Bowers, Fann retain leadership posts; Dems choose Bolding, Rios

From left are Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Republican lawmakers re-elected them to lead the legislative chambers in 2021.
From left are Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Republican lawmakers re-elected them to lead the legislative chambers in 2021.

Legislative Republican and Democratic caucuses met separately this and last week to select leadership following a topsy-turvy election that saw statewide Democrats succeed but the party’s legislative candidates flounder under the weight of expectation.

The GOP kept its top lawmakers in each chamber, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, retaining their positions. Bowers put down a challenge in the form of Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, the loudest in a cadre of Republicans who felt the current leadership to be aloof and too hesitant to push back against Gov. Doug Ducey, while Fann had no opponent.

Joining Bowers at the helm is Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who took the majority leader job over Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu, emerged as majority whip, taking the position from Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton. Rep. Travis Grantham, a Republican from Gilbert who often presided over contentious debates last session, will serve as speaker pro tempore.

“It is a humbling privilege to be asked by my colleagues to continue in their service as speaker of the House of Representatives,” Bowers said.

Nearly one-third of the caucus went for Finchem. But, as one Republican consultant pointed out on Twitter, Bowers’ pitch to lawmakers was likely helped by the election results, proving his ability to keep the fractious caucus together.

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, speaks on the opening day of the legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Bolding was named to lead House Democrats as minority leader, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, speaks on the opening day of the legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Bolding was named to lead House Democrats as minority leader, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

On the Democratic side, only Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, remains from last session’s team, replacing Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, as minority leader.

“I am honored to be chosen to lead this caucus and to work with this incredible team,” said Bolding. “What we’ve seen over this election cycle is that this state is more purple than red or blue, and we look forward to working together to put forth policies to benefit all Arizonans. We will continue to be champions for working families, for equality, for a strong economy and a strong Democracy.”

Fernandez announced November 7 that she would not seek re-election as House minority leader, a decision that came only a few days before the caucus meeting that she had once hoped would propel her to the speakership.

Even prior to her caucus’ failure to take over the House, and the defeat of her seatmate, Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Buckeye, some in the Democratic caucus had lost their confidence in Fernandez. Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, assembled an opposition leadership team and a slick website under the “Unity Caucus” name, but lost to Bolding, the whip under Fernandez, for the minority leader job by just one vote – the third time the margin has been that thin in as many years.

Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, who ran as an assistant minority leader under the opposition leadership slate of Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, will instead serve as Bolding’s assistant leader. Rep. Domingo Degrazia, D-Tucson, will serve as whip. The caucus voted not to elect two co-whips this year, as they did last session.

“We had a spirited debate and vote, but our caucus has come together unified from this moment to protect working families of this state,” Longdon said in a statement.

Fann will keep almost her entire leadership team next year, as Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, will continue as majority leader and whip, respectively.

She also appointed Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, as president pro tempore, replacing retiring Sen. Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert. As the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leach has spent the past two years in a de facto leadership role and is included in most meetings with Fann’s inner circle.

In this May 26, 2020, file photo, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, speaks during a state Senate legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Democrats unanimously picked Rios to lead members of the minority party in the Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this May 26, 2020, file photo, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, speaks during a state Senate legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Democrats unanimously picked Rios to lead members of the minority party in the Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, elected a potentially historic slate consisting entirely of people of color. Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, was unopposed in her bid for minority leader, after potential challengers in Phoenix Democrats Sean Bowie and Lela Alston bowed out of contention.

Rios was the House minority leader in 2017-18, and has served in other leadership roles over the three decades she has spent on and off in the Legislature.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, will reprise his role as assistant minority leader. Sens. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, and Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, will serve as co-whips.

“I’m so excited to be working with Martín as co-whip,” Steele said. “We make a great team, we work really well together and we complement each other.”

Steele, who is of Seneca/Mingo descent, said she was amazed after the vote by the racial demographics of the new Democratic leadership team — especially considering that next year’s Republican leaders are seven white men and one white woman. Rios, Contreras and Quezada are all Latino. And assuming Democrat Christine Marsh’s lead over Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee holds, four of the 14 members of the Senate Democratic caucus will be white while the remaining 10 are Latino or Native American.

The Senate Democratic team balances two of the chamber’s most outspoken progressive members, Steele and Quezada, with a duo in Rios and Contreras, who have shown a willingness to work with Republicans. In a tweet sharing the leadership announcement, Rios wrote that she was “honored and ready to work with Arizona Senate Democrats and Republicans.

“People will either try to peg me as too progressive if they’re trying to oppose me from the right,” Rios said before the vote. “People will try to peg me as too conservative if they’re trying to oppose me from the left. At the end of the day, I have represented districts ranging from south Phoenix, which is very blue, to Pinal County, which was a very conservative district, and I have a voting record that is often dead center right in the middle.”


Community colleges to stay with only 2-year degrees

Arizona tied Alaska for lowest graduation rates in 2013, when just 29 percent of students were able to earn a four-year degree within six years of starting. (Photo by JECO Photo via flickr/Creative Commons)
(Photo by JECO Photo via flickr/Creative Commons)

Arizona’s community colleges won’t be offering four-year degrees, at least not in the immediate future.

On a 3-6 vote Tuesday the Senate Education Committee quashed legislation which would have allowed these colleges to start offering baccalaureate degrees. The 3-6 vote came despite the same measure having gained bipartisan House approval last month on a 42-18 margin.

Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, the prime sponsor, argued that the current system requires rural students who want four-year degrees to leave their homes. That not only affects families, she said, but undermines efforts to promote local economic development.

She said nothing in HB2790 would force any community college to expand its reach. But Nutt said many of these already have buildings and other infrastructure in place that would allow them to start offering four-year degrees without any new investment and without raising local taxes.

Larry Penley, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, told lawmakers there is no real need.

He said the state’s three universities already have working relationships with community colleges around the state, partnering with them in ways to offer four-year degrees. And he said there even is reduced tuition for university courses that are taught on community college campuses.

But Keith Alexander, assistant to the president of Eastern Arizona College, said much of what’s taught is by computer links. He said that’s no substitute for actually having faculty on campus.

And Alexander said there are gaps in what kind of degrees are available in his rural community.

“We have jobs that are not filled there, the majority of those requiring bachelor’s degrees,” he said. “And there aren’t people there to fill them.”

None of the legislators who voted against the proposal disputed there may be needs, particularly in rural areas, for additional paths to a four-year degree. But their concern was the breadth of the legislation, opening the door – without restriction – to community colleges being able to offer any degree they want.

“Just simply opening the gates … creating a Dodge City atmosphere where you could have multiple nursing programs, multiple accredited programs, you could have all kinds of unhealthy competition,” said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix.

She said there may be some options. But this bill, Brophy McGee said, is not it.

“This has to be put together thoughtfully, carefully,” she said, perhaps with more study and a pilot program.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, however, said he looks at it from the perspective of students.

“This helps out low-income families,” he said, with degrees at community colleges likely to cost far less than what universities charge. And Borrelli said he was not concerned about the effect on universities, suggesting if they were forced to compete they might lower their own costs.

But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said that’s making an assumption. He pointed out that there is nothing in the legislation that precludes community colleges, granted the ability to offer four-year degrees, do not raise their tuition.

