ridiculous. We have great ideas and we represent more than 40 percent of Arizona,” she said.

Bolding said the Democrats are assured a greater voice next session because they’ll have a larger caucus.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that we pick up seats in the House. The question is how many,” he said.

Senate-2Senate GOP

The only contested leadership race among Senate Republicans is perhaps the closest of the year. Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott said the race for president is too close to call, especially considering several Senate races in traditionally Republican districts may be closer than usual. Her opponent in the leadership race, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, is by his own words “running scared” to get elected to the Senate in Legislative District 17.

Assuming both are elected to the Senate, the winner may be decided by comparing the number of re-elected senators to the number of House members crossing over. Fann would presumably have the upper hand attracting votes from senators she served with the past two years, while Mesnard may have the loyalty of representatives who served under his leadership in the House.

Fann said it’s a “shame” Mesnard decided to run for leadership at all, noting that a freshman senator has never served as president, but Mesnard argued he’s the best choice because of his experience leading the House. He also cites his prior work as a Senate research staffer.

“This is a historically unique situation happening in the Senate, which makes it all the more important for someone who has both leadership experience at the highest level and intimate familiarity with the Senate… to step in,” Mesnard said.

As for the other GOP leadership posts, Sen. Rick Gray of Peoria is running unopposed to serve as majority leader, while Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City is the lone candidate for whip.

Senate Democrats

Sens. David Bradley of Tucson and Martin Quezada of Glendale would like to lead the Democrats, but both are preparing for an even better outcome for the traditionally minority party in the Senate – the possibility of a split chamber, or perhaps the Democrats winning enough seats to hold a majority.

Bradley’s pitched himself as a seasoned legislator about to serve his last term in office, offering his guidance in a letter sent to all Democrats, and independents, running for the Senate. Quezada, who served as co-whip the past two sessions, said he’s “in great shape” to step up and serve as minority leader, though he’s also focused on how to negotiate a split chamber.

While Bradley acknowledged that he’d be happy to serve as Senate president, Quezada said he’s focused on other positions of power.

“My ultimate goal is a fair and equal division of power,” Quezada. “I don’t think the Senate president has to be a Democrat. It could be a Republican. But I think a Democrat should have a powerful chairmanship if that were the case.”

Rounding out the field of leadership candidates are Sen. Lupe Contreras of Avondale, who serves as co-whip with Quezada, and Rep. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix, who’s running for her second stint in the Senate. Those two would occupy the positions of assistant minority leader and whip, though it’s unclear who’d serve in which capacity.

Legislature to pass bare-bones budget this week

Senate Minority Whip Lupe Contreras confers Monday with Senate President Karen Fann as lawmakers determine what needs to be done immediately to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Sen. Lupe Contreras confers Monday with Senate President Karen Fann as lawmakers determine what needs to be done immediately to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

GOP leaders announced today the Legislature plans to pass a basic spending plan and a series of “noncontroversial”  bills before they may recess or adjourn as a way to mitigate the effects of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, announced on their respective floors that lawmakers will try to pass a baseline budget this week. The decision comes despite calls from Democrats to stay in session a short while longer in order to pass an emergency package of social reforms that they say are necessary to help workers and the vulnerable. 

“We’re taking this one day at a time because we don’t know what this holds,” Fann said. “We’re hoping this week we can get the base budget done so if everything blows up next week, we’re prepared.” 

Fann said she and Bowers, R-Mesa, also want to pass 28 “noncontroversial” bills, including agency continuations and an annual measure conforming the state’s tax code to the federal code. 

The abbreviated timeframe and barebones budget is meant to ensure agencies stay open and the state doesn’t overspend as revenues — which have been higher than expected for most of the fiscal year — are expected to decrease in the wake of the outbreak. 

“What we want to do is get everything in line by the end of this week so if worst comes to worst and we’re not able to get a quorum by next week, we’ll be OK,” Fann said. 

The announcement comes after days of diminished activity at the Capitol. Earlier Monday, Bowers canceled the week’s committee hearings, many of which were already closed to the public. And a small handful of lawmakers had already committed to not returning to the capitol during the duration of the outbreak. 

Nonetheless, the Senate proceeded with normal business on Monday afternoon in the lead-up to the announcement, with a spirited floor debate over bills on foster care. 

The Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses met behind closed doors Monday afternoon to discuss options on the table, including adjourning sine die early or recessing for a few weeks after passing a short budget.

Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer, who are practicing social distancing, were not able to participate in Monday’s closed caucus meeting because the remaining Republicans decided not to allow calls into the meeting, citing “privacy matters.” 

Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Boyer, R-Glendale, are among four lawmakers who do not plan to return to the Legislature during the outbreak.

Democratic Reps. Amish Shah of Phoenix and Gerae Peten of Goodyear are also staying away from the Capitol: Shah because he works as an emergency room physician and the 72-year-old Peten because doctors advised older Americans to stay home. 

The Legislature seems primed to recess without considering any of the policies that Democrats say are necessary to help mitigate the economic impact of the virus. On Monday morning, Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, joined a group of activists and labor organizers to call on Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature to pass emergency measures that will protect Arizonans from evictions and utility shutoffs. 

Expanded sick time, meals for school children and a relaxation of work requirements for food stamps and other benefits were also among the group’s priorities. 

“Inaction is not a solution,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, earlier Monday. 

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Bowers said he would consider changing House rules — which now require representatives to be present on the House floor to vote — to permit older representatives and those with pre-existing medical conditions to vote from their offices, which may be necessary when the baseline budget comes to a vote. 

Boyer said he will return to vote for a budget, provided it contains adequate funding for education, health care and public safety needs in the wake of the outbreak. The Legislature must provide adequate funding to ensure state employees, including school staff paid on an hourly basis, continue to receive their paychecks and health insurance throughout the crisis, he said. 

“If the state is saying you need to stay home, you should continue to get paid,” he said. “It’s a good thing we have such a strong rainy day fund because in my opinion, it’s raining.”

Carter recommended that the Legislature instead abruptly adjourn sine die, effectively killing all outstanding legislation, then immediately reconvene in a special session solely to pass the budget and policy bills related to the outbreak.

“I think all our efforts must be related to ensuring the state deploys the necessary resources and provides statutory authority to address the pandemic,” Carter said in a text message. “There isn’t a single bill more important than ensuring our state is prepared, which is why we need to sine die, go into special session and FOCUS!” 

Liberal groups, lawmakers call for police blacklist

In this Aug. 25, 2014 file photo, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery speaks during a news conference in Phoenix. Hundreds of immigrants who have been denied bail under a strict Arizona law will now have the opportunity to be released after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 in the closely watched case. The high court kept intact a lower-court ruling from three weeks ago that struck down the law, which was passed in 2006 amid a series of immigration crackdowns in Arizona over the past decade. Montgomery and Sehriff Joe Arpaio defended the law before the courts.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Aug. 25, 2014 file photo, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery speaks during a news conference in Phoenix. Hundreds of immigrants who have been denied bail under a strict Arizona law will now have the opportunity to be released after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 in the closely watched case. The high court kept intact a lower-court ruling from three weeks ago that struck down the law, which was passed in 2006 amid a series of immigration crackdowns in Arizona over the past decade. Montgomery and Sehriff Joe Arpaio defended the law before the courts.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

More than a dozen liberal organizations and Democratic lawmakers are asking Bill Montgomery to establish an exclusion list of law enforcement officers with a history of dishonesty, bias, or violence.

In a letter sent to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Friday, the ACLU of Arizona, the local chapter of American Friends Service Committee, CAIR, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, LUCHA and The Justice Collaborative signed on with Representatives Athena Salman, César Chávez, Diego Rodriguez and Raquel Terán, Senators Senators Juan Mendez and Martin Quezada and newly-elected Phoenix City Councilman Carlos Garcia, are asking that Montgomery follow in the footsteps of St. Louis, where the city prosecutor recently placed 22 officers on her exclusion list because of racially-charged social media posts.

