Ballot measure deadline looms for some while others drop efforts

Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard
Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard

A California union has given up on its plan to ask Arizona voters to impose new service and cost restrictions on companies that perform dialysis.

Sean Wherley, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, told Capitol Media Services on Monday his organizations has decided to focus its efforts elsewhere.

Wherley said the SEIU already has filed petitions to get a similar measure on the ballot in California. And he said paperwork is being turned in later this week in a bid to get Ohio voters to adopt a nearly identical plan.

Arizonans will still have plenty of issues to decide in November despite the union’s decision.

The Arizona Association of Realtors is expected to submit petitions Tuesday to impose a constitutional ban on expanding the state sales tax to include services. That would take the possibility of revamping or reconfiguring what is now subject to the state’s 5.6 percent levy off the table even if there is a shift in the economy and what people buy from one based on goods, which are taxable, to one based on services, which would not be taxable under the plan.

Other initiative drives likely to file signatures by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline include:

– Putting an income tax surcharge on the top 1 percent of wage earners to pay for education funding;

– Requiring utilities to produce half their power from renewable sources by 2030, not including nuclear;

– Imposing a constitutional requirement for public disclosure of the people and organizations trying to influence elections;

– Legalizing possession of marijuana.

All those are in addition to two measures put on the ballot by lawmakers. One asks voters to undermine some of the powers of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and the other seeks changes in constitutional provisions about public employee pension benefits.

And voters also will get to decide whether to ratify or reject a measure approved last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature which expands eligibility for who can qualify for taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

The SEIU proposal sought annual inspections to check for compliance with laws and rules and how companies are dealing with potentially hazardous waste.

But the real key was to be a cap on the amount dialysis centers could charge patients at no more than 15 percent above their costs. Any profits that exceeded that amount would have to be refunded.

Wherley conceded the measure was aimed specifically at two firms: Fresenius Kidney Care and DaVita Kidney care. He said the two control more than 80 percent of the licensed dialysis centers in the state. Potentially more significant, Wherley acknowledged that both operate here without SEIU employees.

This isn’t the first time SEIU had started petition drives in its fights with employers.

Two years ago it crafted an initiative drive to cap the pay of hospital executives at no more than what the president of the United States is paid, or $450,000 a year. But after gathering what it said was more than 281,000 signatures — far more than needed — the union decided to scrap the effort in the face of challenges to the validity of many of those signatures.

But Wherley sidestepped questions Monday about whether the SEIU was simply using the Arizona initiative process for political purposes in the union’s ongoing battles with hospitals and health care employers.

“There’s only so many states that have ballot initiatives,” he said.

“So we look at them, where does SEIU have a presence, where can health care workers be benefited, where can patients be benefited,” Wherley said. “That’s kind of the calculus that decides where we introduce an initiative and where we submit signatures to qualify.”

In the end, Wherley said, the union decided to not even try to collect signatures on the Arizona proposal.

The union isn’t the only organization to file the paperwork for to put a measure on this year’s ballot but fold its operation before the deadline.

Earlier this year the Humane Society of the United States pulled the plug on its initiative which would have made it illegal to pursue, shoot, snare, net or capture any “wild cat.” That specifically would have applied to bobcats and mountain lions.

Organizers said the effort to gather the minimum 150,642 valid signatures by Thursday’s deadline were hampered by new Arizona law requiring “strict compliance” with all election statutes. They said that made signature gathering more difficult and made it more expensive to hire circulators.

Other apparent non-starters included a measure to have Arizona join with other states to have the president elected by popular vote instead of by the Electoral College, and another aimed at restricting agricultural chemicals that can harm pollinators.

Ballot measures could hamper cash flow in crowded election year

Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard
Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard

With multiple high-profile ballot initiatives in Arizona this year and a slew of other high-priority statewide and legislative races, donors could be asked repeatedly to open their wallets this election cycle.

Among the ballot measures are proposals to boost renewable energy sources, hike income taxes on Arizona’s top earners and shine sunlight on dark money, the term given to campaign dollars spent by groups that don’t have to disclose the source of their money. Pundits already expect key players will spend millions to fight and defend these contentious initiatives.

But will that leave major donors cash-strapped when statewide and legislative candidates come calling?

It could be too soon to tell.

Ballot measure campaigns turned in their signatures last week. Now, the initiatives are trapped in procedural limbo as the Secretary of State’s Office scans the thousands of petition sheets into its electronic system. Some, if not all, of the ballot initiatives will likely face legal challenges in the coming weeks.

Among the more contentious ballot initiatives are the Invest in Education Act, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment and Save Our Schools Arizona.

The number of ballot initiatives vying for the ballot this year is more than Arizona saw in the past two election cycles.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

Packed ballots mean advocacy organizations have to strategize on how they want to deploy their resources, said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Crowded ballots make for tough decisions,” he said. The chamber is leading the charge against the Invest in Education Act — a ballot measure to boost income taxes on wealthy Arizonans to pay for the state’s public education.

In 2016, and facing two major ballot measures — one to boost minimum wage and another to legalize recreational marijuana — the chamber focused its efforts on defeating the marijuana proposition despite opposing both measures.