That possibility of higher tuition didn’t impress Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. She said universities, which have no state-mandated cap on tuition, have been increasing tuition now for decades.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said not every community college in the state wants this authority. She suggested the issue needs further study.

That did not go down well with Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City.

“It’s been talked at for decades now, decades!” he said. “From the last century, it’s been talked about.”

Gray did acknowledge, though, that the bill in its current form probably needed some work.


Dem urges ethics probe of Finchem at Capitol protest

Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Rep. Cesar Chavez, D-Phoenix, is asking the House Ethics Committee to investigate and possibly expel an Oro Valley Republican who was in Washington D.C. during a protest against the presidential election results that led to a pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol and several deaths.

“Based on my personal knowledge of news articles and social media posts, including those of Representative Finchem himself, I believe that Representative Finchem failed to uphold his oath of office and has demonstrated that he may lack the ethical and moral values to be an elected member of this body,” Chavez wrote in a letter to Ethics Committee Chairwoman Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton.

Chavez’ letter comes on the heels of one House and Senate Democrats sent to the FBI on January 13 asking for an investigation of the actions of Finchem and three other Arizona Republican politicians who were in D.C. for the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally.

Finchem denies witnessing or taking part in violence or anything illegal. In a statement January 11, he said he was there to “deliver an evidence book and letter to Vice President Pence showing key evidence of fraud in the Arizona presidential election” and ask him to delay certifying the state’s electoral vote. He said he didn’t learn about the mob breaking into the Capitol until around 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and blamed the violence on Antifa infiltrators posing as Trump supporters.

“To connect my presence to speak in the company of other elected officials at a properly permitted public event at the Capitol event with ‘leading an insurrection,’ or that walking with the crowd to the Capitol can be construed as anything other than an exercise of my First Amendment right to free speech it is utterly absurd,” Finchem wrote.

Finchem declined to comment to the Arizona Capitol Times about the January 13 letter and he was not immediately available to comment on the ethics complaint.

Chavez accuses Finchem of violating the part of his oath of office pledging to defend the state and federal constitutions against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” citing Arizona law criminalizing advocating overthrowing the government by “force, violence or terrorism,” as well as the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was written after the Civil War and bars government officials who supported a rebellion against the U.S. government from holding office in the future.

Chavez urges the Ethics Committee to “conduct a full investigation into Representative Finchem’s actions, and should it find that he supported the violent overthrow of our government, the ethics committee should recommend immediate expulsion.”

Nutt’s office referred the Capitol Times to Andrew Wilder, spokesman for the House Republicans.

“The first step is the Ethics chairman will receive and review the complaint and make a decision at that point at what the next steps might be,” Wilder said.


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’s ethics complaint against Democrats lands in trash


Another ethics complaint — this time one Rep. Mark Finchem filed against all of the House and Senate Democrats — will not be going anywhere.

Ethics Committee Chairwoman Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, used the same basis for throwing out the Oro Valley Republican’s complaint Friday as she did Feb. 12 when she tossed 82 complaints filed against Finchem and also on Feb. 15 for complaints against two other Republicans. 

“The ethics committee is not an arena for waging political contests. That is true whether the subjects of a complaint are individual Republicans (as before) or nearly the entire Democratic caucus (as here),” Nutt wrote. 

Finchem alleged the Democrats 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. Cesár Chávez, D-Phoenix, filed a complaint in mid-January asking the 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. Eighty-one other people, many of them residents of Finchem’s district, then sent the committee letters supporting Chávez’s call for an investigation.

Nutt said a week ago she would not act on the complaint against Finchem, viewing it as a political dispute and not a matter for the Ethics Committee, after which Finchem filed a complaint against all the Democrats who in January sent a letter to the FBI asking for an investigation of Finchem.

Earlier this week Nutt also rejected calls for an investigation into comments Reps. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, and Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, made about nonbinary people at a committee meeting, casting the complaint — like the one against Finchem and Finchem’s subsequent complaint — an attempt to use the ethics process to settle political disputes.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Four women lawmakers call for Ugenti-Rita, Rios to be suspended from leadership roles in House

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios

Four GOP representatives asked for their fellow Reps. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Rebecca Rios to be removed from their leadership roles in the House pending an investigation of sexual harassment accusations at the Capitol.

Republican Reps. Regina Cobb, Jill Norgaard, Becky Nutt and Maria Syms all signed the letter to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard asking for Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, to be removed from her role as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and for Rios, D-Phoenix, to be removed as the minority leader of the House Democratic Caucus.

The letter, sent today, was also sent to every member of the House.

Mesnard, R-Chandler, has the authority to strip Ugenti-Rita of her committee chairmanship — the speaker removed Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, as chair of the Appropriations Committee after nine women, including Ugenti-Rita, accused him of sexual harassment — while it would take a vote of the Democratic Caucus to remove Rios as their leader. Mesnard told the Arizona Capitol Times he would take the request “under advisement.”

Since Shooter was stripped of a leadership role pending the House’s investigation, it would only be right for the same to be done to Ugenti-Rita and Rios to “maintain equal treatment, consistency, and the integrity of the House policy,” the four representatives wrote in their letter.

Syms, a Paradise Valley Republican, told the Capitol Times failing to remove Ugenti-Rita and Rios from their leadership positions undermines the integrity of the investigation.

“If we’re going to remove one from leadership we have to remove all from leadership pending the investigation,” she said. “And I hope, and I’m encouraged, that House leadership will fully vet all of these claims and we will root out any sexual harassment that is found.”

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Norgaard, who represents Phoenix’s Legislative District 18, said regardless of gender or political party, “nobody should be exempt from the rules.”

“If politicians are going to behave at a substandard level, then I think they need a time out,” Norgaard said.

Unlike Shooter, who’s been accused of sexual harassment, claims of wrongdoing against Ugenti-Rita and Rios pertain to alleged affairs with House staffers, and in Ugenti-Rita’s case, “inappropriate sexual comments made and recorded during a hearing,” the letter states. Those accusations were made by Shooter, who lashed out after Ugenti-Rita publicly named him as one of the men she claims have sexually harassed her while she’s served at the Legislature.

Rep. Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, accused Rios in an ethics complaint of having an “inappropriate relationship” with a House staffer. His complaint stemmed from a political tussle with Rios over political endorsements. The four GOP representatives asked in their letter for the Democratic Caucus to “take immediate action” to remove Rios as minority leader.

“House Representatives serve the public and should not abuse their position by exerting power and influence over others, especially through sexual misconduct,” Cobb, Norgaard, Nutt and Syms wrote. “Sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual relations with House staffers should not be tolerated under any circumstance.”

Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Randall Friese said the move is politically driven.

“Beyond politics I do not understand why Rep. Rios was included in this letter,” he said. “The Speaker does not have authority over the status of our caucus leadership. From what we understand, the ethics investigation is moving quickly and we hope for a swift resolution.”

Rios’ lawyer, Larry Wulkan, said the letter aimed to take the spotlight off Shooter.

“(F)our female Republican members have decided to divert attention away from the sexual harassment allegations against their Republican colleague,” he said. “Allegations against Representative Rios are based on rumor, speculation and political motivations.”

Kurt Altman, who is representing Ugenti-Rita in the investigation, declined to comment on the representatives’ request, but added he was “confident the speaker will do the right thing.”