The Phoenix Police Department was recently scrutinized for active officers’ racially-charged and violent posts on Facebook found in a database from The Plainview Project, and a viral incident in which a police officer threatened to shoot an unarmed person over shoplifting, both of which were highlighted in the letter.

“These latest scandals have surfaced after a year in which Phoenix led the nation in police shootings, demonstrating the need for true accountability and real change in our police department,” the letter says.

Montgomery took issue with the letter to state that there is already something similar in place.

“We have a Rule 15 Disclosure Database that serves the same purpose, but with appropriate requirements for thorough investigations and Due Process guarantees,” he said through a spokeswoman.

Rule 15 governs disclosure of evidence for criminal trials.

Montgomery said he doesn’t think the people calling for this kind of list “know or understand the use and effect” of the rule already in place.

The letter ends by saying Montgomery has “unmatched power to demand better police practices,” and if he does not agree, it “enables and condones misconduct that undermines the integrity of our entire legal system.”

Montgomery isn’t the only official that does not support a no-call or exclusion list asked in the letter.

Joe Clure, the executive director of the Arizona Police Association, reiterated Montgomery’s comments about the Rule 15 disclosure in place.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding for what Brady v. Maryland is and is not,” Clure said, referring to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that requires the prosecution to disclose any material evidence favorable in its possession to the defense upon the defense’s request. 

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office keeps a list – known as the “Brady list” – of police officers whose honesty is in question.

Clure said the Brady list and the Rule 15 are determined independently by a court in terms of relevance and whether things are “disclosable.” 

He said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to have these lists.

Retired Sgt. J. Gary Nelson, formerly of the Scottsdale Police Department, and a member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, or leap, disagrees with Clure.

He says that “a no-call list would help ensure biased and dishonest police can’t get in the way of Americans’ constitutional right to a fair trial.”

“Recent events, especially in Arizona, demand that we take serious accountability measures to keep only the best officers serving our communities,” Nelson said in a statement provided to Capitol Times

Clure said he thinks the lists already in place are flawed because someone could make a mistake and then have a clean record for 10 or so years, but their name still won’t be removed. He compared it to a criminal defendant having a right to not have prior convictions held against them if the sentencing takes place after 10 years.

“There’s no doubt there is a war on police right now,” Clure said, adding that there is nothing broken that needs to be fixed.

The “exclusion” list the organizations are asking of Montgomery is, according to Clure, “a solution in search of a problem.” Clure also said that the whole process now is like double jeopardy for the officers. 

While, the organizations don’t clearly state the current rule in place, they wrote in the letter that this would just be a step in the right direction, not necessarily a final solution to the ongoing problems they point out in Arizona law enforcement.

Analise Ortiz, campaign strategist at the ACLU of Arizona, said that instituting a no-call policy is an important step toward repairing the public’s trust with prosecutors and the criminal legal system as a whole.

“Officers who’ve publicly made their racist views known put the integrity of any case they handle in jeopardy,” Ortiz said in a statement.

The letter also mentions Montgomery has remained silent in times of crisis before, so this would be an opportunity for him to act.

“The County Attorney must be a leader for police accountability, not someone who sits silently on the sidelines waiting for others to fix a broken system that he oversees,” the letter says.

The letter does briefly mention the Brady list, but only to point out that this proposed change they are seeking would do more than what a disclosure database does.

“[The Brady list] does not prevent the County Attorney from calling [officers in question] to testify or prevent the office from accepting their cases,” it says in the letter.

Clure does emphasize that the Brady list needs to improve and add the capability for officers to eventually be removed or at least go through some type of appeal process.

“We hire from the human race, and until Jesus Christ comes down and applies you’re going to get people that are going to make mistakes. There are no perfect people,” Clure said.

While it’s unlikely Montgomery will bend the knee to this request, he may not be the county attorney much longer if Gov. Doug Ducey opts to appoint him to the Supreme Court later this year. Montgomery’s term as county attorney is also up in 2020, but he hasn’t yet filed to run again. 

LUCHA emerges as key PAC in Arizona progressive movement


Fourteen of the 15 legislative and county candidates who received endorsements and varying degrees of financial support from activist group LUCHA emerged victorious in last week’s primaries, a figure progressives say is evidence of the organization’s growing influence in Democratic circles. 

Living United for Change in Arizona, which formed a decade ago as a small group of activists organizing against Republican immigration hardliners, was active in several of the party’s competitive primaries, including in the closely-watched elections in Legislative Districts 26, 27 and 29, all races that seemed to magnetize political spending. 

In those districts, progressives claimed repeated victories. Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, fended off well-funded challenger Jana Lynn Granillo. Melody Hernandez, who ran on a slate with House Minority co-whip Rep. Athena Salman, edged out Debbie Nez Manuel for LD26’s open House seat. In LD27 in Phoenix, incumbent Reps. Diego Rodriguez and Reginald Bolding successfully defended their seats from former lawmaker Catherine Miranda, and in LD29, Rep. Richard Andrade staved off a challenge from Teddy Castro, a Realtor from Litchfield Park. 

Exactly how significant the organization’s role was in winning those races is difficult to quantify. Its independent spending – which totaled $101,000 in a two-week period in mid-July – is just a fraction of the total sum of campaign cash that outside groups spent in this year’s Democratic primaries. Besides, several LUCHA-backed candidates have electoral advantages as incumbents, and LUCHA’s spending occurred after many Arizonans had already voted via early ballots. 

Either way, the organization has a growing track record of proximity to political success, from wins in primaries to spoiled Republican legislation, and its supporters say that’s no accident, pointing to the group’s ability to organize and create political consciousness among Latino people in Arizona.

Diego Rodriguez
Diego Rodriguez

“If you look at where they started compared to where they are now, I think people are going to want to study LUCHA,” said Rodriguez, who received the group’s endorsement in LD27. “The state has always had large Latino communities. Now they’re organized. It’s a model that works.”

LUCHA was not planning on playing in legislative Democratic primaries, according to Randy Perez, who runs the group’s PAC. But private polling showing several LUCHA-backed incumbents losing to their challengers spurred action. 

In LD27, that meant spending $32,000 in support of the campaigns of Bolding and Rodriguez. 

“(In the past), the money was always one sided,” Rodriguez said. “There wasn’t a counterbalance to APS, the Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Leadership.”

Catherine Miranda, Rodriguez’s challenger, attracted backers of her own, including Revitalize Arizona, the political arm of Pipe Trades Local 469. In LD26, challenger Debbie Nez Manuel attracted support from Revitalize as well as PACs representing institutional players like Greater Phoenix Leadership, a group of Valley CEOs that advocates for business-friendly policies.

That district’s House race drew more spending than any other Democratic primary this year. Outside groups spent more than $217,000 to support Nez Manuel, and $8,000 against her. 

These groups “pay to be able to talk to people who have a vote,” said longtime Arizona Democratic consultant Rodd McLeod. “These are groups where the ideology is … we want to have a seat at the table.” 

And they recognize that the table might be growing. Democrats are interested in taking a legislative majority in November, and stakeholders from across the political spectrum are taking note. 

“Those people always move toward someone who looks like they might be a winner,” McLeod said. 

LUCHA, with its ideological frame and specific policy goals – which currently include a significant COVID-19 relief package it calls the “people’s bailout” – is a different beast. But it has adopted some of the same tactics as traditional outside groups. For example, in this election the organization paid for mailers, texts, radio ads, voter education and so on. 

And like those other stakeholders, it expects the candidates that win to further a set of policy goals at the Legislature and to remain responsive to the constituencies that elected them, a concept Perez calls “co-governance.” 

But the weight of that influence is still minor relative to the other players involved, said Joe Wolf, a Democratic consultant who helped run a business-backed PAC during the primaries called Arizona Integrity. For example, though LUCHA was certainly involved in efforts last session to defeat a sanctuary city ban, Wolf said that warnings from the business community and fear among Republicans of returning to the SB1070 days probably played more of a role. 