Looking back, Taylor said the business community bet correctly in fighting the marijuana measure. But voters approved the minimum wage increase. If the chamber regrets anything now, it’s that it didn’t have more resources so it could fight both proposals, he said.

“There’s not an endless supply of money, especially when you’re in a political season with very high profile candidate races alongside ballot measures,” he said. “So you have to be judicious in the way you spend those resources.”

Taylor said it’s too soon to tell if the ballot measures and the decisive U.S. Senate race, which is sure to attract millions of out-of-state dollars to Arizona, will crowd out candidate spending.

Jim Barton, an attorney at the Torres Consulting and Law Group, said he’s sure advocacy groups like the chamber, Arizona Public Service and others will have to expend money and resources to fight the clean energy, dark money and education ballot initiatives.

Barton represents the clean energy and Invest in Education campaigns, but was not speaking on behalf of those groups. He characterized the fight as an uphill battle for conservative-leaning groups because they’re going against public sentiment.

More than 90 percent of Tempe voters called for increased transparency in political spending, and education funding is the issue of the year after “Red for Ed,” Barton said.

But on Election Day, it’s not about the money. Voters will cast their votes based on what they believe in, Barton said.

“Sometimes, we get so cynical and think ‘Oh, it just matters who has the most money.’ Well, who has the most money matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters,” he said.

Of course, money does play its part, and financing could be more of a challenge for Democrats than Republicans, according to Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.

“Generally speaking, … they’re going to be stretched a little thin,” Smith said. He later added, “to the extent that liberals with money are watered down, that’s going to happen, because there’s just more to do.”

But the types of donors that finance big ticket items like ballot initiatives are traditionally different from donations fueling legislative races and the state’s top two political parties, said Kory Langhofer, an attorney at Statecraft.

Ballot measures will be relying on wealthy, often out-of-state donors — the clean energy initiative, for instance, is backed by billionaire mega-donor Tom Steyer — while down ballot races will rely on smaller, more local donors, he said.

“It’s kind of like IE financing — big checks from a few very interested parties, and not the sort of ma and pop contributions that parties and candidates live on,” Langhofer said. “They’re just different buckets of money.”

Given that one ballot measure wants to ban dark money, Smith predicted a wave of dark money from sources that want to protect their anonymity.

In 2012, there was an effort to replace Arizona’s separate party primaries with a “top-two” model, meaning the two candidates who garner the most votes in the primary move on to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. Smith attributed a surge of dark money spent against the ballot measure to aiding its defeat.

“When dark money came in, they did a big push and flooded the state to kill it, and of course they did,” Smith said. “These people that are benefitting from Republican legislative majorities are not going to risk it.”

Behind the Ballot: Spread thin


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

Arizona voters will be asked to decide the fate of multiple high-profile ballot initiatives on the November ballot.

At the same time, a slew of high-priority races for elected office are vying for their attention – and their money.

If donors are asked repeatedly to open their wallets for both the candidates and the causes they care most about, will the available dollars be spread too thin?

There may be one campaign that they can sit out, at least, as the debate over school choice takes an unexpected turn toward common ground.

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

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

Court rules ballot measures can’t use online signature gathering

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are James Beene, Andrew Gould, Ann Scott-Timmer, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, Clint Bolick, John Lopez, and Bill Montgomery.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are James Beene, Andrew Gould, Ann Scott-Timmer, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, Clint Bolick, John Lopez, and Bill Montgomery.

Arizona groups still trying to put a measure on the November ballot are going to have to try to get needed signatures the old fashioned face-to-face way despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a brief order Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court rebuffed pleas by several organizations to allow them to use an existing online signature-gathering system available to candidates. And the court, in its 6-1 order, was not swayed by the fact that the plea was for the special permission for this year only because of the pandemic.

The court gave no reason for its decision.

But Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office argued against allowing the change, said the justices could not provide the relief sought.

Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

“Arizona has had a provision in its constitution since statehood that provides that signatures in the initiative process have to be done by an actual human being,” he told Capitol Media Services.

The online E-Qual system, by definition, has no circulators, with supporters “signing” online petitions by providing identifying information through a web site maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Only Justice Ann Scott Timmer voted to grant the request.

Wednesday’s action may seal the fate of initiative drives that had not already collected sufficient signatures by the middle of March when the virus erupted and Gov. Doug Ducey closed many businesses and directed Arizonans to stay home. A similar request was rebuffed by a federal judge, a decision upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That leaves the question of what will be on the ballot for voters to consider.

One measure that appears to have at least the bare minimum 237,645 signatures needed is the Smart and Safe Arizona Act which seeks to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Spokeswoman Stacy Pearson said circulators already have more than 300,000, enough to provide a margin should some signatures turn out to be invalid and there are challenges made to other petitions.

Less clear are the fates of two other measures.

One would put a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxable income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples to raise about $940 million a year for public education. The other would allow judges to impose shorter prison sentences than now required under “truth in sentencing” laws and permit inmates sentenced for non-dangerous offenses to be released after serving 50 percent of their time, versus the current 85 percent.

Pearson, who represents both, said the signature gathering had continued through the governor’s stay-at-home order. She said circulators put the petitions on a clipboard, stepped back, let the person sign it in their presence, and then picked it up.

She said while neither currently has gathered sufficient signatures, the deadline to file petitions is not until July 2. And Ducey just this week announced he was lifting his stay-at-home order.

