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Abortion debate brings out lawmakers’ personal experiences, emotions

Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, and Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, speak after an emotional debate on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2023, on a proposed law that would require medical professionals to try and save any “infant born alive.” SB1600 passed on a party-line vote of 16-13 and must pass the House and get the approval of the governor, who is expected to veto it. Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, sits in the foreground reading. (Photo by Camryn Sanchez/Arizona Capitol Times)

In a usually contentious forum, lawmakers on Wednesday wept, offered comfort, and spoke about their struggles with ambivalence on abortion as they discussed a proposed law that would require medical professionals to try and save any “infant born alive.” 

And from the debate on the bill two lawmakers, both nurses, found a moment of understanding despite ideological differences. 

Janae Shamp

Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1600, and she argued on behalf of her bill against Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa. 

While they disagree strongly on abortion issues, Burch and Shamp share common ground. After an emotional discussion brought lawmakers to tears, they came together for an embrace after the bill passed the Senate third reading 16-13 on party lines. 

Burch is open about the fact that she’s had miscarriages before, including one since taking office in January. She made the difficult decision to have one pregnancy terminated, although she wanted the baby to be born, after a doctor explained that the pregnancy would end in a miscarriage.  

“If I had a baby that was 18 weeks, 19 weeks, 20 weeks, that I delivered in a hospital, and that baby was born alive, a medical team springing into action to do medical intervention instead of me being allowed to hold my baby when it died, and instead of allowing for comfort care and for all of the other options that are available and appropriate. That’s my concern,” Burch said. 

Eva Burch (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The bill requires any “infant who is born alive” – including one that survives an abortion – to get “medically appropriate and reasonable care” from health professionals. A health care professional who violates the bill “intentionally or knowingly” is guilty of a felony and could have their license revoked. 

The bill also says that no treatment is required if it would only “prolong the act of dying when death is imminent.” 

With that language, Shamp said she believes that doctors wouldn’t be rushing to save non-viable fetuses. Abortions over 15 weeks’ gestation are already illegal in Arizona.  

“As a nurse, I will always stand to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Shamp, registered nurse, said. 

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills said he believes the bill would only apply to abortions, but Burch and other Democrats disagreed.  

Although the bill mentions abortion, it’s not specific to that. Burch, an ER nurse, said that miscarriages are common and that the bill would “really only apply” to patients miscarrying. She reminded the chamber that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill. 

Premature babies born under 23 weeks’ gestation are not generally considered viable. Burch called it “inhumane” to provide medical care in those cases.  

“Requiring the medical professional to provide lifesaving and sometimes painful interventions when a life cannot be fixed, it’s not medical, its torture, and its experimentation and my concern is that when a mother losing a pregnancy that this is a very difficult time for a woman,” she said. 

Catherine Miranda

Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, known as a rare pro-life Democrat, voted against Shamp’s bill.  

Miranda served four years in the House and four years in the Senate with that identifier – but she took the last four years off from the Legislature.  

“I got to reflect and revisit some things. … I realized through that reflection the hypocrisy that I was involved in,” Miranda said on the Senate floor. “What are we doing with that child after it’s born? I didn’t do much. The Senator [Burch] spoke in the Committee of the Whole of her experience, and that’s a real experience, and do you think that if there were tools to save that baby do you think that she wouldn’t have insisted? She’s a mother, we all would have.” 

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said he had concerns with the bill although he is pro-life. 

 He ultimately voted ‘yes,’ but said the language might not yet strike the “correct balance.” 

Bennet also spoke from personal experience. 

Bennett’s daughter has worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 15 years.  

Bennett, elections, residency
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“Somehow she has in both places where she’s worked kind of become the nurse that deals with infant demises, and the stories I hear about break my heart,” Bennett said.  

He recalled stories of his daughter taking locks of hair or using a Q-tip to push the hand of a dead fetus into plaster of Paris to make a mold for the grieving family. 

“I know my child would never make a decision in a room with parents … that she didn’t feel was in the best interest of the child and of the family,” he said. 

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy is backing Shamp’s bill and issued a statement after its passage in the Senate, saying the votes tell “everything you need to know about which lawmakers refuse to draw the line before infanticide.” 

Shamp doesn’t depict the issue as one with any gray area either.  

“This isn’t about emotion. This isn’t about reproductive health. This is about life. Spiritual and comfort care is medically appropriate and reasonable care. Every baby that is born alive deserves a chance to live,” she told the chamber, siting the story of a couple whose child was born alive, but died about a week later. The couple believes the child was “slow coded” by doctors who didn’t expect her to live and didn’t do everything possible to save her. 

The bill still must pass the House before it lands on the desk of Gov. Katie Hobbs, an ardent pro-choice advocate who is expected to veto it.  

Burch said there’s still value in holding these floor discussions.  

“Maybe we could at least understand each other, even if we can’t agree a little bit, Burch said. “And I think that’s definitely the right direction, and I know there are plenty on my side of the issue who would say that those conversations are futile, and that we have to call those things out for exactly what they are and all that, but maybe it’s because I’m new, I’m still hopeful.” 

As for Shamp, Burch said as a fellow nurse she agrees with her colleague on as many things as she disagrees with her on.  

Shamp is Trump-endorsed, religious, and conservative. Burch is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, non-religious and liberal.  

She says she gets along with Shamp at the Legislature.  

“Hopefully, we can all try to listen to each other,” Burch said.  

Abortion questionnaire bill on Ducey’s desk

It is now up to Gov. Doug Ducey to decide whether women will be asked why they want an abortion.

On a largely party-line vote the state Senate voted 17-13 Wednesday to approve a list of questions about the reasons for deciding to terminate a pregnancy.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

SB 1394 does allow a woman to refuse to answer any and all of them. But Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said that does not diminish what she said is the real purpose behind the measure.