Other representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

GOP lawmakers demand Ward allow audit of her election

Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020, before introducing U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar.  (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)
Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020, before introducing U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)

About a third of state Republican lawmakers are calling on newly re-elected state GOP Chair Kelli Ward to either agree to a recount of that vote or back off of her challenges to the presidential race.

In an email Wednesday to Ward, the 14 representatives and four senators said they have been involved in a two-month effort to bring “transparency and accountability in our election process.”

“This included ballot security and integrity, comprehensive audits, and paper trails that allow the average voter to know that their vote counted and that the election results as presented were accurate,” they wrote. That followed the certified election results that showed Joe Biden outpolling Donald Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes.

At the same time, they noted, Ward won a new term as party chair by defeating Sergio Arellano, a southern Arizona businessman and unsuccessful 2018 congressional candidate, by 42 votes. She has refused his request for a recount, saying there was no procedure, process or rule that allows for that.

“And you certainly don’t allow a challenger who lost an election to demand something that they don’t have the right to, and we don’t have the responsibility for providing,” she said last month on KFYI.

The GOP lawmakers said that’s subverting what they’re trying to do.

“Now, our collective message is being undermined by your insistence that none of these standards should apply to your election as AZ GOP Chairman,” they wrote. “This inconsistency is simply not acceptable.

The lawmakers acknowledged that election of a party chief “pales in comparison” with a presidential election.

“But the principles that surround every election, no matter how big or small, must remain the same,” they wrote.

So they want Ward to either allow an immediate audit of her Jan. 23 election or remove herself from efforts to audit the Nov. 3 election “as you would be an unwelcome distraction and foil for the media to use to discredit our efforts to protect our state’s voters.”

Ward did not return a message seeking comment.

But the signers said the call is merited.

“I support transparency, free and fair elections in every corner of representation,” Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley told Capitol Media Services. Finchem has been at the forefront of arguments that the Arizona results were tainted and incorrect.

Sen. T.J. Shope of Coolidge said it’s a matter of “trying to be consistent.” And he said that’s not what’s happening here.

“I come at it as a guy that doesn’t believe the ‘stop the steal’ stuff,” he said, people who are convinced that Trump won Arizona.

“And here we have somebody who is essentially leading the charge and was former President Trump’s lead surrogate essentially in Arizona saying these things,” Shope said. “And when her election comes up under question, auditing or anything like that is not even on the table.”

Rep. Shawnna Bolick of Phoenix said after the January GOP meeting was over it was brought to her attention that there were missed ballots from one county between the first and second round of voting.

“An audit of the chairman’s election would bring transparency to the process,” she said. Bolick said it would be wise for the party to lead to ensure that the state committeemen who voted “have the confidence in the integrity of the chair’s election,” essentially echoing the reason many Republican lawmakers have argued the need for the state to conduct its own audit of the November vote.

“By conducting an audit we can identify the sources of any potential discrepancies and put this issue to rest,” Bolick said. “Our party needs to rebuild and this is causing further division when we need to focus on growing our party.”

Peoria Rep. Ben Toma agreed.

“We want transparency and an audit of the November election to ensure voter confidence and the same standard should apply to the GOP meeting,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Payne, also of Peoria, was more circumspect in response to a question about his decision to sign.

“The letter speaks  for itself,” he said.


Lawmakers who signed the email to Ward:



Paul Boyer, Glendale

Rick Gray, Sun City

Vince Leach, Tucson

T.J. Shope, Coolidge



Shawnna Bolick, Phoenix

Frank Carroll, Sun City West

Regina Cobb, Kingman

Timothy Dunn, Yuma

John Fillmore, Apache Junction

Mark Finchem, Oro Valley

Quang Nguyen, Prescott Valley

Becky Nutt, Clifton

Joanne Osborne, Goodyear

Kevin Payne, Peoria

Beverly Pingerelli, Peoria

Bret Roberts, Maricopa

Ben Toma, Peoria

Justin Wilmeth, Scottsdale

Gowan seeks political comeback in LD14 Senate GOP primary

David Gowan
David Gowan (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona’s Legislative District 14 Republican Senate primary pits scandal-plagued former House Speaker David Gowan against Rep. Drew John and an anti-establishment political newcomer.

John, R-Safford, took over Gowan’s House seat two years ago after the former speaker left for a run for Congress amid an investigation into his misuse of government vehicles.

John served as a Graham County supervisor from 2000 to 2015 when he became a state representative. Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, urged John to run for the Senate seat she held since 2011, but had to vacate because of term limits.

Along with Becky Nutt R-Clifton, Griffin and John will form a trio of legislators running together. Griffin is a career politician and is deeply embedded in the Legislature as she attempts to win the other House seat in LD14.

The rural district is made of three counties in southeastern Arizona where population centers are scarce and cattle are the only traffic jam to encounter. Even though the district may be isolated, the RedforEd movement was not lost upon voters there, though, and education will be a deciding issue as the candidates make their appeal to voters.

Gowan supported Proposition 123 in 2016, a ballot proposal to increase annual distributions of state land trust permanent funds to education, providing an additional $3.5 billion to public schools over 10 years. A federal judge has since ruled the funding plan illegal.

Two years later, teachers walked out of schools and rallied around the Capitol, urging lawmakers to pass a 20 percent pay increase. John voted for Gov. Doug Ducey’s 20×2020 plan, which is designed to boost teacher salaries by 20 percent by 2020.

“As far as education, I think we have a good plan in place, but I think people need to understand that all we are doing with this plan is restoring what was taken away,” said John. “Where do we go from there?”

Then there’s Gowan’s support of SB1070, the tough illegal immigration measure, and the endorsement of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in 2017 for defying court orders for his office to stop detaining people because they were believed to be undocumented.

Gowan did not immediately return requests for comment.

Gowan repaid the state $12,000 that he had wrongfully received as reimbursement for trips he had taken in state vehicles, but reported as taking in his own vehicle, and for per diem pay for days he had claimed to work, but didn’t. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office did not pursue criminal charges, but found there was “substantial disregard for determining whether state funds for per diem, mileage, and official travel were paid pursuant to proper authority” under Gowan’s leadership.

John takes a somewhat moderate approach to immigration, one that could possibly hurt him in the deeply Republican district that borders Mexico.

“I’m very solution oriented,” said John. “I don’t care where the good solution comes from. I don’t care what race it comes from, I don’t care what party it comes from. I think the Republican Party has better ideas, but not always the solutions.”

Newcomer candidate Lori Kilpatrick is trying to mold herself as the most anti-establishment candidate on the ballot, supporting the ideologies of President Donald Trump in a county that voted in favor of him over Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points in 2016.

Kilpatrick’s anti-establishment campaign may prove to be effective as she submitted more petition signatures than either of the two other candidates in the race, but unlike her two opponents, Kilpatrick has never held an elected office at any level.

John’s first term in the Legislature has been without scandal, and as the incumbent, he will attempt to focus the race on his and his opponent’s past service.

“This is my eighth election that I’ve been through,” John said, “and I just talk about what I’ve done, my experiences. Anybody can brag about what they’re going to do. I’m more about what have you done.”

