4 mayors want statewide mask mandate, but don’t enforce their own

Covid 19 stock

With a new spike in COVID-19 cases, the Democratic mayors of four cities renewed their demand Friday that Gov. Doug Ducey impose a statewide mask mandate even though they concede that their police are not enforcing their own local orders.

In an online press briefing, the mayors also said they want a mandatory 14-day quarantine of people who visit the state or proof of a negative test for COVID-19. The only exception would be for those who produce a negative test for the virus.

But the governor’s chief of staff said there’s nothing new in their arguments. And Daniel Scarpinato said his boss sees no reason to back away from his belief that the best way to get people to mask up is through messaging on their importance and securing voluntary compliance.

Whether that message is working, however, is in serious question.

The Department of Health Services reported 4,471 new cases of infection from the coronavirus. That compares with a peak of 5,450 at the end of June when Ducey imposed new restrictions on business and fewer than 600 a day in September before the new upswing. There also were 43 deaths reported, bringing the statewide tally to 6,427.

Meanwhile, a separate metric shows that the rate of spread in Arizona continues to rise.

And the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation predicts that, absent some change in policies — whether masks or other restrictions — the demand for beds in intensive-care units will exceed capacity sometime this coming month.

Regina Romero
Regina Romero

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the messaging about masks being done by the governor’s office, backed by a paid public relations and media campaign, isn’t enough.

“What we need is decisive statewide action,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have yet to see that from Gov. Ducey.”

In fact, Ducey did not want any sort of mask mandate at all, even issuing an executive order barring local officials from imposing their own. It was only after Romero and others threatened to go ahead anyway — and provoke a legal fight — that the governor backed down.

Now Ducey is using that option for local action to explain why more is not needed, claiming that existing ordinances cover 90% of Arizonans. Romero scoffed at that as an answer.

“COVID-19 does not see county or city limits,” she said.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego cited the predictions that hospitals could run out of ICU beds. And that, in turn, could lead to implementation of the Crisis Standards of Care which would permit medical personnel to essentially triage patients to determine who gets what limited care is available.

She also pointed out that Ducey, at his most recent press conference, said he believes that masks do help stop the spread. But that, Gallego said, is not enough.

“You can’t say you believe in it and not implement the policy,” she said.

That’s not how Ducey sees it.

Gov. Doug Ducey explains why he's not implementing new restrictions even as he concedes Wednesday  that the rate of COVID-19 infection in Arizona is on the rise. With him is state health chief Cara Christ. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey explains why he’s not implementing new restrictions even as he concedes Nov. 18, 2020, that the rate of COVID-19 infection in Arizona is on the rise. With him is state health chief Cara Christ. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

At that Wednesday press event, the governor noted that officials in some communities, facing local opposition, have opted not to impose mask mandate or have repealed the ones that were in place. That sort of controversy, the governor said, doesn’t help build compliance.

“What I want to avoid is some of the division and politics that have happened around this issue,” Ducey said, saying he prefers “participation and cooperation.”

That, in turn, goes to the question of enforcement.

All four cities — Tucson, Phoenix, Tolleson and Flagstaff — have their own mask mandates. But even Romero conceded that there are people at events in her city who are not complying.

More to the point, citations for violating the city ordinance are not being issued.

“Pima County Health Department is responsible for enforcement,” Romero said.

That’s not exactly true. When Ducey amended his executive order allowing for local mask-up ordinances, he also gave cities the authority to compel compliance.

But Romero said it’s up to individuals who see violations to call the health department to report not just the local mask ordinance but also things like crowding in bars, which is prohibited under the statewide executive order.

“We know and realize there are bad actors,” she said.

And what of the role of Tucson police?

“TPD doesn’t go into a business and take it upon themselves to enforce that mask mandate,” Romero said. “What we’re doing is coordinating and cooperating with Pima County Health Department.”

That, however, raises the question of what would be the point of a statewide mask mandate if enforcement won’t be any stricter than it is now. Romero, however, said a single law with a single message is better than the “patchwork” set of ordinances that exist now.

“That’s why it’s important that Gov. Ducey lead,” she said. And Romero said it also means that local health departments can work directly with the state.

Kate Gallego
Kate Gallego

But Gallego conceded that the issue of curbing the virus may be less tied to people wearing masks in public than other forms of transmission. She said there is an issue of spread in “small groups of people who know each other, including family members.

“It is not going to be possible to have enforcement at people’s homes if they are having big Thanksgivings in their dining room,” she said.

Gallego said her own city’s police department has had “hundreds of educational contacts with our residents talking about the importance of masks.”

“We believe that arresting people and putting them in jail — that would be one of the most likely areas for transmission — is not the way to get through this,” she said.

The issue of mandatory testing of new arrivals goes a step beyond the directive by Ducey on Wednesday for the state health department to set up sites at Sky Harbor, Tucson International and Phoenix Gateway airports where people can get free saliva testing and results within 48 hours. The governor said that anyone who tests positive would be expected to self-quarantine.

There is precedent for what they want. The governor himself issued a similar edict in April on visitors from the New York City area after there was a spike in cases there.

That order later expired when infection rates in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut declined.

Scarpinato said there’s no reason for that now. He said Ducey believes that if free testing is convenient and the results come back positive that visitors will voluntarily agree to remain away from others.

“We know that people want to get tested, we know that people want to act responsibly,” Scarpinato said.

He also suggested the mayors were being intellectually dishonest in pushing the importance of a quarantine, noting that when Ducey issued his April order he got kickback from Phoenix.

An aide to Gallego insisted that the Federal Aviation Agency prohibits airport employees from participating in this kind of public health screening. And Annie DeGray said that even includes making announcements to arriving passengers that they must quarantine themselves and cannot simply leave the airport to go out and do what they want.

After 8 years, Ducey hands off a changed Arizona to Hobbs

Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during inauguration ceremonies at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Ducey became the first governor since Bruce Babbitt, who left office in 1987, to complete two full, four-year terms. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Former Gov. Doug Ducey officially turned over the governor’s office to Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday, marking a shift in party power at the state’s highest office and the end of a lengthy and consequential era in Arizona politics. 

Ducey, 58, becomes Arizona’s first governor since Bruce Babbit, who left office in 1987, to complete two full, four-year terms on the job. In eight years in office, Ducey presided over profound changes that will continue to affect the state for years to come. 

The governor signed conservative policies into law on everything from economic policy to education during his time as the state’s top executive. Beginning next year, Arizonans in all income brackets will pay a flat 2.5% tax and many families will get taxpayer money to cover education expenses – both products of legislation backed by the governor. 

In other areas, the ground has shifted under Ducey’s feet since he took office in 2015. 

The “Red for Ed” movement that led teachers around the state to go on strike eventually led to pay increases for teachers that the governor approved in 2018. The Arizona Republican Party, now dominated by figures from the MAGA faction of the party aligned with former President Donald Trump, is almost unrecognizable from the state party that helped elect Ducey to two terms in the governor’s office. 

Members of Arizona Educators United protest on April 10 as Gov. Doug Ducey gives his weekly KTAR interview. Dozens of teachers, students and other public education advocates marched outside as the temperature in Phoenix reached 100 degree for the first time this year. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Members of Arizona Educators United protest on April 10, 2018, as Gov. Doug Ducey gives his weekly KTAR interview. Dozens of teachers, students and other public education advocates marched outside as the temperature in Phoenix reached 100 degree for the first time this year. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Ducey frequently says that he’s left the state “better than (he) found it,” and he invariably cites Arizona’s economy as the prime example of his success. 

“He did a great job with the economy. There’s no doubt about that,” said longtime Republican consultant Chuck Coughlin. Specifically, Coughlin said, Arizona has added jobs not just in traditional sectors like home-building and development, but in a diverse range of industries, particularly high-tech manufacturing. 

The new manufacturing projects include battery and electric car makers who have set up shop in Pinal County and a semiconductor manufacturing plant that’s under construction in North Phoenix. Even President Joe Biden flew into Phoenix to help celebrate progress on the chip factory in December. 

In terms of lawmaking, Ducey’s signature accomplishments mostly came near the end of his tenure, and they run the gamut of conservative policy priorities. 

In 2022, his last legislative session, the governor signed a massive expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, better known as school vouchers. The law removed eligibility requirements from the program, allowing any Arizona family to get state funds to cover their children’s education expenses, including tuition at private schools. 

Also last year, lawmakers delivered a billion-dollar package based on the governor’s vision for bringing more water to the state: desalination. A board set up to administer the more than $1 billion investment (which will come out of state coffers over three years) has already taken steps that could lead to financially backing a desalination plant in Sonora, Mexico. 

And in 2021, with the governor’s support, lawmakers passed the state’s historic flat tax. 

Those moves were possible, in part, thanks to Arizona’s growing revenues and enviable financial surplus. In 2015, his first year in office, Ducey signed a slim $9 billion budget. In 2022, that figure had doubled to $18 billion, but still included provisions to top up the state’s rainy-day fund, which now comes to more than one billion dollars. 

Daniel Scarpinato, a former chief of staff to the governor, credited the fiscal belt-tightening of Ducey’s first year – when the state faced a $700 million deficit – for paving the way for future spending packages. 

“I don’t think that we’d be in the position today of being able to do all these things if that (the deficit) had lingered,” Scarpinato said. 

The tax cuts and voucher expansion were, predictably, partisan endeavors, while the water project ultimately received widespread bipartisan support. In another area – public school funding – the governor’s legacy may still be up for debate. 

Even though Ducey ultimately signed the 2018 law that aimed to increase public school teacher pay around the state by 20%, Arizona remains close to last in average teacher pay across the country and public school class sizes have continued to grow in recent years. Scarpinato said that the bottom line is that teachers got a significant raise while Ducey was governor. 

But Stacy Pearson, a Democratic strategist, said Ducey shouldn’t be applauded for effectively restoring education funding that had been cut by former Gov. Jan Brewer, while allowing the state to remain far behind its peers. 

“That he’s trying to get us to celebrate going from dead last to second-to-last, or third-to-last, is laughable,” she said. 

Another important piece of legislation signed by Ducey might have a counterintuitive impact. 

A 2022 abortion law (passed in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade) bans abortion after the 15-week mark of a pregnancy except in medical emergencies, but it may actually have the effect of loosening abortion restrictions in Arizona. That’s because the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled last month that the 15-week ban supersedes a more restrictive state law that dates to the 19th century. 

Outside of lawmaking, Ducey’s second term was largely defined by the Covid pandemic. Phoenix was one of the first cities to report a coronavirus case in January 2020 and, in March 2020, Ducey signed a series of emergency orders that largely shut down the state – closing schools, restaurants, gyms and other businesses.

But the lockdown was lifted abruptly in May and, that summer, the virus began spreading rapidly through the state. Hospitals were overwhelmed and thousands died, but the governor resisted calls to impose health and safety measures like a face mask mandate, arguing it would damage the state’s economy and that lockdowns imposed a toll on mental health.

By the time Ducey left office, more than 30,000 Arizonans had died of Covid and the state had the unwelcome distinction of the highest per capita Covid death rate of any state.


Gov. Claudia Pavlovich, Sonora, Mexico, and Gov. Doug Ducey, talk after a press conference Nov. 29, 2016, to announce Lucid Motors has agreed to open a plant in Casa Grande.

On border issues, Ducey in some ways brought a more restrained approach than his predecessor Brewer, who signed the controversial “show me your papers” law, SB 1070. He forged a close relationship with former Sonora governor Claudia Pavlovich and emphasized economic cooperation. But he also took some aggressive action aimed at border security. 

He initiated the “border strike force” in 2015 – a program aimed at stopping drug trafficking that eventually came under criticism for failing to live up to its name. And in 2022 started busing migrants to liberal cities on the east coast and building a shipping-container border barrier without federal permission – until the federal government secured a legal agreement to take it down. 

Ducey had the fortune of working with Republican-controlled legislatures during his time in office, but narrow majorities did lead to some conflict. In his final legislative session, he signed a budget that got bipartisan backing and included concessions to Democrats in the form of more public-school funding, after some hard-right lawmakers refused to get on board with Ducey’s budget plan. 

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Justices Bill Montgomery, John Lopez, Ann Scott Timmer (vice chief justice), Robert Brutinel (chief justice), Clint Bolick, James Beene, and Kathryn King.

Among other actions that will reverberate long after he’s gone, Ducey’s numerous judicial appointments mean his judgement will help shape how the state’s legal system functions for years to come. 

Most notably, he expanded the Arizona Supreme Court from five to seven justices, though he insisted the move didn’t amount to court packing. As he leaves office, five of the justices are Ducey appointees. (The other two were appointed by Brewer.) 

Even while Ducey was still in office, the justices had a hand in securing some of his most important policy accomplishments. 

In 2021, the Arizona Supreme Court effectively quashed Proposition 208, a voter-approved initiative that would have raised taxes on high-earning Arizonans in order to provide more funding for public education. (The Arizona Supreme Court sent the case back to a trial court, but with instructions that basically forced the judge’s decision.) Had it taken effect, it would have significantly altered the flat tax program signed into law the same year. 

Compared to Brewer, who fought bitterly with the legislature and memorably wagged an accusatory finger at then-President Barack Obama when he visited Arizona, Ducey took a more low-key approach and, at least publicly, didn’t pick many fights. 

Even Pearson, for the most part a critic of the governor, gave Ducey credit for that. 

“I may not agree with his policies, but the guy did exactly what he said he was going to do … and he did it without scandal,” she said. 

Even so, Ducey had his own clash with a sitting president, in a moment that underscored the political shifts underway during his tenure. 

In 2020, as he certified Arizona’s election results, he silenced a call from Trump, who at the time was ramping up his claims that the election had been marred by widespread fraud. That led to a rift between the two men and was part of a broader schism between Ducey and more hard-right elements of the Republican Party. 

One question that remained unanswered as the governor’s office changed hands on Monday is what Ducey will do next. He declined to run for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat last year against Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, but he has reportedly expressed interest in running the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In interviews in recent weeks, the governor hasn’t offered hints about his future plans. 

Editor’s note: This story was revised on Jan. 9, 2023 to include a passage on the Covid pandemic. 

Agencies make case for new spending, but most requests likely doomed

Ask most state agencies, and they’ll say they need more money. Their lists of wants and needs range from small-dollar requests to eight-digit figures for major initiatives.

And one theme carries through most years – much of what the agencies beg the Governor’s Office for doesn’t ultimately get funded.

Every fall, the agencies send budget requests to the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, the branch of the Governor’s Office tasked with overseeing the state budget. Some of the requests may end up in the executive budget Gov. Doug Ducey rolls out in January, which then gets negotiated with the Legislature.

Many of the agencies hit on common ongoing needs. Lots of agencies ask for money for massive informational technology projects, most of which don’t get funded. For agencies that provide social services, there’s always “caseload growth,” or costs that need to be covered to maintain a program as it is. And then there are operational costs, like wages and benefits for employees.

Will Humble
Will Humble

Will Humble, the former agency head of the Department of Health Services under two governors, crafted budget requests based on what a governor was interested in, seeking money for things that aligned with the governor’s priorities.

“Part of being an agency director is being a mind-reader,” Humble said.

Humble didn’t want to put in requests that would raise eyebrows, but ones that stood a chance of actually getting the green light. Essentially, each agency is competing against the others, so it’s important to put the strongest, most-likely-to-succeed arguments up front, he said.

“I never looked at it as my wish list. I looked at it as my ‘what is it that I can sell’ list. I wished for a lot more,” he said.

Requests for money from the general fund, the state’s all-purpose kitty, are tougher to justify than those that come from other sources, like taxes, grants, fees or federal programs. Some agencies are largely self-funded, requiring no money from the general fund, while others rely heavily on general fund appropriations.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the governor is looking for good policies that will improve services for citizens while keeping a balanced budget.

“And also certainly we’re looking for savings. We‘re looking for where can we save money, not just spend money,” he said.

Plus, he noted, the governor has priorities outside the budget requests, like putting more money into K-12 education. Things like a request from the Department of Corrections for reducing recidivism – which Scarpinato said is an investment financially and personally – will be looked at seriously and prioritized by Ducey.

“The fact is that there are limited resources and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Scarpinato said. “We really need to prioritize K-12 education and our teachers, and that means that the rest of state government has to figure out how to deliver essential services and improve services by saving money.”

ag-budget-webHelp us attack the cities

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants nearly $1 million to pay for eight staffers in a newly established unit of his office aimed at government accountability and investigations of cities.

A law passed in the 2015 legislative session also tasked the office with investigating complaints from lawmakers about cities or towns that they claim aren’t following state laws. The AG wants more money to investigate these complaints, which could result in the state withholding revenues from cities and towns. The government accountability and special litigation unit, created to handle the lawmaker complaints, also focuses on election law complaints from citizens, open meetings law violations and misuse of public funds.

So far, the attorney general has investigated three complaints under the new law, two of which were resolved locally and one of which prevailed at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Because of the successful court case, the AG “anticipates several new complaints to be filed by legislators in the near future.”

Now, attorneys for the government accountability unit are funded through money brought in by enforcing the Consumer Fraud Act. But the AG’s office said the funding isn’t sustainable, and it takes time and money away from consumer protection duties.

“This workload places the (Attorney General’s Office) in the difficult position of choosing whether to neglect critical consumer protection enforcement in favor of lawmaker initiated S.B. 1487 investigations,” the budget request says.

AG spokeswoman Mia Garcia said the new law requires attorneys to work within strict time deadlines to investigate complaints against cities and towns, which requires resources.

“We weren’t given any special funding, despite the new mandate. The way this unit is funded now isn’t sustainable, and we need a permanent funding source,” Garcia said.

adoa-budget-webObserving World War I

Next November will be the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and the Arizona Department of Administration wants to spruce up its monuments in anticipation.

The department expects an influx of visitors on November 11, 2018, and wants to use $25,250 to maintain and repair the monuments and mechanical equipment located at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

The money wouldn’t come from the state’s general fund, but a separate fund with more than $200,000 available that’s meant to go toward repairing monuments and memorials.

ADOA also has applied for a grant to restore the World War I memorial through an initiative sponsored by the World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. If it doesn’t get awarded a grant, the department said it will first use the $25,250 appropriation to restore the World War I memorial. The department said it’s also actively trying to get donations from groups that support the various monuments on the plaza.

“If the funds are not appropriated this fiscal year, ADOA will miss the opportunity to repair and restore monuments in observance of the World War I Centennial,” ADOA’s budget request says. “In addition, there will be further degradation of the monuments and memorials.”

dcs-budget-webThink of the children

In order to help kids get adopted, the Department of Child Safety seeks $21 million from the general fund to cover the growth in its adoption subsidy program.

The subsidy largely provides ongoing money to help families cover expenses if they adopt children with special needs, DCS said in its budget request.

Families can get a one-time payment of up to $2,000 to help cover the costs of the adoption process, like court fees, attorneys, fingerprints and home studies. But for some families that adopt special needs kids, there’s an ongoing “maintenance subsidy,” averaging $700 per month, to help pay for some of the child’s costs, based on the family’s needs.

The money can be used by families to cover child care, insurance and educational needs, the department said in its request, but it’s not intended to cover all the daily living expenses of the child.

The number of adoptions has increased in the past few years, and the department expects there will be 14 percent more adoptions next fiscal year than this year, from 29,420 on average in this fiscal year to 33,539 next year. The numbers of adoptions spike in November, dubbed “adoption promotion month,” and more children get off the adoption subsidies in the summer, when many new adults graduate from high school.

If the department doesn’t get the funding needed to keep up with growth, it will have to drop the amount it pays in new adoption contracts, which would be a “financial disincentive to adopt versus keeping a child in foster care,” the budget request says.

“New adoptions may be stalled by a reduced ability to finalize new contracts, with increased time in out-of-home care leading to relatively higher costs to the State overall and reduced outcomes for children,” the budget request says.

adot-budget-webWhen will we think of the roads?

Ask any rural lawmaker: Do the roads throughout the state need help? During the 2017 legislative session, funds for highways became a battle-cry for lawmakers after the Governor’s Office didn’t include any money for roads in his proposed budget.

The Department of Transportation wants $25.6 million to help address crumbling highways throughout the state.

Typically, ADOT has used about $15 million each year on sealing deteriorated roads, said agency spokesman Steve Elliott. The $25.6 million request would be added to the $15 million, he said.

But that’s only a fraction of what the department estimates it needs to repair cracks, seal roadways and smooth out rough patches. The total need is more than $128 million, something ADOT recognized wasn’t doable because of the lack of state dollars and the difficulty of administering all the money at one time.

If money isn’t spent now to address road issues, the investment taxpayers put into roadways will deteriorate faster and negatively affect travel for both business and pleasure, the department wrote in its request.

And if the state doesn’t pony up more money for roads, the department won’t be able to preserve and extend the life expectancy of its highway system.

“These essential duties, if not properly funded, will result in more rapid deterioration of our pavement leading to more expensive reconstruction in the long run and more expense to the taxpayer,” the department wrote.

liquor-budget-webYou booze, you lose

Other requests are relatively small, but could have a big impact on an agency’s ability to do its job. Take the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control – the agency wants $35,000 to help with litigation costs and $102,000 for a full-time assistant attorney general.

Since the liquor department doesn’t have enough money now to fund litigation costs, it has to drop the amount it collects for fines in the hopes people won’t appeal them, the agency’s request says.

Now, if people with liquor licenses violate liquor laws, they get their fines reduced by half if they don’t contest the findings or judgments in legal hearings, the agency wrote.

“While there is no real way to measure direct impacts, a concern is that increased efforts to avoid contested cases could be jeopardizing public safety as well as adversely impacting services,” the agency wrote.