“I think they have been more effective in shaping policy debates and pulling the Democratic caucus more to the left,” Wolf said. 

Besides, he said, Democrats are a long-suffering minority party, making the kind of vision that LUCHA espouses difficult to realize through the Legislature. 

“We’ve been fighting for things that we can pull out of the budget,” Wolf said. “We’re not driving policy.”

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jana Lynn Granillo as running on a slate with Debbie Nez Manuel in LD26. The story has been updated to remove that reference.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story also incorrectly implied that Granillo’s campaign received outside support from Greater Phoenix Leadership. The story has been updated to remove that reference. We regret the error.

National popular vote and other ideas that did not make the cut

By the time this year’s legislative session adjourned sine die, lawmakers passed 395 out of 1,180 bills, memorials and resolutions.

Here are a handful of the roughly 70 percent of ideas that failed.

Ban the box

HB2312, known as the “ban the box” bill, would have prohibited employers from inquiring about or requiring disclosure of applicants’ criminal records.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, sought to level the job search playing field for people with criminal records. Tucson is currently the only city in Arizona that has a “fair chance policy,” according to the National Employment Law Project. That means questions related to convictions on applications have been removed for most positions, although some still require background checks. The House Commerce Committee never heard the bill.

Social Justice

Rep. Bob Thorpe’s HB2120 would have banned K-12 schools and universities from teaching “social justice.” It died after Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who chairs the House Education Committee, refused to hear it.

The bill sought to cut 10 percent of state funding for schools that offer classes that “promote division, resentment or social justice towards a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people.”

“Whether they’re talking about it positively or negatively, that’s fine if it ends up on the Daily Show,” Thorpe told The Associated Press in January. “It certainly has opened a dialogue. It’s gotten people talking.”

This was one of a handful of bills that Thorpe had proposed and which proved to be unpopular. He also introduced legislation that would have prohibited college students from using dormitory or other temporary addresses for voter registration purposes.

marijuanaMarijuana committee: puff, puff, perished

Another piece of legislation that went down in smoke was HB2313. Proposed by Democrat Rep. Mark Cardenas, it would have established an 11-member Medical Marijuana Study Committee, which would make recommendations for legislation that furthers the purpose of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

This bill came after Arizonans rejected legalization of recreational marijuana in November last year. It languished in two committees.

Don’t text and drive

Sen. Steve Farley’s SB1086 would have increased the penalty of drivers found guilty of injuring or killing someone because they were texting.

“When you talk to a family who has lost a loved one or someone who was severely injured by a texting driver, you don’t forget that,” said the Tucson Democrat. “It incapacitates you at the same level that drunk driving does. So, to not have something on the books saying this is illegal for everybody is unconscionable.”

Forty-six states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, have laws prohibiting drivers of all ages from text messaging while driving. Arizona was among four states that did not have some form of texting ban until Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB1080, which prohibits the practice for teenage drivers.

Smoke-free Arizona Act

Lawmakers rejected SB1516, which would have treated tobacco products and electronic cigarettes effectively the same. The bill sought to amend the Smoke-Free Arizona Act by prohibiting the use of vapor products in enclosed public places and workplaces.

Electronic cigarettes are already regulated similarly to other tobacco products. Although Tempe and Coconino County have banned the use of “vapes” in workplaces, bars and restaurants, SB1516 would have extended the ban statewide.

The bill never got out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Committee of Public Safety.

Physician-assisted suicide

In hopes of joining the company of six states that passed Death With Dignity legislation, Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, proposed HB2336 to allow terminally ill patients to request doctors for life-ending medication.

While working for the Arizona Cancer Center, Powers Hannley said she saw late-stage cancer patients struggle, and left without an option to end their suffering.

“I’m sure many of them would have chosen this if it had been an option,” she said.

HB2336 received support from secular and elderly groups across the state, the latter of which surprised Powers Hannley, as she didn’t expect the issue to resonate so strongly with the public.

She said she will reintroduce the legislation in 2018 and hopes to persuade Republican colleagues to give those who are slowly dying an alternative to just waiting.

riot-police-webRacketeering and rioting

Less than a week after the Senate passed SB1142, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he would not hear the bill, which would have made criminalized the act of helping organize a protest that turned violent.

Proposed by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, SB1142 would have added rioting to the racketeering statutes, and stated an overt act isn’t necessary to prove a conspiracy to riot.

Republican lawmakers insisted the bill was necessary to help cripple efforts of “paid” protesters, “anarchists” and others whose only objective is to cause violent disruptions. Critics said the bill was too broad, and noted that elements of rioting, such as assault and criminal damage, are already crimes punishable by existing laws.

National popular vote

Democrat Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, introduced HB2277, which would have entered Arizona into a contract among states to elect the U.S. president by national popular vote.

HB2277 proposed that states in the contract would apportion all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president.

The proposal isn’t new, and the calls for a president elected by national popular vote only got louder after Donald Trump won the Electoral College votes, but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million.

Old tactics, new territory as lawmakers embrace partisan COVID-19 framing

From left in this photo from Rep. Anthony Kern’s Twitter account are Kern, R-Glendale, Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, as they point towards a clock at a Phoenix restaurant to mock a Phoenix order for restaurants to close at 8 a.m. to lessen the spread of COVID-19.
From left in this photo from Rep. Anthony Kern’s Twitter account are Kern, R-Glendale, Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, as they point towards a clock at a Phoenix restaurant to mock a Phoenix order for restaurants to close at 8 p.m. to lessen the spread of COVID-19.

In any other week, Rep. Anthony Kern’s dinner choices wouldn’t have mattered to anyone but the most fervent crusader against lobbyist influence. This week, depending on who you ask, he’s either a hero fighting government overreach or the face of irresponsibility. 

The Glendale Republican and the lobbyist who bought his dinner on Tuesday night, former House staffer Brett Mecum, headed over to the Capital Grille to meet up with three other Republican lawmakers: Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley and Sens. David Gowan of Sierra Vista and Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City. 

The four crowded close, grinned broadly and pointed up at a row of clocks showing the time: 8:15 p.m., 15 minutes after Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego had ordered all restaurants to close to diners to alleviate the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s 8:15 p.m……. Do you know where Phoenix Mayor @KateWGallego is?” Kern tweeted, adding hashtags for “resist” and “freedom of assembly.” 

Anthony Kern
Anthony Kern

Kern has since deleted the tweet, which encapsulates the diverging political philosophies at the Capitol that have made governing in the era of coronavirus so difficult. The GOP-led House and Senate consider the virus serious enough that the House suspended its rules to allow remote voting and both chambers are hurrying to pass budget bills this session.

But Republican lawmakers, including some in leadership, have also dismissed calls to close schools as “pure politics” and orders to shut restaurants as government overreach, theorized that the illness will disappear once the weather warms up and shared conspiracies that the “deep state” is using the coronavirus to expand government’s power. 

“Lighten up guys, it’s a little humor,” Kern said. “It’s 8:15. What, the virus only comes out after 8 o’clock? I mean, come on.”

During floor debate in the House on Wednesday, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, referred to the small number of people in Arizona who have tested positive for the virus so far, expressing that figure as an infinitesimal percentage.  

So far, only 15 people have tested positive in the state — but more than 100 tests are pending, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. And that doesn’t capture all the people who might need tests but can’t access them, for any number of reasons.  

“It takes an immense amount of privilege to minimize how devastating coronavirus is,” Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said to Grantham. 

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley put it differently. 

David Bradley
David Bradley

“They’re nuts,” he said. “Put that down. It’s sad that science has no standing with some of these people.” 

The partisan dimensions of the issue go beyond Twitter. Despite the high stakes and repeated pleas for bipartisanship, negotiations over a spate of emergency bills to help Arizonans respond to the virus are familiar, if not downright routine: Democrats make demands and take advantage of brief political opportunities, Republicans brand those demands as unreasonable, a clash ensues, the dust settles and the cycle repeats. 