Hours on the road leads to high turnover in LD7

Rep. Eric Descheenie details his legislation Wednesday which would bar publicly funded stadiums, civic centers and similar facilities from displaying any name or logo that any one of the state's 22 tribes finds ``disparaging.'' (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Eric Descheenie details legislation that would have barred publicly funded stadiums, civic centers and similar facilities from displaying any name or logo that any one of the state’s 22 tribes finds “disparaging.” (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Each week, Rep. Eric Descheenie drives roughly 170 miles from his home in Chinle to Flagstaff on a narrow two-lane highway that crisscrosses the flat lands, high plateaus and desert of Legislative District 7.

He travels south on U.S. Route 191 for about 30 miles to Indian Route 15 for another 20. After a short stint on State Route 77, he’s back on Indian Route 15 for another 70 miles. From there, he takes Leupp Road to Interstate 40 west to Flagstaff.

The three-hour drive is “pretty hard,” Descheenie said.

And that’s not where his drive ends.

From Flagstaff, Descheenie drives another two hours south on Interstate 17 to Phoenix.

In total, the freshman lawmaker drives five hours, more than 300 miles one way, to his job at the Capitol.

“That drive has essentially been my universe the last two years,” he said.

Descheenie said the long drive from one of the farthest corners of the state to the Capitol each week, and the time away from his family during the legislative session have taken a toll on him.

Neither Descheenie nor his seatmate Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock, are seeking re-election after one term.

The freshmen lawmakers cited the commute, time commitment and low pay as some of the reasons that led to their decision.

Those same issues have contributed to a high turnover rate in the state’s largest legislative district, especially when compared to districts that are in more urban areas or closer to the Capitol.

Since 1999, 14 lawmakers have represented LD7 and its predecessor Legislative District 2. Of those, about half only served one term.

Albert Hale
Albert Hale

Former lawmaker Albert Hale, who served in the Senate from 2004 to 2010 and in the House from 2011 to 2016, said the turnover in the district has led to a loss of institutional knowledge and continuity.

Hale said it takes time to fully understand the legislative process and develop strong relationships with colleagues, lobbyists and other Capitol insiders.

“You can’t really develop that knowledge of how the legislative system operates in just two years,” he said.

Of the 90 lawmakers, Descheenie, Benally and Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, have the longest commute, about a five-hour drive each way from their home in LD7 to the Capitol.

Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, a small town in Greenlee County near the Arizona-New Mexico border, has the second longest commute – about a four hour drive spanning 200 miles.

Yuma lawmakers commute roughly three hours each way, as do those in Legislative District 5 and Nutt’s seatmates in southern Arizona’s Legislative District 14.

Those who represent Phoenix and the surrounding areas have much shorter commutes, typically about 15 to 30 miles each way, which takes about 30 minutes without traffic. The longest drive for those in the Phoenix metro area is about an hour for those in the East Valley and Cave Creek.

Peshlakai said she has tried taking different routes from Window Rock to Phoenix, going through Globe, Payson and sometimes Flagstaff, but whichever way she takes, it’s still a long drive.

“There’s no getting around it, that’s just the way it is logistically,” she said. “We could run a bill for a bullet train from the Capitol to Window Rock or somewhere in LD7, but I’m sure that’s not likely to happen.”

That’s a drive that Hale knows all too well – he lived in St. Michaels, just south of Window Rock, when he served in the Legislature.

“It is a long drive. It takes about 10 to 12 hours out of your week, and then the mileage you put on your vehicle and the mileage you put on yourself, that can take a toll,” he said.

Members are reimbursed the federal mileage rate, 54.5 cents per mile, and they are eligible to be reimbursed every two weeks when they’re paid, said House Republican spokesman Matt Specht.

But it’s not just the long commute.

Descheenie said a major reason he decided not to seek re-election this year is because he wants to focus on raising his three young sons, who are all under the age of 11.

He said while he has enjoyed his time at the Legislature, it has been difficult to spend so much time away from his family. He also said this is a critical time in a child’s life in Navajo culture – the time when a father teaches his sons what it means to be a man in “Diné society.”

“It’s one of those things where I felt I could manage both, my responsibilities as a father, especially a Navajo father because there’s some cultural responsibilities tied up there as well, and my role as a lawmaker for District 7,” he said. “However, as things have unfolded over the last few months, it has become very clear that being able to manage both of these areas in my life that are very important to me was becoming more and more difficult.”

He said while he’ll have other opportunities to run for office, and it’s something he hasn’t ruled out for the future, he won’t ever get this time with his children back.

“My passion for leadership and making a difference in people’s lives is always going to be there. I can always do what I can from wherever I am,” he said. “I love serving the district. I love serving in the Legislature, it was always a dream of mine to join the ranks of the members, but my boys are a priority.”

Like Descheenie, Benally said being away from her husband, mother, brother, and nieces and nephews for five months out of the year was a challenge.

“It became incredibly difficult as the session went on. It was a really tough decision, but I decided this would be my one and only time at the Legislature,” she said, adding that it was time to allow someone who “would be more available to carry out the duties of the office” to take her seat.

Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai (D-Cameron)
Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai (D-Window Rock)

Peshlakai said since most of the lawmakers hailing from the district are Democrats, being in the minority party presents its own challenges for newcomers.

“They run, they get into office, they feel like they’re really going to make a difference, and then they get here and their wings are clipped by the partisanship. I think there’s a little bit of frustration with that,” she said.

Hale said that was one reason why he decided against running for re-election in 2016.

“When people ask me why I chose not to run again for re-election after 14 years, I just said I’m tired of living the definition of insanity – saying the same old thing, expecting different results, pushing the same legislation, expecting different results,” he said.

But that could change, they said, if Democrats gain seats in the House or Senate in the coming election.

Hale said another factor that has contributed to the high turnover rate and also prevents some people from running in the first place is the low pay. Lawmakers earn an annual salary of $24,000 in addition to a daily allowance of $35 for Maricopa County residents and a $60 per diem for those outside the county.

He said lawmakers either have to be independently wealthy or have a profession they can still practice while they’re serving. Hale, a lawyer, said he was able to continue his legal work on Fridays when the Legislature was done for the week.

Benally said one thing that would encourage more people from remote parts of the state to run for the Legislature is if it were a full-time job. She said that would not only help alleviate some of the challenges lawmakers from rural Arizona face, it would make the endeavor more worthwhile and encourage more people to run for office.

She added that right now it’s difficult to even find candidates in her district.

“There are a lot of great people who want to step up and run, but when we tell them it’s basically a 10-hour drive every week, you have to live in Phoenix for five months, you’re going to have to have an employer who supports you for five months and allows you to return for the remainder of the year, when you put all those factors together, some really good candidates say they can’t do it. It’s really impossible,” she said.

Democrats Myron Tsosie and Arlando Teller, both of Chinle, have filed to run for the two LD7 House seats, as has Republican Doyel Shamley, of Eagar. Peshlakai will face off against Pinetop-Lakeside resident JL Mealer, a Republican, in November.

Peshlakai said experiencing these challenges firsthand and seeing how it has affected the district is what encouraged her to run again.

“For me, I did feel all those frustrations, but seeing all the lawmakers we have sent (to the Capitol) just kind of reaffirmed my commitment to trying to be a solid leader and give some continuity to constituents,” she said.