The agency currently has an assistant attorney general who spends one-third of their time on liquor department issues, but it wants a full-time person to focus on legal support and navigate complex liquor laws.

Without a full-time assistant AG, the department has missed opportunities to pursue more complex investigations related to racketeering, the agency wrote.

ade-budget-webWe don’t really want these epi-pens

The Department of Education is seeking $1.65 million to purchase injectable epinephrine for state schools, but its own officials deemed the request “unnecessary.”

The funds would be used to purchase two doses of adult and two doses of pediatric epinephrine for each of about 2,000 district and charter schools.

A 2013 law requires the department to make this exact request each year and to train selected staff to administer the potentially life-saving drug to someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

But the department would like an end to that mandate.

Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold in packages of two for a generic wholesale price between $300 and $400, or $800 per school. That leaves the remaining $50,000 for the same staff training each year.

But if the Legislature opts not to provide the funding, adding to the epinephrine stockpile is optional anyway.

“Schools are currently able to pursue other avenues to receive free or reduced pricing to stock epinephrine auto- injectors for emergency purposes,” the department wrote, “so the department believes this mandated budget request is unnecessary.”

In other words: We’re all set, thanks.

sfb-budget-webSave our crumbling school facilities

As school facilities age and degrade, emergency solutions have cost the state thousands of dollars at a time, according to the School Facilities Board.

Now, the board would like the authority and resources to predict failures and prioritize repairs.

Take the chiller (a cooling system) failure at Lake Havasu High School for example.

The board wrote the school’s two chillers failed, leaving the school without any relief from the heat. For months, the chillers had not been performing as expected, but nothing was done to preempt the inevitable.

The school had to be cooled, the board wrote. The replacement process took months despite being accelerated, and in the meantime, funding was provided to rent two trailer-mounted temporary chillers at a total cost of $325,000.

If the chillers had been replaced ahead of their failure one at a time, the rental would have been unnecessary.

In addition to the authority to predict such failures, the board is seeking expenditure authority from the Building
Grant fund to inspect school buildings every five years, to implement a tool prioritizing repairs and to partner with a third-party to gather information about the facilities and add it to that database, dubbed the Facility Condition Index.

“The information would roll up to a ‘dashboard’ giving the SFB an indication of a building system’s condition,” the board wrote. “The timing of repairs and replacements of those systems would be prioritized and managed to reduce avoidable costs and minimize disruption to students.”

Each school district would have its own dashboard to track scheduled maintenance, the board went on. Projects could be scheduled in advance and completed during breaks, and multiple purchases could be made at once to take advantage of bulk pricing.

The board included a draft for the proposed partnership, including anticipated costs well over $1 million,
though the board anticipates that cost would still pale in comparison to excess emergency costs.

Arizona Supreme Court pulled into political fray

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.

The Arizona Supreme Court’s integrity is under attack by supporters of the defunct Invest in Education Act who accuse the justices and Gov. Doug Ducey of collusion.

But the accusations are fueled not by hard evidence but rather by an assumption grounded in speculation and unverifiable information spread by the Ducey campaign.

The court and its justices have been swept up in election season politics that typically bypass the judicial branch. And the lasting impact may not be a shift in electoral chances of Ducey or Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Garcia in November, but a threat to judicial independence.  

On September 9, reporters on a local news talk show revealed that representatives from Ducey’s campaign had told them the Supreme Court decision on the Invest in Education Act was 5-2.

The initiative would have increased state income taxes on individual earnings above $250,000. It would have created a dedicated revenue stream of about $690 million a year for education.

The full Supreme Court ruling, including how the justices sided, has not been released yet.

Ducey and his campaign have since denied that they have any insider information on the Supreme Court ruling and he said the information given to reporters was not presented as fact.

“That’s a rumor. I have no idea about that,” Ducey said September 18.

Ducey’s campaign manager J.P. Twist dismissed the idea of a leak at the court. He did not disclose where the campaign got the vote information from, but said it was a third-hand rumor that didn’t come from the court.

But the damage was already done.


When Ducey’s campaign appeared to have inside information about the demise of the initiative, Democrats and the initiative’s supporters painted the news as a sign of clear collusion between the executive branch and the court.

“This is what corruption looks like,” Garcia tweeted. “Do Arizonans want four more years of Ducey tipping the scales of justice? I think not.”

Garcia spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said the onus is on Ducey’s team to clarify to voters where the campaign got its information.

But without the release of a full opinion on the ruling, there’s no immediate way to prove any misconduct occurred.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association and a Red for Ed stalwart, said Arizonans may never know what really happened, but something doesn’t feel right.

“The frustrating part is no one knows if it’s accurate. No one knows yet, although there’s an investigation whether there was a leak,” Thomas said. “But it sure looks like one.”

Between the “unprecedented maneuver” by the court to strike the initiative from the November ballot and the Ducey campaign purporting to know the vote count, the situation simply stinks, he said.

Yet he acknowledged there has been no evidence beyond what Ducey’s campaign told reporters to support accusations of corruption.

Former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Zlaket said he can’t remember a time when anyone — and certainly not a large contingent of people — seriously questioned the process or the integrity of Arizona’s high court.

Zlaket, who served on the court for 16 years before stepping down in 2002, said a breach among the justices or court staff is highly unlikely.

“I do know some members of the court and they would never, in my opinion, ever leak anything to another branch of government,” he said. “They know it’s just not the way the courts operate.”

The justices have maintained a common practice that no information on a ruling will be given to the parties, their attorneys or the public until an opinion is formally released, Zlaket said. Even law clerks are trained to keep quiet until an opinion is put out.

Half the people involved in any case are going to be unhappy with the outcome, Zlaket said. There’s nothing wrong with informed criticism, but the idea that justices or court staffers are doing something to undermine the public’s trust seems implausible, he said.

The judicial branch is unique because it’s free from the political pressure that pervades the other two branches of government, Zlaket said. The public has instilled their trust and confidence in the court to independently decide their rights and obligations, he said.

“If the public loses faith in the third branch of government and starts to believe that it is nothing more than another political arm of government like the executive, like the legislative branch, then it almost seems to me we’ve got a serious problem,” he said.

These accusations have not gone unnoticed, but the court has not started a formal investigation, said Jerry Landau, the court’s director of governmental affairs. Court staff is discussing the allegations with those involved in judicial opinions, but not questioning anyone outside the court.

“Someone made a statement. Is it true? We don’t know,” he said. “What’s the basis for it? We don’t know. … We’re simply asking if anyone knows about it, and that’s really the end of it.”


The court was targeted by the initiative’s supporters even before the purported vote was shared with reporters.

About a week after the Invest in Education Act was kicked off the ballot, Arizona Educators United, the group behind the Red for Ed movement, vowed retribution in November. They targeted Justices Clint Bolick and John Pelander — the only two justices up for retention this year.

The Invest in Education committee — the group behind the initiative — is not taking part in the effort to target Bolick and Pelander.

The response rankled even some who typically align with the goals of the initiative.

Attorney Dan Barr, on Twitter, deemed the retention election challenge “idiotic.”

“A bedrock of our judicial system is that of judicial independence, and when you start targeting judges for decisions you don’t like, then you make the judges far more wary of doing what they think is the right thing to do,” Barr said in an interview.

He said the court’s critics should have at least waited for the opinion to be released before criticizing it.

The campaign against Bolick and Pelander isn’t just absurd, he said, it’s offensive.

The state Commission on Judicial Performance Review found both justices met judicial performance standards by a vote of 27-0. And according to their reviews, both received integrity scores of 100 percent from attorneys who returned commission surveys.

Bolick said he cannot begrudge anyone engaging in civic activism, but he hopes the effect is not to politicize the court.

“Punishing judges for a good faith decision would be a very concerning precedent,” he said.


He suffered his fair share of losses during his career as an attorney, Bolick said, and he may be the only person in the state to have had two ballot measures thrown off the ballot.

“What did we do? We dusted ourselves off. We got it right the next time,” he said.

Bolick dismissed the suggestion that the justices may have been influenced by Ducey or his administration as “silly.”

The alleged leak is concerning to the justices, he said. If the vote truly was leaked, he does not believe one of his colleagues was responsible.

But he said that anyone would purport to have that information is distressing in any case.

Josselyn Berry, co-director of Progress Now, a left-leaning advocacy group, said some people were quick to suggest corruption or collusion between the Supreme Court and the executive branch after the Invest in Education Act decision because of Ducey’s push to expand the court in 2016.

Bolick worked at the Goldwater Institute before Ducey tapped him to serve on the Supreme Court. He had never been a judge, which raised some eyebrows in 2016, Berry said.

Ducey named two new justices after the Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to expand the court to seven members from five.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard sponsored the bill to expand the court, which was criticized as an effort by conservatives to pack the court in their favor. But it’s news to him if he or his fellow legislators ever had any influence over the court.

“As the kind of head of half of one of the branches, I’m wondering where that sway is,” he said.

Berry didn’t go so far as to suggest there was a leak at the Supreme Court, but she said Invest in Education supporters are confused why Ducey’s campaign appeared to have information that wasn’t publicly available.

Supporters of the initiative were devastated when the court denied the measure a spot on the November ballot.

“A lot of people worked hard to get Invest in Ed on the ballot,” she said. “270,000 people signed the initiative. A lot of teachers and parents and people worked to get that to happen and so when it was ripped off the ballot … I think there was a lot of anger and upset because they wanted the chance to vote on that.”

But if conservative sway over the court is of the utmost concern here, targeting two sitting justices may do nothing to change that.

Most polls indicate that Ducey is favored to win re-election in November. In that case, should Bolick or Pelander or both lose in the retention election, Ducey would appoint their replacements.

Axed COVID-19 researchers reinstated


Bowing to a barrage of bad press, the Arizona Department of Health Services on Thursday reinstated the group of COVID-19 researchers it fired May 4. 

In an email sent to the Projections Modeling Team, the department announced an “ongoing partnership” with Arizona State University, which oversaw the work of a group of researchers from the state’s universities. 

ASU had vowed to continue and make public the group’s work after the department decided to “pause” its work. 

The department said the work was halted because it worried it was taking too much time from the team of researchers, epidemiologists and economists who it wasn’t paying.

Instead, the state said it would rely on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s model, which is not public. But the researchers felt their work for the state was too important to stop. 

“Since [the “pause”], the Universities and team members have expressed a willingness to continue doing this work,” the email read. “We are grateful for their dedication and we look forward to an ongoing partnership.” 

This email surfaced after one volunteer modeler told Yellow Sheet Report that the “pause” was clearly political and a step towards a half-baked justification of reopening Arizona as soon as possible. Dr. Joe Gerald, director of Public Health Policy and Management at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health, said Gov. Doug Ducey cited unreliable data during his May 4 press conference to announce loosening his stay-at-home order and suggested the cancellation by the executive furthered an effort to reopen the economy..

Additionally, Gerald said the group thinks the Governor’s Office is lifting restrictions too quickly and the moves are short-sighted, if the ultimate goal is leading Arizona down a path of fewer cases and deaths. 

“We know more people are going to get sick and more people are going to die. Maybe that’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make,” Gerald said.

Ducey’s chief of staff,  Daniel Scarpinato, said that the governor didn’t order the “pause” in the team’s work, didn’t receive a heads-up that it was coming and said that if it were a political decision, it would be a pretty poor one.

“It’s a DHS public health decision that they made – we didn’t make it – we obviously support their decisions because they’re the experts,” he said. “

Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office doesn’t micromanage the department or its director, Cara Christ. 

The team’s lead modeler, ASU’s Tim Lant, previously told Yellow Sheet Report that the state was “absolutely not” ready to start reopening on May 1.

The model was originally developed to estimate resource needs and disease transmission rates, but Lant’s team ran into problems with insufficient testing data and answering the question of when the state could safely reopen became more important. Lant said he and the team also have to deal with a rabbit hole of clarifications, like the degree of the reopening, the tradeoffs of reopening, and what the meaning of “safe” is.

But one thing remained clear, out of the five scenarios the model ran, opening at the end of May would be the “safest” option that would be the least likely to lead to a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, Lant said.

AZ GOP helps take control of U.S. House

Rep.-elect Eli Crane, R-Ariz., center, and his wife Jen Crane, right, arrive with newly-elected members of the House of Rep.-elect Eli Crane, R-Ariz., center, and his wife Jen Crane, right, arrive with newly elected members of the House of Representatives at the Capitol for an orientation program, in Washington on Nov. 14. Crane’s win over incumbent Democrat Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the 2nd Congressional District, and Republican Juan Ciscomani’s win over Democrat Kirsten Engel in the 6th Congressional District, gave Republicans control of the state’s congressional delegation, 6-3 and helped to tip the scales in the GOP’s favor in the U.S. House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans took control of Arizona’s formerly Democrat-led congressional delegation this week, contributing to flipping the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican Juan Ciscomani won his race against Democrat Kirsten Engel in the 6th Congressional District, and Democrat incumbent Tom O’Halleran lost his 2nd Congressional District race to Republican newcomer Eli Crane.

With Ciscomani and Crane’s wins, Republicans went from controlling four of Arizona’s nine House seats to six. After a close race in the 1st Congressional District, the other Arizona Republican representatives all kept their seats.

President Joe Biden has a low approval rating and is associated with skyrocketing inflation rates. Republicans hoped this dissatisfaction would garner support for a “red wave,” but were ultimately not as successful as they hoped to be. Their largest victory was in the United States House where Democrats currently have a small majority with 220 representatives.

As of November 16, Republicans secured the 218 seats they needed to control the House. Democrats had 211 seats, and races for six seats were still undecided.

Republicans took control of Arizona’s formerly Democrat-led congressional delegation this week, contributing to flipping the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican Juan Ciscomani won his race against Democrat Kirsten Engel in the 6th Congressional District, and Democrat incumbent Tom O’Halleran lost his 2nd Congressional District race to Republican newcomer Eli Crane.

With Ciscomani and Crane’s wins, Republicans went from controlling four of Arizona’s nine House seats to six. After a close race in the 1st Congressional District, the other Arizona Republican representatives all kept their seats.

Rep.-elect Michael Lawler, R-N.Y., left, and Juan Ciscomani, Republican candidate in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, walk on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Joe Biden has a low approval rating and is associated with skyrocketing inflation rates. Republicans hoped this dissatisfaction would garner support for a “red wave,” but were ultimately not as successful as they hoped to be. Their largest victory was in the United States House where Democrats currently have a small majority with 220 representatives.

As of November 16, Republicans secured the 218 seats they needed to control the House. Democrats had 211 seats, and races for six seats were still undecided.

With control of the chamber, Republicans could stymy Biden’s and congressional Democrats’ agenda.

Republican consultant Daniel Scarpinato said of the new House majority, “Given how slim the majority will be, it remains to be seen how significant it truly will be. It is historically close, and in that respect, it will be a political science experience worth watching very closely. Given the divisions within the Republican Party, whether there is a ‘governing’ majority is unclear.”

Scarpinato works on Ciscomani’s campaign.

Arizona 5th Congressional District Rep. Andy Biggs made a bid for speaker of the House, but lost in a landslide to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is the current minority leader. The vote was 218-30 for McCarthy.

The success of McCarthy and Ciscomani echoes a trend in this year’s elections where “establishment” Republicans were far and away more successful than Republicans endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the general election, even though the opposite was largely true in the primaries.

Republican Differences

Ciscomani was the only Arizona Republican congressional candidate in the general election who did not seek or receive Trump’s endorsement. Ciscomani is a former member of Gov. Doug Ducey’s cabinet who did not deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election or push for abortion bans.

Andy Biggs

Biggs is the opposite candidate. “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander testified that he was in communication with Biggs before the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives Rusty Bowers testified to the January 6 House committee that Biggs called him on January 6 and asked him to sign a letter calling for the decertification of the election results. Biggs’ brothers William and David wrote to The Arizona Republic calling for Biggs’ removal from office, claiming that he was at least partly responsible for the attack.

Biggs denies any involvement in planning the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but he did ask for a presidential pardon for his involvement and denied the results of the 2020 election. He was endorsed early on by Trump and does not support limits on abortion bans. He also opposes same-sex marriage and said he doesn’t believe in climate change. These are views that “establishment” Republcains like Ciscomani are leaning away from.

Although Biggs was not drawn into a “competitive” district, he still got the narrowest win since he first became a congressman. He won with 56.7% of the vote over an independent and a candidate who didn’t accept any donations. Biggs raised $1,916,882 to Democrat challenger Javier Garcia Ramos’s $15,243.

Senate a Priority

In the midyear election, Democrats put most of their energy into the U.S. Senate race and left House candidates out of major events.

The Senate race and governor’s race were pushed heavily by the Arizona Democratic Party. Former President Barack Obama headlined a rally on November 3 to stir up support for the Democrat ticket. All but one of the statewide race candidates and Kelly spoke. Kelly spoke the longest apart from Obama and was praised most by the former president.

Obama, Biden, Kelly, Masters, election, ballots, results, Trump
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic rally in Phoenix on Nov. 2. U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly made a rare appearance with other Democratic candidates at that event when Obama was here to stump for the Democratic slate. (AP Photo/Alberto Mariani)

Democrats Jevin Hodge and Kirsten Engel ran in the most competitive congressional districts and did not speak. O’Halleran and fellow Democratic incumbent Greg Stanton also ran in semi-competitive districts and did not speak. None of the four Democrats were talked up by the other speakers either.

“It was disappointing. I wish he was able to speak. I think he could have made a difference,” Democrat consultant Steven Slugocki said of Hodge’s omission from the Obama lineup.

Democrat House candidates were left out of other events, like a panel with Planned Parenthood representatives on the importance of Democrats in elections where Hobbs, Mayes and Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, spoke.

Democrats across the country spent millions on Arizona’s congressional races, but it wasn’t enough.

New District Boundaries

Part of the Republicans’ success is attributable to redistricting. The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission drew Arizona’s nine new congressional districts in December of last year. Democrats accused the commission of stacking the 7th Congressional District with Republicans to make the 6th Congressional District harder for Democrats to win.

Most of CD6 was represented by Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who did not run for re-election.

David Mehl, a Republican member of the redistricting commission, pushed for CD7’s line to move far east, keeping blue Tucson and the University of Arizona together in a single Democratic district. Mehl’s son donated to Ciscomani’s campaign and Ciscomani’s wife Laura Ciscomani nominated Mehl to the commission. Mehl denied accusations that he was making decisions in Ciscomani’s favor and disgruntled Democrats didn’t get their way. The district ended up highly competitive and leaning slightly to the right.

Tom O’Halleran

The Democrats’ second blow was the loss of CD2. O’Halleran was ousted by Trump-endorsee Crane after O’Halleran was drawn into a red district. Crane was ahead with 53.9% of the vote as of November 16.

The new CD2 was less competitive than CD6 and labeled “outside of competitive range.” In 2020, voters in the new CD2 voted 53.6% Republican and 46.4% Democrat, which was nearly identical to the election’s vote spread.

Incumbent Republican Rep. David Schweikert struggled to keep his seat but pulled through after the lead went back and forth a few times. Schweikert was endorsed by Trump late in the game, less than two months before the August primary election.

Trump and Schweikert kept one another at arm’s length and didn’t appear alongside one another this year. Schweikert voted to certify the results of the 2020 election on January 6, 2021.

Schweikert was convicted for 11 House ethics violations and was sued in the primary campaign for running an ad against fellow Republican Elijah Norton with the caption “Elijah Norton isn’t being straight with you” over an image of Elijah Norton with his arm around another man. As of November 16, Schweikert was ahead with just 50.4% of the vote.

Democratic consultant Slugocki said of CD1, “I’m very confident that this is going to be one of the most important districts in 2024 because of how close it was. He [Hodge] may not have got there this time, but we will in two years.”

Kelly’s Senate campaign was hugely emphasized by Democrats for the entire campaign season. Senators are more powerful because there are only 100 compared to the House’s 435 members, but apart from that Slugocki said he doesn’t know why the House races were not a priority of the Democratic Party.


Bill to deregulate hair styling introduced

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

The way Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita figures it, no one ever died from a bad hair style or blow dry — at least not literally.

So the Scottsdale Republican wants to repeal a state law which says you can’t style hair in Arizona without at least 1,100 hours of training at a state-licensed school.

Ugenti-Rita said she was approached by lobbyists for Drybar, a decade-old national firm that specializes in quickie blowouts. That can include everything from a shampoo to simply putting someone’s hair up with pins.

The firm already has three locations in the state.

Only thing is, to do even just that in Arizona requires a state license, something Ugenti-Rita said could cost close to $10,000.

“When they told me about the scope of their business, you could clearly see that it was an impediment to them hiring, and for someone to be hired, simply to hire them for blowing out hair — blowouts they’re called — and style,” she said. Ugenti-Rita said what’s being done there is far different than a beauty salon.

“You can’t even get hair cutting,” she said. “They don’t have scissors there.”

Nor do they do things like hair coloring or use chemicals to make a perm.

“They blow it out, style, arrange, they curl,” Ugenti-Rita said. “Maybe they use some bobby pins.”

Bottom line, she said, is her belief that nothing being done there should require a state-issued license.

“I don’t see a public health or safety issue,” she said.

Her HB 2011 would create an exception from licensing for those who “dry, style, arrange, dress, curl, hot iron or shampoo and condition hair” as long as there are no “reactive chemicals to permanently straighten, curl or alter the structure of the hair.”

“The worst that can happen is you don’t like the way your hair is styled,” Ugenti-Rita explained, as there would be no cutting and no permanent change to someone’s hair.