 “Is there bipartisanship? Absolutely not,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. She said that Republicans have brushed aside a list of Democratic policy prescriptions that bolster social safety nets. 

“They’re calling this ‘pork.’ I know what pork is, and this is about our constituents, human lives,” Fernandez continued. 

The playing field appears more level in the Senate, a rare feat. In the upper chamber, two Republican senators have pledged not to return for the duration of the outbreak, opening a window for Senate Democrats to push their demands and for Republican leadership to embrace a spirit of bipartisanship. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, appealed to Senate Democrats and Republicans to put politics aside in the face of an impending crisis, coming together as a Senate to pass a strong budget that includes some requests from Democrats. In that light, she introduced a bill to address one request from Democrats: allowing workers to receive unemployment benefits if their working hours are slashed but they’re not formally laid off. 

“I’m hoping that our Senate members, Rs and Ds alike, are going to step up, show some leadership, show responsibility and get something good together,” she said. “If it’s different than what they have (in the House), we can get it out of here and send it over there and say ‘OK, here’s what we’ve got.’” 

But the partisanship of normal budget negotiations doesn’t just go away, even in extraordinary situations. Senate Republicans returned to the floor on Wednesday to adjourn for the day while their Democratic colleagues were still in a caucus meeting receiving a briefing on budget bills, which most rank-and-file members — and Democratic policy staff — hadn’t had a chance to read. 

Senate Republicans including Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, questioned the need to even wait for Democrats to consent to the bills proposed Wednesday. If the minority caucus isn’t on board by the end of the week, Republican leadership should just put the bills up for votes and let them fail if they’re going to fail, he said. 

“Then hit pause,” he said. “And they can go explain to their constituents why they voted to let government shut down. People need a government.” 

– Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this report



Pledge of Allegiance mandate for kids advances

full frame shot of the US flag flying

The way Rep. John Fillmore sees it, young children need to hear and say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school.

So he convinced Republican members of the House Government and Elections Committee on February 17 to mandate it for anyone in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The Apache Junction Republican said its components are important, ranging from the “I” declaration, which makes it personal, to pledging to “the United States, that’s all of the states.”

“And I think that it’s important that we have the kids learn what these words mean and drummed into their heads,” he said. “America is a country where people are still dying to come to and they put their lives at risk to come here.”

For older kids, those in grades 5 through 12, there would be no pledge requirement. Instead, Fillmore’s HB2060 would require at least a minute a day for students to “engage and quiet reflection and moral reasoning.”

Fillmore said he wants that language rather than simply a moment of silence.

“Sometimes the moment of silence is ‘shut up and keep quiet’ versus ‘think about what is good for society or yourself or your family, and for your parents and for your country and community,’ ” he said. “Even if they only think about what they’re facing that day or the trials and tribulations in their little lives, I think (for) them to have that ability to have some kind of reasoning is a good thing.”

The idea of a daily pledge, weaved into state law, troubled Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson. She pointed out that among some religious groups the only pledge they are allowed to make is to God.

Fillmore pointed out his measure does permit parents to excuse their children from the requirement. But that didn’t satisfy Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. She said sometimes children don’t have the same religious beliefs as their parents.

“The student as an individual has rights,” Salman said. “And to force a student to have to rely on their parents in order for them to have their constitutional rights protected I think is a big loophole that could potentially violate the individual student’s religious beliefs that might digress from what the parents believe.”

Tory Roberg, lobbyist for the Secular Coalition of Arizona, went a step farther. She suggested anything that pressures students to recite the pledge, with its language about the country being “one nation under God,” could amount to illegal religious coercion.

Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, said he was “amazed” at how many people had registered at the legislative website as being opposed to the measure.

“We’re not talking about a prayer,” he said. “We’re talking about a pledge of allegiance to the flag.”

Payne pointed out that lawmakers begin each session with the same pledge.

“I just don’t get it,” he said. “I thought we were in America.”

Salman countered that’s exactly the point.

“What we’re talking about here is the Constitution of the United States of America,” she said. “What we’re talking about is the First Amendment.”

And she contends the measure violates that document.

The law, however, is less than clear.

In the only case addressing this, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that an Alabama law mandating a moment of silence was unconstitutional. But much of that was based on the admission by the measure’s sponsor that it was designed to “return voluntary prayer to our public schools.”

But Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, in a concurring opinion, said she would have upheld the requirement if lawmakers had shown a true secular purpose in approving it. She said that school-led moments of silence can be legal because, unlike school-led prayers, they are not inherently religious and do not coerce students into participating.

The 7-6 vote sends the measure to the full House.






Progressives call for worker protections as legislature mulls recess

Rep. Raquel Terán argues Monday against legislators simply going home in wake of COVID-19, and says lawmakers need to enact financial relief for those affected. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Raquel Terán argues Monday against legislators simply going home in wake of COVID-19, and says lawmakers need to enact financial relief for those affected. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists presented a list of demands they say are necessary for the safety of the state’s workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak on Monday, encouraging party leadership to mitigate the economic fallout of a virus that has already kneecapped tourism and hospitality in Arizona. 

As activists gathered three to five feet apart on the House lawn to make their case, Senate President Karen Fann and a top Senate staffer passed behind them on their way to a meeting with House Speaker Rusty Bowers over how the Legislature should handle the remainder of session under new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to suspend gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

GOP leadership has yet to lay out an official path forward, but options under consideration include a temporary recess or even an early adjournment in concert with a baseline budget to provide agency funding. Lawmakers have until June 30 to pass a spending plan. 

But House Democrats, including Reps. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, and Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, said the Legislature cannot adjourn or recess before passing emergency measures to help workers affected by the outbreak. And if need be, they’ll vote against motions to adjourn. 

“We cannot leave this place without passing policies that will help our workers,”said Terán, D-Phoenix. 

Top of their list was ensuring that all Arizonans can access free coronavirus tests. The state health lab had tested 183 people by Sunday evening, when the Department of Health Services abruptly removed information about how many people received tests from its website. 

The groups also called for an immediate moratorium on evictions, utility shutoffs and health insurance terminations caused by a lack of payment. Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power have suspended disconnections. 

Phoenix and Tucson halted financial evictions from city-owned public housing. New Pima County Constable Joe Ferguson called on lawmakers to immediately suspend evictions statewide. In Pima County, constables can easily perform evictions at 75 households a week, he noted.

In addition to shutting down evictions and foreclosures, the groups requested financial assistance for families, relaxed work requirements for food stamps, non-school-based meal programs for children and expanded unemployment benefits. 

The legislature should prioritize these changes above the “non-essential” business that currently sits on its calendar, said. Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. She complained that House committees on Monday are considering dozens of mostly run-of-the-mill Senate bills instead of marshaling resources to address COVID-19. 

“It appears to be a farce that we’re continuing to push legislation that does not address the needs that the workers are articulating,” she said. 

Gov. Doug Ducey on Sunday night announced an emergency appropriation for a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club Arizona Alliance to support Arizona families while schools remain closed. Schools are expected to remain closed through March 27, but the state’s agreement with the nonprofit extends through May 1. Ducey also did not disclose the amount of the appropriation. 

Other requests concerned protections for workers. The 2016 Proposition 206 already ensured up to 40 hours of paid sick leave for all Arizona workers, but the groups speaking Monday called on lawmakers to ensure that workers can take that time off without facing adverse action.

They also seek to ensure that any layoffs are based on seniority, and that reducing employees’ hours to below full-time doesn’t result in those employees losing health insurance. 

Adrian Demoss, a restaurant utility worker at Sky Harbor International Airport, said he and coworkers face losing their insurance as restaurants serve fewer customers and don’t need workers to wash dishes, mop floors and keep the airport running. 

“We’re gonna need help with our rent,” he said. “We’re gonna need help with transportation. I really, really want the people in the two great houses behind me to listen and help us.”