Other proposals, though, are dead.

That includes the Save Our Schools Act which sought to ask voters to limit the number of vouchers of state tax dollars that parents can use to send their children to private and parochial schools.

It would have prohibited the state from issuing vouchers to more than 1 percent of total children enrolled in public schools. With about 1.1 million students in traditional district and charter schools, that would have set the cap at about 11,000.

“We had a robust start and, had that continued, we would have been fine,” said Dawn Penich-Thacker, one of the organizers. She also said the group did not have a lot of money to hire paid circulators.

“Our own network is passionate about the issue,” Penich-Thacker said. “But they’re not comfortable going door to door, not social distancing, and we’re not going to ask them to do that.”

Also dead is a proposal that was being pushed by the National Credit Alliance to overturn virtually all of the laws that now limit annual interest charges on loans to 36 percent a year. Sean Noble, who was managing the campaign for the lenders, had called it a “stand against socialism,” arguing that the question of interest rates should be a free-market decision.

Noble said the issue is not dead, envisioning a similar effort for the 2022 ballot.

There never was any legal dispute but that Arizona law requires initiative petitions to be signed in the presence of the circulator.

But attorney Roopali Desai pointed out that state lawmakers have allowed themselves and other political candidates to gather their signatures online. Desai, representing four separate initiative campaigns, argued that the constitutional right of Arizonans to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments entitles people to that same access.

If nothing else, Desai said that the “current exigencies” of the virus and the governor’s orders should allow initiative organizers to have access to that system, at least for this year.

Brnovich said that’s not a decision for courts to make.

“The constitution is very clear on this,” he said. “If petitioners don’t like what the constitution says they need to work on changing the constitution.”

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, opted not to oppose the effort to use the E-Qual system, calling it a “reasonable request” in light of the pandemic. Brnovich, a Republican, criticized that move.

“I’m a big believer that when you’re elected to a statewide office you have to fulfill your duties and responsibilities,” he said. “It is a little head-scratching when the state’s chief election officer is consistently unwilling to defend state election laws.”

Desai wasn’t the only one seeking special relief for initiative circulators this year. Attorney Jim Barton made similar arguments to U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza, a President Trump nominee, in seeking federal court relief.

In a ruling last month, Lanza acknowledged that the pandemic “is currently wreaking havoc” on the ability of initiative organizers to get signatures. But he said it is not making it impossible, pointing out that some groups may already have qualified.

More significant, he accepted arguments by Brnovich that the failure to get the signatures may be at least partly the fault of organizers. He said the two committees suing in his court didn’t start organizing and gathering signatures until the second half of last year while other groups began their operations right after the 2018 election.

Finally, Lanza said it is possible that the conditions of the pandemic will abate ahead of the July 2 deadline.

Ducey controls future of ‘dark money’ elections

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

Gov. Doug Ducey could upend elections in two major Arizona cities by effectively doing nothing.

Ducey has signed HB2153, legislation meant to undo an overwhelming March 13 Tempe vote that restricts “dark money” groups in city elections and a similar proposal many believe Phoenix voters will adopt in November.

But Ducey has yet to sign Tempe’s ballot measure, which would require independent expenditures over $1,000 to disclose their funding sources and which 91 percent of Tempe voters approved.

Tempe’s ballot initiative has been sitting on Ducey’s desk for several weeks awaiting his signature.

Tempe Councilwoman Lauren Kuby said before the ballot measure goes into effect, the governor must sign off on it, but it’s mostly a formality. His veto power does not extend to voter-approved initiatives.

However, there’s nothing stopping him from sitting on the measure until after the law goes into effect on August 3, or longer. And at that point, he could conceivably refuse to sign it because it conflicts with HB2153, an unprecedented move that would disavow the will of the voters, Kuby said.

Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said he doesn’t remember a governor ever refusing to sign an initiative. But he added that it took Ducey 14 months to sign a measure Tempe voters approved in 2016 that would reduce the amount an individual could give to a campaign. Opponents of that measure argued it conflicted with state law on campaign spending limitations.

“It’s not clear if that delay was just an oversight or if they were trying to find a legal reason to object it,” he said. “What’s interesting is that the Constitution does say that charter amendments have to be consistent with state law. But the area where charter cities have the clearest authorities to regulate and make their own local rules is in elections.”

Kuby said if Ducey refuses to sign the dark money measure, Tempe will probably challenge his decision. But she’s hopeful the city won’t have to resort to that.

“It’s rare that voters will come out 91 percent in favor of an issue. That shows that there is bipartisan support for this and for the governor to go against the people is something, especially in an election year, he likely doesn’t want to do,” she said.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said it’s too early to tell what the governor’s ultimate decision will be, adding that the governor will want to review the issue in detail and comb through the language of the voter-approved measure and HB2153 before making a decision.

However, even if Ducey does approve Tempe’s ballot measure, and later approves Phoenix’s, the two cities will likely still see themselves embroiled in a lawsuit.

But Edman said the question of whether the Legislature or cities have a final say in election matters could surface in a number of ways.

HB2153 would prohibit municipalities and counties from requiring that nonprofits in good standing with the Internal Revenue Service register as political action committees. It would also preclude nonprofits making independent expenditures in local elections from having to identify their funding sources.