Prior efforts to create exemptions have been met with sometimes fierce opposition from the cosmetology community — the people who already have the licenses and the board which regulates them, which is dominated by those in the field and those who teach at schools which are now the precursors of licensing.

As far back as 1983, Douglas Norton, who was the state auditor general at the time, recommended to lawmakers that they scrap all laws requiring licenses of all cosmetologists or barbers.

“Licensing is not justified because of possible harm from the use of barber implements or chemical solutions because such items are readily available to and routinely used by the general public,” Norton said. But legislators ignored the report amid stiff opposition from the regulated community.

There has been some move toward deregulation more recently, albeit on a piecemeal basis.

In 2004, over the objection of cosmetologists, lawmakers decided that people who only braid hair for a living no longer have to be licensed.

Seven years later, the board agreed to stop trying to regulate “threading,” the practice of using thread to pluck eyebrows. But that came only after the Institute for Justice filed suit.

And earlier this year, Gov. Doug Ducey personally interceded when the board sought to shut down the operation of Juan Carlos Montes de Oca for giving free haircuts to the homeless in a Tucson park.

There was no immediate response from the cosmetology board to the proposal.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss has not yet seen the measure. But he suggested the proposal would get the approval of his boss if it makes its way through the Legislature.

“The governor’s bias would be toward making it easier for people to do it, especially if we’re not talking about anything that would jeopardize public health or safety,” Scarpinato said.




Business leaders calling for big tax hike to fund public schools


Business leaders are advocating for a permanent expansion of a sales tax that funds public schools by nearly three times the current amount.

In a commentary submitted to The Arizona Republic, former State Board of Education President Reginald Ballantyne III, Brewer Companies and Benjamin Franklin Plumbing CEO Mike Brewer, retired PetSmart CEO Phil Francis and Whiteman Foundation President John Whiteman proposed increasing the voter-approved 0.6-percent sales tax to a 1.5-percent tax.

“The governor’s recent budget increased teacher pay, but we should help him do more,” they wrote. “There is a growing teacher shortage in Arizona and many district superintendents report low salaries as a top reason for teachers leaving the profession.”

Voters, who approved the tax in 2000 as Proposition 301, would have to OK any increase. The tax is set to expire in 2021.

Teacher pay was at the top of the businessmen’s priorities for the additional tax dollars, with a proposed $340 million over a minimum of six years intended for salary hikes. The plan also proposed $240 million to fully fund all-day kindergarten, $278 million to restore the School Facilities Board’s building renewal fund formula, and $25 million each for teacher training and private sector grants for workforce development programs.

The commentary focused heavily on Gov. Doug Ducey’s vision, which the businessmen lauded, noting that it’s unrealistic to expect a governor who was “elected with a commitment to lower taxes” to propose new ones.

Instead, they appealed to their friends in the business communities and Arizona voters to create a supportive coalition behind their plan, which they said champions the priorities that Ducey has laid out.

“Ducey has signaled his support for extending Prop 301 and has said he does not want Arizona to ‘fall off a cliff’ when the funding program expires,” according to the commentary. “Supporting Ducey’s vision, our business-led initiative must include permanently extending Prop 301 to protect more than $600 million in recurring funding for our universities, community colleges, local district and charter public schools.”

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato declined to comment directly on the proposal to expand and extend Prop. 301, but his broader statement suggested the business community is not likely to win the governor’s support.

“The governor does not support tax increases,” Scarpinato said via email.

Ducey, who has pledged not to raise taxes, has expressed support for extending the Prop. 301 tax but has been ambivalent about proposals to increase it to a full cent.

In March, Scarpinato said Ducey is open to the timing of getting a measure on the ballot and other ideas for altering the tax, including expanding it.

Organizers of the plan to increase Prop. 301 did not specify when they hope to put the measure on the ballot, but Ballantyne told The Republic it needs to be done “ASAP” and that “the sooner we can get going, the better.”

With Prop. 301’s end in sight, the only options for the business community proposal are 2018 and 2020.

Ducey is also up for re-election next year.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said waiting until 2020 would be “a dangerous game.”

“Legislators have an opportunity every year to intervene, and the only actions that we’ve seen them take in the last decade is cutting education and calling it the new normal,” Thomas said.

“In the end, a lot of what will move forward depends on where the governor’s support is,” he said. “The governor needs to come out and talk about what his priorities are around renewing Proposition 301. We don’t know when this is going to happen. We need to get money into our classrooms now.”

But before anything is put on the ballot, Thomas said the business and education communities need to come together to work out the specifics.

Thomas said the business leaders’ plan for the tax expansion focuses on broad, big picture ideas, leaving him with questions on items like a $25 million allocation for workforce development.

He shared the same criticism for other plans touted by officials like Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, who has also advocated for a permanent expansion of Prop. 301.

Still, both plans do address the one thing Thomas considers paramount to a successful effort.

“They’re both very broad, but they both do focus on the teacher retention crisis that we have in this state,” he said. “That is going to be a necessary component of any 301 expansion.”

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor was also cautious about analyzing the plan in its early stages, echoing comments chamber President and CEO Glenn Hamer made to The Republic.

“Prop. 301, or the funding mechanism, has to continue,” Taylor said. “What form that will take going forward is what needs close analysis and deep discussion.”

He recommended ensuring business, education and government leaders are aligned behind whatever is put before voters, which he noted appears to be what the business community is striving to do.

Still, it’s too early to tell.

“When we heard about this idea, it was via the (Republic) reporter,” Taylor said. “Absent a more formal proposal and a sense of what the electorate is thinking about these sorts of issues, it’s difficult to give an assessment, especially not knowing what other proposals might emerge.”

Jeremy Duda contributed to this report.

Car registration fee boost proposed to end raid on road cash

Republican lawmakers are proposing an increase in vehicle license fees to end years of raids on dedicated local highway funding that paid for highway patrol operations.

Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

The identical proposals from Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa and Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott mark the latest effort to end the raid of about $95 million a year that is supposed to fund local roads. Worsley pushed a similar bill last year but it died after Senate President Steve Yarbrough refused to allow a formal vote after facing opposition from fellow Republicans.

Ending the raid on the Highway User Revenue Fund known as “HURF” is a longstanding goal of lawmakers from both parties. The fund raid is particularly hard for rural areas that have no way to pay for repairs and renovations without the state money, which comes from gas taxes and vehicle license fees.

Yarbrough said last week that he’ll likely let the proposal proceed this year and see where it ends up. However, he’s concerned about how it makes an end-run around a requirement that bills that increase state revenue require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Worsley said this year’s effort would raise about $8 million by ending an exemption for alternative fuel vehicles. The rest of the $100 million needed for a dedicated highway patrol safety fund would come from giving the Department of Transportation director authority to raise license fees.

“He decides what’s fair,” Worsley said. “And every year we’re not back here fighting over ‘Are we going to sweep it or not? How much are we going to sweep?’ out of the HURF funds.”

Worsley said he didn’t have an estimate of how much fees could go up. But based on state registration numbers, if every vehicle registered in Arizona was assessed $11, it would raise about $90 million.

Allowing a department director to set the amount is the same maneuver that allows the state Medicaid agency leader to assess hospitals to pay for expanding that program. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the Medicaid assessment earlier this year, saying it met the test for avoiding a supermajority vote needed to raise taxes under the voter-approved Proposition 108 by allowing state agency directors to set fees.

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

“I disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision on Medicaid expansion,” Yarbrough said. “Bills like this should be Prop. 108 — I think we should be straight up.”

Four Republican senators are co-sponsoring the Senate bill, meaning it could pass if all Democrats sign on. Campbell’s House version also has three GOP co-sponsors, just shy of the commitment needed to guarantee passage if Democrats back it en masse.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he believes Campbell’s proposal could pass this year.

“Considering the number of people who have come to me with the issue of HURF and transportation and infrastructure funding, I imagine it will have a lot of support,” Mesnard said.

Worsley also proposed a gas tax increase last year to end the raid, but the measure, too, failed. He said he has talked with Gov. Doug Ducey’s staff about his new proposal.

“They are not supporting the bill, but they’re saying see if you can get it up to us,” he said.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said he will support “good ideas” but declined to comment on pending legislation.

Republican Rep. Noel Campbell debates a budget amendment in the Arizona House of Representatives on May 4, 2017. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Campbell acknowledged that persuading Republicans opposed to tax increases will be difficult and there will likely be blowback in his conservative district. But he said the fee isn’t a tax and the need is dire.

“All I know is I’ll take heat. But there’s three essential things the government has to do, and all the rest are fluff,” he said. “The three essentials are transportation, public safety and public education. And for too long we’ve ignored transportation.”

CD6 foes make false allegations against each other

From left are Kirsten Engel and Juan Ciscomani

Candidates in a competitive new congressional district are lobbing false allegations at one another in ads over abortion and police support.

Republican Juan Ciscomani claimed in an ad that his opponent, Democrat Kirsten Engel, wants to “defund the police,” which she denied. She claimed in an ad that Ciscomani wants an abortion ban with no exceptions, and wants to prosecute women who seek abortions, which Ciscomani denied.

After last year’s redistricting process, the new 6th Congressional District emerged in Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s district, but Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, isn’t running for re-election.

Without an incumbent running, the race between Ciscomani and Engel is neck-in neck.

“My opponent Kirsten Engel is lying to distract from her extreme record. Engel is supported by Nancy Pelosi, she’ll make inflation worse, defund the police and release criminals,” Ciscomani said in his ad titled “The Truth.”

Ciscomani’s campaign consultant Daniel Scarpinato said the basis for this claim is the fact that Engel is endorsed by the pro-abortion nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL tweeted last year that it wants to defund the police. Engel also used to work as an attorney for Earthjustice, which was then called the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Earthjustice said online that it supports some form of defunding the police in 2020.

“Kirsten Engel does not and has never supported defunding the police,” Engel’s campaign manager Sophia Brown said in an email. “With this ad, our Republican opponent is unfortunately continuing his pattern of lying to and misleading Arizona voters. Engel supports fully funding our police and ensuring law enforcement have the resources to keep our communities safe and secure our border. The Pima County Sheriff has endorsed Engel because he knows he can trust her to keep Arizona families safe.”

Engel issued a press release on September 29 claiming that Ciscomani was avoiding a debate with her because he didn’t want voters to know about his “extreme” abortion views. There was plenty of finger-pointing between the candidates on who is dodging a debate.

Ciscomani did not debate Engel on PBS and Engel did not appear to debate Ciscomani in an event hosted by the Casa Grande Dispatch. A debate tentatively scheduled for next week was cancelled by the moderator, Arizona Public Media, which did not respond to requests for comment.

In the press release, Engel accused Ciscomani of supporting Arizona’s territorial era near-total abortion ban.

“Ciscomani proudly supports extreme abortion bans like the near-total 1901 ban that just went into effect in our state, which has no exceptions for rape or incest,” the release said. “Extreme, dangerous Republicans like Ciscomani are completely out of step with the needs and values of Arizonans. Is Ciscomani hiding from the voters to avoid answering for his radical and unpopular views?”

Scarpinato responded quickly that Ciscomani wants exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother. Arizona’s 15-week abortion ban from this year and territorial-era ban both include exceptions for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest. As a result, Scarpinato said that Ciscomani doesn’t fully support them.

Ciscomani expressed the same stance weeks ago in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star.

“I’m also on record as [women] have to make these choices about their health to be able to offer the right exceptions for the terrible act of rape, or incest, or definitely the life of the mother. These are all exceptions that I’ve been on record as supporting,” Ciscomani told the Daily Star on September 8.

On September 9, Engel released an ad claiming that Ciscomani supports an abortion ban with no exceptions. The ad even claims Ciscomani is in favor of “locking up doctors and even trying them for murder.” Scarpinato said that is not true.

Brown said that Engel’s claim is based on comments Ciscomani made celebrating the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and refer abortion laws back to individual states. They did not provide evidence that Ciscomani supports a ban with “no exceptions.”

On October 3, Engel released another ad titled “Peas” in which she doubles down on her claims about Ciscomani’s abortion views. She further claims in the ad that Ciscomani wants to prosecute women who get abortions.

“Ciscomani would let states outlaw abortion. No exceptions. Making women and doctors criminals,” Engel said. Neither state law allows women to be prosecuted, only doctors.

Scarpinato said that Ciscomani does not want women to be prosecuted.



Chiropractors use opioid crisis to bolster request for Medicaid coverage

Arizona chiropractors will push for the state’s Medicaid program to cover chiropractic care in the next legislative session, the industry’s lobbyist said.

And the extension of Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System coverage to chiropractors ties into efforts to combat the opioid crisis, the Arizona Association of Chiropractic claims.

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Barry Aarons, the lobbyist for the association, said the group is talking with stakeholders to decide whether to ask for a pilot program or full coverage for the AHCCCS population.

Only people under age 21 on AHCCCS are currently covered for chiropractic care.

Now, AHCCCS patients may want to use chiropractic care, but chiropractors have to tell them to pay cash, Aarons said.

Wayne Bennett, a Prescott chiropractor, said one of the most frustrating parts of his job is encountering AHCCCS patients with chronic pain who can’t access chiropractic care because they can’t afford it.

“The care is there, we know what to do, we could help them. … but our hands are tied,” Bennett said.

Aarons and Bennett said there are several recent studies and guidelines that call for further investigating and using “non-pharmacological” means to address chronic pain, like massage or physical therapy or chiropractic care.

In particular, both men referred to guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2016 that suggested further exploration of and increased access to such treatments like exercise or physical therapy instead of opioids to manage chronic pain.

Chiropractic centers on non-medication management of pain, Bennett said. It’s not only chiropractic adjustments that help in chronic pain management, but the building of a solid relationship with the patient and the faster access to care chiropractors can provide, he said.

He was part of an effort 11 years ago to get chiropractic care covered by AHCCCS, and the measure was nearly approved, he said. The plan made it through committees and was included in the budget until just two hours before the budget was approved, he said.

This time around, the opioid crisis requires people to address the problem, and he pointed to President Donald Trump’s recent declaration of an emergency and states’ emergency declarations as important steps in recognizing the issue.

“As a culture, we now have an awareness that this problem must be addressed, and we need to spend the money to do it. We (chiropractors) are definitely part of the solution in this case,” he said.

So far, people seem receptive to the idea, Aarons said. He’s been meeting with stakeholders, AHCCCS representatives and lawmakers.

“I haven’t had anybody say hell no yet, which is a good sign,” Aarons said.

The push for funding by tying chiropractic care to the opioid crisis jibes with Gov. Doug Ducey’s agenda. The governor declared a public health emergency on opioids earlier this year and has created a task force to come up with recommendations and require additional reporting.

The emergency declaration came after the state saw two opioid-related deaths per day in 2016. The task force has recommended several policies to address the ongoing issue, including a Good Samaritan law and educational requirements for doctors.

But there’s one major question still unanswered – the chiropractors haven’t firmed up costs for covering the AHCCCS population at this point. Still, Aarons claims the benefits would outweigh any potential costs since prescription costs could go down, as could visits to primary care doctors.

There may need to be an appropriation to allow AHCCCS patients to get chiropractic care, Aarons said, but a figure on what that amount would be isn’t finalized yet.

“We really believe that where chiropractic coverage is allowed for chronic pain, that the actual net costs, we believe, would go down. The only question is, how long would it take to see those results?” he said.

And there’s a major benefit that’s unquantifiable, he said – if chiropractic care can help divert people from using and becoming addicted to opioids, potentially saving lives, there’s no price tag for that benefit.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the Governor’s Office is always willing to hear any ideas that could improve public health, especially for people living with addiction, but the governor would need more details on how such coverage would be funded and how many people could be helped.

And the governor’s first financial priority remains K-12 education, though there will be room in the budget for some other spending, Scarpinato said. Anything on the public health front would include consultation with AHCCCS and the Department of Health Services, he said, adding that the Governor’s Office wouldn’t greenlight a plan because an industry was lobbying for it.

Ducey’s staff would need to consult people outside the industry, who would not benefit financially from adding chiropractic care to AHCCCS, to make sure the policy was sound, Scarpinato said.

Coalition of voters takes Ducey to court over filling U.S. Senate seat

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

The former leader of Arizona’s Libertarian Party filed a lawsuit against Gov. Doug Ducey Wednesday, arguing he must immediately hold a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John McCain.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Arizona, alleges that Arizona laws dictating how to handle a vacancy in the U.S. Senate violate the 17th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and deprive Arizona citizens of their 14th Amendment and First Amendment rights.

Michael Kielsky, an attorney at Udall Shumway, former chairman of the Arizona Libertarian Party and frequent candidate for public office, brought the suit on behalf of a coalition of five Libertarian, independent, Republican and Democratic voters.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, dismissed the suit as “another frivolous lawsuit.”

But Kielsky said that leaving the seat with an appointee until 2020 is unreasonable, and a judge will decide if the suit is frivolous.

“As with a lot of constitutional provisions, we have to apply a reasonable standard… (An election in) March would be reasonable, May would be OK, but two years is unreasonable,” he said.

He noted that a lawsuit challenging the appointment to the U.S. Senate seat in Illinois that former President Obama vacated in 2009 was successful on similar grounds.

Arizona law states that if a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate, the governor shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy, and that person shall serve until the next general election. But if the vacancy occurs less than 150 days before the next primary election – as happened with McCain – the appointee “shall serve until the vacancy is filled at the second regular general election held after the vacancy occurs,” meaning the 2020 election.

The suit argues that law violates the 17th Amendment, which granted voters direct elections of U.S. Senators. That amendment states that in the event of a Senate vacancy, the state governor shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies, “Provided, that the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.”

But the suit argues that the state Legislature has no authority to mandate that a temporary appointee serve in lieu of a Senator directly elected by the people, “beyond any period necessary to hold an orderly election.”

The suit argues that by keeping in office a “temporary” appointee far beyond the period within which an orderly election could be held, Ducey has deprived plaintiffs and other citizens of their right to vote under the 17th Amendment and to determine who shall represent the people in the Senate.

As a result of the state law, “citizens of Arizona will be deprived of elected representation in the Senate for over twenty eight months, and will suffer irreparable injury from such a lengthy loss of elected representation in the United States Senate,” the suit argues.

While some states dictate that U.S. Senate vacancies must be filled by special election, most states employ similar delays in filling a vacancy that occurs shortly before a scheduled election, though most use shorter timelines than Arizona, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

In Virginia, if the vacancy occurs fewer than 120 days before the primary election, the appointee serves until the following election cycle, according to the NCSL. In New Jersey, if a vacancy occurs more than 30 days before the next primary election, it’s filled that year, otherwise the appointee serves until the next election cycle.

Conservation district wary of governor’s proposals on water

Arizona water bigwigs are meeting with the governor’s staff in an attempt to unify the state’s voice on water issues and come up with new ideas to conserve and manage water.

But the plans have stirred uneasiness among some water stakeholders, who say the meetings themselves and their purposes haven’t been transparent.

The meetings could be consequential for the state’s future water supply, as those involved will analyze current laws, policies and practices to see what should be changed.

As many in the water world like to boast, Arizona’s diligent planning, like the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 and various efforts to keep more water in Lake Mead to stave off any water cuts, brought the state to where it is today: a growing metropolis in the middle of the desert.

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

Gov. Doug Ducey intends these water meetings to be a next step, a way to find consensus around future needs and solutions, his spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said.

Scarpinato emphasized the stakeholders, led by a “plenary group” of about 20 people from business organizations, utilities, water advocates, cities and districts, will be driving the discussions. Two work groups will focus on the Colorado River and groundwater issues.

“There needs to be leadership on this issue. The Governor’s Office is taking that leadership role,” Scarpinato said.

The top five priorities for the group, led by Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, include drought contingency plans and a program to keep tribal water in Lake Mead, and how the Central Arizona Project, the state’s canal system that delivers water to Phoenix and Tucson, manages excess supply. Another priority is coming up with a “permanent system conservation program.”

But the approach so far has made figuring out what exactly the meetings are about and what could happen next difficult for some involved.

And they’ve underscored an ongoing power struggle between the Central Arizona Project and the Governor’s Office and its Department of Water Resources over who controls water planning efforts.

None of the meetings have been open to the public, only to those invited to participate as stakeholders. There aren’t any publicly posted agendas or notes about the meetings from the Governor’s Office. Only CAP, which is subject to open meetings laws, has posted any information on the meetings.

Jim Holway
Jim Holway (Photo by Philip A. Fortnam)

Jim Holway, a member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board, which manages the Central Arizona Project, said he has more questions than answers at this point.

For instance, the group has suggested it may make some changes to the way the elected CAWCD board is structured, according to a slide show put together by CAP, though it’s not clear specifically how it could be changed. The board members are now elected by voters in the three counties that receive water from CAP.

Additionally, the state wants to make it clear the Arizona Department of Water Resources is the primary entity responsible for conserving water in Lake Mead, an idea that blew up earlier this year when the department said CAP overstated its role in a lawsuit claiming sovereign immunity.

And the state wants CAP to affirm, through legislation, that it doesn’t have sovereign immunity. Plus, the state wants to prohibit CAP from contracting for federal lobbying services and require a financial audit by the state’s auditor general every three years.

Holway, who has worked in the water world for decades, said the process for creating water policy has historically revolved around stakeholders coming together and finding common ground. Water policy is also typically handled within the water community, so having the Governor’s Office so involved is a bit unusual, he said.

“Why is there this effort on the part of the (Ducey) administration to restrict and change the authorities and responsibilities of an elected body?” Holway said.

Warren Tenney
Warren Tenney (Photo by Philip A. Fortnam)

But Warren Tenney, executive director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, said he’s glad there’s been strong leadership from the Governor’s Office. Tenney, who has participated in the water meetings, said ironing out differences will ideally lead to good solutions everyone can get behind.