Rep. Shooter sexually harassed women, created hostile work environment, investigator finds

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, listens to Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, read a statement regarding sexual harassment and other misconduct complaints made against him by Ugenti-Rita and others. Shooters comments came during mandatory sexual harassment and ethics training Jan. 9 on the House floor of the capitol.
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, listens to Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, read a statement regarding sexual harassment and other misconduct complaints made against him by Ugenti-Rita and others. Shooters comments came during mandatory sexual harassment and ethics training Jan. 9 on the House floor of the capitol.

A House investigation confirmed today that there is “credible evidence” Republican Rep. Don Shooter violated a sexual harassment policy and created a hostile working environment at the Capitol.

After the allegations against Shooter surfaced, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard suspended Shooter from his powerful position as the chairman of the House Appropriations committee.

Mesnard said today Shooter will be permanently removed from all committee assignments immediately. Mesnard also said he will seek to censure Shooter for his behavior.

Additionally, Mesnard wants to institute a formal code of conduct and prohibit the consumption of alcohol on House premises.

Mesnard said he wants to add a formal anti-harassment policy to the House rules, which carry the force of law. He will formalize a human resources department for the House as well, he said.

Shooter said in a statement that he is reviewing the report and made no indication he will resign. He thanked his colleagues and the investigators for their work.

“This has been a humbling and eye-opening experience for me,” Shooter said. “I look forward to working to repair relationships and serving my constituents and our great state.”

In their conclusion, investigators Craig Morgan and Lindsay Hesketh said Shooter broke the House harassment policy, and his “repeated pervasive conduct” had created a hostile work environment.

“Although we could not conclude that all of the allegations made against Mr. Shooter occurred, or if they did, also violated the policy, there remain several credible allegations evidencing that Mr. Shooter has engaged in a pattern of unwelcome and hostile conduct toward other members of the legislature and those who have business at the Capitol,” the investigators wrote.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Mesnard told reporters that a formal censure, though rare, is appropriate in this situation. He added that if “any other misbehavior occurs,” he would move to expel Shooter.

A formal censure becomes part of the official House record, he said, a black mark that will follow Shooter for the rest of his career.

“This is a big deal and maybe all that he’ll be remembered for at the end of the day. I don’t know. But it’s a very big deal,” Mesnard said of the censure.

He said he will leave it up to voters to decide whether they want to keep Shooter in office.

Mesnard said he informed Shooter of his decision to remove him from committee today. Shooter felt the punishment was “too harsh,” Mesnard said.

“He was not skipping for joy,” he said.

The investigation began after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, named Shooter as one of the men in the legislature who had harassed her. She told KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch that Shooter asked about her chest in her office and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.

Shooter countered Ugenti-Rita’s claims with allegations of his own, saying she was upset with him because he was critical of her for having a “very public affair” with a staffer. He said Ugenti-Rita was lying, and asked Mesnard to investigate his claims against her as well.

The investigation did not find evidence that Ugenti-Rita violated the House harassment policy.

After Ugenti-Rita came forward, eight other women told stories of inappropriate, sexually charged comments and unwanted touching.

Democratic lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez said Shooter touched her knee at an off-site meeting to discuss legislation in 2013. A former Capitol Times intern, Kendra Penningroth, said Shooter gave her a lengthy bear hug at a work event in 2017. Tara Zika, a business development director, said Shooter made inappropriate comments about her looks and made a vulgar gesture to her at a conference in 2017.

Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Athena Salman and Wenona Benally, accused Shooter of making inappropriate comments while in the House.

The former publisher of the Arizona Republic, Mi-Ai Parrish, said Shooter made a comment that was both racist and sexual in a meeting in 2016.

The women at the Arizona Capitol join their colleagues across the country and across industries. Reporting by The New York Times and the New Yorker in October 2017 broke open sexual harassment claims from numerous women against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, women have gone public with accusations against powerful men in many industries, including politics. Dozens of statehouses across the country have grappled with allegations of harassment by men within their ranks.

After allegations of Shooter were made public by the media, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard began an investigation, led by outside attorney Craig Morgan, to look into the claims.

The investigation is the first test of a newly crafted House policy that bans harassment, something the chamber didn’t have in place until late last year after Ugenti-Rita said, initially without naming names, that she had been harassed.

But not all of the allegations could be substantiated with independent, credible evidence, the investigation concluded.

Of the women’s claims, the investigators said they could not find such evidence to support Rodriguez’s claim, nor the entirety of Zika’s claims. The investigation did confirm Penningroth’s claims, and several other claims made by Ugenti-Rita. It also found Salman’s account credible, and Benally’s, though the investigators said Benally’s situation would not be a violation of the House policy.

The investigation includes allegations from other people who had not yet been made public. Another female lobbyist, Amy Love, who works for the courts, alleged Shooter made a comment about being the only lawmaker who had the “balls” to do something, then grabbed his genitals and shook them.

The investigators said Love’s claims were credible, despite Shooter’s contention that he didn’t think the events happened as described because Love is “not that cute,” which the investigators said was of no consequence.

Another complaint from Rep. Darin Mitchell alleged Shooter made a comment to another person, Adam Stevens, regarding the race for the House Speaker. Shooter allegedly told Stevens that he would take Mitchell into the bathroom and have anal sex with him in front of Mitchell’s wife, and do it again until Mitchell liked him. The House investigators said they believe Shooter made these comments.

Kurt Altman, Ugenti-Rita’s attorney, said Tuesday that his client feels vindicated. There are some characterizations of Ugenti-Rita’s testimony to investigators that “she doesn’t think are exactly accurate,” but overall, she’s pleased with the report, Altman said.

“For the most part, I do believe, and she believes, that the facts that they have evidence of, credible evidence of, are laid out well, and she’s very happy to have it over and feels vindicated,” Altman said.

At this time, Altman said there’s no plans for Ugenti-Rita to seek further action against Shooter than what Mesnard has proposed.

“It’s hard to say if it’s enough,” Altman said of the speaker’s punitive actions. “But for her and her participation, I do think it’s over. Now it’s in the hands of leadership in the House and all the other members. This was, as you might imagine, one of the most difficult portions of her life. I mean, this was brutal, from the time she came out to today. She’s happy that’s over.”

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said Democratic House members are still reviewing the report, but an initial reading of it “paints a detailed and disturbing picture of pervasive sexual harassment and sexism on the part of Rep. Shooter.”

Rios said Mesnard’s recommended sanctions are well-deserved, but the Democratic caucus is still deciding if the actions go far enough, or if further actions, like a call for expulsion or ethics hearing, are warranted.

Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, said Tuesday that it’s not for him to decide if more action should be taken against Shooter, such as a motion to expel. That’s up to the women who came forward with stories of Shooter’s behavior.

“For me, it’s kind of a delicate situation. I don’t want to be seen as trying to take justice away from other people as well, because it’s not about me, it’s about the people that made the report,” Cardenas said. “And until they feel whole, it’s really kind of a waiting game to see what they want.”

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office is still combing through the details in the report, spokesman Patrick Ptak said in an email today.

“But the governor has made it clear — there is no room for sexual harassment at the state Capitol or anywhere else,” Ptak said.

Republicans reject vote on proposal to ban gun bump stocks


Republicans today rejected a Democratic maneuver to force a vote on a proposal banning so-called bump stocks or accessories designed to accelerate the rate of fire of semiautomatic rifles, such as the one used in the shooting of concertgoers in Las Vegas last year.

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, made the motion to vote on HB2023, which sought to expand the definition of prohibited weapons to bump-fire devices.

 The motion came nearly a week after 17 people died at a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida and as news outlets reported that President Donald Trump has directed the U.S. Department of Justice to ban the use of devices that modify rifles to be used as fully automatic weapons.

House Majority John Allen, a Republican, outmaneuvered Friese by successfully making a motion to instead proceed with the debate scheduled for the afternoon.

Democrats urged their Republican colleagues to give Friese’s motion a chance, but were outvoted.

Democrats said even though the motion was unexpected, the conversation is necessary. Republicans countered that the issue isn’t about guns or accessories, but about addressing mental health issues.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, also blamed violent video games, saying they have led to a rise in school shootings. House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend added that such games created a culture of violence.