“The motivation is simply to harass and intimidate and shame the women who go in to receive this constitutionally protected medical procedure as well as the doctors who provide it,” she said.

And Hobbs said the new requirements will lead to a legal challenge, “costing Arizona taxpayer dollars just to further one particular group’s political, ideological agenda.” That refers to the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy which crafted the bill.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who agreed to carry the measure, said the more information that the state and researchers have about abortions and the reasons women make that choice will lead to better public policies and laws on the procedure.

Barto specifically defended asking women whether they’re being coerced to terminate a pregnancy, whether they’ve been raped and whether they are the victims of sex trafficking.

Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix)

She said there is evidence that most women in that last category in particular have had at least one contact with a health care provider. Barto said the questioning, which occurs in private, could provide an opportunity for women to seek help confidentially.

The bill on the governor’s desk has a list of questions. That includes whether the abortion is elective, due to maternal or fetal health, and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, whether the woman is a victim of sex trafficking or domestic violence, and whether the woman is being “coerced into obtaining an abortion.” Barto said several other states already ask similar questions.

“We need to reject the notion that asking a woman, allowing her, giving her an opportunity to disclose her coercion into having an abortion is somehow shaming,” she said.

Hobbs, however, said this is just another set of unnecessary hurdles that the state is seeking to erect.

She pointed out that Arizona already asks women things like their age, educational background, race, ethnicity and number of prior pregnancies miscarriages and abortions.

“None of these things have any bearing on the procedure,” Hobbs said. “This bill is just an additional layering of unnecessary regulation of abortion.”

Supporters of the legislation have argued repeatedly that this is not designed to impair the constitutional right of women to terminate their pregnancy, pointing out that women remain free to refuse to answer the questions. But Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said she cannot separate it out from the underlying issue.

“What I want to be is a voice for the little voices, for the ones whose lives are snuffed out because of the many, many reasons women choose abortion,” she said.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix was the lone Republican to oppose the measure while Democratic Sen. Catherine Miranda, also of Phoenix, voted for it.

Ducey has signed every abortion restriction and reporting requirement that has reached his desk since he took office in 2015.

Arizona has much to gain with passage of USMCA

opinion-WEB

It was my privilege and honor to serve in the Arizona Legislature and to fight for the priorities of my district and region. Even since leaving public office, my concern for my district and our state has not waned. Some might consider a former state legislator weighing in on the discussion in Washington regarding the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) going out of one’s lane, but I am left to wonder how anyone in elected office can remain silent. Work isn’t to be done in silos and success isn’t achieved in a vacuum. The USMCA will update and improve our nation’s trade policies so that our communities, states and our country as a whole all benefit, and all elected officials, whether local, statewide, or national, should support this agreement.

Catherine Miranda
Catherine Miranda

Arizona has a lot to gain from passing USMCA.  Some cities within our state will feel the impact faster and with more force than others, but all of Arizona’s citizens will benefit. From ranchers and farmers to manufacturers, from employers to employees, from producers to consumers, there is much to be gained if passed and much to be lost if not.

Currently, more than 228,000 Arizona jobs are directly related to Arizona’s trade with our neighbors in Mexico and in Canada. More than 11 billion dollars in goods and services are exported from Arizona to Mexico and Canada. From produce to engines to computers, the Arizona workforce produces what Mexico and Canada need. In the manufacturing sector alone, those two countries purchase more than two-fifths of our state’s manufacturing exports, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

The USMCA provides important safeguards for U.S. producers: the agreement levels the playing field for dairymen, protects intellectual property, opens new markets for poultry exports, cuts red tape for small businesses, and provides new, enforceable labor standards. For these reasons and more, every elected official at the local and state level should be reaching out to our state’s representatives in Washington, D.C., urging them to support the USMCA when it comes up for a vote. We should thank those who have committed their support, including our two U.S. senators, and ask those who have not yet committed a yes vote, to do so and stand with Arizona citizens, workers and businesses on this very important issue. A commitment to a yes vote on the USMCA is taking a public stand for the best interests of Arizona workers and our economy, and that should be the priority of every member of our congressional delegation.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching and ongoing turmoil in Washington, convincing this Congress to do anything will grow increasingly harder. One often wonders if what they do on the other side of the country really matters – will it impact me, or my friends, neighbors and co-workers?  The answer regarding the USMCA is simple: Yes, it will.  So, while it may be tempting for some in our delegation to deny support in order to withhold a win from a president they disagree with politically, or even personally, it would be a disservice to those they are charged with representing.

In short, the USMCA is important to the economic success of our state and its citizens.  Our elected officials must do the right thing. Please join me and take a stand for Arizona and take a stand in support of the USMCA.

Catherine Miranda is an educator, advocate, and four-term former Arizona legislator from Phoenix who remains committed to issues that improve the life of those in her community and Arizona. 

Democratic Senator seeks AG probe of prevailing wage ordinance

Deposit Photo

A Democratic state senator has asked the Attorney General to investigate whether a Phoenix ordinance to force contractors on public works projects of more than $250,000 to match the wages of union workers in the area is lawful.

The Phoenix City Council on Wednesday rescinded what is known as a prevailing wage ordinance that a previous, more liberal council, passed in March.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was displeased with Sen. Catherine Miranda intervening in the issue with what is known as a SB1487 complaint, which Gallego called a “bad tool” that will “always preempt cities.”

Catherine Miranda

She said Attorney General Kris Mayes is willing to discuss the ordinance with Phoenix without the SB1487 complaint.

An SB1487 complaint comes from a 2016 law that allows any legislator to have the attorney general investigate an action by a county or municipality if the legislator alleges it violates state law or the constitution. If a municipality or county is found in violation of the law, they have 30 days to fix their action, or they are at risk of losing a large chunk of their state funds.

Since the law passed, only Republicans have used it, usually to investigate liberal practices in Democrat-controlled cities like Tucson.