“Whenever you get together to talk about water issues, it’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be some tough discussions,” Tenney said.

Still, for Holway, some of the CAP-related policy ideas, like financial audits and federal lobbying bans, “kind of look like harassment,” he said.

While CAP staff was invited to the governor’s meetings, no one from the CAWCD board was. Holway said that seems “inappropriate” and “a little strange” to leave out the elected officials tasked with major water roles.

CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said in a statement that water issues are typically “treated in a non-political manner,” where multiple views are considered to achieve compromises that benefit everyone. CAP wants to work with stakeholders to come up with a consensus for future water needs based on facts, she said.

“Unfortunately, recently proposed concepts are inexplicably focused on reducing the authority and responsibility of the CAP and its elected board. We do not understand the basis for these proposals nor do we believe they benefit Arizona water management and policy,” Thompson said.

Doug Miller, the former general counsel for CAWCD, told the board’s executive committee they should prepare for war. He said the list of initiatives aimed at CAWCD is alarming, and he doesn’t understand the reasons behind many of the proposals.

“It seems like a full-scale attack on CAWCD on any number of fronts,” Miller said.

The financial audit requirements are “just silly,” considering CAP already prepares audited financial reports each year, all of which are publicly available on their website, he said. And the federal lobbying ban could cripple the organization’s ability to talk to Congress about whatever it may need, he said.

Miller, who was not invited to be on any of the work groups, attended one of the Colorado River group’s meetings, but he said he was told not to come back. Judging from the meeting he attended, many of the proposals aimed at CAWCD don’t have a justification or rationale, Miller said.

“They’re like a David against Goliath. They’re being faced down by the governor of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Water Resources and a handpicked group of folks that the governor himself has invited to these meetings. That’s a pretty tough battle,” Miller said.

Tom Buschatzke
Tom Buschatzke

Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said the various CAP-related measures are “part and parcel” of managing risk at Lake Mead and future water planning. The state would see water cutbacks if Lake Mead reaches 1,075 feet. It’s currently at 1,079 feet.

The issues the Governor’s Office wants to work on all relate to a desire and need for the state to “speak with one voice” on water issues, Buschatzke said.

With so many groups with many different points of views, the meetings provide a way for everyone to speak frankly and freely in order to get a broad perspective on issues, he said. Discussions then move forward based on input from the members, he said.

“The process was set up so folks could have a safe haven, so to speak, to discuss their viewpoints and their issue,” he said.

Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office takes CAP’s concerns seriously, and that’s why the group is included in the water meetings.

“We would not invite (CAP) to the table if we didn’t want to consider them and take them seriously,” Scarpinato said.

He said the meetings will likely go until the end of the year, though they will be shaped by where members take the discussions over the next few months. Some ideas could require legislation, while others could require policy changes at agencies.

Any changes to laws or policies will be “incredibly transparent” because it would be done through the legislative or agency rulemaking process, Scarpinato said.

COVID restrictions likely to continue for several months

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey talks about an executive order as he speaks about the latest coronavirus information at a news conference, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey talks about an executive order as he speaks about the latest coronavirus information at a news conference, Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Gov. Doug Ducey expects that Arizonans will need to continue to wear masks through at least the end of the year.

And forget about going to a bar, at least for the foreseeable future.

“We do know that those are places to congregate,” said Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff told Capitol Media Services on July 15. “And the last thing that will open in this atmosphere will be areas that result in congregation.”

Those assessments come as there are the first inklings that Arizona may finally be on the right track in trying to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Researchers say what’s called the state’s R-naught number is once again below 1.0.

That value, calculated by Rt.live, is the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If that number is above 1.0, the virus will spread; values below that indicate it will stop spreading.

On July 15, the figure was 0.97.

Arizona actually got its infection rate below even that figure during the governor’s stay-at-home order and his restrictions on business. But after those were lifted, it rose to 1.25.

This isn’t the only positive sign.

New figures from the Department of Health Services show the number of patients in hospitals with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 appears to be leveling off. And there was the largest one-day drop in the number of patients in intensive-care units.

All that occurred after Ducey gave local governments permission to impose mask requirements and after he reversed course and once again closed bars, movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers, imposed stricter limits on in-house dining at restaurants, and limited crowds to no more than 50, effectively precluding spectators at sporting events.

But Scarpinato said Arizonans should not see the latest bit of good news as an indication that these restrictions will disappear anytime soon.

“The virus continues to be widespread,” he said.

“What we don’t want is for anyone to think that because there might be some leveling off or because that R-naught number has dropped, that that means that we can let up or that means you don’t have to wear a mask anymore.” Scarpinato said. “It means that those policies are working and we’re going to have to continue doing it for the foreseeable future at least through the end of the year and probably beyond.”

That starts with masks. Put simply, he said, wearing a mask is “part of the new normal in Arizona.”

It’s not just about COVID-19.

Scarpinato pointed out that Arizona is headed into flu season.

What that means is trying to ensure that the state has sufficient doses of this year’s version of the vaccine. It also means trying to convince more Arizonans than the 30% to 40% who get the annual inoculation that they should participate.

All that, Scarpinato said, is related back to COVID-19.

“The flu season stresses our hospitals to begin with,” he said. “So to have that happening at the same time as the coronavirus could create stress.”

And there’s something else.

“Guess what? All the mitigation strategies that are in place for the coronavirus also happen to help prevent the spread of the flu – which also does take lives,” Scarpinato said. “So wearing masks, socially distancing, staying home, not having opportunities for people to congregate like in a bar or at major events or large events, all of those things will help on both fronts.”

That, for the time being, means that bars are going to stay closed.

“What we’re trying to do is create as much sustainable kind of steady policies for the business community as possible so they’ve got some predictability and we’re not having to change the rules on them every week or every two weeks or every month,” Scarpinato said. “Right now, given our cases and given the advice of public health we know there are a few things that just can’t be opened right now, bars being one of them.”

Does the governor believe there is a safe way of reopening bars?

“Not at this time,” Scarpinato said.

Restaurants and the occupancy limits on them pose a different issue.

Scarpinato said Ducey is aware of how some of this is being handled elsewhere in the country, with regulations crafted to essentially allow restaurants to spill out into the open air. While that may not work now in much of Arizona – that triple-digit heat coupled with humidity is not conducive to al fresco dining – he said that may work here, with capacity limits, as the weather moderates after the summer.

In the meantime, Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office is having discussions with business owners, asking them what measures they can put in place to create a safe environment. Those talks, he said, include public health officials who can say which of these suggestions work and which do not.

That also includes gyms and fitness centers which are supposed to remain closed, at least through July 27.

“We want to see what their vision of opening would look like,” Scarpinato said.

Daniel Ruiz: Election expert’s climb to the 9th Floor


Daniel Ruiz has spent his entire adult life working for the government in some shape or form. Since his first job at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in 2002, the West Valley native has moved his way up to the Executive Tower, where he was recently promoted to interim spokesman while Daniel Scarpinato takes a leave of absence to work on Gov. Doug Ducey’s re-election campaign.

Cap Times Q&AHow’d you get your start working for the government?

My very first job out of high school was at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Elections Department, stocking ballots in the warehouse. At that time they had a facility on 16th and University… it was a summer job. I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do next, and what I was going to major in — I thought it was going to be journalism. And I just had this great opportunity to be a temporary employee there, and I just loved it. It was a really good team. A lot of camaraderie. A lot of long hours. And so it sort of changed the path for me. I thought, maybe public administration is the better route for me to go, and I kinda stuck with it. I did that for four years, then spent most of my 20s at Clean Elections.

What’d you love about the recorder’s office?

I’d always thought of Election Day as the start and stop of the political process, in a lot of ways. You don’t really think of the work that goes on behind the scenes. And so getting to see all the nitty gritty of the election administration world was really compelling, but also learning from people like former recorder Helen Purcell. She’d been in office since 1987. She really ushered in a lot of change and had a lot of really good stories to tell. And her elections director was Karen Osborne, who of course was the assistant secretary of state when Rose Mofford was secretary of state, and continued to be a close personal adviser throughout Governor Mofford’s life. And they would just have these great stories, and there were really no boundaries. These people at the top were working with the temporary employees to make sure that we got all the ballots that we received in the mail scanned in so they could be forwarded for tabulation. And it just felt like home. It felt like a really good place that I wanted to stay at. So I applied for a job, a permanent position, which was a data entry position in voter registration, and sort of worked my way up to be a campaign finance adviser.

When did you make the switch to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission?

There was a campaign finance manager position open at Clean Elections, and I really didn’t know what Clean Elections did at the time. Campaign finance was something that I was doing at Helen’s office, and I thought it was something that was worth a shot. And I ended up spending, as I said, most of my 20s there, from the time I was 22 to almost 30.”

Clean Elections doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation among Republicans at the Capitol.

I remember when I first told folks I was considering going to Clean Elections, they all cautioned me and told me that it wasn’t a good place to go. But I decided to take the risk. I did enjoy it, and I always joked that I had every job in that office because I did. I was the campaign finance manager, sort of overseeing the candidate funding and disbursement, budgeting for campaign finance funding, and then overseeing enforcement for candidates who weren’t abiding by the Clean Elections Act. And ultimately leading an investigation that got one legislator (Doug Quelland) removed from office.

When did you get more into the communications side of the job?

I remember having to explain one of these campaign finance cases to the commission. (Former Clean Elections Executive Director) Todd Lang at the time gave me that task, and he told me that I had a really good way of framing a complex issue in an easy to understand way, and said I should consider going into a communications field, which was sort of appealing to me because of my interest in journalism that dated back to high school. And there was an opportunity to be the voter education manager, which is media relations and then crafting really a statewide voter education campaign, marketing and things like that. So it was a really cool opportunity that I took advantage of, and I served as deputy director and even as executive director when we were trying to find an attorney to replace Todd Lang in Tom Collins.

Did that help prepare you for your communications gig with the governor?

I was deputy director at Clean Elections, and that was probably the best experience that I’ve had. It really prepared me for this job even, because you’re organizing and managing the operations of one of the most scrutinized and hotly contested agencies. Constant fishbowl. And you really need to make sure that every decision you make is strategic. That really helped frame the way I deal with things now.

You briefly went back to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, but how’d you get pulled up to the Executive Tower in 2015?

I thought I was going to be (in Maricopa County) for a while, and then I got a call from Daniel Scarpinato, who heard my name from Mike Liburdi. He at one point sued Clean Elections when I was there, but we always had a positive relationship, and we worked with each other throughout my election experience… They really presented this picture of a really, I think, transformative office, one that was difficult to say no to.

What’s it like to blend communications and policy? Is it a valuable mix?

I think the best part of having a communication lens when you’re dealing with operational issues and policy issues is you’re going to be thinking through how is the public going to perceive this, which is really why we’re here. How are the people that hired us to do these jobs going to react? Is this going to benefit them? Should we be doing it differently? Is there a process that we can improve? And if you’re making decisions with that perspective in mind, I think you’re going to really satisfy your responsibility to serve the public.

Demise of sanctuary cities measure a mixed bag of politics, protests

Alejandra Gomez, co executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, discusses the political defeat of a sanctuary cities ballot measure and the other issues still facing the Hispanic community. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Alejandra Gomez, co executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, discusses the political defeat of a sanctuary cities ballot measure and the other issues still facing the Hispanic community. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Migrants-rights advocates started the week afraid Republican leaders in the House and Senate would ram through legislation to ask voters to enshrine a ban on sanctuary cities in the state Constitution in time for President Donald Trump to boast about it at a Wednesday rally mere blocks from the Capitol. 

Instead, fewer than 24 hours after Air Force One left Phoenix, on the same day that a bipartisan group of Arizona lawmakers feted visiting legislators from Guanajuato, Mexico, the measure met an ignominious death, stripped from a House committee agenda without notice to the public.

Activists and Democratic lawmakers were relieved, if surprised: the referral was a key part of the Republican agenda, something Gov. Doug Ducey elevated in his State of the State address. And now, the night before  a House version of the referral was set to pass through the Judiciary Committee, both versions of the bill were dead. 

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, a member of the House Judiciary Committee that was set to hear that chamber’s version, was thankful when he heard the news. The sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, hadn’t even heard that her proposal was dead in the water. In short, this came as a surprise to most. 

And yet, cracks in Ducey’s plan to pass a constitutional amendment that prevented local jurisdictions from limiting their cooperation with federal law enforcement had begun to show long ago.

Tony Rivero
Tony Rivero

Democratic lobbyists had heard rumblings that the plan might die. Rep. Tony Rivero, a Republican from Peoria, had said he would vote against a bill unless it came as part of a package of broader reforms. Losing a Republican in the House would be enough to stop it in its tracks. And in the Senate, votes from several Republicans who represent districts targeted by Democrats were up in the air. 

Still, Senate President Karen Fann said Wednesday afternoon she had “no reason not to” bring Allen’s measure to the full floor for a vote. And Ducey was defensive when reporters questioned him mere hours before the measures died, saying “The economy is booming, and this was on the ballot in Tucson, it was widely rejected, and anything that goes forward would be up to the people. You’re living in the past.”

Rep. T.J. Shope, the sponsor of the House version of the referral, was as surprised as anyone.

“I woke up [Thursday] prepared to go to committee,” Shope said. 

But by Thursday afternoon, it was clear something was afoot. Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato and governor’s office lobbyist Katie Fischer met Shope outside the chamber before scurrying inside, mum as to the purpose of his meeting. 

This meeting was already scheduled, Shope said. It was supposed to be a time to chat strategy the day before the bill would get its hearing in Rep. John Allen’s House Judiciary Committee. 

But a few minutes before they met, news broke in the Legislative Report, a sister publication of the Capitol Times, that Rivero was leaning no. This, in conjunction with lingering uncertainty about the votes of Sens. Paul Boyer, Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Heather Carter, recontextualized the meeting. 

“It was brought to me by the Governor’s Office and they wanted to gauge my opinion on it,” Shope said. “I felt it’s beyond our control.”


The first signs of a crack in the Republican base in the Senate came earlier this week, when Allen told her Republican colleagues during a Tuesday caucus meeting that she planned to amend her SCR 1007 to remove language barring not just cities, counties and towns but “political subdivisions” from refusing to comply with federal immigration law.

Critics said the language would force schools, public hospitals, universities and utility districts to enforce federal immigration law, including by detaining students or patients and providing customer information to immigration officers. Allen said that interpretation was wrong, but she would change the bill anyway.

“Staff said it didn’t apply but better (to amend the referendum) so the Left can’t say it does,” Allen texted.

And even some of her own Republican colleagues needed the change for the measure to win their support. Boyer, R-Glendale, said Thursday afternoon that he would vote for the “pared-down” version of the referendum, but not its original form.

Boyer, like Sens. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler; Brophy McGee and Allen herself, represents a district that’s a top target for Democrats. Another moderate Republican, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, has backed in-state tuition for young people who graduated from Arizona high schools but lack legal status, but she faces a primary challenge from the right in Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, and could have been compelled to support the measure to survive her own primary. 

In the House, Rivero has close ties with Mexico, where he frequently leads trade delegations. And he’s skeptical of immigration hardliners in his caucus — he initially voted no on House Majority Leader Warren Petersen’s bill to allow private property owners to build border walls on their land without getting permits first. 

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

Rivero said he wouldn’t vote for the sanctuary city referral, which he feared would do lasting harm to the state’s relationship with Mexico, unless Republicans also passed a variety of other broad-based immigration reforms including legalizing consular IDs and extending in-state tuition to students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. 

“I support border security,” Rivero said. “But my concern with this bill is, are we solving something? I think there’s missing components.”

But even Rivero was surprised by the death of the referral, he told the Capitol Times last night. He didn’t know of any other House Republicans who would vote no. 

The usually cautious and calculated Governor’s Office was caught off guard by the reaction to the sanctuary city referral as well. Scarpinato said that the office’s decision to cut its losses on the legislation on Thursday was necessary, and that continuing to push for it would have risked it becoming a distraction that took focus away from the rest of their agenda. And mostly, it was about the votes.

“With any policy, the stars need to align to get it done, and on this one, we just came to the conclusion that the stars were not going to align,” Scarpinato said. 

He said that concerns from the business community helped cement that decision. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“At the end of the day, 95 to 98 percent of what we want is already in law. We wanted to take it to 100%. And we decided it just wasn’t worth it.”

This has been one of the quirks of the debate since Ducey announced the referral in January — almost the whole time, Republicans have insisted on framing the referral as a needed but technical Constitutional amendment that would provide legal clarity, to the frustration of Democrats who branded the effort as Ducey’s SB1070, a divisive and wide-ranging 2010 measure aimed at giving the state more power to deal with the issue of illegal immigration.

“Shope yesterday went on the radio and said it wouldn’t change anything,” said Ben Scheel, a progressive consultant and campaign advisor to House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. “If it’s not gonna change anything, why the hell would you push it? That’s not a good argument for your legislation!”

The time of SB1070’s passage was marked with racial tension, daily protests at the Capitol, national media attention and boycotts of the state. 

The death of the referral on Thursday shows that the Arizona that once approved SB1070 no longer exists, according to legislative Democrats and community activists who lauded its demise. Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said it proved Ducey “misread the people of Arizona.” 

“Arizona has grown up since the times of SB1070, and the community is on alert,” he said. “The xenophobic attempt to try to energize the Republican base won’t succeed because it’s not the same kind of Republican base he had in 2010. We’re not going to go back to the dark days that made Arizona a laughingstock under Governor Brewer.”

In some ways, the past few weeks at the Capitol have seemed like a return to the era when SB1070 passed. Protesters disrupted two committee hearings — one on Allen’s proposal and one on proposed changes to election law — when Republican committee chairman Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, took offense to characterizations of the bills as “racist” and references to President Trump before silencing testimony.

Migrant-rights advocates who gathered on the House lawn Friday morning to celebrate their victory and galvanize opposition to other bills — including a measure that would allow anyone harmed by an undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony to sue a city that didn’t enforce immigration law — ended their press conference with chants of “¡Sí, se puede!” the United Farm Workers motto that became a rallying cry for immigrant rights activists.

And while those same activists credit behind-the-scenes lobbying by the business community, it’s hard to understate the role of Living United for Change in Arizona and other groups that formed in the fallout of SB1070 and have since grown stronger and more effective. LUCHA in particular has won a series of unlikely battles, from getting a statewide minimum wage hike passed to helping recall Sen. Russell Pearce, SB1070’s sponsor. 

Tomas Robles
Tomas Robles

“So many emotions,” Tomas Robles, one of the organization’s leaders, said Friday morning. “We’re happy, relieved, but we’re remaining diligent about making sure these bills don’t creep up again.”

Ducey and legislative Republicans appear to have received a lot more resistance on the sanctuary city referendum than they expected, said Paul Bentz, vice president of strategy at High Ground Consulting.

Immigration remains the highest-priority issue for Republicans in Arizona, Bentz said, so the referral idea looked good on paper. 

“I think they proposed these bills because they thought it would be a nice base-building exercise and they’d receive a lot of support for it,” Bentz said. 

But Republicans don’t need sanctuary cities on the ballot to turn out to vote in November, GOP pollster George Khalaf said. 

“Of course immigration and the issue of immigration would drive people to the polls,” Khalaf said. “The thing that I’ve been saying to folks, and we’ve got the survey numbers to prove it, is that I’m not sure how much Republican enthusiasm could increase.”

The death of the referral marks the end of a two-month saga that began in Ducey’s January State of the State Address, in which it was unveiled as one of several policy proposals that the governor would push through the legislature. Shope received a glowing shoutout. Republicans rose to their feet. 

In the intervening period, Scarpinato said that just about everything has been a surprise. 

“After six years in the Governor’s Office, not one day of my life up here has gone as I predicted,” he said. 

Ducey aides defend $1.5B cut in tax collections


Top aides to Gov. Doug Ducey are defending the $1.5 billion cut in tax collections and bailout of the most wealthy as “modest and responsible.”

In a briefing with media on Wednesday, Matt Gress, the governor’s chief finance officer, said the deal Ducey has negotiated with Republican legislative leaders will still leave plenty of money for new and expanded programs. He said these, ranging from road improvements and cash for new schools to new body cameras for Department of Public Safety officers, all can be accomplished even with the tax cuts that will largely benefit the most wealthy.

“It’s a downpayment on Arizona’s future,” said Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff.

More to the point, he said that Arizona needs to enact aggressive income tax cuts to ensure that Arizona attracts new business and gets firms to expand here.

Scarpinato said Arizona has landed new jobs in high tech and driverless cars because it has been competitive. But he said it’s not a static model.

“Other states are becoming more competitive,” Scarpinato said.

“So we’re going to continue being more competitive,” he continued. “And if we don’t act these things will be left behind and we won’t see this continued economic activity.”

Scarpinato said all this can be done because the state has more money than anticipated. And he brushed aside questions of whether cutting this much in income taxes based on current economic conditions creates the hazard of having to cut programs and services the next time the economy goes south.

“We’re being very conservative in both revenue projections but also on ongoing spending,” he said.

And there’s something else.

Scarpinato said the state is counting on more than $200 million a year in new sales tax revenues once Arizonans get to start wagering on professional and college sports. And the state also is benefiting from a relatively new levy that Arizonans are paying when they purchase items online.

He also insisted that while the state has gotten about $4 billion in federal cash due to Covid it is not building those into the budget. Instead, it is being used for one-time expenses.

But that’s not exactly true.

For example, the plan calls for putting $1 billion in federal dollars into expanding child care for the needy. That should wipe out the current “wait list” of people seeking state help but finding no cash available.