Others, like Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said the number of fetuses aborted so far this year outnumbered gun-related deaths last year.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said it’s time to take action.

“I’m tired of this being normal,” she said, adding, “We have the ability to take action that will save people’s lives.”

Sex education bill goes to governor


State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation that will require special parental permission before a student is taught anything about sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. 

The 31-28 party-line vote by the House also spells out that sex education of any type is forbidden before the fifth grade. And SB1456 would mandate yet another special permission — beyond what parents need to provide for their children to take sex-ed classes — to be taught anything about AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it. 

Approval of the measure came as proponents said this ensures that parents know — and approve — what their children are being taught. SB1456 specifically gives parents more specific rights and time than they have now to review the instructional materials and activities before deciding whether to opt-in to such instruction. 

And it specifically requires governing boards to not just review and approve what is in the sex-ed classes being offered. 

“This is huge,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe. 

But foes pointed out that parents already have to opt-in to all sex education courses. Rep. Diego Rodriguez said requiring a separate opt-in for discussions about things like sexual orientation is both unnecessary and discriminatory. 

“It’s clearly meant to highlight that there is something different about gender identity and gender expression,” he said. “And that difference is something that should be feared.” 

More problematic, Rodriguez said, is the admission by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, during hearings that the wording of the measure means that parents would have to opt in any time the question of sexuality or sexual orientation came up anywhere in the curriculum. That would include historical events like the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York that gave birth to the modern gay-rights movement, and any discussion of LGBTQ individuals in literature. 

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said it even could impair discussion of the suffrage movement where some of the leaders argued for the right to love people of the same sex. 

But Barto said that, as far as she’s concerned, existing law already requires such parental permission for such discussions. 

“We’re not doing anything different,” she said, with the language seeking to clarify what’s required. “We’re just making it work.” 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, noted that Wednesday’s vote comes two years after lawmakers voted to repeal sections of sex-ed law that prohibited teachers from promoting homosexuality as a positive lifestyle. That same law also said that if teachers talk about “safe sex” they cannot say there is any such possibility when it involves homosexual conduct. 

But that overwhelming vote came only after Equality Arizona filed suit to challenge the law — and Attorney General Mark Brnovich saying he would not defend it in court. 

This step backwards, Bolding said, is “fear-mongering among what our educators are teaching our kids.” 

The ban on sex-ed before fifth grade concerned Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler. She said that could lead to more cases of sexual abuse. 

“The fifth grade is absolutely too late for a lot of these children,” she said. 

“It is too late for them to learn good touch/bad touch because they have already been molested, they have already been abused,” Jermaine continued. “And, more than likely, it was from somebody within their own household.” 

And Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said that absolute ban will leave younger children without information to protect themselves. 

“Leaving out information puts them at risk because they don’t know what’s happening to them,” she said. 

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, objected to imposing a new written permission requirement to teach about AIDS and HIV. 

“That really leads to more sexually transmitted diseases,” he said, leaving students ignorant about how one contracts the disease and how to prevent it. 

In the end, however, the measure which now goes to the governor, was approved because supporters see it as an issue of parental rights. 

“I do appreciate teachers and what the schools have done and what public schools offer our kids,” said Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake. 

“But at the end of the day, it’s the parent’s right or not to include their child in whatever type of curriculum they want to do for them, based on the values of their home,” he said. “Why is it, as a parent, I am forced to do something that I see differently in my family?” 

Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chander, said no one is being forced to do anything. She said parents already have the right to review curriculum and can opt their children out of any sort of sex-ed classes. 

But Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said more is needed. 

“The purpose of this bill is to provide transparency to parents and allow them to determine what’s best for their child,” she said. And Parker rejected arguments that singling out issues of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression for special mention — and special parental permission — that the measure is discriminatory. 

“No rights are being denied to any group of people,” she said. “It’s just requiring the schools to get parents involved in sensitive topics 

Parker said it’s no different than anything else that already goes on. 

“When I was in school, we were learning about one of the world wars and one of my teachers wanted to show an R-rated movie,” she said, something that required parental permission, including a form that had to be signed. 

“If parents denied permission we went to another room and got our homework done for that day,” Parker said. “It wasn’t really that big of a deal.” 

Nor was she alarmed by comments that this legislation sets a precedent where parents would now be getting involved in what their children are taught in math, science or history. 

“Parents should have a say over all of those subjects,” Parker said. “Parents already have that level of control and should keep that level of control.” 

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said updating the laws on sex education are necessary. 

“Today’s sex-ed has morphed into sex indoctrination,” he said. And he said arguments about providing “scientifically correct” sex-ed have become a mandate to teach what is “politically correct.” 

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. 

State scraps investments over Ben & Jerry’s Israel policy


Arizona is wading into Middle East politics.

And it involves ice cream.

State Treasurer Kimberly Yee announced Tuesday she is selling off all of the state’s notes it holds in loans to Unilever. That follows the announcement that the company will no longer sell its Ben & Jerry’s brand ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, including the West Bank and contested east Jerusalem, all of which Israel claims as its capital.

Yee, in a press release, said she had no choice.

She cited a 2016 law which says that state entities are prohibited from doing business with any company that boycotts Israel. The decision not to sell ice cream in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel triggers that law.

Kimberly Yee
Kimberly Yee

The move comes despite a Unilever official contacting Yee with an argument that the company is not violating the law because it is not boycotting Israel. And, in a letter to Richard Williams, head of investor relations for the company based in London, Yee said it is irrelevant that when Unilever acquired the Vermont company in 2000 it allowed it to retain an independent board and to make decisions that were not approved by the corporate parent.

“The fact remains that Ben & Jerry’s is a legal subsidiary of Unilver and due to the decision by Ben & Jerry’s, continues to be in violation of Arizona law,” Yee wrote.

Arizona’s Unilever holdings in the form of bonds and commercial paper — $143 million as of the end of June — compares with about $26 billion in assets it manages. Yee said that’s already been reduced to $50 million “and will be zero by Sept. 21 after our last investment in Unilver matures.”

The 2016 law is in direct response to what has become known as the BDS Movement — boycott, divest, sanction — designed to pressure Israel to withdraw from the territories it seized after the 1967 war and continue to occupy. David Gowan, then a Republican state representative from Sierra, Vista, called the BDS Movement “anti Semitic.”

“This bill is aimed at showing Arizona’s supportive of Israel, it’s strongest ally in the Middle East,” he said at the time. “Nobody should be doing things for bigotry.”

Deputy Treasurer Mark Swenson said that his office annually reviews its holdings to ensure compliance. He said this is the first time a decision has been made to divest.

There was no immediate response from Unilever. But in an essay in July in the New York Times, Ben & Jerry’s founders Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield defended the move.

They said they were — and are — supporter of Israel, saying it was one of their first overseas markets.

“But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government,” they wrote. And the men, who described themselves as “proud Jews,” denied the move is a contradiction or anti Semitic.

“In fact, we believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism,” they said.

That sentiment mirrors some of the comments made when the measure cleared the Arizona Legislature in 2016, with 14 House members and six senators in opposition.

Among those voting against it was then-Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who said the legislation was built on the flawed assumption that all Israelis and all Jews support that country’s current policies. But in an “active, free-market democracy,” he said, people think different ways.

Yee, who voted for the 2016 measure when she was a state senator and is now seeking the Republican nomination for governor, declined to be interviewed.

This isn’t the first foray by state lawmakers into Middle East politics.

In 2014 the House went on record as saying the entire West Bank belongs to Israel and the Jews who have settled there since the 1967 war “reside there legitimately.”

That resolution, approved without debate, says that the area, which some Israelis refer to by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria, was granted to Israel “through the oldest recorded deed, as recorded in the Old Testament.” It also says the “claim and presence” of Jewish people in Israel, including the West Bank, has “remained constant throughout the past 4,000 years of history.”