Kuby said HB2153 should not apply to charter cities, like Tempe and Phoenix, because the Arizona Constitution gives the state’s 19 charter cities the power to regulate local elections, which the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled is a matter of strictly local concern.

Kuby said the city is ready to fight HB2153 in court.

“Democracy ain’t cheap and we will fight for the rights of our voters,” Kuby said. “I know that Phoenix will be right alongside us.”

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego said the council’s decision to send the measure to the ballot was made knowing full well that if the Phoenix ballot measure is approved and Ducey signs it, it will conflict with state law. She said the city will also take the matter to court.

“That’s where we will continue the debate,” she said.

But Edman said a lawmaker could lodge a complaint under SB1487, which allows any state legislator to ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate an ordinance enacted by a city to determine whether it complies with state law. The city has 30 days to come into compliance or risk losing state-shared revenue if the AG finds the ordinance violates state law.

And dark money groups that the cities are trying to enforce their laws against could also raise the question in court, he said.

“One way or another, I think the cities will win. It would be a real about face for the court to say that cities have a say in election matters, except in this instance,” Edman said.

GOP legislator wants out-of-state political contributions outlawed


The way Rep. Bob Thorpe sees it, it’s illegal for foreigners to try to use their money to influence elections in this country.

So now the Flagstaff Republican wants to enact the same law here − but with a twist: His HB 2718 would make it a crime for anyone who does not live in Arizona to contribute to campaigns for or against candidates and for or against ballot measures. Put simply, Thorpe does not want out-of-staters influencing Arizona politics and policies.

An attorney with expertise in state election law said the idea “makes a lot of sense.”

“For example, you can’t vote if you are not a resident of Arizona and a citizen,” said Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. “Likewise, you might think that it would follow that if you’re going to be spending money on elections, you ought to also be from Arizona.”

But Collins said Thorpe’s proposal is very likely unconstitutional.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

Thorpe conceded that Collins may be right. But he told Capitol Media Services that he hopes the Legislature enacts his proposal anyway as a method of mounting a legal challenge, one that likely would have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The proposal says that a person who is a resident of another state, or any corporation whose domicile or incorporation is in another state “shall not make a contribution to any committee located in this state or any person or candidate for office in this state.”

Thorpe calls it a matter of common sense, saying it curbs the influence of someone from another state who might have millions of dollars to spend and finances an initiative drive to change Arizona law.

“It might be really terrible legislation, terrible law,” he said.

“They never have to live under the consequences of bad laws that they help enact,” Thorpe said. “And so I think that’s extremely unfair.”

Thorpe cited the $24.1 million put into Proposition 127 campaign in 2018 to increase the requirements on utilities to use renewable energy.

That money came largely from NextGen Climate Action, a political action committee founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer. It was defeated with a $40 million campaign financed largely by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service.

Thorpe’s legislation would keep the cash from NextGen out of Arizona, though he said Steyer, now running for the Democrat presidential nomination, would remain free to come to the state and espouse his ideas.

But as crafted, Pinnacle West, incorporated in Arizona, could spend what it wanted. He said the distinction is justified.

“Do we want people to influence our elections here in Arizona that never have to live under the consequences of bad outcome?” Thorpe asked.

Less clear is the issue of multi-state corporations with a major Arizona presence, companies like Raytheon, Wells Fargo and Kroger, the last being the parent company of Fry’s grocery stores.

“My bill doesn’t even try to determine that,” Thorpe said. “That would be something that would need to be fought in the courts and defined in the courts, or defined by future legislatures.”

And Thorpe said that his measure does not address so-called independent expenditures, money given not to candidates themselves but spent on advertising advocating their election or the defeat of their foes.

For example, the Republican Governors Association spent nearly $9.6 million in 2018 to secure the reelection of Gov. Doug Ducey, much of that with advertising aimed at Democrat foe David Garcia. But the reports to the state do not disclose where the RGA got its money and how much of that came from out-of-state donors.

Collins said there are legal ways to limit the ability of candidates to taking funds from out-of-state residents.

He pointed out that the Citizens Clean Elections Act allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public financing for their campaigns if they agree not to take dollars from special interests and political action committees. But here’s the thing: To qualify, candidates have to gather a certain number of $5 donations to show they have some public support.

Those dollars can come only from Arizonans who are registered to vote. And, in the case of legislative candidates, the funds have to come from those living in the same district.

What makes that legal, Collins said, is that the program is voluntary.

Candidates remain free to choose to solicit private dollars. And Collins said he doubts that curbs can be placed on where they get their money.

“I think that what a court would likely say is, look, folks who live in New Mexico or California or New York or Washington, D.C. may have an interest in the policies that the state has on commerce or the policies the state has,” he said. Perhaps, Collins said, they have a business that is incorporated in California but with operations in Arizona.

“So they have an interest there in making their case and supporting those candidates that reflect their position,” he said. “And I think that the courts would see that as part of First Amendment rights.”

Thorpe said there may be a way of dealing with that: follow the money. And there actually is a proposal to do just that.

Former Attorney General Terry Goddard is trying to put a measure on the November ballot to put a provision in the Arizona Constitution requiring public disclosure of the name and address of any individual who has put at least $5,000 into influencing the outcome of any election, whether directly or indirectly.