That, however, leaves the question of what happens to those people who were getting child care once the cash runs out.

What makes all this crucial is that the tax cuts in the deal are effectively permanent: Because of constitutional constraints, it would take a nearly politically impossible two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to rescind them once they are in place if tax collections collapsed.

The plan starts with that 2.5% flat tax for everyone, collapsing a progressive structure than has rates as low as 2.59% and as high as 4.5%. That makes those in the top category the big winners.

But they benefit a second way.

Voters decided in November that earnings above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples should be subject to a 3.5% surcharge. The Ducey-GOP plan, however, effectively cuts that to no more than 2%.

The schools will still get the money that Proposition 208 was designed to generate. But that will come out of state coffers rather than the pockets of the wealthy.

Scarpinato was unapologetic.

“The governor wants to see the state move forward from an economic development standpoint,” he said.

And that, he said, includes protecting small businesses. He pointed out that Proposition 208 was structured in a way that affected small businesses who pay no corporate income tax but instead pass through all the profits to the owners who would be subject to the surcharge.

Anyway, Scarpinato said, it’s not like the governor believes that the tax-cut plan and paying the voter-imposed obligations on the wealthy to do more for public education is going to harm anything.

“Why wouldn’t we let Arizonans keep more of their hard-earned money?” he asked.

The spending side of the package is a kind of laundry list of priorities.

For example, there’s $100 million in “pavement protection” for targeted roads in the 13 rural counties. The plan also calls for salary increases — but only for “targeted positions” at certain state agencies, like DPS officers, adult and juvenile corrections officers, child safety caseworkers and staffers at the Department of Water Resources.

There’s $65 million for what’s been called the “new economy initiative.” This expands an existing program to provide cash to universities to graduate more students in what the governor has said is a critical high demand industries like coding, artificial intelligence and “entrepreneurism.”

Rural community colleges would get $28 million, with additional dollars for Pima and Maricopa community colleges for STEM programs: science, technology, engineering and math.

At the K-12 level, the state will provide an extra $50 million for special education students. It also contains a new plan to evaluate incoming kindergartners to know where they are in reading, with the idea of putting resources where needed.

The state also is finally going to revise what it pays for construction of new schools, bringing it to what Gress said is the “market rate.” Many districts have until now had to supplement the state allocations with local funds, an issue that resulted in a yet-to-be-resolved lawsuit playing out in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The state also will pay down some debt, put more cash into maintenance of state prisons and close down the prison at Florence, the oldest in the state. That will move the inmates to the nearby Eyeman facility which, in turn, will help deal with chronic staffing shortages in the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

Also in the plan is $25 million for “forest health.” That includes sending 720 inmates out to clear hazardous vegetation.

And there’s also $200 million in the budget to find more water for the state — eventually.

The idea is to start putting money aside that can be used essentially to purchase water in the future. That could include desalinization plants.

But aides to the governor also foresee the possibility of having water brought into Arizona from the Missouri River, meaning, at the very least, constructing a pipeline.



Ducey appoints former foe to Board of Regents

Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat Fred DuVal.
Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat Fred DuVal.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Fred DuVal Monday to the Arizona Board of Regents four years after getting himself elected by blasting his Democrat foe for sharp increases he approved in university tuition.

In a press release, the governor praised DuVal as “a remarkable leader who brings with him immeasurable higher education experience and knowledge through his long-standing involvement with the University of Arizona.”

“Fred knows first-hand how to work in a collaborative spirit to increase high-quality affordable postsecondary opportunities and prepared students for our state’s 21st century workforce,” Ducey said in his prepared statement.

Yet Ducey, with the help of the Republican Governors Association, propelled himself into election over DuVal in 2014 by attacking DuVal repeatedly for the fact that tuition at state universities doubled during the six years he served as a regent from 2006 to 2012.

During a debate in Chandler, DuVal defended the increases. He said while the board cut expenses it had to deal with sharp decreases in state aid even as enrollment was decreasing.

Ducey, however, said it was wrong to impose such a sharp increase in tuition. He said the regents, including DuVal, should instead have found ways to cut spending.

“You have to tighten your budget,” Ducey said.

When pressed for how he would do that, however, Ducey responded, “I’m not here to do Fred’s job as a regent.”

So what changed?

“You’re talking about a campaign from years ago,” Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato told Capitol Media Services on Monday.

But is the governor sorry for all those things he said at the time?

“We’re looking at what happens next,” Scarpinato said.

“We’re looking at the future,” he continued. “And we’re talking about somebody who is a leader, who does have experience, who the governor sees eye-to-eye on when it comes to the vision for higher education in our state and who he can work with in a positive way.”

What else has changed during the past four years is that Ducey, after he got elected, suddenly found himself having to deal with the realities of the state budget. And now, with that perspective, the governor no longer finds the tuition being charged — including the increases while DuVal was on the board — out of line.

“His goal is to make sure that we have high-quality universities in our state that are affordable, that are accessible,” Scarpinato said of his boss.

“And he thinks we do,” he continued. “We do have universities right now where students can get a high-quality education and where there’s resources available to make sure that students who wouldn’t otherwise have access do.”

DuVal, for his part, told Capitol Media Services he was willing to let bygones be bygones.

“That was a long time ago,” he said.

“I don’t sing ‘Yesterday,’ ” DuVal continued. “I’m singing ‘Kumbaya’ and ‘Tomorrow.’ ”

He also said it’s the right thing to do given the current political climate.

“The country and the state is worn out by the partisan paralysis and bickering,” DuVal said.

“He saw an opportunity to appoint somebody who’s got obviously a lot of history in this state and credibility that would speak to that hunger,” DuVal continued. “I will meet him in that spirit.”

This isn’t the first time that Ducey has acknowledged that DuVal was on the right side of an issue during the 2014 campaign.

Nearly two years ago the governor introduced the concept of a “teaching academy” where a limited number of students who go into teaching will have their college fees paid for by the state.

In proclaiming the benefits of the concept at a news conference, Ducey acknowledged the idea actually came from DuVal who suggested it during a gubernatorial debate they had in Tucson. DuVal was at the press conference unveiling the plan at Ducey’s invitation.

DuVal and Ducey also have found common ground on other issues, including support for Proposition 123, the 2016 ballot measure to provide an additional $3.5 billion for public schools over a 10-year period without a tax increase by taking cash from the education trust fund.

The appointment of DuVal to an eight-year term on the regents comes as Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing the board over what he says is illegally high tuition. In his lawsuit filed last year, Brnovich said what the board allows the schools to be charged violates a constitutional requirement to keep instruction “as nearly free as possible.”

Despite his statements during the 2014 campaign, Ducey has come to the regents’ defense.

“Our universities are accessible and affordable,” the governor said when asked about the lawsuit after it was filed last year.

Ducey said he and lawmakers had to make some difficult decision in prior years, making sharp cuts in funding for higher education and other priorities. It is only recently, he said at the time, that the state has started to restore some of those cuts.

More to the point, the governor said he believes the regents in setting tuition – and even imposing sharp increases including during the time that DuVal was on the board – are keeping the cost of instruction within what the constitution requires.

Brnovich lost the first round of his lawsuit against the regents when a trial judge ruled that he can sue only when he has specific statutory authority or permission of the governor. The judge said he had neither.

The case now awaits review by the state Court of Appeals.

Ducey continues claim Garcia tried to ‘rig’ education tax proposal

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, left, and Democratic challenger David Garcia partake in a televised debate in the Arizona Public Media studios in Tucson, Ariz., Tuesday Sept. 25, 2018. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, left, and Democratic challenger David Garcia debate in the Arizona Public Media studios in Tucson on Sept. 25, 2018. (Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Gov. Doug Ducey has reaffirmed his claim that David Garcia tried to “rig” the election for an income tax for education even though there is no evidence the Democrat gubernatorial hopeful had any role in crafting the measure.

Ducey first made the claim in a pair of debates last week, arguing that the fact the Arizona Supreme Court blocked the Invest in Ed initiative from going on the November ballot is proof it was deliberately misleading. And Ducey, campaigning for another four-year term, said the act was not only intentional but that Garcia was partly to blame.

The governor has now repeated the same claim in a radio interview even though gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato acknowledged his boss cannot cite any link between the crafting of the measure and Garcia.

But Scarpinato, defending the governor, said that’s irrelevant. He said that Garcia, in promoting the Invest in Ed initiative, should have known the ballot language was legally flawed — even before a divided Arizona Supreme Court eventually reached that conclusion.

Ducey’s claim is straightforward.

“David Garcia tried to rig an election and the Supreme Court caught him,” the governor said — three times now.

What is undisputed is that Garcia, , who has said the state needs more money for K-12 education, was an early supporter of the proposal to increase state income taxes on Arizonans earning more than $250,000 a year. The measure was designed to raise about $690 million a year.

The proposal gathered more than 277,000 signatures to put the question to voters in November.

On Aug. 29, however, a majority of the Supreme Court took it off the ballot.

The justices said in a brief order the 100-word description, which all initiatives must have, was flawed. They said it did not accurately describe the change in tax rate for top earners, listing the increase at 3.46 percent and 4.46 percent, respectively, for higher tax brackets, when it should have said “percentage point” over the current 4.54 percent top tax rate.

The justices also said the description did not inform voters that the verbiage also would repeal an automatic indexing of tax brackets, a 2015 law designed to prevent individuals from ending up in higher tax brackets solely because their wages went up no more than inflation. That, the majority concluded”creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

Scarpinato said Ducey’s claim of “rigging” – which would be an intentional act – is backed by the Supreme Court ruling.

“Take a look at what they put out thus far,” he said.

What the court record shows to date, however, suggests the legal conclusion that the language was flawed was far from clear cut.

First, a trial judge, hearing a challenge by initiative foes, had ruled that the verbiage was not inherently misleading.

Potentially more significant, the high court ruling knocking the measure off the ballot was not unanimous, meaning one or more of the justices found it legally sufficient. There was no mention of “rigging” the election in the court order.

But Ducey’s allegations go beyond the claim that there was an attempt to “rig” the ballot measure to his specific charge that Garcia was behind all that.

The evidence says otherwise.

“He was not involved at all in the drafting and inner workings for Invest in Ed,” said David Lujan whose Arizona Center for Economic Progress actually put the ballot language together.

Garcia acknowledged his role in helping gather the signatures, “just like everybody else, just like all the teachers.” But he said all of that occurred after Lujan already had filed the proposed language with the Secretary of State’s Office, a legal precursor to circulating petitions.

Scarpinato could provide no evidence of Garcia’s involvement in the drafting. But he said voters should still blame Garcia for trying to confuse them.

“I think that David Garcia has a responsibility, as both a candidate and a leader within that movement, to have been transparent about what the initiative did and understood it himself before he went out and helped them gather a lot of signatures,” he said.

Garcia said he looked at the language after it had been filed and decided to put his personal support and the support of his campaign behind getting it on the ballot.

“But it has nothing to do with rigging an election,” he said.

And Garcia said there is no reason to charge that he should have known there were drafting problems with the language.

“I didn’t see anything that stuck out to me at that time,” he said.

“But I was not involved in its crafting, not involved with the wordsmithing,” Garcia said. “I got it at the same time probably you did or anybody else did out there in the public.”

Ducey, however, is not backing down from his claim that Garcia was trying to “rig” an election, a term that suggests knowing manipulation by fraud.

“The language did not include an honest reflection of what this did, who it taxed and how it impacted Arizonans,” Scarpinato said. “We think that’s wrong.”

Scarpinato said the proposed tax was also “bad policy.”

Throughout the campaign Ducey has insisted the state does not need new revenues to support his promise of a 19 percent pay hike for teachers by 2020 and restoration of funding, which Ducey himself had cut in 2015, of an account that helps schools pay for books, computers and other capital needs. Instead, Ducey contends that an improving economy will bring in enough without any new levies.

Garcia, who had been counting on voter approval of the initiative, has since said that if he is elected he will work with the Legislature to come up with a source of new funds for education. But he has provided no details of what he wants.


Ducey controls future of ‘dark money’ elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ducey mulls banning criminal background question on state job applications

(Stock photo/ILeezhun)
(Stock photo/ILeezhun)

The Ducey administration is considering a “ban the box” policy for state agencies that would delay the process of asking prospective employees for arrest or conviction information until later in the hiring process.

Such a policy would tie into Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s efforts at reducing recidivism and providing second chances for criminals. Several initiatives in the past two years have focused on this goal, from employment centers at prisons to food stamps for former drug felons to inmate fire crews.

The policy in discussion at Ducey’s office would only apply to public sector jobs, not private companies, as a way to “model the behavior we want the private sector to follow,” according to a slide in a report put together by the Ducey administration.

Many job applications in both the public and private sector ask prospective employees for any criminal histories. For instance, on a state job application, candidates are asked if they’ve been convicted of any crime – felonies, misdemeanors or serious driving offenses – even if it was set aside or expunged, along with details of the offenses, dates, jurisdictions and dispositions.

The “ban the box” movement, also referred to as fair chance hiring, started more than a decade ago by advocating for eliminating questions about criminal records until later in the hiring process as a way to help ex-offenders get jobs.

More than half of states have some form of policy that delays the process of asking about criminal records. Some states remove the box from governmental job applications, while others also require private employers to remove it.

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

The topic came up in meetings between the Governor’s Office and agencies that center around new initiatives the administration could undertake. So, while the topic is being discussed, it may not ultimately be greenlighted, said Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

The idea will be assessed by staff members, who will look at the impact of such policies, and what data and research show, Scarpinato said.

“Anything we do, we want to make sure it’s having a positive impact,” he said.

As part of its efforts to reduce recidivism, the Ducey administration is looking at various policies that other states have, ideas outside groups or stakeholders bring forward, or things staffers come across, Scarpinato said.

“We have a real commitment to reducing recidivism,” he said. “We’re looking at any number of policies around that.”

Several Arizona cities, including Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe, already have ban the box policies in place for public-sector jobs. The Obama administration banned the box for federal jobs in 2016.

Tucson has had an ordinance for more than two years. Lane Mandle, the city’s spokeswoman, said the policy has worked well for Tucson and hasn’t hindered employment in any way. The city of Tucson conducts background checks only once a candidate is a finalist for a position, she said.

“We’re pleased we’ve been able to ease some of the barriers to employment that convicted criminals face,” Mandle said.

Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada of Phoenix has introduced a bill to ban the box multiple times, to no avail. Last session, his proposal would have banned the box for state jobs. He said he’s glad to hear the Ducey administration is talking about the idea.

He said it’s not really a partisan move, but more of a common-sense one.

“This would help allow them to be judged on their merits instead of their past mistakes,” Quezada said.

Caroline Isaacs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Caroline Isaacs (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group focused on criminal justice reform, said not being able to find work makes all problems worse – if people can’t find jobs, they likely can’t find housing or pay their bills, so they may be more likely to offend again and end up back in prison.

A ban the box policy would help end what she calls “legalized discrimination” against ex-offenders and allow Ducey the chance to set an example for the state and private employers, Isaacs said.

“All this stuff is old news practically everywhere except for Arizona. This stuff has been done and tested and proven. Not only is it not a risk, it’s going to be a net gain for the state,” she said.

Beth Avery, staff attorney at workers’ rights group the National Employment Law Project, said it’s hard to put a number on exactly how many people ban the box can help, but it’s significant. Nearly one-third of people have some type of record that could show up on an employment background check, she said.

Their records follow them around, attaching a stigma to employment and housing prospects, Avery said.

“They don’t get an opportunity to present their qualifications,” she said.

Fair chance hiring policies delay background checks, ideally until there’s a conditional job offer, Avery said. The ideal hiring policy looks at whether the conviction relates to the job, the nature of the offense, and how much time has passed, she said.

Ban the box policies aren’t strictly partisan either, Avery said. Some of the most recent adopters are Republican-led states like Utah, Kentucky, Indiana and Nevada, she noted.

She said the policy ties in with justice reform efforts Republicans have recently started promoting. The policies create less cost for government and increase public safety because they get people back to work, reducing recidivism, she said.

But some studies have shown possible unintended consequences for ban the box policies. A 2016 study by Amanda Agan of Rutgers University and Sonja Starr of University of Michigan Law School found ban the box policies negatively impacted black men because employers made assumptions on criminal records in the absence of a box.

The researchers sent 15,000 fake job applications to New Jersey and New York City employers both before and after ban the box policies were instituted. While white job seekers in general received more callbacks, the ban the box policy exacerbated the problem, the researchers said. Before ban the box policies, white candidates got
7 percent more callbacks, which increased to 45 percent after the policy was instituted.

Another study found the fair chance policies could lead employers to guess at criminal records, leading them to avoid interviewing low-skilled black and Hispanic applicants, researchers Jennifer Doleac of University of Virginia and Benjamin Hansen of University of Oregon concluded.

Avery said her group has a lot of questions about the studies’ methodology and conclusions, but said the ban the box policies aren’t the culprit – racial discrimination is.

“The real moral of the story here is that ban the box policies and fair chance policies are not intended to be a silver bullet,” she said. “They’re one part of a smart, comprehensive approach to this problem of mass incarceration and its effects on communities of color and people in general that’s been centuries in the making.”

Ducey open to working with Dems on budget

Gov. Doug Ducey, third from left, helps cut a ribbon Wednesday for the formal opening of the new U.S. headquarters of CP Technologies in Prescott. Ducey said after the ceremony that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget and tax cut. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey, third from left, helps cut a ribbon Wednesday for the formal opening of the new U.S. headquarters of CP Technologies in Prescott. Ducey said after the ceremony that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a state budget and tax cut. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

With Republicans at a stalemate, Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he’s willing to work with Democrats to cobble together the votes for a new state budget and tax cut.

“What’s important to me is that we get the budget that I presented — or as close to it as we can — over the finish line,” he told Capitol Media Services. And the governor said his door is “always open.”

That potentially paves the way for Democrats, who have been kept in the dark while the governor and GOP leaders crafted their spending and tax cut plan, a chance to have some input in exchange for needed votes.

And there may be room for a deal.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, told Capitol Media Services there may be some wiggle room, even on the idea of cutting taxes. It all comes down to details.

“I couldn’t tell you specifically whether or not we would support a tax cut in addition to additional revenues until we look at the plan,” he said.

“We won’t negotiate in isolation,” Bolding said of reducing tax rates. “We’ll look at the entire plan and what the trajectory looks like.”

Even Ducey, who is championing a $1.9 billion tax cut and creating a flat tax rate, said even that could be negotiable.

“That’s part of the deliberation process,” he said. “And, typically, as we begin moving forward, the debate happens, the deliberation happens.”

But Ducey won’t say how much he is willing to give to line up the votes.”

“I do not like to have those deliberations in the press,” Ducey said. “I like to do them with people rather than with the press.

Reginald Bolding
Reginald Bolding

What’s working in favor of the Democrats is that there is at least one GOP holdout in both the House and Senate unwilling to support the $12.8 billion spending plan and $1.9 billion in permanent tax cuts the governor is pushing.

In fact, neither the House nor Senate have any plans to try to vote on any part of the plan when lawmakers reconvene Thursday morning. About the only thing the Senate intends to do is start the process of seeking an override of the 22 bills Ducey vetoed two weeks ago after he got miffed when lawmakers decided to recess for two weeks when a budget deal first fell apart.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said that’s the nature of Republicans having a bare majority in both chambers: Leadership needs every one of them to line up in support for the party plan.

“It’s a challenge when you have 31 and 16,” Fann said Wednesday, referring, respectively, to the GOP membership in the 60-member House and 30-member Senate.

“Everybody knows they’re number 31 or 16,” she said, giving each of them leverage. “It creates a very tough working situation.”

Ducey, for his part, said he’s going to engage with Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, whose votes he needs — but does not have — for the plan.

“We have some very thoughtful legislators that care about certain things,” he said when asked about the two GOP holdouts. “And I want to understand what’s important to them and make sure they understand what’s important to me and make sure we have a successful budget.”

But it isn’t as simple as getting Cook and Boyer on board. Fann said if they get some of what they want, that could result in the loss of other Republican votes. And that is what could give Democrats a seat at the negotiating table.

Bolding insisted he is not trying to play political games.

“For us, it’s not about leverage or what puts us in the best position,” Bolding said. “It’s about putting together a plan that works for Arizona.”

And that plan clearly differs from what the Republicans are proposing.

Much of that is on the spending side of the ledger. Bolding said there are “critical gaps with our infrastructure,” seeking more money for housing for the needy, Covid relief and education.

“As long as we can do those things and create a plan that works for everybody, we are willing to engage,” he said. “At this point, everything is on the table.”

Well, not quite.

Bolding said the proposal to create a single 2.5% individual income tax rate for all Arizonans regardless of income is a non-starter. That would scrap the current system of four brackets, ranging from 2.59% for couples with taxable income up to $53,000 a year to 4.5% on taxable earnings above $318,000.

Also non-negotiable, Bolding said, is the plan he said undermines Proposition 208, the measure approved by voters in November to put a 3.5%  income tax surcharge on the most wealthy — meaning income above $500,000 for married couples — to raise upwards of $800 million a year for K-12 education.

Strictly speaking, nothing in the budget plan repeals that levy as lawmakers are powerless to overturn the initiative. But it puts a provision in law creating an absolute cap of 4.5% on all income taxes, including that surcharge.

The proposal does require the state to “backfill” any lost revenues for schools. But Bolding said using other state revenues to do that effectively undermines the initiative.

“Proposition 208 clearly stated that these additional dollars were not to supplant (state revenues),” he said.

“They were supposed to be additional, supplemental resources,” Bolding said. “If we are shrinking our state budget, we are going to provide less funding into education, with education being the largest portion of our budget.”