“We have a Democratic AG, Democratic governor, and we have to change the narrative. Prevailing wage is very important to my community,” Miranda said.

Although Miranda set the attorney general investigation into motion, she doesn’t oppose the ordinance.

She said before the city council meeting that she hoped the SB1487 complaint would urge the city council to hold off on their vote.

“Why try to undo it and then find out 30 days later that it’s illegal?” Miranda asked.

climate change, Gallego, Biden, drought, Colorado River, Center for Biological Diversity, extreme heat
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

Phoenix City Attorney Julie Kriegh said in March and again on Wednesday that the ordinance was potentially illegal because of the language and because it might have been enacted through improper procedure.

Gallego told audience members who spoke in support of the ordinance that they’ll benefit more if the city holds off on enacting the ordinance and making sure it is done properly.

Councilmembers Betty Guardado and Laura Pastor were not charmed by that sentiment.

Pastor mentioned the numerous times the council has discussed the issue and attempted to pass similar ordinances in recent years, pushing back against the idea that they need more time to consider it.

She adamantly opposed rescinding the ordinance.

“You’re gonna see right now, who really believes in prevailing wage, and who believes in the workers,” Pastor said before the vote. “My bottom line is … I put people over politics.”

Guardado also made her thoughts on the matter crystal clear.

“On March 22, a bipartisan majority of the Phoenix city council voted to pass the city’s first ever prevailing wage ordinance. We made history. But now that history is being repealed. People hide behind their concerns with the so-called process. The same process has led us to where we are today, with the country’s worst housing affordability crisis, and an astronomical rise in homelessness that anyone who drives on our city streets can see,” she said.

Guardado asked for this determination to be put in the attorney general’s hands and resolved in a month, not to have the ordinance repealed and reconsidered in December.

The motion to rescind passed 6-3 with council members Kesha Hodge Washington, Jim Waring, Ann O’Brien, Kevin Robinson, Debra Stark, and Gallego voting in favor of it. Council members Yassamin Ansari, Pastor and Guardado voted against it.

The council will reconsider the issue at their meeting in December. Guardado was reassured that union labor attorneys will be involved in the workshopping process.

The council has changed dramatically since March 22 when the ordinance was enacted. The ordinance passed with the support of Guardado, Ansari, Pastor and former councilmembers Carlos Garcia and Sal DiCiccio. Garcia was the most liberal member, DiCiccio the most conservative member.

In their place, the city elected Hodge Washington and Robinson, two much more moderate councilmembers who Gallego supported.

Ethics committee opens inquiry on Dem Miranda, votes along party lines

The Arizona Senate Ethics Committee will investigate a Democratic state senator for allegedly violating signature gathering laws, but won’t do any real sleuthing until the attorney general weighs in.

The committee voted 3-2 on party lines to pursue an investigation of Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, based on an ethics complaint filed by a Gilbert resident. GOP Sens. Kimberly Yee, Judy Burges and Steve Montenegro cast the votes in favor of the investigation.

Miranda
Miranda

The committee also voted to refer the complaint to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, and suspend any investigation of their own until after the Attorney General’s Office looked into it.

In a complaint sent to Senate leadership on September 20, Amy Andrea Celaya shared photos taken of Miranda while the lawmaker gathered signatures for a referendum on a recent school voucher expansion law. Those pictures showed that Miranda hadn’t checked a box indicating whether she was a paid or volunteer circulator before circulating the petition, nor was the county designated as required.

A scanned copy of the submitted petition sheet was also included, showing that information had been filled in, presumably after the photo was taken.

State law requires that circulators disclose whether they are paid or volunteers before gathering signatures.

The five senators on the Ethics Committee never debated amongst themselves the merits of the complaint. Only Sen. Martin Quezada, a Phoenix Democrat, asked whether the complaint warranted investigation. His question was answered not by the Republican lawmakers who voted for the investigation, but by the Senate rules attorney, who noted that voting to investigate further is not an indication of an ethics violation and that the complaint could still be dismissed at a later date.

Tom Ryan, an attorney representing Miranda pro bono, said there’s nothing to investigate. While it’s a misdemeanor to knowingly violate laws dictating that appropriate information be provided to voters while gathering signatures, the pictures don’t show intent on Miranda’s part to defraud anyone, Ryan said.

“This is going nowhere. I’m going to tell you right now, without talking to anybody at the AG’s office, they will dismiss this faster than a lamb can shake it’s tail. That’s how fast this is going to go down,” Ryan said. “There is nothing to this.”

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said attorneys have not yet reviewed the complaint, but will determine an appropriate response once they do so.

“Without commenting on this specific matter, we should never be eager to criminalize behavior that can be appropriately addressed via other channels,” Anderson said. “Sometimes people just make mistakes.”

Ex-lawmakers bring baggage to 2022 races

Ten former lawmakers, many of whom have personal or political baggage, are on the ballot for legislative seats this year. Two of them are running against each other. One once represented a district he didn’t live in, and another finished third in a congressional race after revelations of a sexting scandal with a legislative staffer. And another stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as rioters streamed into the building, which is only one of the controversies he’s been involved in.

Steve Montenegro

Steve Montenegro
Legislative District 29
Republican 
2009-2016, House; 2017, Senate 
Montenegro, whose legislative career included one term as House majority leader, left the state Senate in 2018 to run for the congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko. He was considered a frontrunner until news came out that he had exchanged suggestive texts with a Senate staffer and he lost the primary.

Montenegro tried to mount a comeback in 2020 but lost the Republican primary to incumbent Reps. Joanne Osborne and Timothy Dunn. Since then, Montenegro has been involved with the pro-Trump group The America Project, and with running the Twitter account for the Senate’s audit of the 2020 Maricopa County election results.

Darin Mitchell
Legislative District 3
Republican
2013-2018, House
Mitchell’s legislative career could have ended before it started.