House Ethics panel chair rejects calls to investigate Finchem

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

An Oro Valley Republican who was in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, the day a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of the electoral vote, will not face an investigation from the Legislature, the chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee said Friday.

Rep. Mark Finchem 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. After Rep. Cesár Chávez, D-Phoenix, filed a complaint in mid-January, 81 other people sent the committee complaints supporting his call for an investigation. On Friday Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, sent a letter to committee members saying she will not be investigating.

“None of the complaints offered any facts establishing that Representative Finchem actually ‘supported the violent overthrow of our government’ or directly participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol,” Nutt wrote. “Absent such facts, the complaints amount to an objection to Representative Finchem’s advocacy of controversial political opinions. But the ethics committee is not — and cannot become — a forum for resolving political disagreements, no matter how important the issue at stake.”

Nutt also said she will not be investigating Reps. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, David Cook, R-Globe, and Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, as one complainant had requested. Cook and Blackman were not in Washington D.C. that day as the letter writer Susan Ritz had alleged. Ritz accused Roberts, Finchem’s seatmate, of “participat(ing) in a misinformation/disinformation campaign designed to disenfranchise LD11 voters by casting doubt on our election systems without evidence.” Nutt wrote that even if this is true, it “would amount to controversial political advocacy, which falls outside this committee’s purview.”

Chávez had accused Finchem of violating his oath of office pledging to defend the state and federal constitutions against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” citing Arizona law criminalizing advocating overthrowing the government by “force, violence or terrorism,” as well as the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which barred government officials who supported the Confederacy from holding office in the future. Finchem has said he didn’t witness any violence, wasn’t present for the storming the Capitol and blamed the violence on Antifa.

On Monday 23 House Democrats introduced a resolution calling for Finchem’s expulsion from the Legislature. As of Friday it hadn’t been assigned to a committee.

House GOP, Dem leadership ‘babysit’ personality conflict

Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) and Rep. Isela Blanc (D-Tempe)
Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) and Rep. Isela Blanc (D-Tempe)

Legislative leaders are babysitting two members on a House committee after a passive-aggressive confrontation between them during a public meeting.

Senior members of both parties have been observing the House Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy Committee since early February after freshman Democrat Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, alleged Chairman Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, treated her unfairly.

Blanc, the only woman on the committee at the time of her complaint, accused Thorpe of treating her differently than her male counterparts, often attempting to cut her off during discussions and not holding her to the same standards as others on the committee, Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said.

During the committee’s February 13 meeting, for example, Thorpe told members he would limit each member to one question of the bill sponsor and expert witness because of the committee’s lengthy agenda.

On several occasions, Thorpe tried to prevent Blanc from asking more than one question or clarifying her questions, while he made exceptions for others like Rep. Tony Navarette, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

Thorpe himself asked multiple questions throughout the hearing.

At one point, while discussing one of Thorpe’s bills, Blanc tried to make a comment but he didn’t allow her.

“No, I’m going to politely disagree with you and call a point of order,” Blanc said. “I’ve been keeping tally. Chairman Thorpe, you’ve been asking questions, you’ve been making comments. … I’m keeping track because we’re not really following your rules, chairman.”

Rios said leadership has been taking turns observing the committee since Blanc’s complaint in early February “to ensure that members don’t step out of line and everybody is treated fairly.”

“It’s unfortunate that we have to spend time dealing with this,” she said.

Rios said from what she observed in committee, Blanc’s treatment “did not appear to be equivalent of other members.”

“The committee hearing I was at, Chairman Thorpe allowed members two questions … but he would toe the line with Isela,” Rios said. “There was no consistency.”

This prompted leadership to meet to discuss ways to improve the functionality of the committee and to ensure members were being treated respectfully and equally. Rios added that House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, her Republican counterparts and Thorpe were open to discussing and addressing the issue.

After a mediation session, Blanc and Thorpe were asked to submit a list of commitments they would agree on to improve the situation.

In an email Blanc sent to Thorpe and leadership on February 20, which she provided to the Arizona Capitol Times, she agreed to respect Thorpe, work on streamlining her comments and questions, and follow decorum and committee rules.

“I have a responsibility to my constituents to be thorough, thoughtful, and responsible about the work that I do. What may be perceived as ‘grandstanding or passive aggressive attacks’ is not,” she wrote. “Spanish is my first language and it takes me a moment to process thoughts, questions or points.”

In exchange, Blanc also asked for respect, understanding and space for her thought process, and consistency in the manner Thorpe applies rules and exceptions to the rules to all members.

The House was unable to immediately provide a copy of Thorpe’s agreement.

Thorpe agreed to recognize Blanc when she wants to speak “and allow her to express her views.” He also agreed to give committee members adequate time to question people testifying before the committee, and to treat Blanc with respect, “on par with other members of the committee, Republican and Democrat,” according to GOP spokesman Matt Specht.

Blanc and Thorpe declined to comment for the story.

Rios said there’s been a noticeable improvement since the February 13 committee hearing. She also noted that the dynamic of the committee has improved since Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, joined the committee and took the position of vice-chair.

“I will say, and I don’t know if there’s any correlation at all, Representative Blanc has indicated that since Nutt took over for Finchem there’s a much more workable and cordial environment in that committee,” Rios said. “Personalities play into the dynamic of any group and apparently that change has resulted in, I think, by her account, a more amicable setting.”

The committee is scheduled to meet one more time on March 20 before the end of legislative the session.

House panel sinks bill requiring partisan city elections

A bill requiring municipal governments to hold partisan elections has failed to clear its first hurdle.

Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale)

House Bill 2032, which was introduced by Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, would have required cities and towns to print the political party designation of candidates for mayor and city or town council on the ballot, despite a court ruling that upheld municipalities’ rights to set up elections however they choose.

Speaking before the House Committee on Local and International Affairs on January 17, Lawrence said the bill would allow voters to make a more informed decision.

He argued that though people may question how partisan topics – like abortion, a candidate’s feelings toward President Donald Trump or who a candidate’s congressional hero is – relate to city issues, the question can be answered with three simple words: sanctuary city laws.

“I will give you just one example, and after that example of how does this pertain to city government, there can be no other question,” Lawrence told the committee. “The city of Phoenix has a sanctuary city law. It is illegal. The Justice Department has announced they will prosecute those cities who have instituted this illegal law. … I think every individual running for office should ask about that.”

His argument, however, failed to sway his colleagues. Republican Reps. Todd Clodfelter, of Tucson, and Drew John, of Safford, joined Democratic Reps. Cesar Chavez, Phoenix; Rosanna Gabaldon, Green Valley; and Isela Blanc, Tempe, in sinking the measure.

Rep. Drew John (R-Safford)
Rep. Drew John (R-Safford)

As someone who represents a rural area, John said most people already know each other well and there’s little question about which side of the political aisle candidates stand on. He said partisanship has left “a bad taste in most everybody’s mouth,” and making municipal elections partisan would create a greater divide among residents.

Clodfelter added that although voters may form a preconceived opinion of a candidate based on his or her party affiliation, nonpartisan elections allow voters to get “to know the individual on a personal basis.”

Blanc said most people living within a municipality are more concerned about their streets being improved and their garbage being picked up than their local representative’s thoughts on abortion, which she insisted isn’t a local issue.