It also would apply to so-called “social welfare” groups that now can spend unlimited amounts both for and against candidates and supporting and opposing ballot measures. That would override a law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature exempting those groups from having to disclose their donors.

“I like the concept,” Thorpe said, though he said he doesn’t know the details of the proposal. But he said it is in line with his goal of reining in out-of-state money − or at least shining a light on it if the courts find his plan unconstitutional.

So far legislative leadership has declined to assign Thorpe’s measure to a committee for a hearing.


Groups give up on challenge to election law


Groups seeking to put initiatives on the ballot have thrown in the towel in their bid to void a law that can disqualify many otherwise valid signatures.

In a new filing in federal court here, attorney Sarah Gonski dismissed the request she had for Judge Susan Bolton to void the state’s “strikeout law.”

That means the 2014 statute will remain on the books and enforceable at least through this year’s election. It also means that those seeking to quash the initiative drives she represented will be able to use it to try to keep them off the November ballot.

Gonski, speaking for the team of attorneys who represented challengers, told Capitol Media Services she still believes the law is illegal and ultimately would have been struck down.

But she conceded that her efforts to get even a preliminary injunction were rebuffed, first by Bolton and then by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And while that still left open the legal door to proceed to a trial on the merits of the law — eventually — Gonski said that did not make sense.

“One of the unfortunate realities of litigation is that sometimes you have to litigate for years to get what is ultimately the right conclusion,” she said.

“At this point, with this much time and money sunk into this effort, it just didn’t make sense to proceed,” Gonski said. “But that matter remains an open question and we hope that at some point in the future this law will no longer threaten the free-speech rights of Arizonans.”

The end of the case also has political implications.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who as the state’s chief elections officers was named as the defendant, refused to defend the statute. That forced Attorney General Mark Brnovich to intervene. And Brnovich, a Republican, used the opportunity to slap down Democrat Hobbs in a press release, saying this is one of four instances where she did not try to uphold state laws.

All that could play out in 2022 when Hobbs and Brnovich could face off in the race for governor.

The underlying law is simple. It requires those who circulate initiative petitions for money or who are not Arizona residents to first register with the secretary of state’s office.

But the real teeth is that it also requires those people to show up in court if they are subpoenaed.

Foes of some initiatives have used that provision in the past to challenge initiative drives, knowing that if the people do not show — for whatever reason — that all the signatures they gathered are disqualified.

More to the point, that action is automatic, meaning it is legally irrelevant whether the signature itself was valid, whether the signer wants to vote on the measure, and even if the signer were to show up in court to verify the validity of the signature.

That, in turn, has led to the death of some petition drives, including one two years ago which would have put a provision into the Arizona Constitution to ban “dark money” anonymous contributions and require public disclosure of the true source of all funds for both candidate and ballot campaigns.

More immediately, it could affect this year’s elections.

Arizonans for Fair Lending, one of the groups that filed suit, is circulating petitions asking voters to cap interest rates on auto title loans at no more than 36 percent annual interest. Current law allows lenders to charge more than 200 percent.

Backers need 237,645 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify for the ballot.

Their signature-gathering process has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the stay-at-home directive by Gov. Doug Ducey and his orders closing various businesses where would-be signers might otherwise gather.

U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza already has rejected a bid by some initiative drives to be able to gather signatures they need using an existing online system available to candidates. An appeal is pending at the 9th Circuit.

The Arizona Supreme Court has yet to rule on a parallel legal challenge.

Lawmakers approve wording for 2018 ballot measures

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

A Republican-dominated legislative committee decided Wednesday that voters don’t need to be told that if they approve a business-backed tax-limiting measure the state could be foregoing more than $5.2 billion a year in revenues.

There is no dispute that the constitutional amendment being pushed by the Arizona Association of Realtors would bar lawmakers from expanding sales taxes to cover any services that are not now subject to the state’s 5.6 percent levy. Even legislative budget staffers concluded that if all services were taxed it could generate $5.2 billion a year in new revenues on top of the approximately $10 billion now raised in state sales and income taxes to provide public services, about half of that for education.

At a hearing Wednesday, Devin Del Palacio, a member of the Tolleson Union High School board, said taking future sales taxes off the table and foregoing those revenues should be included in the brochure to be mailed out to all 3.6 million registered voters which explains all ballot measures.

“I would like to know the amount of money that could have been used for teacher salaries, better schools or any other priority,” he told members of the Legislative Council. “I feel that this information could be critical to the decision-making process to allow voters to make an informed decision.”

But the Republicans who have 10 votes on the 14-member panel, instead sided with political consultant Wes Gullett, who represents the Realtors who gathered the signatures to put the issue to voters.

“That’s a speculative, hypothetical thing that might happen in the future and has nothing to do with this amendment,” he said.

The Republicans on the same committee also approved what Democrats say is a biased description of an initiative to hike income taxes on the state’s most wealthy to help fund education.

Most significant, the verbiage adopted by the GOP majority would tell voters that if they approve the #InvestInEd measure to boost taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year that they also will be increasing their own taxes, even if they earn far less.