It came out soon Mitchell won his first primary, unseating an incumbent, that he was claiming residency in a home in which he didn’t live, while living with his girlfriend in a different legislative district. However, he was declared a legitimate candidate on a technicality and allowed to join the Legislature.

Mitchell vied for the speakership in 2016, losing to J.D. Mesnard. In 2018, with Mesnard running for the Senate, Mitchell was considered one of the two likely candidates for speaker. However, he lost the primary, coming in third in a four-way race, which allowed now-Speaker Rusty Bowers to walk into his current role.

This time, Mitchell is not running in the territory of his former district, which included parts of western Maricopa County and Yuma County. Instead, he’s running in LD3, a safely Republican district that includes Fountain Hills and Carefree.

Noel Campbell

Noel Campbell
Legislative District 3
Republican
2013-2018, House
Campbell, a former House member now vying for a Senate spot, has avoided addressing a police investigation after his wife said he beat her. Campbell’s wife Mary Beth reported to Prescott police that her husband had attacked her and hit her repeatedly, not for the first time. She said that he threatened to ruin her life and lie about the assault if she went to the police. When officers followed up, Mary Beth said that the incident was brought on by Campbell’s dementia and that she would not pursue it further. Since then, the investigation has remained inactive. Campbell’s campaign website says that the main reason for returning to the Legislature is “how hard the radical left is working to fundamentally change our country” and that he prioritizes family values. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Anthony Kern

Anthony Kern
Legislative District 27
Republican
2013-2020 House 
Kern is a far-right candidate who was at the entrance of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and is running to take the Senate seat from the more moderate Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. Boyer is leaving the Legislature this year after blocking several pieces of Republican sponsored election reform legislation and opposing the Maricopa County audit. Senate President Karen Fann fundraised for Kern in November after a long history of clashing with Boyer, who has openly criticized her leadership. Boyer and Kern subscribe to wildly different ideologies. Kern says he firmly believes that the election was stolen from Trump, that Boyer is a “RINO,” and that the insurrection was pushed by the left. Kern volunteered at the election audit of the 2020 Maricopa County election to count ballots but was removed because his name was on those ballots. He is also part of the “Brady list” of dishonest police officers after being fired from the El Mirage Police Department. Kern then tried to pass legislation that would get his name off that list without telling the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, but failed.

Ken Bennett

Ken Bennett
District 1
Republican
1999-2006, Senate
Bennett was the Senate president from 2003-2006 and has been retired from the Legislature ever since and participated in the 2020 Maricopa County election audit. He also served as secretary of state from 2009-2014. Bennett was appointed as the ‘audit liaison’ by Fann in April of 2021. He criticized the Cyber Ninjas review of the county’s ballots in his role, was barred from entering the audit and at one point announced he would quit – before quickly changing his mind. Fann and Bennett are from the same district and, although she isn’t endorsing anyone, she said she is willing to fundraise for him.

 

David Farnsworth

David Farnsworth
Legislative District 10
Republican
1995-1996, House, 2013-2020, Senate
Farnsworth had a decades-long career in the Legislature that seemingly ended last session, but Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers’ decision to run for the Senate prompted him to come out of retirement and compete against him. Farnsworth claimed in 2019 that the Department of Child Safety had a role in child sex trafficking, which he later walked back. He also claimed that Kate Brophy McGee threatened to kill him. Brophy McGee allegedly told Farnsworth that her husband was concerned about his comments regarding trafficking, and Farnsworth reported that Brophy McGee’s husband would “take care of it.” Farnsworth said he interpreted that as a murder plot.

 

Catherine Miranda

Catherine Miranda
Legislative District 11
Democrat 
2011-14 House; 2015-2018, Senate
Miranda has experience as a teacher, administrator and school board member outside of the Legislature, but is well known for voting ‘yes’ on pro-life legislation sponsored by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy. Miranda also endorsed Republican candidates in elections, including Doug Ducey for governor. She is the only former legislator competing in LD11 where there are no incumbents.

 

 

 

Lauren Hendrix

Laurin Hendrix
Legislative District 14
Republican 
2009-2010, House 
Hendrix served just one term in the House representing Gilbert, losing the 2010 primary by 401 votes to former House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth and former Gilbert Town Councilman Steve Urie. Hendrix has stayed involved in local politics since then. He was elected to the Maricopa County Community College District board in 2016 and to the Gilbert Town Council in 2020.

 

 

 

 

Lydia Hernandez

Lydia Hernandez
Legislative District 24
Democrat 
2013-2014, House 
Hernandez left the Legislature in 2014 when she and her seatmate, then-Rep. Martín Quezada, both ran for their west Phoenix district’s open Senate seat and he beat her by about 90 votes. She tried to mount a comeback two years later, but Quezada beat her in a bitter rematch between the two longstanding rivals. Quezada’s supporters accused Hernandez of being a “fake Democrat” for being pro-life and for endorsing a handful of Republicans, including Gov. Doug Ducey in 2014. Hernandez has also served on the Cartwright Elementary School District Governing Board, and she ran unsuccessfully for Phoenix City Council in 2019.

 

Maria Syms

Maria Syms
Legislative District 4
Republican
2017-2018, House 
Syms is looking to make a comeback in a district that has been redrawn to be more Republican-friendly than the one that kicked her out after one term. Syms, a former Paradise Valley town councilwoman and assistant attorney general, was elected in 2016 to represent LD28, a swing district that had been getting steadily more Democratic. She lost to Democrat Aaron Lieberman in 2018.

Now, Syms is one of six Republicans running for their party’s House nomination in LD4, the successor to LD28. With some of the bluer Phoenix portions of the old district having been added to central Phoenix’s LD5, LD4 is more centered on the suburbs and leans Republican. Only one Democrat has filed to run in the new district, guaranteeing that at least one of the two Republicans who makes it through the primary will score a legislative seat.