Rep. Becky Nutt (R-Clifton)
Rep. Becky Nutt (R-Clifton)

Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who voted for the measure along with committee chairman Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, said she supported moving it out of committee so that it could lead to a larger discussion on the House floor.

“I think this is a great conversation, and I think that it’s one that needs to go to the larger body,” she said.
Testifying in committee, Patrice Kraus, a lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the services cities provide to residents are “fundamentally different” than those provided by the state, and while some of the issues Lawrence brought up may be relevant at the state level, they aren’t at the local level.

“Most of our issues aren’t partisan in nature,” she said.

House passes bill for 4-year community college degrees


Arizona’s community colleges may have the best chance ever of finally being able to offer four-year degrees to their students.

With only three dissenting votes, the state House voted Monday to permit community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees to students. The measure now goes to the Senate.

If ultimately successful, the move would cap years of efforts by advocates to find alternatives to what some consider to be both expensive and inconvenient programs for residents to get four-year degrees at one of the state’s three universities. Similar measures have faltered for at least the last quarter century amid stiff opposition from members of the Arizona Board of Regents who have argued there is no need.

This year, possibly recognizing the increased sentiment of lawmakers for a more affordable alternative, the university system agreed not to oppose HB 2523. But they did demand — and the colleges agreed — to some concessions.

The colleges can’t just get into the business. Instead, it requires studies to determine if the colleges, supported largely with local tax dollars, can hire the necessary faculty and sustain the programs.

There also has to be a determination that the degrees offered will meet needed fields and whether they would “unnecessarily duplicate” programs already offered elsewhere.

Becky Nutt

And there’s no authority for new property taxes.

There’s an extra hurdle in HB 2523 for the colleges in Pima and Maricopa counties. They could initially offer only a limited number of four-year degrees, defined as no more than 10% of total degrees offered for the first four years and 15% for years five and beyond.

Potentially more significant, tuition for courses in the junior and senior years cannot exceed 150% of what they charge for any other program.

Still, that would be a major cost break.

Typical tuition at state universities runs north of $9,000 a year and up to more than $12,000.

By contrast, Pima Community College charges a base rate $1,305 for 15 credit hours, the typical load for one semester, though some programs do have surcharges. Doubling that for an annual cost and using the cap in the legislation, that still comes out at less than $4,000 a year.

At Maricopa Community Colleges there is a flat rate of $1,020 per semester, putting the cap at slightly more than $3,000 annually.

But even assuming the measure survives the legislative process, don’t look for any new programs immediately. It is likely to take two years or more to do the studies, hire the staff and get the offerings accredited.

Monday’s vote is a major victory for Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who has been pushing the issue for years, largely on behalf of Eastern Arizona College. She finally came up with a plan that, at least for now, the universities are not trying to quash.

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who chairs the House Education Committee, said that’s a major development.

“We have a great need for more four-year degrees in our state,” she said. Beyond that, Udall said is the opportunity for students to get a four-year degree in their home communities.

“Often when students move to get an education they don’t return,” she said. “So we lose a lot of those students to other states or other communities instead of staying in their home community.”

But this isn’t just about filling gaps in rural areas. Linda Thor, a member of the governing board of the Maricopa colleges, said this can serve urban students as well.

“This legislation supports students who would not transfer (to a university) but will enroll if they have an option at their local community college that is convenient and affordable and leads to a good-paying job,” she told members of the Education Committee when the bill was heard there.

Thor also said that the colleges could help fill needs in areas where there are shortages of people with four-year degrees, including teaching and health care.

Not everyone was convinced.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, one of three legislators who voted against the bill, said she has yet to be convinced that there is a need that the university system isn’t meeting.

She said she understands how this would be less expensive, both in tuition and kids from rural communities being able to live at home. But Powers Hannley said she specifically asked Nutt what new subjects these expanded community colleges would be offering that are not available elsewhere.

“She had no examples,” Powers Hannley told Capitol Media Services after Monday’s vote.

She acknowledged there is a big need in rural Arizona for people working in health care. But she said that goes beyond doctors, citing the demand for home health aides, community health workers, dental therapists and what she called “lower-level, grass roots health care workers.”

“And those are being educated at community college now,” she said, with existing certificate and two-year degree programs.

But Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, had a different take.

“Let’s think about this growing state that we have and the fact that workforce development and economic development go hand in hand,” she said. “This is the type of thing that will help our rural areas and more and more people within Arizona be successful in a career.”

There may still be some hurdles.

Brittney Kaufmann, lobbyist for the regents, said they now want a requirement for the community college systems in Pima, Maricopa and Coconino to have to work directly with university presidents before they offer four-year degrees. She did not detail what that means and whether the university officials would have some veto power.

But Kelsey Lundy, lobbyist for the Maricopa colleges, said she interprets this as a “first right of refusal” by the universities to offer programs that the colleges are considering.

She told lawmakers, though, that is conditional on “affordability,” meaning that the universities would have to provide those four-year degrees at the same cost as the community colleges would charge.



House Republicans choose Rep. Bowers to lead them

Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Special for Arizona Capitol Times.
Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Special for Arizona Capitol Times.

Newly elected House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, inherits a chamber where he can’t afford to alienate a single Republican.

Bowers, chosen Wednesday by fellow Republicans to run the House for the next two years, finds the edge of the majority party clipped from 35-25 for the last two years to just 31-29 after Tuesday’s election as Democrats apparently have picked up four seats. And what makes that significant is it takes 31 votes for final approval of any measure.

Warren Petersen
Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)

What that does, Bowers acknowledged, is empower any individual Republican with the ability to hold out their vote on priorities of the GOP leadership until the measure is altered to address his or her concerns.

But Bowers,, a Mesa resident, said the reverse holds true for the Democrats who could find someone defecting to support a Republican bill if he or she gets something in return.

“Every member of either caucus has a great amount of authority and power,” said Bowers who has 10 years of legislative experience, including two as Senate majority leader.

“It makes leadership more sensitive to each member’s needs and wants,” he said. “And those we’ll just have to work through.”

And that presents challenges for House GOP leaders who also include Warren Petersen of Gilbert as majority leader and Becky Nutt of Clifton as majority whip.

“It’s going to be a wild ride just keeping the herd going,” Bowers said.

One area that could get more attention is on transportation funding.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, has been pushing for new sources of revenues to both fix existing roads and bridges and build new ones.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Arizona’s 18-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax has not been hiked since 1991, when 18 cents was worth more than now. And then there’s the fact that new vehicles are more fuel efficient, meaning that gas tax revenues are not increasing as fast as the miles driven.

Becky Nutt, R-Clifton
Becky Nutt, R-Clifton

With Campbell now a four-year veteran and the need for the GOP to hang on to every vote, the lawmakers who want new dollars – particularly those from rural areas – have additional political muscle.

“I know that more money is needed for transportation because I drive on it and you drive on it,” said Bowers. And he said that this can’t simply be seen as a rural problem.

“We all enjoy the rural parts of this state, whether we’re urbanized or elsewise,” he said.

What Bowers also inherits is a surplus that could be close to $1 billion when the new fiscal year begins. And while that creates opportunities for new spending, he said the state also finally needs to focus on really balancing the state’s books.