That is based on a conclusion that the measure also would effectively repeal a 2015 law that indexes the state’s income tax brackets to inflation. That law is designed to protect taxpayers at all income levels from “bracket creep” where they wind up in higher tax brackets — and paying higher rates — simply because their income keeps pace with inflation.

Democrats said that reading of the initiative is legally flawed. They say nothing in the measure wipes out indexing.

More to the point, they argued that telling voters — they believe incorrectly — that taxes will go up on everyone is designed to deter people from approving the measure which is designed to raise $690 million a year for education.

Republicans also insisted on putting language in the ballot brochure describing the increase in tax rates on high-income Arizonans as from 76 to 98 percent.

“That’s designed to scare people with big numbers,” complained Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, calling the verbiage “clearly biased.” He acknowledged the increase is mathematically accurate but said it would be more honest simply to say that the actual tax rate on incomes of more than $250,000 is going from 4.54 percent to 8 percent, and 9 percent on amounts over $500,000.

Martin Quezada (file photo)
Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Glendale)

“I think we crossed the line into advocacy,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. “And I think that’s unfortunate.”

Democrats said Republicans showed the same bias in their refusal to tell voters what it could mean financially if they constitutionally bar sales taxes on services.

By law, the Legislative Council is required to provide “impartial” descriptions of all ballot measures. That is the wording that shows up in mail boxes of voters ahead of the Nov. 6 general election to help voters learn about the issues and make up their minds.

Clark said one thing voters need to know is how much money is involved.

He pointed to a report by legislative staffers that says if the state’s 5.6 percent sales tax applied to health care it would generate close to $2.1 billion. Another $1 billion would flow into state coffers if the levy applied to professional, scientific and technical services,

And the balance is made up in other categories like personal care – think haircuts, nail salons and lawn care – and personal finance, which includes investment advice.

“I think the public would need that context to be able to make a decision here,” Clark said.

Gullett had a different take.

“This just protects the Arizona taxpayer from having to pay a huge new tax on things that aren’t taxed today,” he told lawmakers. He said speculation on what might be taxed in the future without the constitutional amendment – and the amount of money such taxes might raise – is irrelevant and not a proper subject to put in the ballot pamphlet.

Clark countered that voters need to understand what they are giving up.

“The point is, we would not be able to address the changing nature of our economy, which is going more and more towards services,” he said. “That is not clear in this.”

And Clark said it would strip lawmakers of the ability to decide whether to tax certain services that weren’t on the radar two decades ago, like rideshare companies like Uber and homeshare companies like Airbnb.

Speaker of the House J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler
Speaker of the House J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler

But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said it would be misleading to tell voters about a possible $5.2 billion in new revenues. He said the actual amount that could be raised would depend on what services lawmakers decide to tax – assuming that voters do not remove the constitutional right of legislators to make those decisions.

Separately, the same committee approved a description of a ballot measure to require half of all power generated in Arizona by 2030 come from renewable sources. That, too, provoked controversy as attorney Jim Barton objected to spelling out in the pamphlet what is not considered “renewable,” including nuclear, and that the initiative would not affect Salt River Project.

There was no debate, however, over the description of a proposed constitutional amendment which would require public disclosure of all sources of $2,500 or more to influence political campaigns.

Politicians weigh in on ballot measures

This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs settled a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation by adopting an elections procedure that allows counties five days to fix early ballots that don’t match signatures on file or are missing signatures. PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz.  PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

If you get your advice from Gov. Doug Ducey you’re going to want to vote against at least three of the four measures expected to be on the November ballot.

The governor has submitted statements in opposition to proposals to legalize recreational uses of marijuana, increase taxes on the wealthy to help fund education, and a third with various provisions relating to hospitals and health care.

But he took no position on a fourth ballot measure to give judges more discretion in sentencing.

On marijuana, the governor called what is expected to be on the ballot as Proposition 207 “a bad idea based on false promises,” saying the experience from other states shows it will lead to more highway deaths, dramatic increases in teen drug use and more newborns exposed to marijuana. Anyway, Ducey said, the current system of medical marijuana, approved by voters in 2010 “is serving the people who need it for health-related reasons.”

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Ducey is not alone, particularly on the issue of whether Arizonans should be able to legally buy and possess marijuana for personal use. The Secretary of State’s Office got dozens of arguments from foes.

All those arguments will be placed into publicity pamphlets mailed to the homes of all registered voters.

So will the handful of arguments in favor of the measure, including one from former Gov. Fife Symington III.

“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he wrote. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the right of adults to choose to consume marijuana while regulating and taxing its production and sale.”

He has at least a passing familial interest in the issue: His son, Fife Symington IV, is managing director of Copperstate Farms, which operates what is believed to be the largest medical marijuana cultivation facility in the state. And those already involved in medical marijuana are going to get first crack at the expanded recreational system if voters approve.

The pamphlet actually contains two arguments by Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, one in favor and one against.

Humble told Capitol Media Services his organization sees the issue through a pair of lenses.

On one hand, he said, there are members of his organization who support the idea of “criminal justice reform,” getting rid of state laws that make it a felony to have any amount of marijuana at all.

Will Humble
Will Humble

“But, on the other hand, there is good evidence that these retail marijuana laws increase access to people under 21,” Humble said. “It’s harmful to adolescents.”