But the minority leader said the claim by Ducey of being willing to work with Democrats rings hollow, at least right now.

“We obviously have reached out as we know that the state is facing a fiscal cliff in the next few weeks,” Bolding said.

That’s because the new budget year begins July 1. And, unlike Congress, there is no option in state law to enact a “continuing resolution” to keep the government operating in the absence of an adopted spending plan.

“But we have not been engaged up until this point,” Bolding said, saying Democrats have contacted “the highest staff member in Gov. Ducey’s office,” meaning Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato.

Ducey, for his part, acknowledged he has been distracted from what’s happening — or not — with the budget.

“My top priority right now is the Telegraph Fire and the Mescal Fire,” Ducey said, having issued a declaration of emergency earlier Wednesday. “We’ve got to do all the things that are appropriate to that and make sure they have the resources and appropriations as well.”

As to actually enacting a budget and tax-cut plan, the governor said he remains “optimistic.”

“We’re just not there yet,” Ducey said.


Ducey proposes $12.3B state budget


Gov. Doug Ducey is proposing a $12.3 billion spending plan that still won’t restore state aid to education to where it was in 2008.

On paper, the plan unveiled Friday includes $608 million in new K-12 funding.

But $145 million of that is in legally required adjustments to state aid funding formulas to account for inflation and student growth. And another $175 million is the last payment in the boost in teacher pay promised and approved in 2018 in the wake of a teacher strike.

Still, there is new cash for things like ensuring more schools get money to hire social workers, school counselors and school resource officers, the last category being sworn peace officers. That will help fund 461 requests for such aid made this year before the allocated cash ran out.

And Ducey wants to accelerate restoration of money taken from schools in previous years, including by him, from an account that funds everything from computers and books to school budgets.

There also is a plan to put $44 million into what’s being called Project Rocket, a program to give $150-per-student grants on a first-come, first-served basis, to certain low-performing schools and schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty.

In the Avondale school district, which already got some of that cash, aides to the governor said the extra cash resulted in a 13% increase in students passing the English achievement exam and an 18 percent boost in the math passing rate. They said similar results were achieved in the Deer Valley and Wickenburg school districts.

Daniel Scarpinato
Daniel Scarpinato

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said that shows that more money for public schools can make an academic difference.

“More resources with the right school leaders who are committed to results has a huge impact,” Scarpinato said, saying that is reflected in the results in the three districts that got a chance to try it out. “We think you can see that in even more.”

That $44 million would be enough to help only about a quarter of the number of school sites in the state.

There is extra money to be had. But Ducey wants to use $45 million to allow retired military who now live in or move to Arizona to avoid paying any state income taxes at all, a change in tax law the governor’s office said would save the average veteran collecting a military pension about $840 a year.

“We want to honor our veterans,” Scarpinato said.

“These are people who have served our country, who have served in war, many of them,” he said. “We want to make Arizona the No. 1 state for veterans.”

It also enables the governor to say he is living up to his pre-2014 election pledge to drive income taxes to as close to zero as possible.

That $75 million, if divided up among about 1.14 million students in public schools – both traditional and charter – would generate about $40 additional per student.

What makes that significant is that, according to Ducey’s budget, the state aid per student this coming year will be $6,156. And aides to the governor concede that still doesn’t bring the state funding up to where it was in the 2007-2008 school year before the Great Recession – at $4,996 – after accounting for inflation.

Using $75 million for tax relief versus K-12 funding may not be the only issue some lawmakers have with Ducey’s plan to eliminate income taxes for military pensions.

Current law exempts the first $3,500 of military retirement pay. Legislation to boost that faltered last year in the Republican-controlled Legislature, at least in part amid concerns that there was no requirement to prove financial need.

Then there’s the fact that the exemption from state income taxes for state and local government employees is only $2,500, a figure that Ducey’s budget does not alter.

“We want to honor all our heroes,” Scarpinato said when asked about the difference. Anyway, he said, the governor’s overall budget contains “a huge investment in public safety and our public safety personnel and veterans.”

In fact, though, only two agencies are getting money specifically for pay raises for employees: the Department of Corrections for prison guards and the Department of Child Services for caseworkers.

And there’s something else in Ducey’s education spending plan.

While the governor’s budget sets aside an extra $150 per pupil for certain low-performing schools, he wants even more per student in “results-based funding” for those schools that also are doing well.

That includes at least $225 for about 500 schools that already have an A letter grade and a low percentage of students in poverty, as reflected by eligibility for free or reduced lunch costs, and $400 for about 250 A-rated schools where at least 60 percent of students are eligible.

B-rated schools with 60 percent eligible for free and reduced lunch also would get an extra $225 per student under the governor’s plan.

Ducey’s budget also contains funding for some new schools and additional dollars for previously approved buildings to recognize that construction costs are higher than anticipated.

That includes an extra $4.7 million for an already approved new high school for Chandler and $1.6 million for a Grade 7-12 school in the Tanque Verde school district.

The governor’s spending plan also promises money for four new schools, including a K-6 facility in Tanque Verde, K-8 schools in Laveen and Buckeye, and a high school for Yuma.


Ducey record on pardons, commutations not forgiving


Patricia Plum needs a signature from Gov. Doug Ducey to volunteer in her daughter’s school.

She’s seeking a pardon from the governor because her criminal record prevents her from getting a fingerprint clearance card needed for the volunteer work.

When she was 17, in 1999, she was convicted of a felony for an impaired driving accident that killed a child, according to records from the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency. She was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. She got her GED in prison and learned how to be an electrician. Since she left prison, she has earned degrees in social work and now works as an addiction therapist.

While the Clemency Board unanimously recommended a pardon for Plum based on her stellar record since leaving prison, she faces uncertainty on the governor’s desk.

Nearing the end of his first term, Ducey has granted only one pardon, to a man who stole a motorcycle in 1972.

Other pardon recommendations sit dormant, leaving people awaiting a signature that could change their lives in fundamental ways.

Some of them committed crimes at young ages, served their time and rebuilt their lives. Others received sentences the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency found harsh, so they recommended reducing their time in prison. Some seeking pardons want to get jobs to serve their communities, but have hit walls because of their criminal histories. A few are seeking pardons form Ducey as a way to clear their state criminal records in hopes of getting U.S. citizenship.

The governor has granted just five commutations, or reduced sentences, all but one of which were for people who were near death.

For a governor who has repeatedly touted his interest in a more humane criminal justice system that provides real second chances for people, the idea of mercy in the form of pardons or reduced sentences has largely eluded the picture.

And for Plum, her steps forward can’t bring back the 8-year-old girl who died in the 1999 accident. The effects of the accident have stayed with Plum. The board noted Plum had also been seriously injured in the crash, leaving visible scarring on her face, which she has decided not to repair because it serves as a “reminder of that tragic day.”

Patricia Plum
Patricia Plum

Plum has forged a relationship with the victim’s family, the board pointed out. She volunteers with the girl’s grandmother for organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Plum made keychains for her family members with the girl’s photo to remind them to be safe and sober drivers, the board said.

Plum told the board she dreams of working as a therapist for female inmates or newly released women. She wants to get a fingerprint card, which would allow her to apply for employment with the Department of Corrections.

Most importantly, the card would allow her to volunteer at her daughter’s school. But the board said it’s “a role which is currently denied to her because of her background.”

Ducey hasn’t yet decided on Plum’s pardon recommendation, which arrived on his desk in January.

Ducey has only reduced a sentence for one person still in prison who wasn’t dying, despite several unanimous recommendations from the board. This week, he denied a reduced sentence for a former police officer, Richard Chrisman, who shot an unarmed man while on duty.

“I have seen virtually no evidence that the governor and his office recognize the important opportunities they have on the clemency and commutation front,” said Larry Hammond, an attorney and president of the Arizona Justice Project.

Ducey’s inaction on pardons falls behind his predecessors in both parties. Jan Brewer, a Republican, granted 13 pardons, though 12 of those came on her last day of office, according to documents from the Clemency Board. Democrat Janet Napolitano granted 22 pardons, the documents show.

Brewer received criticism for her inaction and denials for clemency, with one news report from 2012 saying it’s more likely for someone to get struck by lightning than receive clemency from Brewer.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, challenged the idea that Ducey has been inactive on clemency. He said the governor and his staff spend a great deal of time analyzing each case on its unique facts before deciding whether to support or deny a commutation or pardon.

“Just because one hasn’t been granted doesn’t mean we were inactive, it means we took the time to give it the attention it deserves, looked at it closely before making a decision. I think that’s taking a thoughtful approach,” Scarpinato said.

The governor weighs the person seeking the pardon’s case alongside any victims of the crimes they committed, Scarpinato said. He’s “very sensitive” to all sides involved in the clemency process, Scarpinato said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said prosecutors generally oppose commutations because any facts and circumstances were already considered in a case before it’s resolved in the court system. There are rare instances where facts may come to light later that merit review, but that is “exceedingly rare,” Montgomery said.

“This is someone trying to take a second bite at the sentencing apple,” he said.

Pardons are different, he said. Since people have already served their time and paid their debt to society, it’s fair to review the case and weigh what the person has done since their conviction against any harm to victims or the community, he said.

clemency-boxThe clemency process often features divergent narratives from the people seeking absolution and those who prosecuted the case or were victimized by it. And it’s highly political – if someone were granted a reduced sentence, for instance, then went on to commit a crime, the governor would be criticized.

That happened to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who commuted the sentence of a man who then killed four police officers years later. And leniency for criminals helped tank Michael Dukakis’ presidential aspirations after a TV ad attacked him for allowing weekend passes for prisoners, one of whom then kidnapped and murdered a couple.

The political implications of granting pardons, and especially commutations, can’t be ignored, and they exist regardless of party affiliation, said Donna Hamm, the director of Middle Ground Prison Reform. Politicians are always gauging which way the wind blows and trying to avoid angering the electorate, especially if they’re planning for future offices, Hamm said. That’s why most governors or presidents have pardoned a bunch of people on their way out the door, she said.

Ducey’s interest in criminal justice largely has focused on reentry and employment programs for people, which Hamm called a “pretty darn safe” platform. Most people want those leaving prison to get jobs and be successful after they’ve served their time, she said. Doing more than that requires political will.

“I think the governor should always do the right thing, and sometimes that involves political risk-taking. I think he should always do what is right and just, because he has that power. That does involve criticism and unpopular decision-making on some occasions,” she said.

The governor’s interest in criminal justice reform has largely focused on the reentry process, helping people find jobs and access services once they leave prison, Scarpinato said.

“In terms of washing away an entire record, you’d really need to be a very unique circumstance because that’s a big decision for a governor to make after a judge and jury have made a decision and victims have been involved,” Scarpinato said.

In many cases, though, people plead guilty and take responsibility.

Ducey is open to potential changes to laws and policies that hinder people’s ability to live and work if they have criminal records, Scarpinato said.

Pardon recommendations don’t expire, so Ducey can still take action as long as he’s governor. Commutation recommendations, if they’re unanimous decisions by the board, give the governor 90 days to approve or deny. If he doesn’t deny, they are de-facto approved.

The Clemency Board has also been recommending fewer pardons or commutations than it has during past administrations. Under Brewer, the board recommended on average more than 25 commutations and five pardons annually. Under Napolitano, the board recommended more than 50 commutations and six pardons per year.

Under Ducey, there have been just 12 recommended commutations and seven recommended pardons since he took office in 2015.

Hamm, of Middle Ground Prison Reform, said word has likely gotten around to people in prison of the low likelihood of getting a commutation approved. The board has reviewed 964 commutation cases since Ducey took office, recommending only 78 of those move to a second phase for an in-person board hearing.

“I think that information really circulates in the prisons and people throw up their hands and say, why bother,” Hamm said.

The commutation process is all but dead in Arizona, Hamm said. It’s on life support.

Even a unanimous recommendation from the board, despite the difficulty in obtaining it, doesn’t mean the governor will take action.

Myreon Hollingsworth
Myreon Hollingsworth

Myreon Hollingsworth received a unanimous recommendation from the board in May 2017. Because the board voted unanimously and Ducey failed to act on it within 90 days, his commutation was granted even without Ducey’s signature.

Hollingsworth was 15 years old in 2013 when he went with his cousin to buy marijuana from a classmate. The drug deal turned violent, and Hollingsworth’s cousin, Keishaun Green, shot and killed the classmate’s father, Darwin Barnes. Hollingsworth cooperated with police and testified against Green, despite threats he received from the Green family, the board’s letter recommending commutation says.

Hollingsworth pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years in prison, the mandatory minimum.

While in state custody, Hollingsworth was a role model to juvenile offenders, the board said. His former football coach told the board at the commutation hearing that he would offer Hollingsworth a job as a mentor to high school athletes once he was out of prison.

Hollingsworth is still a teenager, but the board found him mature and “evolved.” He wants to go to college and become a counselor, the board noted.

“With so much of his young life remaining, the board believes that Mr. Hollingsworth has the great potential of becoming a happy, productive and responsible member of society, if not an upstanding citizen,” the board concluded.

It was a rare instance where the prosecutors from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office actually supported the commutation.

His sentence was reduced to time served, with community supervision intact. His sentence was previously set to end in June 2020. He was released from prison August 8.

Hollingsworth’s case fits an area of interest for some criminal justice reform groups, who want to see people who committed crimes as teenagers shown grace. The state of New York started a youth pardon program, which granted more than 100 pardons in late 2016 to people who were teens when they committed crimes. The state estimated more than 10,000 people could be granted pardons through the program, according to NPR.

There has so far been just one case Ducey found worthy of a pardon.

Michael Scow was sentenced to two years of probation for theft of a motorcycle in 1972. He had his civil rights restored in 1974 and his right to own a firearm restored in 2013. He worked in maintenance and repairs for police motorcycles for the Reno Police Department and the city of Reno for 28 years, the board noted.

But in December 2013, he was denied a handgun purchase because Nevada law says a person convicted of a felony can’t own a gun unless they have been pardoned.

The board said Scow “embodies the true purpose of Arizona’s criminal justice system” because he hasn’t committed any crimes since his initial conviction, and he has contributed to society and his community.

Ducey granted Scow’s pardon in March 2016.

Hammond, of the Arizona Justice Project, said the governor could take an active interest in clemency and focus on areas like end-of-life release, juveniles and women. Ducey would likely find a lot of support from conservative groups interested in criminal justice changes for those populations, Hammond said.

In recent years, other states have moved forward on more systemic analyses of their prison populations and clemency, Hammond said, but Arizona lags.

“If we’d had this conversation five years ago, I would have said, well, that’s just the way it is in America and the way it is in Arizona. Now, it’s not the way it is in lots of other places. If Ducey really was interested in reexamining the state of incarceration, this is one obvious area and it would be easy to do,” Hammond said.

Still, despite the unlikelihood of receiving a gubernatorial pardon or commutation, Hamm said people in need of Ducey’s signature should always have hope.

She compared getting clemency to winning the lottery.

“Your chances of winning are infinitesimal … but you’ll never win if you don’t buy a ticket,” she said.


Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato to lead governor’s staff

Daniel Scarpinato (File photo)
Daniel Scarpinato (File photo)

Gov. Doug Ducey has tapped his press spokesman Daniel Scarpinato to be his new chief of staff to replace Kirk Adams, who announced his resignation earlier today.

Scarpinato, who has worked for the governor for nearly four years, will take over as Ducey’s chief of staff sometime after Adams’ last day on Dec. 14.

On Twitter, Scarpinato said he is honored for the opportunity to serve as Ducey’s right-hand man.

“I’ve worked for and with the best, been trained by the best, and now I’m going to do my best!,” he tweeted.

Scarpinato was hired in January 2015. Up until recently, Scarpinato had taken a leave of absence from Ducey’s official office to serve as a senior advisor on the governor’s re-election campaign.

In a statement, Ducey praised Scarpinato’s experience and ability to get things done as qualities that give him great confidence in Scarpinato leading the Governor’s Office.

“Daniel Scarpinato was instrumental to the development and execution of our achievements during my first term as governor,” Ducey said. “He has also been a leader and collaborator among our team and staff — making meaningful contributions in policy, communications, and operations strategies.”

A Tucson native, Scarpinato also worked as the national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C. and spokesman for the Arizona House GOP before joining Ducey’s team.

Scarpinato also comes from a journalism background, having worked as a political reporter for the Arizona Daily Star and briefly served as editor of the Arizona Capitol Times’ sister publication the Yellow Sheet Report.

Gretchen Conger, Ducey’s current deputy chief of staff for policy and budget, has also been promoted to serve as the Ninth Floor’s lone deputy chief of staff, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office.

It is not clear yet who will become Ducey’s new press spokesperson. Up until recently, Daniel Ruiz, the governor’s senior advisor for communications and policy strategy, has served as Ducey’s interim press spokesman.

Ducey to use relief dollars to shore up unemployment fund


Gov. Doug Ducey is planning to put federal cash given to the state for COVID-19 relief into the soon-to-be-insolvent unemployment trust fund to save companies from having to replenish the account on their own.

But unemployed Arizonans will have to continue to live on no more than $240 a week. Before taxes.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said his boss believes that the state’s $1.8 billion allocation from the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act is designed to help Arizona blunt the economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of that has gone directly to local governments, schools, the state health department and local hospitals.

He said, though, that the virus also has affected the unemployment rate, which is why the trust account from which jobless benefits are paid is going broke. And that, he said, makes it appropriate to use the CARES funds rather than put the burden on employers.

“I can’t think of any better way for them to get to real people than to ensure that we’re protecting our social safety net,” he said.

But that help for “real people” doesn’t include boosting the benefits for the more than 400,000 workers currently collecting unemployment insurance who have been fired or laid off through no fault of their own. Those benefits that haven’t been adjusted in 16 years and are the second lowest in the nation, with only Mississippi paying less.

“Governor Ducey’s focus right now as we deal with this pandemic and the effect it’s had on our economy is making sure that less people are unemployed, that more people have a job, that we have more jobs available,” Scarpinato said. What that means, he said, is creating an economic environment where jobs are being created “so that people don’t have to be on unemployment, that they can get back to work, that they can earn their paycheck and have their livelihoods back.”

And the governor himself, asked about the $240-a-week cap, said the answer is simple: Get a job.

“There are jobs available,” he said, saying that employment levels in Arizona are at 96.9 percent of what they were before the pandemic.

That theme was echoed by Ducey’s chief of staff.

“The governor has an interest in creating jobs, in getting people back to work,” Scarpinato said. “That’s the best way to help people who are on unemployment.”

But even in the best of circumstances there always will be those who are laid off or fired. Even when the state’s jobless rate hovered in the 4 percent range more than a year ago, about 17,000 people were collecting benefits every week.

Still, Scarpinato sniffed at the idea that raising the cap above $240 is a good idea.

“What you’re suggesting would be less than they would make in a job,” he said.

“They’re looking for work,” Scarpinato continued. “We want to make sure that there’s jobs available so they can transition from unemployment back into the workforce.”

And what of those folks who do find themselves unemployed, can’t immediately find work, and have to live on no more than $240 a week?

“Our message would be the governor is fighting for you,” Scarpinato said. “You actually have to have a policy on helping people find employment, having employment available for our workers so that they don’t have to be on a program that’s not going to pay them as much as a job.”

Both the move to tap CARES funds to bail out the trust fund and Ducey’s refusal to consider higher benefits are tied to his belief that the best thing for the Arizona economy is keeping costs down for employers through direct financial help and not raising their costs through higher jobless benefits.

Those benefits are paid through the trust fund which is financed by a tax paid by employers on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary.

The actual levy depends on how often employees are fired or laid off. Premiums range from less than 1 percent for companies that retain their workers to more than 13 percent for those who do not.

Before the COVID-19-induced recession and Ducey-approved restrictions on business operations, the trust fund had more than $1.1 billion.

It is now in the $163 million range. And projections are it will become insolvent as early as this coming month, or December at the latest.

Under normal circumstances, the U.S. Department of Labor would replenish the fund and then impose an additional levy on employers to pay it back. Scarpinato said Ducey thinks it’s a bad idea to add to the financial burden of Arizona businesses as they are getting back on their feet.

The alternative?

Arizona has somewhere between $400 million and $500 million left in CARES dollars. So Gretchen Conger, Ducey’s deputy chief of staff, said the plan is to start funneling some of that cash into the trust account to keep it from going broke — and keep employers from having to dip into their pockets to keep it from having to borrow money.

It’s a maneuver that appears to lack precedent.

The last time the fund ran out of money was a decade ago, during a prior recession, with the account at one point going $600 million in the red. But that loan was paid back not with state dollars but instead with a surcharge on employers.

Scarpinato said this is different.

“We believe unemployment is, particularly in this scenario, directly tied to COVID,” he said.

More to the point, he said, lots of employers also have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic “and are working to come out the other side and stay in business.”

“That’s really important for our workers, for our economy, so that we can fund things like K-12 education and all the important things in the state,” Scarpinato said. Anyway, he said, it’s not like the state has shorted any legitimate need of CARES dollars.

Not everyone feels that way.

Officials from several of the state’s smaller cities complained earlier this year when Ducey started doling out CARES dollars.

He gave them only about $115 for each resident. By contrast, Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa, whose share came directly from the feds — and over which Ducey had no control — got $174 per capita.

Asked why the smaller allocation, the governor admitted at the time that he wanted to save some of that cash for exactly what he plans to do now: help businesses by shoring up the unemployment trust fund rather than forcing it borrow the dollars — and have employers pay it back.