Incumbents kill union ploy to shape Democratic caucus

money-hole

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

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

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

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

Israel Torres
Israel Torres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

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

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

Primaries don’t necessarily have to succeed to be effective. They can be a means of showing force, and instilling discipline. 

But that doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance.

“I think this is a little bit of a different scenario, in part because it was not clear what the intent was beyond personalities and personal views,” said Geoff Esposito, a lobbyist with progressive firm Creosote Partners. “Possibly this means that there’s a focus on (project labor agreements) next year, but I already think that was going to be the case. All this does is make it so that he’s not welcome around the table.” 

Incumbents in these districts took Torres’ involvement personally, painting his spending as a tactic in a business-backed war against progressives, especially those close to Fernandez, who hopes to be House speaker next year. 

“I will say, when you go out to kill the king, you better make sure he’s dead,” said Barry Aarons, a longtime Arizona lobbyist who was a side-player in the 2018 attempt to bring back project labor agreements. “The fact that none of the candidates that Israel supported were successful – it sends the message that he can’t threaten members with, ‘if you don’t support our positions, we’re going to primary you.’” 

Revitalize wasn’t the only outside player to spend in Democratic primaries. In general, the election was full of bitter races and awash with outside money, exposing divides between rival factions and interests that the party had largely been able to paper over – at least in public – until now. 

But the chaos that extra attention created doesn’t bother Fernandez, who now must help the party lick its wounds and mend bridges in preparation for next year. 

“It tells me how powerful we are that so much money has been poured into these races,” she said. “This goes to show you that there are some people out there that know we’re going to be in the majority. They’re trying to establish what our caucus is going to look like. That’s the nature of the game of being in power.” 

LUCHA emerges as key PAC in Arizona progressive movement

lucha-mask

Fourteen of the 15 legislative and county candidates who received endorsements and varying degrees of financial support from activist group LUCHA emerged victorious in last week’s primaries, a figure progressives say is evidence of the organization’s growing influence in Democratic circles. 

Living United for Change in Arizona, which formed a decade ago as a small group of activists organizing against Republican immigration hardliners, was active in several of the party’s competitive primaries, including in the closely-watched elections in Legislative Districts 26, 27 and 29, all races that seemed to magnetize political spending. 

In those districts, progressives claimed repeated victories. Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, fended off well-funded challenger Jana Lynn Granillo. Melody Hernandez, who ran on a slate with House Minority co-whip Rep. Athena Salman, edged out Debbie Nez Manuel for LD26’s open House seat. In LD27 in Phoenix, incumbent Reps. Diego Rodriguez and Reginald Bolding successfully defended their seats from former lawmaker Catherine Miranda, and in LD29, Rep. Richard Andrade staved off a challenge from Teddy Castro, a Realtor from Litchfield Park. 

Exactly how significant the organization’s role was in winning those races is difficult to quantify. Its independent spending – which totaled $101,000 in a two-week period in mid-July – is just a fraction of the total sum of campaign cash that outside groups spent in this year’s Democratic primaries. Besides, several LUCHA-backed candidates have electoral advantages as incumbents, and LUCHA’s spending occurred after many Arizonans had already voted via early ballots. 

Either way, the organization has a growing track record of proximity to political success, from wins in primaries to spoiled Republican legislation, and its supporters say that’s no accident, pointing to the group’s ability to organize and create political consciousness among Latino people in Arizona.

Diego Rodriguez
Diego Rodriguez

“If you look at where they started compared to where they are now, I think people are going to want to study LUCHA,” said Rodriguez, who received the group’s endorsement in LD27. “The state has always had large Latino communities. Now they’re organized. It’s a model that works.”

LUCHA was not planning on playing in legislative Democratic primaries, according to Randy Perez, who runs the group’s PAC. But private polling showing several LUCHA-backed incumbents losing to their challengers spurred action. 

In LD27, that meant spending $32,000 in support of the campaigns of Bolding and Rodriguez. 

“(In the past), the money was always one sided,” Rodriguez said. “There wasn’t a counterbalance to APS, the Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Leadership.”

Catherine Miranda, Rodriguez’s challenger, attracted backers of her own, including Revitalize Arizona, the political arm of Pipe Trades Local 469. In LD26, challenger Debbie Nez Manuel attracted support from Revitalize as well as PACs representing institutional players like Greater Phoenix Leadership, a group of Valley CEOs that advocates for business-friendly policies.

That district’s House race drew more spending than any other Democratic primary this year. Outside groups spent more than $217,000 to support Nez Manuel, and $8,000 against her. 

These groups “pay to be able to talk to people who have a vote,” said longtime Arizona Democratic consultant Rodd McLeod. “These are groups where the ideology is … we want to have a seat at the table.” 

And they recognize that the table might be growing. Democrats are interested in taking a legislative majority in November, and stakeholders from across the political spectrum are taking note. 

“Those people always move toward someone who looks like they might be a winner,” McLeod said. 

LUCHA, with its ideological frame and specific policy goals – which currently include a significant COVID-19 relief package it calls the “people’s bailout” – is a different beast. But it has adopted some of the same tactics as traditional outside groups. For example, in this election the organization paid for mailers, texts, radio ads, voter education and so on. 

And like those other stakeholders, it expects the candidates that win to further a set of policy goals at the Legislature and to remain responsive to the constituencies that elected them, a concept Perez calls “co-governance.” 

But the weight of that influence is still minor relative to the other players involved, said Joe Wolf, a Democratic consultant who helped run a business-backed PAC during the primaries called Arizona Integrity. For example, though LUCHA was certainly involved in efforts last session to defeat a sanctuary city ban, Wolf said that warnings from the business community and fear among Republicans of returning to the SB1070 days probably played more of a role. 

“I think they have been more effective in shaping policy debates and pulling the Democratic caucus more to the left,” Wolf said. 