He said voters will get to read both perspectives.

“I’m probably going to vote for it,” Humble said, saying there’s no reason to make felons out of people who have small quantities of marijuana. “Even if they don’t do time for it … part of it is going through being arrested, paying the fees for the court, suffering through the criminal justice system, paying for all those classes they make you take.”

On the other side are Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Sheila Polk, her Yavapai County counterpart. The measure also is opposed by Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, whose organization is financing much of the campaign against the initiative.

The proposal to increase income taxes on the state’s top earners, Proposition 210, also drew lots of comments.

Most of the support comes from members of the education community like Joshua Buckley, president of the Mesa Education Association.

“A decade of cuts to education have hit hardest on our state’s most vulnerable population – our children,” he wrote.

And Steve Adams, co-president of the Tempe School Education Association, said the funding is needed to make up for cuts made during the past decade.

“Now is the time for smaller class sizes,” she said. “Now is the time to pay certified teachers a professional salary. Now is the time for all Arizona students to have access to a qualified school nurse, counselor, librarian and support staff who keep them safe and healthy.”

The measure would affect only the top 4% of earners in Arizona, raising the rate only on earnings of more than $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing jointly. It is billed as raising $940 million a year for K-12 education.

Close-up of child's abacus in classroom.“That’s a whopping amount, especially considering that our economy is recovering from recession and high unemployment,” Ducey wrote. And he said there is no guarantee how much of this actually would wind up in the classroom.

Various business groups also have taken positions against the measure. And state Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the measure “will result in a huge drag on the overall economy.”

“If we can’t grow the economy, we can’t invest in schools and raise teacher pay,” he argued.

The health care measure, Proposition 208, pulls some of the same interests together in opposition.

It would require a 20% pay hike for hospital workers, impose new infection-control standards on hospitals, provide protections for insured patients against “surprise” medical bills for out-of-network care, and guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can get affordable health insurance.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called it part of a “radical agenda” by “out-of-state special interests.” That refers to the fact the measure is being financed by a California chapter of Service Employees International Union.

Glenn Hamer
Glenn Hamer

“Dramatically increasing health care costs at a time when the Arizona economy is struggling with double-digit unemployment rate and record jobless claims will devastate hardworking families and delay the state’s economic recovery,” he said.

But it has support from groups ranging from the Arizona Faith Network and Living United for Change in Arizona to Poder Latinx and the Sky Harbor Lodge 2559 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The lone item Ducey has not weighed in on is Proposition 209, designed to partly reverse laws on mandatory prison terms imposed in 1978 and modify the 1993 “truth in sentencing” law that requires criminals to serve at least 85% of their term before being released.

It also would end the ability of prosecutors to “stack” multiple charges committed by someone before arrest to allow them to have the person designed a repeat offender.

State lawmakers actually approved that change last year only to have it vetoed by Ducey because of what he said where “unintended consequences that may raise from this legislation.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker and Beth Lewis, co-founders of Save Our Schools Arizona, argued that the state now spends more on incarcerating people than in state aid to colleges and universities.

“By emphasizing rehabilitation, reintegration training and smarter sentencing, the Second Chances Act addresses the other side of the school-to-prison pipeline that holds back too many Arizona families,” they said.

But Polk, the Yavapai County attorney, said voters should not dismantle the sentencing code.

“It will, once again, allow many very serious and repeat offenders to serve only half of their sentence before being released back on our streets and into our communities,” she said. And Polk said the current laws ensure that people are sentenced based on their crimes and not “who you are, where you live, and who your sentencing judge is will determine your sentence.”

Taking politics from SOS to protect the ‘sacred right’ to vote


First and foremost, to the people of Arizona, thank you. I’m grateful for the confidence you’ve placed in me to do this job which, I believe, is at the core of our democracy: protecting the right to vote and ensuring every eligible voter – whether Republican, Democrat, independent, Green or Libertarian – can cast a ballot with confidence that your vote counts and your voice matters.

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

Throughout my career, as a social worker and in the Legislature, my singular focus has been to make government work better for all of us. Whether it was collaborating with Governor Jan Brewer to pass Medicaid expansion, providing health care to thousands of Arizonans, or with Governor Ducey to clear the backlog of untested rape kits, I have placed problem-solving above politics. I will bring that same pragmatic, results-oriented approach to the office of Secretary of State.

When my campaign began 18-months ago, we started with a significant list of issues we knew needed to be addressed. We made this campaign about the elections themselves and listened as you, the voters, told us precisely what you expect.

You want to remove politics from the office and from the way we manage our elections. I pledge not to endorse candidates or ballot measures.

You want us to rebuild relationships with all 15 county recorders and fully support them so they, in turn, can effectively manage elections in their areas. A key step toward achieving this goal and among my highest priorities is working collaboratively with them to update the Elections Procedures Manual.

You want us to make it easier, not harder, for eligible voters to vote. To that end, I will work with members of the Legislature, identify the most promising ideas and work to pass the laws necessary to implement them. I will also oppose efforts by those attempting to place additional restrictions on your right and opportunity to vote.

You want to make sure that your personal information and our election machines are safe from hacking. Cybersecurity is a 24/7/365 challenge. I will create a cybersecurity task force to ensure we are taking every step to protect your information and keep our democracy safe.