In 2019, fixing a legal flaw in another provision in the 2016 law, the legislature voted to deny public contracts to firms that refuse to do business with other companies that do business in Israel.

That move came over the objections of Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who told colleagues of how her family members, some here now, some still living in occupied territories, have been treated. She said the BDS movement is designed to pressure Israel to end what she said are “Israeli human rights abuses” and illegal settlements on the West Bank.

Tax-free tampons up for debate in Arizona Legislature

Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Coolidge Republican whose office was flooded with tampons for his refusal to hear a bill on free feminine hygiene products last year now proposes to make them tax-free.

HB 2153 would provide the exemption through 2027.

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he felt the bill simply made sense, but he didn’t take credit for the idea.

He said the co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, educated him on the issue. Hernandez sponsored legislation seeking the exemption in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, but the proposal has never received a vote on the House floor.

Shope said that’s because there was a split in the Democratic caucus, running the gamut of support from those who saw  the bill as pro-woman to opposition from those who saw it as reducing the tax base for education funding.

So, this time around, Hernandez enlisted Shope to give the bill another chance.

Hernandez was not immediately available for comment.

Shope said Hernandez’s argument really hit home because of its potential impact on low-income communities who can least afford these products, communities he represents in Coolidge and Eloy.

“These are obviously things that nobody can control,” he said. “Can we live without some of these tax dollars in order to give some folks who probably really need… some relief?”

This isn’t the first time Shope has been educated about access to feminine hygiene products

As chair of the House Rules Committee in 2018, Shope declined to hear HB 2222, sponsored by Rep. Athena Salman, D–Tempe, to require the state Department of Corrections to supply an unlimited amount of feminine hygiene products to inmates for free. Shope reasoned that was an issue that DOC could handle administratively rather than one that should be dealt with in statute.

His argument did not stop advocates of the bill from mocking him online using the hashtag #letitflow and sending Shope hundreds of tampons and menstrual pads and cash donations meant for incarcerated women.

Asked whether that experience left him more open to a proposal like Hernandez’s, Shope said, “Emphatically, hell no.”

He said that was purely a stunt and one of the most “scripted” experiences he’s ever been through.

Still, he’s moved on.

And this time, he said, he expects Hernandez’s idea will get the support of Sens. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Paul Boyer, R-Glendale since each is expecting his first child this year.

Tempers flare in House as committees hear controversial bills

Republicans GOP Democrats politics parties

Long-simmering tensions boiled over in the House Wednesday, as Democratic lawmakers and opponents of GOP-sponsored bills to tighten voting rules and let businesses avoid Proposition 208’s surcharge accused Republican committee chairman of trying to silence them.

Critics slammed this as part of a larger, years-long pattern of the Republican majority disrespecting and trying to silence members of the public, particularly women and people of color, who come to the Legislature to oppose their proposals.

 At a news conference on Thursday Francisca Gil, with Our Voice Our Vote Arizona, talked about waiting almost seven hours to testify against a voting bill in 2020 and not being allowed to speak. Gil called their tactics “evil” and said things have gotten worse this year, suggesting this is connected to Republican losses in the last election, which saw President Biden narrowly carry the state and the election of a second Democratic U.S. senator.

“If they are not listening to Arizonans, who are they listening to?” she asked. “If they are not listening to the well being of Arizona they should not be holding seats in the Arizona Legislature.”

The head of the House Government and Elections Committee, who came in for criticism after Wednesday’s meeting when he tried to cut off a Democratic lawmaker’s explanation of her vote and at one point tried to have her recorded as not voting, responded that he allows robust debate in his committee and that people need to separate policy making from “the grandstanding which often happens in the media and on Twitter.”

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

“We debate issues vigorously, we challenge each other and that’s how we get to the truth,” Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said Thursday. “And after all the politics and the Twitter is done, we go back the next day and go back to doing the same type of debate as if nothing happened.”

Even before Wednesday, Government and Elections had already been one of the House’s most rancorous committees, as Republicans this year are pushing numerous laws that they say will safeguard against voter fraud, but Democrats say will make it harder to vote. The public testimony on SB1713, which as amended would require early voters to include their date of birth and either an Arizona driver’s license or voter registration number on the affidavit accompanying their ballot, started as Republicans quizzed at length Jeff Clark, the head of the Arizona State Association of Letter Carriers, with some asking why letter carriers would oppose a voter identification law and who his union endorsed in the last presidential election.

A little later, Kavanagh said only a few more people would be allowed to testify before the committee voted, prompting Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, to protest that her caucus had legitimate questions about the bills and that the only people being “dilatory” were the Republicans who questioned Clark and that Democrats “sat silently and patiently as you interrogated a hardworking letter carrier who made sure we had a … safe election during a pandemic.” As the committee voted, the Democrats read testimony from some of the opponents of the bill who hadn’t been given time to speak.

When it was Salman’s turn, she criticized Kavanagh for limiting public testimony and accused him of violating the equality of members. Kavanagh tried to gavel her down repeatedly, saying she should confine her remarks to the pros and cons of the bill.

“I said explain your vote, Kavanagh said. “You are not explaining your vote. You are talking about procedural issues not germane to a vote explanation.”

After a bit more back-and-forth, Kavanagh said he would record Salman as not voting, and Salman and Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, accused Kavanagh of committing a felony by trying to vote for another member.

Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)
Rep. Athena Salman

“This bill in my opinion … would have the effect that Jim Crow restrictions had that this nation has seen previously, and Mr. Chair, I was well within my rights to point out all the people who were not allowed to testify in opposition to this bill,” Salman said. 

Meanwhile, House Ways and Means was discussing SB1783, a bill to let some taxpayers choose between paying the individual income tax, which would potentially subject them to Proposition 208’s 3.5% surcharge if they make enough, or a new flat 4.5% small business income tax. This would, it is estimated, decrease the amount collected by the new voter-approved education funding surcharge by $263 million to $378 million yearly, according to an analysis prepared by Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff.

However, committee Chairwoman Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, repeatedly tried to prevent the Democrats from bringing up Prop 208 as they asked questions about the bill, saying it was irrelevant since the bill didn’t mention Prop 208. She also cut off public testimony, leading Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, to accuse her of deviating from her previous promise to let three supporters and three opponents of the bill testify.

“Instead, we say, ‘don’t talk about Prop 208’ when the fiscal impact note specifically addresses this because the impact of the bill is going to mean $300 million at a minimum in a direct cut to our services,” Cano said. “What are you scared of by limiting the public? Why can’t you listen?” 

Bolick accused Cano of acting like a preschooler, while the Republicans accused the Democrats on the committee of being rude to Bolick.

“Nothing we’ve been doing here has been respectful,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, as she voted for the bill. “I’m saddened by your demeanor.”

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, lodged a protest on the House floor Wednesday, saying what he witnessed Wednesday was one of the worst displays he had seen in his seven years in the Legislature.

“And I imagine every single person down here will have a different lens on what they see, which I respect, but what I can’t respect is what happened today,” Bolding said. “If you cannot handle the content and the speech that members are using when they’re discussing bills, don’t run the bills. We have bills that are attacking reproductive justice, bills that are attacking voting rights, bills that are attacking education. These are big topics we deserve to debate.”

Bolding said disagreement is healthy and to be expected but that the Republicans shouldn’t use their power to limit Democrats and the public’s ability to weigh in.

“What one member calls voter suppression, another may call security, and we have the ability to voice that, but to (silence) a member, that’s something we should never be doing,” Bolding said. “To tell the public ‘you can’t speak’ because they don’t like what you have to say, that’s something you should never be doing. We were all sent here to represent our constituents, our values, to use our voice. As members of the minority, our voice is our vote, and we have to have the ability to use it.”

Representatives of progressive groups that often testify in front of the Legislature gathered outside the House Thursday to say Wednesday’s actions were part of a years-long pattern of GOP chairmen limiting both public testimony and the speech of Democratic committee members and trying to silence members of the public they disagree with, particularly women and people of color. 