Besides, he said, Democrats are a long-suffering minority party, making the kind of vision that LUCHA espouses difficult to realize through the Legislature. 

“We’ve been fighting for things that we can pull out of the budget,” Wolf said. “We’re not driving policy.”

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jana Lynn Granillo as running on a slate with Debbie Nez Manuel in LD26. The story has been updated to remove that reference.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story also incorrectly implied that Granillo’s campaign received outside support from Greater Phoenix Leadership. The story has been updated to remove that reference. We regret the error.

Miranda announces run for Congress

Sen. Catherine Miranda (D-Laveen)
Sen. Catherine Miranda (D-Laveen)

Arizona state Sen. Catherine Miranda is running for Congress against a fellow Democrat, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego.

Miranda filed a statement of candidacy on Tuesday to run in Arizona’s 7th Congressional District, setting up a primary against Gallego, Miranda’s former seatmate in the Arizona House of Representatives, where both represented Legislative District 27.

Whoever wins the primary has an easy path to election in CD7, a safe district for Democrats. Gallego has held the seat since 2014, and his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, held a seat in Congress for 11 terms.

“I filed today to run for Congress in District 7. I was born and raised in the district and have committed the last 20 years to serving as an educator and legislator. I have worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle to protect my district and pass legislation that positively impacts families, schools and jobs. In this political climate, CD7 deserves a representative that puts ego and partisanship aside to get things done,” Miranda said in a written statement.

When asked why voters should prefer her to Gallego, Miranda told the Arizona Capitol Times, “to get things done.”

There’s no love lost between Gallego and Miranda, and Andy Barr, a consultant for Gallego, struck back in a statement last night.

“(Gallego’s) eager to have an opportunity to demonstrate the difference between a progressive fighting for working people and an anti-choice, corporate-sponsored politician who endorsed Doug Ducey and stood by while he gutted public education,” Barr said in a statement.

Politicians block constituents’ speech on social media

blockedSome politicians block spam accounts on social media. Some block corporations or trolls. But some Arizona lawmakers block their constituents, something First Amendment experts say may be unconstitutional.

And many state lawmakers refuse to even tell the public who they block.

Courtrooms across the country have seen people filing suit against their elected officials for edging them out of social media platforms, increasingly a place for public discourse where citizens can quickly and easily access their representatives.

In Arizona, people in both political parties use the “block” button on social media platforms.

But most Republicans in both chambers of the Arizona Legislature refuse to turn over records saying who exactly lawmakers block on their social media accounts, potentially in violation of state public records laws.

“We should know who our state legislators are telling to shut up,” said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona’s journalism school.

Legislative Democrats, along with the Republican governor, secretary of state and attorney general, all turned over lists of blocked accounts. The records showed some lawmakers block no one, while others block spam accounts. Still some block other politicians, political activists and accounts known for trolling – making deliberately offensive online posts.

Some of the accounts blocked by lawmakers are mundane. Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, blocks a specific Burger King in Goodyear. Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, blocks the Wendy’s corporate account, known for its funny tweets roasting other users.

Other lawmakers block their own constituents, something First Amendment experts contend cuts off people’s ability to communicate with their government and hold elected officials accountable.

Think of a lawmaker’s Twitter like a city council meeting, Cuillier said. While the government can limit the time, place and manner of public speech at a meeting, officials can’t specifically exclude people from speaking because of their views.

The same applies to social media, First Amendment experts say. Since public officials are increasingly using social media to talk about their work and interact with people, their accounts function as a type of forum that should be presumed open to the public.

Kathy Brody, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said the organization has received many complaints in the past few years about politicians, from city council members up to Congress, blocking people they disagree with on social media.

“That is classic viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional under the First Amendment,” Brody said.

Politicians may be able to set reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner, Brody said. For example, a politician could possibly limit posts to a certain number per day if there are people posting on their page hundreds of times each day, she said.

The issue has sparked lawsuits across the country. A federal court ruling last year found that a county supervisor in Virginia had hindered the free speech rights of her constituent by blocking her on Facebook. Numerous lawsuits across the country, including one against President Donald Trump, seek to clarify whether social media blocking violates the First Amendment.

J’aime Morgaine, a liberal activist, sued U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., last year for blocking constituents on social media, which led Gosar to unblock people.

What records show

Of those who responded to the request, 28 lawmakers block at least one person while 12 block no one. Gov. Doug Ducey blocks three people on Twitter. Secretary of State Michele Reagan blocks 60 Twitter accounts, many of which are spam.

Some lawmakers block other politicians. Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, blocks Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, who is from the opposite faction of the Democratic Party. Miranda didn’t return calls for comment.

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, blocks Trump on Twitter. Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, blocks former lawmakers Carlyle Begay and David Gowan on Facebook. While most of the legislators didn’t comply with the records request, of those who did, Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, blocks the most accounts, with 164 blocked on Twitter, though many of the accounts appear to be spam or business accounts.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich previously blocked people on social media and provided the Arizona Capitol Times with screenshots of the blocked accounts, but his office recently reversed course and decided not to block anyone, Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson said.

After the federal court ruling on the Virginia case, Anderson said the AG’s office decided to end any social media blocking “out of an abundance of caution.” The office didn’t do an extensive legal review of the issue, he said, nor did the agency advise other officials on how to manage their social media.

Anderson said it’s always tough to balance openness for people who want to participate in their governments versus those who make offensive, derogatory or trolling comments. But public officials have to take the good with the bad online, he said.

“We would never block anyone just because they were mean to us on social media or disagreed with us on policy,” Anderson said.

Is blocking constitutional?

First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said politicians are increasingly conducting official business on social media, where they may post press releases, talk about their meetings or conduct a Facebook Live video event.

When a social media account moves away from personal posts to government business, the venue becomes a public forum, Barr said.