Ducey will convene special session to confront opioid crisis

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, right, shakes hands with Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, after giving his state of the state address at the capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey shakes hands with Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, after giving his state of the state address at the capitol, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will call for a special session on Monday to push a spate of changes to prescription and treatment laws in an effort to confront the opioid crisis engulfing the state.

The proposal attacks the opioid epidemic on multiple levels, from adding treatment options and access for people addicted to opioids to increasing penalties and oversight for doctors who prescribe the highly addictive medications and those who manufacture the drugs.

The special session plan comes after the state reported two opioid-related deaths per day in 2016. The governor declared a public health emergency last year, which allowed for enhanced reporting and data collection.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported that more than 800 people have died of suspected opioid overdoses since June 2017, though the agency’s director, Cara Christ, said not all of those deaths will be proven to be related to opioids. Christ said she expects deaths in 2017 to top the year before.

Three-fourths of people who use heroin and are in treatment reported they started with painkillers, a 2014 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found.

The fact that many opioid users started in a legal realm – the doctor’s office – underscores how the opioid issue is different from other drugs, said Christina Corieri, the governor’s senior policy adviser.

“Nobody is prescribing meth. Nobody is prescribing cocaine,” Corieri said.

The governor’s proposal sets aside $10 million for more addiction treatment for people who are uninsured or underinsured but don’t qualify for Medicaid.

The governor hopes committee hearings will be held on Tuesday, and wants to see the legislation approved by lawmakers and sent to his office by Friday.

The proposal is expected to have an emergency clause, meaning the money and the laws would go into effect immediately instead of at a later date, gubernatorial spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.

In addition to the $10 million for treatment, the state wants to require behavioral health facilities and recovery homes to allow people who are receiving medication-assisted treatment, like methadone and suboxone, to receive care in those facilities.

The state would also join 40 other states by putting a Good Samaritan law on the books, allowing people to call 911 in the case of an overdose for any drug and not face prosecution. The proposal would still allow law enforcement to seize any contraband and charge people with any crimes not related to drugs. This part of the omnibus bill would expire in five years.

“The aim of this (provision) is to save lives,” Corieri said.

Under the proposal, doctors and medical students would be required to go through advanced training on opioids and how to prescribe them. Doctors would have to complete three hours of continuing education on opioids, and medical students would have to take three hours of courses on the drugs.

The state has to combat “bad education” from the past, when doctors were previously taught that prescription opioids weren’t addictive, Christ, the health agency director, said.

“These are so highly addictive. We need to teach our prescribers how to use them responsibly,” Christ said.

If approved, the omnibus legislation will increase access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, by allowing county health departments and ancillary law enforcement officials, like probation and corrections employees, to use it.

The proposal would crack down on bad actors, including doctors who overprescribe and drug manufacturers. While manufacturers can only be held civilly liable currently, Ducey’s plan would impose criminal penalties, including prison time.

The bill would expand a program, called the Angel Initiative, which allows people to turn in their drugs and request treatment. Currently, the program exists only in Maricopa County. The legislation expands it to all counties.

Doctors would be limited in the amount of opioids they can prescribe. The governor earlier instituted, through the state’s Medicaid program, a 5-day limit for first-time opioid users for prescriptions, with some exceptions for people who have cancer, traumatic injuries, surgeries, hospice care, end-of-life care or nursing home care. The proposal would expand the five-day limit to Arizonans who are insured elsewhere.

Opioid prescriptions would all be required to have a red cap on the bottle to let people know easily and quickly that the drug inside is an opioid.

The governor’s office expects the bill will receive significant bipartisan support, Scarpinato said, adding Democrats were involved in drafting the bill.

Ducey, Hoffman form unlikely duo in face of virus crisis

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announce on March 15 that all state schools would be closed for two weeks. The pair has since closed schools for the rest of the school year and they have worked together in a bipartisan way since COVID-19 has become a crisis.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announce on March 15 that all state schools would be closed for two weeks. The pair has since closed schools for the rest of the school year and they have worked together in a bipartisan way since COVID-19 has become a crisis.

As Arizona is reeling from the fallout of COVID-19 and people are sitting somewhere between preparation and panic, an unlikely duo has formed to put partisan politics aside during the pandemic.

Each day brings a new executive order from Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, but by his side throughout most of it is Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

The two gave their first joint press conference the morning of March 19 after passing out meals to students in the Cartwright School District. When Ducey announced schools would close, initially for two weeks, he deferred to her in a joint announcement in the Executive Tower.

Even when Ducey ordered a “stay at home” order on March 30, Hoffman was there.

And though both sides will say they have worked well together from the beginning, it’s clear that their relationship wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies.

Kathy Hoffman
Kathy Hoffman

Hoffman campaigned on the coattails of educators not seeing eye to eye with Ducey. She was against school voucher expansion, something he is in favor of, and she hit the ground running, accomplishing her first goal only months after swearing in.

One of the superintendent’s big ideas in year one was repealing the “no promo homo” law. Ducey’s office was not vocal throughout the process, but seeing an opportunity and reading the room, so to speak, Ducey was quick to sign it after the bipartisan repeal made it out of the Legislature.

Hoffman was coming into her own, and Ducey was realizing how things in the state had changed politically from his first to second terms and a positive working relationship began to take shape.

The two leaders have since provided updates in unison while trying to get everyone to remain calm through the coronavirus global pandemic, though both of them would argue they have always worked well together. Especially when it comes to school safety grants.

Their offices agreed on a solution that would provide enough money to fund every school with their top choice of counselors, school resource officers or social workers, but COVID-19 got in the way of it getting into the state budget as the Legislature took a recess on March 23.

Their partnership on school safety foreshadowed a chain of events that would become the current working relationship between the two.

While things in the Legislature have been tense, albeit somewhat bipartisan, Hoffman and Ducey have shown how politicians should put party politics aside when dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. Not only working to close schools, but to establish student enrichment centers for children of first responders.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, says it takes a leader to put aside politics in the time of a crisis.

“In a crisis, I think you really learn who can lead. I think [Hoffman] knows what she’s doing and she’s surrounded herself with a really competent staff,” he said.

It’s a relationship both sides would agree has grown over the past month, and will continue to grow beyond this crisis.

“We have been in close communication personally and through our respective teams as the COVID-19 situation has developed very rapidly over the last couple of weeks,” Hoffman said.

It’s never really planned either. Usually at a moment’s notice the two elected leaders — and their staff — will join forces for the good of Arizona, as they phrase it.

“I have greatly appreciated [Gov. Ducey’s] willingness to partner and collaborate so that we can make the best decisions for Arizona’s school communities,” Hoffman said.

Scarpinato said Hoffman is a professional.

“You can tell she really cares and wants to do the right thing and that she’s reasonable and comes at things from a perspective of wanting to find consensus, and reach a resolution,” he said.

And the governor has complimented Hoffman at every turn of this crisis from their first press conference on March 19.

“Unprecedented situations like the one we’re in call for leadership and partnership and [Superintendent Hoffman] has continually risen to the challenge to put kids first, and to be a leader for our schools, our children and our parents,” Ducey said at the time.

Of course, working together and opting to close schools for the initial two-week period was not an easy one, both of them say, especially when the original decision was the opposite.

The message was they were not recommending any widespread school closures, but schools began to close by themselves. And teachers were ready to not show up, so action was necessary.

And it didn’t come without blowback, too. Both were heavily criticized for allowing schools to remain open at first, and even the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, wrote a letter saying it would be “reckless” to send teachers and students to school.

The decision was still not an easy one to make. Hoffman said she was listening to the concerns of school leaders, teachers and students about staying healthy and safe in classrooms during the early days of COVID-19, and her team began to prepare guidelines on how they would address the concerns. The Department of Education does not have the authority to close schools, even though the superintendent is the schools’ chief. So in stepped Ducey.

Hoffman said she saw schools taking it upon themselves to close and she and Ducey were both concerned those closures would only result in more confusion for the state.

“To ensure the safety and well-being of all students and school employees, it was a priority to provide a cohesive, uniform response,” Hoffman said, adding that there were signs districts would be facing significant staffing shortages had they not acted.

Hoffman’s spokesman, Richie Taylor, said Katilin Harrier, Ducey’s education policy adviser, was a big part (and continues to be) in education decisions between the two offices.

Harrier told Arizona Capitol Times her respect for Hoffman and her staff has amplified over the past month.

“Just knowing that I can call any member of their team with whatever issue pops up and know that they’ll be willing to work with us and we’re going to get through it together, as the governor often says, it really helps,” Harrier said.

Of course Ducey doesn’t have this great a rapport with all top officials of the Democratic Party, especially during the tense time of COVID-19. He has received heavy criticism from several Democratic mayors demanding he do more than what he’s done so far regarding having people stay at home to prevent the spread. Nobody has been more vocal than U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Already, mayors in Tucson (Regina Romero) and Flagstaff (Coral Evans) have gone around Ducey’s orders to expand on his definition of what is considered an essential business. And other mayors like Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar keep pushing the governor to establish a better definition of essential services that doesn’t include golf courses and nail salons.

The bipartisanship doesn’t end with Hoffman. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said her relationship with the Ducey administration has been “fantastic” lately.

“We’ve had a good working relationship since well before I was in the office I’m in now,” Hobbs said.

She previously served two terms as Senate minority leader — during Ducey’s first term as governor — and she said even though they definitely don’t always agree on policy issues there were a lot of things of which they did

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Hobbs said the governor was obviously aware that the electorate in 2018 was far different than the one that elected him to office in 2014, meaning being bipartisan was crucial for him to be successful. When she was a legislative leader, Hobbs said, Ducey did more talking about being bipartisan than he had work to show for it, but things are different

“He would say, ‘Here’s this thing that I want to make bipartisan, you should sign on to it,’ And not let us [Democrats] have any seat at the table to actually really do that,” Hobbs said. “But I think in the entire term his office has been really helpful and worked closely with us on a lot of issues. I think particularly now, in this crisis, he’s focused on leading, and it’s extremely challenging right now.”

The feeling is mutual, Scarpinato said about Hobbs.

“I would say she’s been a straight shooter, and her staff is a good quality staff that’s worked really well with our staff,” he said, adding that that cooperation enabled the election on March 17 to go smoothly.

“We made the Department of Health Services completely available to them and I think it turned out to be a real success on Election Day,” Scarpinato said.

The three state elected officials – a Republican and two Democrats – still have a lot of ground to cover in the coming weeks and beyond, but it seems Arizonans can expect the process to be bipartisan.

“I look forward to our teams continuing this close communication in the future, and hopefully we will soon be able to tackle projects other than the response to COVID-19,” Hoffman said.

Ducey, legislative leaders arrive at teacher pay deal

Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise over the next three fiscal years. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona House and Senate leaders have reached a deal with Gov. Doug Ducey on a plan to fund his proposal for a 20-percent pay hike for teachers, but they won’t disclose how they’ll pay for it.

After reiterating his vow to deliver on a pay raise even as teachers marched to the Capitol, Ducey issued a joint statement with House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough on Friday afternoon that the plan is now a “reality.”

“Today, we are pleased to announce that this plan is a reality. Arizona is delivering on its commitment to our students and teachers,” the leaders said.

But the announcement, which came on the heels of the “Red for Ed” movement announcing Arizona teachers will press on with their strike next week, didn’t include details. Leaders said they want to brief their members first. Leaders still have to persuade members to support the deal.

The development also followed the filing of a ballot initiative pushed by the state’s teachers’ union and education advocates that seeks to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Arizonans and earmark those new revenues for K-12 public schools.

Teachers were wary of Ducey’s proposal because it didn’t include a new revenue source, and it relied on rosy economic projections for funding. Other critics noted that the plan, as originally proposed, would sweep funding from other programs to pay for the salary hike. They also doubted whether Ducey can get it through the Legislature.

Ducey makes promises he can’t keep, said “Red for Ed” leaders Joe Thomas and Noah Karvelis. All they have seen is a news release and a tweet from the governor, and that doesn’t indicate a deal, they said in a news release.

“We have no bill. We have no deal,” they said.

The announcement signifies that legislative leaders have not only agreed to Ducey’s teacher pay raise plan, but have also come to a consensus on how to fund it, said Mesnard, R-Chandler.

But they still haven’t finalized a full budget – something Ducey said they will work through the weekend to complete.

When asked about details of the plan, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor’s office will likely have more to share after budget analysts and appropriations staffers work through the weekend to fine-tune the details.

“We feel this is a sustainable plan. You’ll see the total package is one that is fiscally responsible,” he said.

Mesnard would not share details of the deal until he can brief rank-and-file Republican legislators. But one breakthrough that helped GOP leaders reach an accord is a new levy on vehicles that Ducey signed into law earlier this week. Mesnard said he’s confident the budget will have the necessary votes to pass in his chamber.

Legislative Republicans are counting on the new fee to generate more than $160 million annually, which is higher than the previous estimate of $148.9 million.

That will free up dollars that, in the past, have paid for the state’s Highway Patrol operations and funding for road maintenance and construction. The director of the Department of Transportation will be responsible for setting a fee to generate the necessary budget amount Republican lawmakers are targeting.

Legislative analysts estimate that the new vehicle fee will free up $107 million in state revenues, which can then be spent on education.

Presumably, those dollars will be combined with higher-than-expected state revenues to fund the pay bump for teachers.

Legislative leaders plan to introduce a budget early next week. Scarpinato said the goal is to have a complete budget introduced on Monday.

“I’m excited to have a deal with the governor and the president,” Mesnard said. “Now we’re going to work on finalizing the details of the overall budget, and we’ll be doing that through the weekend.”

Yarbrough, R-Chandler, could not immediately be reached for comment. But he has long indicated that Senate Republicans fully support Ducey’s plan.

Ducey’s pay boost for teachers includes a 9-percent raise for teachers this fall — on top of 1 percent this year — and subsequent raises of 5-percent increments in the following two school years.

Reporters Ben Giles and Paulina Pineda contributed to this report.

Ducey, tribes, AG happy with SCOTUS sports gambling decision

Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Owings (16) and Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte (4) celebrate after scoring runs on a single hit by Jarrod Dyson in the seventh inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, May 13, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Chris Owings (16) and Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte (4) celebrate after scoring runs on a single hit by Jarrod Dyson in the seventh inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, May 13, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

A new ruling Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court could open the door to Arizonans legally betting for — or against — the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals and even the Wildcats, Sun Devils and Lumberjacks.

And it could mean more money for the state.

In a 6-3 decision the justices struck down a 1992 federal law which dictated that most states cannot allow such wagering. The majority concluded that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act is an unconstitutional move by Congress to tell states what they can and cannot legalize.

“This is positive news,” Gov. Doug Ducey said on hearing the court struck down a 1992 law that until now has prohibited most states from authorizing their residents to place legal bets on the outcome of professional and amateur sports.

The majority concluded that Congress is free to outlaw sports betting under federal law on its own. But what it cannot do, the justices said, is tell states what they can and cannot make legal under their own statutes.

In some ways, the timing of the ruling could not be better.

It comes as Ducey already is negotiating with tribes to “modernize” the gaming compacts that voters authorized in 2002. These give the tribes the exclusive right to operate certain forms of casino gambling in exchange for the state getting a share of the profits.

Those compacts begin to expire after 2022. And Ducey has made no secret he thinks there’s a better deal to be had, with the state getting more cash.

“This ruling gives Arizona options that could benefit our citizens and our general fund,” the governor said.

Press aide Daniel Scarpinato said that specifically includes a possible trade-off: The tribes would get the exclusive right to take bets on sports and the state would reap a bigger share of the overall take.

And Ducey, for his part, has not been averse to the idea of expanded gaming to help balance the budget. In fact, his original proposal to fund teacher raises included allowing the Arizona Lottery to start a keno game, a plan that was subsequently scrapped.

Odds are the tribes see opportunities, too.

“I think the Navajo Nation is very interested in sports betting and in finding ways to expand their casino offerings,” said attorney Steven Hart who represents the state’s largest tribe.

That’s also the position of Stephen Roe Lewis, chairman of the Gila River Indian Community.

“We are looking forward to discussing with the state how we can go about working together on developing this opportunity, which could be a win-win for the state of Arizona and Arizona tribes,” he said in a prepared statement.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who had sided with New Jersey in its challenge of the federal law, called Monday’s ruling a significant victory for states’ rights.

“What Congress did when they passed PASPA, they created unconstitutional law,” he said. “And I’m glad the Supreme Court struck it down.”

Nothing in Monday’s ruling changes anything.

Sports betting remains a violation of state law. And the voter-approved compacts with the tribes limit the kinds of gaming that can take place at their casinos.

But what the ruling does is open the doors to changes.

Brnovich said that is a decision for the governor and lawmakers. But Brnovich, a former state gaming director and federal prosecutor, told Capitol Media Services he is not terribly concerned that a change in Arizona law would lead to a massive increase in sports gambling.

“The reality is, it’s already going on,” Brnovich said. “We know during last year’s NCAA basketball tournament, so-called ‘March Madness,’ that of the money that was wagered, only about 3 percent of it was legally wagered,” that being in Nevada, which had an exception under the federal law.

The American Gaming Association produced a similar statistic for this year’s Super Bowl, saying that 97 percent of total wagers, equaling more than $4.6 billion, was expected to be bet illegally.

But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is taking a more cautious approach to what lawmakers should do now.

“Arizona gaming policy to this point has been measured, regardless of the now-defunct federal legislation,” he said. And Montgomery warned against seeing Monday’s ruling as an easy way to generate more cash for the state budget.

“Without PASPA, Arizona should not rush into further gaming opportunities as a quick revenue generator,” he said. “Calculating costs requires careful review in order to fully weigh policy options.”

One factor behind the federal law was the claims by professional and amateur sports leagues that legalized wagering on the outcome of games will lead to a greater prospect of cheating. That includes players or coaches being paid to “shave” points to, if not lose the game, win by a smaller margin than is the point-spread line on wagering.

But Brnovich said that ignores the fact that billions of dollars already are being wagered, albeit illegally.

“So if someone’s going to compromise the integrity of an athletic contest, they, quite frankly, can already do that,” Brnovich said.

Conversely, he said, there may be benefits to having more of the sports wagering done through legitimate outlets.

“The reality is, you bring up the point shaving scandal from the 1990s, that was uncovered as a result of the legal sports books in Las Vegas noticing aberrations in betting patterns,” Brnovich said.

“You could make a strong argument, I think, that if it’s regulated and people are on top of it, whether it’s the professional gamblers or it’s the professional sports books, that they will be able to detect anomalies and irregular betting patterns much better than some rookie in a back alley who has ties to organized crime,” he said.

Ducey’s 2 Daniels pass the torch

In this April 16, 2016, Daniel Scarpinato, former chief of staff for Gov. Doug Ducey, speaks at an event titled “How to Get Elected Before You Are 30” hosted by the Center for Political Thought & Leadership at Arizona State University in Tempe. Scarpinato left the Ducey administration on August 27 for a job in the private sector. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]They may share the first name, but around the halls of the Executive Tower’s Ninth Floor, they are known respectively as “Scarp” and “Ruiz.”  

For the past six or so years the two Daniels – Scarpinato and Ruiz – have worked closely together turning a relationship of colleagues into one of good friends as they weathered the flak that comes from tough decision-making.  

Daniel Scarpinato just passed over the reins of Gov. Doug Ducey’s chief of staff to Daniel Ruiz in August and departed his state government job for the final time on August 27.  

Scarpinato began in Ducey’s office as his top spokesman. The former Arizona Daily Star and Yellow Sheet Report journalist became Ducey’s point of contact for his former reporter colleagues. Any questions directed to Ducey would almost always go through Scarpinato, beginning in early 2015 when Ducey took his oath of office.  

Ruiz joined staff later that year assisting the communications team, with a focus on state agencies’ communications strategies and as a de facto boss for agency spokespeople.  

Scarpinato briefly left the Governor’s Office in 2018 to help Ducey’s re-election and Ruiz took over. Ducey won in a landslide over Democrat David Garcia and both Daniels were due for promotions as some top staffers did not stay for a second gubernatorial term. 


Ruiz became a top adviser for a year before Ducey made him the state’s chief operations officer and Scarpinato as Ducey’s right hand man, replacing former House Speaker Kirk Adams.  

On August 5, Ruiz became Ducey’s third and likely final chief of staff.  

Scarpinato has joined an advertising and political consulting firm called Ascent Media as a partner.   

During an exclusive interview in the Governor’s Office, Scarpinato and Ruiz reflected on their time working for Ducey as the reality began to sink in that the Ducey days are almost over. His term runs through the end of next year. 

“I’m jealous that I don’t get to work for him,” Scarpinato quipped before launching into his explanation for why Ruiz is the right person for the job given his years of experience from communications to operations to policy.  

“I don’t think there’s anyone more prepared, certainly in this administration, but I think almost if you look at any previous administration, no one with the kind of experience that he brings. His years at the county, the state, having served as a deputy director at a state agency, to being chief operating officer so he’s certainly more prepared than I was for the job.” 

Scarpinato didn’t have any words of wisdom to pass along to his successor but did have something to give Ruiz that has been on the Ninth Floor for several administrations.  

“[Kirk Adams] gave me this button that you press that says no in 12 different voices, and he said – and actually Scott Smith [former Gov. Jan] Brewer’s last chief of staff] had given it to him. And he said, ‘You’re going to need to say no a lot in this job.’” 

That prophecy, of course, became true, but Scarpinato joked that he mostly would try to buy more time before having to make a decision. He said Ruiz is “much better” at being decisive.  

Ruiz said he was sad to see two of his friends leave the office. Deputy Chief of Staff Gretchen Conger left to advise the gubernatorial campaign for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running in Arkansas.  