“Yesterday’s events were … not the first time the public and members of the Legislature have watched as … (Kavanagh) belittled, disrespected and conducted committee meetings in authoritarian behavior styles,” said Alicia Contreras, the executive director of Corazón Arizona. “He never is shy about shouting and speaking over folks due to their race, gender or political stance, especially women, which we watched yesterday in horror.”

Kavanagh defended his conduct of the meeting, saying part of his job as chairman is to move through bills in a reasonable amount of time and that Salman should have stuck to the bill itself in her explanation.

“You know what I have a pattern of?” he said. “I let people have vigorous debate, and if someone says a ‘to the point,’ we stop the conversation and address the point. We don’t wait 10 minutes and let people forget what the point was. Everyone is ‘to the point’ debating and arguing, because it’s through vigorous debate that you arrive at the truth, and they (the Democrats) are just as quick to go ‘to the point’ as I am or another Republican is.”

The Breakdown, Episode 10: Pardon me


Teachers celebrate after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Senate Republicans announced they reached a tentative deal to end a statewide teachers' strike by giving them 5 percent raises in Charleston, W.Va., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
Teachers celebrate after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Senate Republicans announced they reached a tentative deal to end a statewide teachers’ strike by giving them 5 percent raises in Charleston, W.Va., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)

Pardon the noise – the soothing sounds of Capitol traffic are back this week, but so are our reporters with the latest.

The list of people who have received pardons or commutations from Gov. Doug Ducey is short. His record puts him behind his predecessors from both parties, and there’s no clear evidence of whether that will change as her nears the end of his first term.

And some members of the Legislature weren’t especially willing to pardon one of their own last week. Freshman Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, stunned some with the delivery of Kotex pillows to members of both parties with cameras in tow.

But the Legislature might have bigger things to worry about on the horizon. After seeing their colleagues in West Virginia strike successfully for a 5 percent raise, Arizona teachers are wondering if it’s their turn.

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

Music in this episode included “Little Idea” and “Tomorrow” by Bensound.

Townsend files ethics complaints over squabble against two Dem lawmakers

Complaint button on a white keyboard

A Republican lawmaker is filing a pair of ethics complaints against two Democrats after conflict erupted in a committee Tuesday night between lawmakers and activists there to protest proposed legislation that would overhaul the state’s ballot initiative system. 

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said on the House floor Wednesday that she’ll file the complaints against Reps. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, and Athena Salman, D-Tempe. All three were involved in the heated debate during last night’s House Elections Committee hearing in which Townsend ended public testimony after an activist with Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, exchanged barbs with Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. 

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

The complaint against Rodriguez will hinge on his leaving the committee hearing in protest during a vote, she said. Townsend’s complaint against Salman seems to be more about protocol — she accuses the Democrat of speaking over her during committee. 

Townsend announced her complaints during a tense floor session in which lawmakers from both sides invoked Rule 20, a House rule allowing lawmakers to enter protests into the record. Salman was the first to invoke the rule, which she used to recite the testimony that one activist, Francisca Gil of Our Voice Our Vote, had planned to give before the hearing was closed off to public comment. 

Gil, an immigrant and recent citizen, had planned to speak on HB2304, which would allow federal immigration authorities to check the citizenship status of people on Arizona’s voter registration rolls and limit the ability of voters to bring translators into the ballot with them. She had waited her turn for hours – the committee was supposed to begin business at 2:00 p.m., but was delayed due to a late floor session. It was early evening by the time debate began on the bill. 

The hearing Tuesday erupted during the testimony of Randy Perez, Democracy Director for LUCHA. He was testifying against HB2304 when Townsend,  the bill’s sponsor and committee chair, warned him to “stick to the bill” before eventually ending all testimonies for the remainder of the hearing. 

Athena Salman
Athena Salman

Townsend took issue with Perez intimating that the legislation is tied to largely unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud by undocumented immigrants espoused by President Donald Trump. 

But Perez continued, and referenced last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in which Republican committee leadership threatened LUCHA activists with arrest after underlying tension gave way to verbal sparring. He blamed Senate Judiciary Chair Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, for setting a precedent of conflict and vitriol.

This didn’t sit well with Petersen.

“No, you and others like you who are disrespectful to the process,” Petersen said, causing Rodriguez to rise from his seat and call for a point of order. 

Townsend called a brief recess and more shouting ensued. Video from the hearing shows Townsend approaching Perez at the microphone stand and pointing her finger at him. 

Diego Rodriguez
Diego Rodriguez

“I’m not going to be a part of legitimizing this process so I will be removing myself from this committee,” Rodriguez said before leaving the room.

Reached by phone after he left, Rodriguez said he was infuriated by Petersen’s comments. He wouldn’t say that the statement was intended to be racist, but that the underlying optics – a lawmaker verbally attacking a group of minority activists who had been waiting to speak since the early afternoon – were disturbing nonetheless. 

On the floor Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans who were in the committee or who have seen the video each offered their own versions of last night’s events, all under Rule 20. 

“To me it was indicative of intimidation and disrespect,” House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said. “To have people standing and confronting the chair, calling on her to cast her vote. I was very disappointed.”

Rodriguez criticized the presence of officers from the Department of Public Safety. Officers were asked to remove LUCHA activists at a Senate Judiciary hearing last week — something that has set the tone of debate in the ensuing days. 

“I found it offensive that there were law enforcement officers…and that the doors were open to send a clear chilling message,” he said. 

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who chairs the Ethics Committee, said he’s received the complaints. He said that leaving the committee hearing during a vote is a serious, punishable offense, but that most likely he’ll just tell the lawmakers who are subject to the complaint to “read the damn rulebook.”

Reporter Dillon Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

Townsend to amend bill that makes criminals of people paid to register voters


Republican lawmakers advanced a bill that would criminalize getting paid to help register voters in Arizona, but only with the promise to partially eliminate that core provision.

HB 2616 would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to pay someone, or receive money, to register a person to vote, with an exception for employees of political parties. Progress Now Arizona, a liberal advocacy group, sent an email blast last week describing the measure as an “anti-democracy” bill that would “turn everyone from librarians and health workers to high schoolers trying to make extra money into criminals simply for getting people registered to vote.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, the bill’s sponsor, told a House panel on Tuesday that is not her intent, and promised to amend the bill as it moves through the legislative process.

“The intention going forward is to not say, ‘you can’t earn money doing this,’” the Mesa Republican said in the House Elections Committee, which approved the bill on a 6-4 partisan vote.

Townsend said she only meant to eliminate duplication and fraud in voter registrations, and cited conversations with county recorders who’ve halted faulty registrations from being processed.

Eliminating the paid incentive to register voters could help eliminate a reason to falsify records, Townsend said.

To that effect, she’s working on an amendment with the Arizona Association of Counties that would mimic language already in statute that bars circulators for initiatives and referenda from being paid per signature, but allows them to be paid hourly.

“Our concern is not paying people to get people to register, it’s paying people per form, per piece. Because that’s where we see the fraud… If you want to pay people hourly, we have no issue with that,” Jen Marson, executive director of the Association of Counties, told the Arizona Capitol Times.

A future amendment is also expected to include a time frame for organizations that help Arizonans register to vote. Those groups would be required to turn in registrations to county election officials by a deadline. The amendment could include penalties for not turning registrations in on time – the expectation being that a voter expects organizations to turn their registration in time for them to participate in an election.

The committee’s four Democrats expressed optimism that the bill would change, but voted against it for now.

Some expressed dismay that other ideas to better register voters were not entertained. Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, mentioned that Townsend’s intent – to avoid duplication and inefficiencies in the registration process – could be achieved by auto-voter registration.

Townsend suggested that and other ideas could be addressed in an election procedures oversight committee. She’s sponsored a separate bill to create such a panel.

And Townsend repeatedly promised that the bill would no be approved by the full Legislature as is.

“I know you’re upset about this bill, and I understand why,” Townsend told those who testified against her bill.