Throughout the campaign, I spoke about making elections secure, fair and efficient. Indeed, that is my pledge to every Arizonan: to restore trust to the office and, for the sake of our state and our country, increase citizen participation at every level of government. In return for your trust, I expect you to hold me accountable at every step.

The next several weeks will see a whirlwind of activities as I assess the current operation, make critical hires and create a framework to support your expectations and mine. Nothing about this will be easy, but all of it is essential. Voting is a sacred right. I am proud to protect that right; proud to serve; and proud to have the opportunity to continue to make government work for the benefit of all Arizonans.

— Katie Hobbs is secretary of state-elect.


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

Voters put forth arguments on 2018 ballot measures

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

Arizona voters will be inundated with nearly 500 arguments about why they should support or oppose the seven different measures that will be on the November ballot.

But the raw number of submissions to the Secretary of State’s Office for the pamphlet that will be mailed to the homes of 3.6 million registered voters may be a little misleading.

It is true that there were 133 separate comments urging voters to reject a proposal to require Arizona utilities to generate half their power from renewable sources by 2030.

But 91 of these, each of which cost $75, were paid for by the committee financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service, which is leading the charge.

This isn’t a one-way street.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, picked up the tab for 33 of the 52 arguments in support.

The situation is even more pronounced on a ballot measure seeking to curb the authority of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

There, 31 of the 33 arguments in favor of it were financed by Stop Taxpayer Money for Political Parties Committee. That, in turn, is being run by Scott Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, an organization that seeks to keep anonymous who is financing its efforts to affect elections, one of the powers the commission says it has the ability to enforce.

Matt Benson, spokesman for the Pinnacle West-financed effort to quash the proposed renewable energy standard, said having his organization pay for so many arguments is not an effort to mislead the voters who will be reading them.

“They’re still their arguments,” he said of the individuals whose names are attached to each of them. “They’re standing behind their own words.”

And Benson dismissed questions about whether those who are making the arguments were not sufficiently motivated to pony up their own $75 to put them in the pamphlet.

Rod McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, echoed the sentiment.

“All these people have opinions and have shared them,” he said. “I don’t think the way democracy works is you have to have money to have a voice.”

Some of the arguments on the seven ballot measures were pointed in their comments, perhaps none more so than in opposition to a plan to impose an income tax surcharge on the highest wage earners to raise $690 million for public education.

“This Socialist so-called education funding scheme will do nothing to improve our already failing, broken, and bloated government schools who are almost exclusively focused on social justice education sprinkled with a little algebra,” wrote Scottsdale resident Kristen Williamson. And Eric Smaltz of Surprise described the measure as “pushed through by striking teachers holding parents and students hostage.”

Supporters like Dianne Post of the National Organization for Women Arizona, had a different take.

“Taxes are the dues you pay to live in a civilized society,” she wrote. “Taxes are an investment not an expense.”

The arguments on whether voters should approve expansion of who can get vouchers, while also relating to education, are a bit different — and, in some ways, a bit more confusing.

At issue is the 2017 decision by the Republican-controlled Legislature to remove any conditions from who is entitled to get taxpayer dollars to attend private or parochial schools. That overrode prior law which limited what are formally called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to those in certain groups, like students with special needs, foster children and youngsters attending schools rated D or F.

But Save Our Schools Arizona gathered enough signatures to block the law from taking effect until voters get the last word.

What’s important is that Save Our Schools, while having put the issue on the ballot as Proposition 305, wants people to vote “no” — rejecting the legislative change — to prevent opening up vouchers to all students, regardless of qualifications; it takes a “yes” vote to support what lawmakers have approved.

The statements in support include testimonials from parents who say that their children were floundering in traditional public schools. Gilbert mother Christine Accurso said the voucher dollars enabled her to pay for a private school.

“He has been thriving for the past four years thanks to the ESA scholarship,” she wrote. “As a parent, I know what is best for my child.”

There also was the broader argument of “school choice,” espoused by the state’s three Catholic bishops who operate their own parochial schools.

But Susan Edwards, who uses vouchers for her two children on the autism spectrum, said there is no reason to expand the program to all. She said the children who are getting voucher help — help that will not change if Proposition 305 is defeated — were “paraded around as the justification for voucher expansion for those seeking private religious education.”

A measure to constitutionally bar new sales taxes on services collected 18 statements in support, all but two of which paid for by the the Arizona Association of Realtors.

But among the four in opposition was one of particular interest: Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group founded by libertarian billionaire David Koch, the same organization that sued unsuccessfully last year to keep Proposition 305 off the November ballot. Andrew Clark, the organization’s state director, said exempting some business from taxes throws an impediment in the path of “a flat, low rate that treats every business the same way and allows us as consumers to be in charge.”

The campaign for a constitutional amendment to require disclosure of anonymous sources of money to influence campaigns also drew less than the energy and education measures, with 27 comments in support — none paid for by the campaign committee — and just four in opposition, all paid for by interests who have made such expenditures.

And way below the radar is a proposed constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to change pension benefits for retired correctional officers and elected officials. Virtually every legislator signed a statement in support; only Eric Hahn, a retired Pima County county corrections officer, urged voters to reject it, calling it “unfair” to change the rules for those who were hired under old rules.