“They can’t just limit it to people who only agree with them,” Barr said.

David Bodney, a First Amendment attorney at the law firm of Ballard Spahr, said politicians’ social media accounts can sometimes be private or used for purely personal reasons. But if they’re using their social media as part of their governmental work, there’s a “presumption of openness,” Bodney said.

Arizona case law makes clear that the medium and the ownership of a device or account don’t matter – it’s the content of a message and whether it has a “substantial nexus” to government, Bodney said.

Still, it’s tough to create a blanket rule for all public officials’ social media accounts, Bodney said. Public and private lives often overlap for elected officials, so it’s hard to say whether an account should be subject to public records laws without looking at its content, he said. There are some “close questions” on whether a social media account or the list of blocked users would be considered public, he said.

The House and Senate GOP caucuses denied the records request of the Arizona Capitol Times, saying the accounts are not public because they’re personal and don’t use state-funded systems or devices. The GOP caucuses provided only blocked lists for the official Senate and House Republican Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Their response falls in line with past legislative Republican positions on text and social media messages, which a 2015 Capitol Times investigation found were difficult, if not impossible, to access, giving politicians an avenue to circumvent the public and hide their business.

Lawmakers routinely use their social media accounts to post about their positions on issues, meetings with public figures or constituents and other legislative business. Many of them identify themselves as lawmakers in their social media biographies.

After denials from Republican legislative attorneys, the Arizona Capitol Times then sent requests to each Republican lawmaker. Several Republican lawmakers – Sen. John Kavanagh, Rep. Paul Boyer, Rep. Warren Petersen and Rep. Regina Cobb – responded despite their attorneys’ wishes for secrecy.

“As a policy matter, kudos to those government officials who honor the tradition of open government and transparency,” Bodney said.

Why am I blocked?

Lori Poloni-Staudinger, president of the Northern Arizona chapter of liberal activist group Together We Will, is blocked by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, on her personal account and on the organization’s account. Members of the organization still call his office and write emails, but rarely, if ever, get responses or even a friendly reception, she said.

“We have absolutely no access to our representative,” Poloni-Staudinger said.

She said Thorpe hasn’t said why, specifically, he blocked her accounts, but her group has been trying to more than a year to have a meeting with him to discuss his legislative proposals and has been critical of his ideas. The group eventually launched a social media campaign called #WheresBob, hoping to grab his attention.

“At some point, you have to poke fun at people about this because it just baffles the mind that in a democracy, you can have absolutely no access to your representative. Part of his job is to engage with people who disagree with him,” Poloni-Staudinger said.

Cristy Zeller, another member of Together We Will and a Thorpe constituent, is also blocked by Thorpe. She said he seems to shut out those who disagree with him and have sought to hold him accountable.

She admits the group has drawn attention to his lack of openness to dissenting voices on social media, but it stems from his unwillingness to meet with the group to discuss his positions and policies.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like we have much of a choice,” Zeller said.

Thorpe has a private account on Twitter, though he notes in his biography on the site that he’s a legislator. He denied records requests from the Arizona Capitol Times asking him to turn over any tweets about public business, saying his account is private.

Thorpe said his Twitter account isn’t an official legislative account and is instead personal. He also said he hasn’t used it much in the past year and claimed he doesn’t block constituents, but rather people from outside Arizona who attacked him.

“Over a year ago, I started getting a lot of people, because of one of my bills, a lot of people were very nasty and abusive, so at that time, I went ahead and closed it, and I pretty much haven’t used it since,” he said.

He said he mostly used the account to comment on national issues, not any state-specific topics. (The Arizona Capitol Times could not verify whether he has tweeted recently or whether his tweets relate to state business because he blocks most of the newspaper’s staff.)

Thorpe introduced a bill, HB2265, this year to carve out an exemption to public records laws. The bill would have made it so anything created on private devices or accounts, including texts, emails and social media, wouldn’t be a public record, regardless of what was discussed. The bill did not get a hearing.

Thorpe certainly isn’t the only lawmaker to block Arizonans on social media.

Melinda Iyer, a Democrat who is part of the group Save Our Schools, which opposes school voucher expansion, said Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, blocks her. She said she tweeted at him to thank him for something, and she ended up blocked.

Iyer said the social media blocking is part of a larger trend of ignoring and disrespecting constituents, particularly those who are critical of lawmakers’ policies. She said she has seen lawmakers roll their eyes while she talks in hearings or stare at their cell phones instead of paying attention. It all adds up to a feeling that lawmakers don’t care what regular people think, Iyer said.

“When you’re removing specific voices from the discussion, you don’t get that full honest dialogue that’s so necessary for democracy to function,” Iyer said.

Leach did not return requests for comment.

Stacy Augustine, a Democrat who lives in Legislative District 28, said her senator, Kate Brophy McGee, has blocked her on Twitter since last year’s legislative session. She regularly calls and emails her legislative representatives to weigh in on bills they’re considering and their votes.

She then found Twitter and saw it as a good way to easily keep an eye on her representatives and interact with them. She said she’s not sure why exactly Brophy McGee blocked her, but it came after she wrote to the senator about a 2017 bill on religious exemptions to end-of-life plans.

“I was really shocked because I’ve never made an ad hominem attack ever. I think my positions are reasonable and fairly well thought out,” Augustine said.

She said some politicians seem to think they don’t have to interact with people they don’t agree with.

Brophy McGee said she hasn’t blocked anyone in “forever,” but she may block people who use foul language or are very unpleasant.

She said she thinks it’s appropriate to set boundaries on social media, recalling a death threat she received during the debates on Medicaid expansion in 2013. She said Twitter in particular seems to be a place where people feel free to be offensive.

She also defended her blocking by saying her Twitter is a personal account and not an official state account. (Government business she tweeted about in the past week: a Senate resolution she sponsored, a legislative update at a neighborhood meeting, education funding, and a bill to create a state dinosaur.)