Bowers pointed out that the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget has been met now for years by deferring expenses due in one fiscal year to be paid in the next year. That practice, called a “rollover,” currently accounts for more than $930 million.

And when the state was in debt during the Great Recession, it sold off both the state House and Senate with an agreement to lease it back until paid off in 2030.

The amount still owed at the end of this fiscal year will be about $710 million, with interest being paid on what’s left.

“We need to start finally chipping away on this debt,” Bowers said.

One other big priority is water supply – and efforts to come up with a drought contingency plan in the likelihood that Arizona will lose some of its allocation of Colorado River water.

“There have been some wrinkles of late,” he said.

“We’re going to keep talking and keep listening and considering all the options on the table,” Bowers said. That also includes making sure that all sources of water are part of any deal.

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.

Nutt resigns LD14 House seat

Rep. Becky Nutt (R-Clifton)

Rep. Becky Nutt is stepping down effective Monday. 

“It has been my great honor to serve with you, sir, and to be part of your leadership team these past three years. My best regards to you,” Nutt, R-Pearce, wrote in a brief letter to House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. 

With Nutt’s resignation, six House members who were serving in the chamber at the end of the 2021 session have left and at least one more – Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson – is expected to resign before the session starts. At least 21 other members aren’t running for re-election, mostly due to term limits orbids for other offices. 

Reacting to the news, Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he wants to make sure the recent turnover in the Legislature doesn’t hurt rural Arizona’s representation in Phoenix. 

“Next year I think we’ll be able to get through that, but really, if you think about it, the year after … I have concerns with keeping Arizona on track with important issues such as water, agriculture and growth in rural Arizona,” Cook said. 

He added, “I hope that whoever fills (Nutt’s) shoes can help look out after the citizens in rural Arizona.” 

Nutt didn’t return a phone call or email by press time.  

Nutt has represented Legislative District 14, a Republican district that includes Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties and part of eastern Pima, since 2017 and previously served as House majority whip.  

This year she was the chairwoman of the House Rules committee, a key body that decides which bills will advance and which will die without a vote. She was also the chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee. 

Cochise County supervisors will appoint her replacement. 

Passing legislation requires moderation, tricks of the trade

Arizona state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, left, R-Gilbert, and sponsor of the anti-human trafficking House Bill 2454, talks with Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Phoenix. The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate, and toughens penalties for trafficking adults and targets businesses such as massage parlors and escort services that advertise online, and increases the minimum penalties for a child-prostitution conviction to 10 years to 24 years in prison. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, left, R-Gilbert, and sponsor of the anti-human trafficking House Bill 2454, talks with Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, at the Arizona Capitol on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, in Phoenix. . (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After 16 years in the Legislature, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth said he knows what it takes to get measures through both chambers and up to the Governor’s Office.

The Gilbert Republican attributed a large part of his success to understanding the legislative process. But his strategy also includes sponsoring legislation that addresses problems he or his constituents have observed, working within the confines and scope of the state Constitution, and working with others who are willing to go to bat for the bill, he said.

Farnsworth said the most important trick, however, is ensuring that the language is “good language.” He said the bill language has to be tight and should spell out exactly what the bill intends to do. It’s something he said he spent much of this year helping his colleagues with.

“I understand a comma in the wrong place changes the entire meaning of a bill,” he said. “You look at some of the bills that tend to be thrown together and it’s more difficult to get them through, and sometimes there’s unintended consequences if they pass. I really think having the right language is critical.”

And his methods have paid off.

Farnsworth had the highest percentage of his bills signed into law of any lawmaker. Seventeen of his 20 prime sponsored bills, or 85 percent, were approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

Lawmakers passed 369 bills, 30.6 percent of the 1,206 bills introduced in the 2018 session. Of those 369 bills, Ducey signed 346, or 93.8 percent of all the bills that were approved. The governor vetoed 23 bills, about 6.2 percent of those sent to the Ninth Floor. However, 10 of the bills he vetoed were later re-introduced by the Legislature and he signed them.

They also introduced 122 memorials and resolutions, ranging from death resolutions to commemorations of holidays and awareness days to ballot referrals. Of those, 28 were sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, including two ballot referrals.

Five lawmakers tied for the second-highest batting average with 66.6 percent of their measures being signed by the governor.

The batting average is calculated by dividing the number of bills signed into law by the number of prime sponsored bills for a legislator.

Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. TJ Shope (R-Coolidge) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

One of those lawmakers, Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, had 10 of his 15 bills signed into law. The governor vetoed another. And Shope noted that while one of his bills, HB2482, which would have required the Arizona Board of Regents and community college districts to provide tuition waivers to Arizona residents who were in foster care, didn’t make it to the governor’s desk it was included in the budget.

Shope said he tries to run a moderate amount of bills each session, and he added that 15 was one of the “heftiest loads I’ve carried.”

“I’m not a big fan of running a lot of bills. If I’m going to run something I want it to be meaningful and I want to be able to get it passed,” he said.

One bill he’s especially proud of, he said, is HB2154 because of how difficult it was to get across the finish line.

Shope said he worked with the Attorney General’s Office on the bill, which made several changes to statutes relating to data security breaches. He said there was initial opposition from the business community and he had a hard time bringing everyone to the negotiation table to discuss the bill.

“It’s by far the most difficult bill I’ve brought forth in my time down here,” he said. “There were many, many times where I thought this thing was dead.”

Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, tied for the most prime sponsored legislation, each introducing 65 measures, almost 10 percent of all bills, memorials and resolutions introduced. Of the bills introduced, Ducey signed 32 Carter bills and 29 Griffin bills.

Carter said as chairwoman of the House Health Committee, several of the bills she introduced sought to clean up bills from prior years, extend the life of various agencies, and update state statute to conform with new federal laws.

She also introduced several education-related measures, like a bill that would clean up teacher certification requirements for teachers working in Arizona on a visa, one dealing with teaching certificates for substitute teachers, and another that would require schools districts to disclose to parents when a student is bullied, intimidated or harassed and by whom.

She noted that in her first year in office she ran four bills and all four were signed into law.

“I was so proud and everybody was like, ‘That’s not a big deal,’” she said. I thought you introduced bills and they all got signed into law.”

She quickly learned that’s not the case and that it takes a lot of effort to get a bill across the finish line, which is why she tends to introduce bills that seek to solve problems brought to her by a constituent or issues she’s noticed herself as a parent and former educator, she said.

Twenty-nine lawmakers were unable to get a single bill up to the Governor’s Office, including two House Republicans, Reps. Becky Nutt, of Clifton, and David Stringer, of Prescott.

Reps. Macario Saldate, D-Tucson, and Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, didn’t introduce any bills this year. Dunn was appointed to the Legislature after the deadline to introduce bills in the House had passed.


Ducey’s 2018 veto count comes with asterisk

By Carmen Forman

In the last year of his first term, Gov. Doug Ducey wielded his “veto” stamp more liberally than he had during previous legislative sessions.

Part of that stems from Ducey taking a scare tactic approach to force lawmakers to finish the budget. Ducey vetoed 23 bills this session — a record high for the Republican governor. But that number takes into account 10 House GOP bills Ducey swiftly vetoed one afternoon, believing House Republicans were dragging their feet on the budget.