Brophy McGee said there are plenty of other ways besides social media for constituents to talk to her.

“I am probably the most accessible lawmaker in the Capitol in terms of my availability, office hours, email, phone, and my constituents make use of that,” she said.

As for Augustine, she recently got a response to an email she sent Brophy McGee for the first time ever.

“I laughed and turned to my husband and said, ‘It must be an election year,’” Augustine said.

Reporters Paulina Pineda and Ben Giles contributed to this story.

Senate approves 4-year continuation for school for deaf, blind

legislation, age, Gress, Jones, school boards, legislators, House
(Photo by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images)

In what has become a mysterious political struggle, state senators on Thursday debated on how long to allow the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind to operate before it must return to the Legislature for approval to continue as a state agency.

A last-minute change in the Senate that may be reversed in the House put the school on course to continue for four years instead of the standard eight given to most state agencies in good standing.

Most of the Senate wants the school to continue for the standard eight years but opposition from a few Republicans nearly brought the continuation down to two years. Four was the compromise that Democrats supported under protest.

Hoffman, equity, Mendez, woke, inclusion, diversity, bill,
Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek

After three hours of debate, the Senate finally passed Rep. Beverly Pingerelli’s bill, House Bill 2456, with the four-year amendment from Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, who said before the 27-1 vote he prefers the eight-year continuation. Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, voted against the bill.

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said on the floor that he also has an issue with just four years.

“I think this should have been eight years,” he said. With Bennett, Gowan and the Democrats united in agreement that eight years is preferrable to anything less, the Senate had more than enough votes to make that change, but it didn’t happen.

State agencies are subject to a sunset review and the Legislature may continue their existence for up to 10 years. Bills to continue agencies usually smoothly pass through the Legislature and are signed by the governor.

There are exceptions, though, like when an agency has a history of trouble and controversy. Last year, some lawmakers tried to hold the Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry to a three-year sunset review.

The department had a long history of failing to provide adequate health care to prisoners, a botched execution and a host of troubles surrounding executions.

The sunset review bill that former Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law gave the department eight years until it’s renewal but requires the state Auditor General to conduct annual reviews of the department on an assortment of areas.

But the school hasn’t been plagued with troubles.

Six weeks ago, the school became concerned when their continuation bill stalled in the Senate Government Committee without a hearing.

The bill had previously passed in the House without opposition, and the committee of reference recommended an eight-year continuation.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, used a procedural tactic to revive the continuation bill in the Education Committee and Bennett agreed to hold a hearing for it, but then the Government Committee, led by Sen. Jake Hoffman, Queen Creek, decided to hold a hearing on the original bill.

The bill was amended in the Government Committee to two years and in the Education Committee down to five years in one long confusing day where deaf and blind students, parents and teachers rushed around the Legislature, cried, and pleaded with lawmakers to allow their school to continue longer.

It appeared on the Senate floor Thursday with yet another amendment to continue the school for four years.

Democrats asked repeatedly why the school is getting a different treatment from dozens of other agencies when it seemingly had not done anything wrong. Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, noted that the most damaging finding in the latest Auditor General’s report on the school was self-reported and they worked to resolve it.

Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, said teachers are refusing to sign contracts because of the political controversy surrounding the school.

“Teachers are being lost as we speak because of what we’re doing in here right now,” Burch said.

Hoffman said that shorter continuations are the best way for lawmakers to serve the agency because stricter guidance leads to higher standards.

“In furtherance of that mission, we want to provide the deaf and blind children with the best possible education,” he said.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, was the only other lawmaker to say that short continuations mean better oversight. He said everyone expects the school, which has been in operation since before Arizona was a state, to continue for a very long time.

Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said it is appalling to suggest the school needs more oversight.

“It is simply appallingly curious. It really begs the question of what other motives are going on?” Epstein asked.

Hoffman refused to answer Epstein’s question about whether he has met with the school.

School Superintendent Annette Reichman said that Hoffman never spoke to her.

The floor debate got heated.

Sens. Catherine Miranda and Raquel Teran, both Phoenix Democrats, were reprimanded for referring to a rumor that’s been circulating around the Legislature for the past several weeks, that all this difficulty around the school continuation is because Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, has a “vendetta” against the school for opposing one of her bills, which failed.

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson

Wadsack filed a bill that would have required the school to accept students who aren’t deaf or blind but have other disabilities.

Miranda made the accusation and was silenced by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who was running the floor debate. Wadsack left the room during Miranda’s comments.

“We don’t have direct evidence of that, but yes that is our perception, that that’s accurate, that it’s true,” Reichman said of the rumor.

Wadsack declined to comment. She also wouldn’t answer a question from Epstein on the floor.

Marsh and Miranda criticized the body for not providing adequate accommodations for deaf and blind people in committee or on the floor. There is a livestream available of the proceedings with closed captioning, but no interpreters. Miranda asked whether the Senate is violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Tensions also ran high when Democrats accused Republicans of ableism. Sundareshan, and Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, both referred to the process that way and were chastised for impugning the motives of other members, but Reichman said that’s exactly how she sees it too.

Mendez tried to amend the bill to go to 10 years, but the amendment failed on party lines. He voted ‘no’ in protest, making the final vote 27-1.

Mendez noted that the Senate recently voted 21-7 to continue the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control without any similar pushback. The bill’s opposition came from the same group opposing the eight-year school continuation

A bill from Rep. Lupe Diaz, R-Benson, to continue the Arizona State Parks Board for eight years also passed the Senate on Thursday, but there was no debate. That bill passed 21-6 with Hoffman, Wadsack and four other Republicans opposed.

The last hope for eight-year continuation proponents is that the bill is altered one final time in a conference committee and restored to an eight-year bill. Bill sponsor Pingerelli said she still supports an eight-year continuation, and she’s looking at the best options.