The message included in each of the 10 veto letters read the same.
“Please send me a budget that gives teachers a 20-percent pay raise by 2020 and restores additional assistance,” Ducey wrote. “Our teachers have earned this raise. It’s time to get it done.”

After Ducey’s veto rampage, lawmakers reintroduced the bills toward the end of session and successfully got them across the finish line. On the last day Ducey could take action on this session’s legislation, the governor approved all 10 of the reintroduced bills.

While on paper, Ducey vetoed more bills this session than any of his previous three sessions, some of the vetoes were temporal and meant only to pressure lawmakers into passing his teacher pay raise plan, not to strike down legislation he opposed.

Senate ethics chairs tosses Finchem’s complaint

Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

It doesn’t look like Rep. Mark Finchem will get an investigation into the conduct of Democratic lawmakers who asked the FBI to investigate him.

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, has concluded that the allegations of the Oro Valley Republican against the senators “do not constitute ‘conduct alleged to be unethical’ under the committee’s rules,” according to Chris Kleminich, an attorney for the Senate.

Her finding, released Monday, is similar to one last week by Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who chairs the House Ethics Committee. She said his complaint about House Democrats also did not fit in the role of her committee, saying it involves essentially political matters.

Strictly speaking, Kerr’s response does not end the matter.

Senate rules allow a complaint to go forward if at least two of the other lawmakers on the five-member panel want to go further. But she has given them only until this coming Monday March 1 to respond.

Finchem’s complaint is that the Democratic lawmakers acted improperly by asking both the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice to look into his activities leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as well as what he did in Washington that day. The Democrats charged that Finchem “supported the violent overthrow of our government” and that he participated in the attack on the Capitol.

He has denied those charges.

The Democrats said all they have heard back from the federal agencies is that they got the request.

Finchem said Monday he had no comment “other than 100% of the Democratic senator signed onto a fallacious criminal referral and they can’t have an ethics committee because they have all committed the same violation.”

And what of the fact that the people who chair both ethics panels are Republicans?

“You’ll know when I’m ready to move,” Finchem responded.

Short legislative session threatens multitude of ballot proposals

A sign points to a local polling station for the Arizona Democratic presidential preference election Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A sign points to a local polling station for the Arizona Democratic presidential preference election Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

An early adjournment to the Legislature to avert the spread of COVID-19 would effectively kill a host of proposed ballot referrals.

There are more than a dozen referendums that could make it onto the ballot come November if they pass votes in the House and Senate, but none of them have advanced through both chambers.

A few have made it through the chamber from where they originated, but await their fate in the second chamber. But all of that may be rendered moot if lawmakers decide to pass a “skinny budget” and get out of Dodge.

Senate President Karen Fann has thoroughly suggested sine die will not happen because there is far too much to do outside of the budget, and there’s no way of knowing where COVID-19 will take them in two weeks or even longer.

The Prescott Republican said she favors passing the budget and then going into an indefinite recess, but no session adjournment.

“We need to leave options open if we need to come back in two months and do something else because there might be something new that we’re not even aware of right now that we will need to address,” she said.

If the Legislature does opt to adjourn though, they would have to abandon efforts like the position of lieutenant governor, who would run on a ticket with the governor, changes to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, and attempts to independently scale back voters’ power, thus having to wait until the 2022 election cycle. And by then, the makeup of the Legislature could look different and be out of Republican control.

nuttEstablishing a lieutenant governor is one of few ballot referrals this session that has bipartisan support, as it passed through the House with a 40-20 vote. The measure, HCR2020, comes from House Majority Whip Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, and would put the lieutenant governor as the governor’s running mate, and give that person oversight of the Arizona Department of Administration, among other duties.

The presumptive gubernatorial nominees must pick their second-in-command no later than 100 days before the election. And in the instance of the governor having to abandon his or her seat, the lieutenant governor would become next in the line of succession, instead of the secretary of state, as it is now the case.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, has made his best strides yet when it comes to getting ample marijuana testing for pesticides. An attempt that would need three-fourths vote in both chambers as a bill, but only a simple majority to land on the ballot for voter-approved changes.

His latest, SCR1032, would propose medical marijuana and other products to be tested for pesticides and it also establishes an additional tax. Borrelli’s measure is also supposed to get a mirror effort in the House in the form of House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ HCR2045, which originally proposed to limit the potency of medical marijuana at 2% THC, but that clause has since been removed. Both measures passed out of their chamber of origin, Borrelli’s with some bipartisan support.

What was looking like a lengthy ballot come November may end up being on the shorter side this year due to the widespread of COVID-19, which doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. It has already had an impact on signature gathering and campaigning, and, on how lawmakers plan to proceed, ballot referrals could be a virus victim.

Time to rein in uncompetitive, unfair occupational licensing


Since the Trump administration directed the Labor Department to review occupational licensing laws around the country last year, the Arizona Legislature passed legislation addressing needed reforms to these laws. Because Arizona ranks fourth in the nation for most burdensome occupational licensing laws, these reforms were long overdue. I supported these efforts to get unnecessary government regulations out of the way of individuals’ path to economic prosperity.

Becky Nutt
Rep. Becky Nutt (R-Clifton)

While not given as much attention as some bills passed, occupational licensing reform is critical to many of our citizens. These laws define how many hours of training someone is required to have before they can participate in a trade, such as cosmetology, barbering, and even door repair. Often these jobs have unreasonably high barriers to entry, making it especially difficult for individuals in rural areas of our state to clear the financial and geographic hurdles necessary to engage in their chosen profession.

This is simply unfair, and I applaud Gov. Doug Ducey for seeing the hypocrisy of runaway occupational licensing and acting to reverse it. Among his first acts reforming occupational licensing was to issue an executive order to all boards that certify licensees to report their minimum requirements for obtaining a license. If those boards have requirements in excess of the national average, they must submit a report that contains “specifically citing potential harm to individuals in our state.”

Following this, the Legislature passed the Right To Earn A Living Act, which restricts Arizona’s regulatory boards from issuing regulations that limit the entry into a profession or trade unless they can be shown to be necessary to the health, safety, and welfare of Arizonans.

We should not expect low income and rural citizens to be barred from entering a profession of their choice simply because the licensing boards, made up of practitioners of the trade who fear competition, want to bar them with unreasonable requirements.

This practice is inherently anti-free market. As consumers, we should be encouraging people to get in these trades because it will give us a wider variety of choice and drive market competition. Taxpayers currently float the bill for enforcing these exclusory policies, while those practitioners’ operating businesses benefit from an easy lack of competition by enforcing the restrictive entry requirements.

There is yet another angle that also affects taxpayers. Some of the job-seekers in these professions are ex-offenders, looking for opportunity in a trade of their choice. But with barriers to entry comes unintended consequences for these individuals. States with heavy occupational licensing burdens saw an average increase in three-year, new-crime recidivism of more than 9 percent between 1997 and 2007. By contrast, states with lower occupational licensing burdens saw an average decline in recidivism of nearly 2.5 percent. We should be encouraging people to seek out honest labor, not to return to the paths that led them to incarceration in the first place.

Arizona has made great strides in addressing occupational licensing reform, but much more work is needed. It’s time to rein in uncompetitive and unfair occupational licenses.

— Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, represents Legislative District 14, which also includes Sierra Vista, Willcox and Safford


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