“I’ve built a lot of really good friends in this office, and two of them leaving is going to be a difficult change for me … I’ve gained, not just mentors, but lifelong friends. And Daniel is a chief amongst them,” Ruiz said.  

Both of the Daniels consider the Governor’s Office as a family and cherished working for Ducey. And while they had no problem complimenting one another for being great workers and friends, they wouldn’t bite on sharing how they were personally affected by not just the tough decisions they were involved in making during the 18-month long pandemic, but how they were personally affected themselves.  

Arizona, as of August 30, crossed 1 million cumulative positive cases and nearly 19,000 deaths due to Covid as the third wave begins to fully form courtesy of the dominant delta variant. Ducey and his administration have been hit hard from the press and public over his management of the virus. 

Ruiz said the governor’s team has a really good camaraderie that became crucial to support each other during the “really tough days.” And there have been a lot during Covid, he said.  

“Certainly, during the height of the pandemic there were really tough decisions that needed to be made and we tried to walk a balance that allowed a culture in Arizona that could continue while protecting the public health and safety of the people that live here. And I think we did a good job of finding that balance, but what that means is that, on either end, you’re going to have criticism, and you’re going to make decisions that you never thought you’d have to make,” Ruiz said.  

“It can be draining and it can be exhausting, and it’s one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning, as you’re preparing for the next day’s press briefing having this team around you that is experiencing the same thing that you’re experiencing with the same goals that you have is – I can’t underscore how important and meaningful that is with the type of pressure that those decisions brought on,” he continued.  

Ruiz wouldn’t answer how it personally affected him to be involved in these tough decisions or how his friendship with Scarpinato helped get him through the tough times. 

Scarpinato similarly touted how well everyone gets along in the office, especially compared to previous administrations he said made news for “infighting and backstabbing and people trashing each other.” The culture in Ducey’s administration was not like that, he said.  

He told Arizona Capitol Times that he truly feels his coworkers and now-former state health director, Cara Christ, are some of the hardest working people who made a lot of sacrifices to manage the pandemic over the past 18 months.  

He said while other states were seeing officials resign left and right as things got challenging, in Arizona state government everybody stuck it out.  

“These were very challenging decisions, and you need people who are smart and who are tough, and who can get through it … I think speaks to the pressure that existed for everyone who was having to deal with these decisions, and the folks that dedicated themselves and made it through, the personal sacrifices that they had to make,” Scarpinato said.  

Daniel and Daniel were involved with a lot of major decisions that transpired since 2015, and Scarpinato got choked up reminiscing on how impactful his time working for Ducey was.  

Ruiz and Scarpinato clearly care about the work they did and are doing and it invoked an emotional response in the room as they realized what it means to them that this chapter in their lives is now over.  

Scarpinato likened his time on the Ninth Floor with these coworkers and friends as being in elementary school because he said it was the only other example he could think of where you spend that many years with the same people every day. He looks back on the past six years fondly as he starts the next chapter in his career. 

With “Scarp” gone now, Ruiz said his colleagues still won’t be able to call him by his first name. 

There’s another Daniel on staff, he quipped. 

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Ducey’s office: No conflict for aide with ties to Scottsdale bars


Maskless partiers lined the streets of Old Town Scottsdale hoping to get into their favorite nightclub on Memorial Day weekend, days after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey allowed his extended stay-at-home order to expire.

They jammed into Bottled Blonde, bumping and grinding.

Over at International Boutique Nightclub, Floyd Mayweather, the undefeated former professional boxer, danced alongside 20-somethings as they sipped on drinks and listened to the latest bop blasting out of the speakers.

Those nightclubs, where patrons danced, sweat and breathed all over each other, put Arizona in the national spotlight as the state became a coronavirus hotspot and the state’s plan to reopen the economy keeps nightclubs closed until later stages of the plan.

Christina Corieri (Photo by Jenna Miller/Arizona Capitol Times)
Christina Corieri (Photo by Jenna Miller/Arizona Capitol Times)

Six popular nightclubs in Old Town are owned by the family of Christina Corieri, Ducey’s senior health policy adviser, and even though she has some involvement in the family business, the governor’s chief of staff, Daniel Scarpinato, said she presented no conflict of interest as the governor’s advisers determined when businesses could reopen.

“She is not involved in [reopening or business] decisions, she is not making those decisions. So you have nothing to point to in terms of any conflict of interest other than pure conjecture,” Scarpinato said.

Though Ducey’s administration has said that nightclubs are not allowed to open during the first phase of the state’s reopening, a provision allowing dine-in restaurants to operate also allows for bars and clubs that offer food to open.

Corieri’s parents, Diane and Les Corieri, own Evening Entertainment Group, a “food and beverage empire,” that has made them among the most influential forces in Arizona’s club scene for at least a decade.

EEG owns popular nightclubs like Scottsdale’s Hi-Fi Kitchen + Cocktails, Bottled Blonde, Casa Amigos and other local bars and restaurants like RnR Gastropub and Sandbar Mexican Grill.

Christina is listed in documents filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission as the statutory agent for several of their clubs.

Arizona’s Revised Statutes says government employees should make it known if there is a conflict – even if it’s through a family member.

Arizona Public Interest Research Group, an open-government advocacy group, says at the very least, Corieri’s dual loyalties create the appearance of a conflict of interest, and should be disclosed as such.

“The public has a right to know if anyone on the governor’s staff may have profited or has the potential to profit from decisions that were made,” said Diane Brown, the executive director of PIRG.

Political Influence

The Corieri family has contributed roughly $30,000 to Ducey’s political campaigns in 2014 and 2018. Backing Ducey was a family decision – both parents and three children contributed on the same day in 2014.

Diane Corieri contributed $2,000 to Ducey’s 2014 campaign and put in another $10,000 for his 2018 re-election. Les, her husband and co-owner, contributed the same amount, according to Arizona Secretary of State Office’s campaign finance records.

Christina, a former staffer with the Goldwater Institute and former chief of staff for Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, gave Ducey a modest $150 in 2014 and nothing in 2018. And her two brothers Dustin and Hunter contributed roughly $2,000 a piece in 2014.

Dustin and Hunter are also a part of the family business, according to their social media accounts. Dustin is listed as a manager of one Bottled Blonde location and Hunter is a bartender for one of Bottled Blonde’s Texas locations.

And they didn’t stay on the sidelines as Ducey’s stay-at-home order closed their 15 bars and clubs around the state. In March, the family signed on to a letter urging Ducey to provide a moratorium on commercial evictions and provide tax relief, among other requests.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Roughly two weeks later, Ducey delivered.

The Governor’s Office denied Arizona Capitol Times an interview with Corieri, but a spokesman for Ducey said she does not have any financial stake in her family’s business, nor is she part of the three trust funds her family has set up in Nevada and Arizona.

Corieri, a law school graduate who doesn’t practice law, is listed as the statutory agent, the person responsible for receiving official paperwork such as lawsuits, for several of the nightclubs.

The Corporation Commission website has Corieri listed as an “active” statutory agent on six different limited liability companies, at least two of which are connected to Evening Entertainment Group.

73 Dining, LLC is the owner of The Mint AZ’s liquor license, and Munchbar LLC owns the license of Hi-Fi Kitchen + Cocktails. Corieri was also the agent for 7340 LLC, which owns the license for Bottled Blonde, but she has since resigned from that position.


Scarpinato said there is no conflict of interest for Corieri because the Governor’s Office “doesn’t establish public health guidance for businesses.” He said only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arizona Department of Health Services have guided the state’s reopening plan for businesses.

The CDC suggests, however, that clubs and bars remain closed during “Phase One” of reopening and shouldn’t reopen until Phase Two.

State law says that any government employee who has, or whose relative has, a “substantial interest” in any government decision must disclose that interest in an official record. The Governor’s Office says no such record exists.

The law also requires conflicted employees to step out of any decision affecting their business or family business.

Ducey was already aware of Corieri’s familial ties, Scarpinato said, but since he thinks there is no conflict of interest, Corieri did not disclose anything.

Refusing to disclose conflicts of interest can carry a penalty as high as a Class Six Felony.

“I think pretty much everyone knows [her family owns Scottsdale bars],” Scarpinato said.

Corieri, the health policy adviser, had not been advising Ducey on these matters of health concern because her role during the pandemic has been limited to hospitals, health care providers and issues of unemployment, Scarpinato said.

He said Cara Christ, the state health director, either advises Ducey directly or will go through him or Daniel Ruiz, the state COO; but never Corieri or any other member of the governor’s staff. 

The Governor’s Office did not provide a copy of Corieri’s job duties when asked.

Brown, Arizona PIRG’s executive director, said although Ducey knows about Corieri’s familial ties, it’s still important that the public is also aware of the potential conflict.

“Citizens can and will make their own decisions based on information and policies on whether Arizona is focused on protecting health as its top priority or if another factor such as economics tops the list,” she said of the conflict and subsequent decisions.

Brown said Ducey should already be cracking down on any business that is not following executive orders or CDC guidelines, but that is even more so for those with potential conflicts of interest within his office.

“Whether or not there is a legal conflict of interest, the perception of the conflict of interest can diminish integrity and faith in the political system,” Brown said.

Party Continues

Early on in the pandemic, Ducey threatened that bars and restaurants that didn’t follow social distancing guidelines were “playing with [their] liquor license.”

The Corieri family’s clubs voluntarily shut down on March 17, two weeks before Ducey issued his stay-at-home order forcing them to close. But when that order was lifted for “restaurants” to begin dine-in services again, the clubs began to host booze-filled parties that raged into the early mornings. All their venues opened on May 15.

Instagram posts from Hi-Fi Kitchen + Cocktails, for example, show women in lingerie popping champagne, and unmasked servers holding up chicken sandwiches with their bare hands.

Since Ducey’s stay at home order expired May 15, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed, a trend health experts link to the reopening of the economy, despite the well-known recommendations to maintain social distancing, wear masks in public when social distancing isn’t possible, and practice frequent hand washing.

After May 15, cases across the state – in particular, the percentage of positive cases and hospitalizations – began to increase rapidly. When Ducey lifted his stay-at-home order, the state had 13,169 total positive cases. More than one month later, that number climbed to 59,974.

At a May 28 press briefing, Ducey brushed off criticism about the packed clubs over the Memorial Day weekend and chided reporters for focusing on “bad actors.”

And he laughed off a question about whether the nightclubs in Old Town Scottsdale serve food, making them eligible to reopen.

“I don’t go to the clubs in Scottsdale,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that the Arizona Department of Liquor would consult with Christina Corieri, a statutory agent for multiple companies associated with her family’s nightclub business, on liquor license complaints. In fact, Corieri is not the statutory agent for the liquor licenses – only the corporations – and would not be the point of contact on liquor licenses matters.

Education advocates push for removal of 2 Supreme Court justices

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters gathered at Chase Field on April 26 before marching to the Arizona Capitol. Teachers and other education advocates now are trying to remove Supreme Court justices for their decision to strike a tax hike for education off the ballot. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Upset with a ruling that knocked a tax hike for education off the ballot, some education advocates are trying to get voters to turn one or two Supreme Court justices out of office in November.

Teresa Ratti said the conclusion by the justices that the wording of the Invest in Ed initiative was misleading was “the exact same statement” that came from the Republican-controlled Legislative Council which was tasked with writing an explanation of the proposal.

“Do we really have a separate judiciary branch or is our judicial branch being controlled or influenced by the executive and the Legislature,” she asked.

So Ratti, a high school government teacher, is using a constitutional provision on how judges are chosen in Arizona to urge people to oust Clint Bolick and John Pelander. They are the two of the seven justices whose terms are up this year.

Jennifer Hilsbos, who has been involved in this year’s spate of education advocacy at the Capitol, is focusing solely on Bolick.

Ideally, Hilsbos said, she would like to get rid of the two newest justices who Gov. Doug Ducey got to name after the Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to expand the court from five to seven members. She said Ducey effectively was packing the court with his choices.

But neither John Lopez nor Andrew Gould are up for election this year. So that leaves her to take out her wrath on Bolick, who Ducey named to the high court in 2016.

Anyway, she notes, Pelander was tapped for the court by Jan Brewer, Ducey’s predecessor. But if Pelander is removed and Ducey gets reelected, that gives the current governor a chance to name yet another member of the court.

The system, approved by voters in 1974, sets up a process where the judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and superior courts of Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties are named through what is known as a “merit selection” process.

A special panel reviews applicants and forwards the names of nominees to the governor who must choose from that list. Then, as terms expire, the judges stand for reelection on a retain-or-reject basis. If they are turned out, the process starts all over.

In the entire history of the system, only three judges have been removed, one from the Court of Appeals and two from the Maricopa bench. No Supreme Court justice has ever lost an election, though a group that did not like one of his rulings did try to deny Pelander another six-year term in 2012.

The initiative at issue would have increased state income taxes on individual earnings above $250,000. The idea was to create a dedicated revenue stream of about $690 million a year for education.

Backers got more than enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

But in a brief order late last month, Chief Justice Scott Bales said the description provided to petition signers did not inform them of all the implications of the measure, saying “that creates a significant danger of confusion or unfairness.”

It’s not just that conclusion that angered education supporters. There was also the fact that Daniel Scarpinato, a campaign aide to Ducey, confirmed that he had told some reporters that the decision was a 5-2 split in a bid to show that the governor’s two new appointments didn’t make a difference, even though that information is not public.

From the perspective of those seeking to oust the justices, that just confirms their belief there is a pipeline between the high court and the governor’s office, one they contend suggests that information also flows the other way.

That “leak” — no one from the court will confirm the vote until a formal ruling comes out — has caused some concern.

Jerry Landau, an aide to the court, said there already is an inquiry into how any information got out.

“I am completely confident that none of the justices communicated that information,” Bolick told Capitol Media Services. “The notion that any of us would ever divulge a vote breakdown before it was official is flabbergasting.”

Pelander said he knows nothing about it and does not believe it came from any of the justices.

“But if there was any kind of leak it’s extremely disappointing and disconcerting to me,” he said.

The larger question goes to the beliefs of those who want to oust one or two of the justices that the decision to bar a vote on the Invest in Ed measure was political.

Bolick said this isn’t like the U.S. Supreme Court where the split on many decisions can be predicted based on the political leanings of the justices. In fact, he said, in those ruling where the Arizona court has been split, the justices do not line up along predictable lines.

For example, a decision last month to allow a developer to use groundwater in Cochise County drew two separate dissents, one from Bolick and one from Bales who was appointed to the high court by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Bolick also pointed out that he voted two years ago to overturn a trial court judge and allow a vote on a plan to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, something that probably did not fit his pre-appointment political philosophy at the Goldwater Institute.

Pelander, on the high court for nine years and an appellate judge for 14 before that, said none of the discussions he has had with colleagues about a pending case has ever been based on politics. And he took particular offense at the idea that he would be opposed to funding public education, pointing out his own background going through public schools, his mother as a teacher and his father serving on a local school board.

The effort to deny Pelander a new six-year term in 2012 was pushed by those who did not like the fact he agreed to allow a public vote creating an open primary system where all candidates run against each other regardless of party affiliation, with the top two advancing to the general election. Two of the other five judges also agreed with that conclusion but Pelander was the only one on the ballot that year.

Despite the campaign against him he still got nearly 1.1 million votes with fewer than 378,000 against him.

Since the retain-or-reject system was adopted, only three judges have been turned out of office.

In 1978, Gary Nelson lost his post on the Court of Appeals. That same year, Maricopa County voters removed Superior Court Judge Fred Hyder and in 2014 voters ousted Benjamin Norris from the bench Maricopa County.

Former ADOA director Brown resigned over clashes with new Ducey aide

The head of the Arizona Department of Administration quit his job because he was clashing with a new hire in Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, according to emails obtained through a public records request.

Craig Brown (Photo by ADOA)
Craig Brown (Photo by ADOA)

Craig Brown joined the department as director in September 2015. Previously, he worked as a management consultant and spent 29 years at Intel.

He announced his resignation, providing scant details for his departure, on January 22.

Emails and a resignation letter sent to the ADOA human resources department show Brown was butting heads with Ducey’s new chief operating officer, Gilbert Davidson, who started the job in November 2017.

Brown and Davidson had a meeting the Friday before Brown’s resignation, and it did not go well, by Brown’s account.

In the letter to human resources, Brown writes that Davidson told him he didn’t have trust or confidence in Brown’s ability to lead ADOA.

“This from a man who has been with the state and my boss for 6 weeks. First hurt, then anger, but surely not agreement!” Brown wrote.

Brown said he believes he and Davidson have very different management styles. Still, Brown’s record of reducing costs, installing a statewide management system and engaging employees should speak for his abilities, he noted. But Davidson expected Brown to involve Davidson in all types of activities at ADOA “from broken water pipes to hiring and terminations.”

“I don’t operate that way. Repeated discussions have proven futile for us and I will not align on his micro management expectations,” Brown wrote to HR.

Brown also said he’s “deeply disappointed” that the governor’s policy advisers measure all business decisions “with the sole lense (sic) of ‘How will the governor look?’” Making real change requires taking some risks, Brown added.

“Constant scrutiny on my business decisions with a political optics lense (sic) only has led my job life to be totally unfulfilling and unproductive for the state,” Brown wrote.

He said he loved working with other agencies and all of ADOA’s employees.

“I can do without the policy advisor engagement. What an immature mess. I hereby resign,” Brown concluded.

Gilbert Davidson (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gilbert Davidson (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Emails between Davidson and Brown back up Brown’s claims about involvement on hirings, firings and water pipes. Davidson told Brown not to hire new people in higher-level positions without approval and asked about a broken pipe in emails, though the general tone of their emails remained mostly cordial.

On January 19, the Friday before Brown resigned, an email from Brown to Davidson shows Brown asking for latitude to manage ADOA as he sees fit. He said when he took the ADOA job, he was coached by the governor and Chief of Staff Kirk Adams to be the “CEO of our business and to move at the speed of business.” Brown said he manages by trusting employees, delegating and giving freedom, as long as staffers are all aligned and delivering on their duties.

According to an email Brown sent to Adams that day, the meeting with Davidson that afternoon “was not pleasant.”

“Bottom line is he has no confidence in me and my performance or my management of ADOA and told me so. He’s known me for six weeks,” Brown wrote to Adams.

His performance as ADOA director shows his successes, he noted. But Davidson didn’t think Brown responded well to requests for improvements or increased communication, Brown wrote.

“Again we’ve known each other for six weeks. I believe he’s preparing termination papers,” Brown concluded.

He resigned the following Monday, saying he had fulfilled a two-year commitment to lead the agency.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s spokesman, said the governor remains grateful for the work Brown did for the state.

Meanwhile, Davidson has taken a “real hands-on approach” to working with agency directors and brings a lot of experience working with the public at the local level, Scarpinato said.

“He plans to continue to do that and hopefully improve operations in the process,” Scarpinato said.

As far as viewing things with a more political lens, Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office conducts itself with awareness of the fact that the people elected Ducey, and he’s ultimately accountable to them.

“It’s different than I think maybe the private sector where you just immediately move forward with an idea,” Scarpinato said, adding that ideas need to be vetted and stakeholders, including other elected officials, are usually part of the governor’s decision-making.

“We’ve tried to be very responsible, and I think you’ve seen that in everything we do,” he said.

GOP legislators look to curtail emergency powers of governor

FILE - In this May 20, 2020, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a news conference in Phoenix to give the latest updates regarding the coronavirus. While the Republican governor has never discouraged the use of masks, his full-throated endorsement of them Monday, June 29, was a big change from a largely lukewarm stance the last few months. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this May 20, 2020, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a news conference in Phoenix to give the latest updates regarding the coronavirus. While the Republican governor has never discouraged the use of masks, his full-throated endorsement of them Monday, June 29, was a big change from a largely lukewarm stance the last few months. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Some lawmakers say it’s time to revisit Arizona laws that give the governor broad powers in cases of emergency.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, wants a constitutional amendment sent to the ballot to require governors to get the “advice and consent” of the legislature within a certain period — perhaps 14 days — of declaring an emergency. He said the state’s chief executive would need to provide lawmakers with “evidence that an emergency exists.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she’s not willing to wait to have voters consider constitutional restraints on the power of the governor. She wants a special session of the legislature this fall to reconsider the powers that were given to governors, some specifically in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, doesn’t see the need for such a rush. But she, too, thinks that once this crisis is over that legislators need to consider exactly how much unilateral power they have given governors.

Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem

But House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said voters elected Doug Ducey to do a job and that they — and lawmakers — should give him the latitude to do what he thinks is necessary.

In each case, those interviewed by Capitol Media Services say this has nothing to do with Ducey, the emergency he declared in March and the ways he has exercised those powers over everything from what businesses can be open to when people need to stay at home.

“We obviously respect the tough position that the governor is in,” Fann said. “It’s kind of a no-win situation for him.”

But in some ways it is about Ducey since he is the one who declared the emergency.

Fann said that, with the knowledge now of how all that works, that requires a new look at those laws and how they fit into the constitutional balance of power that’s supposed to exist between the executive and legislative branches of government.

“They probably thought it would be 30, 60 days,” she said of those who crafted the laws. And the thinking, Fann said, probably was based on the idea that it’s not easy to call lawmakers into special session to approve specific acts giving the governor special powers.

“But I seriously do not think that this was intended to go on for three, five, six months,” she said.

Ducey, for his part, isn’t interested in any limit on either the breadth or the length of his powers. Daniel Scarpinato, his chief of staff, said what’s happening now with COVID-19 shows the law is working the way it was designed.

“The virus is widespread and its spreading and the numbers are increasing,” he said.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

“So to have a date certain of when it would end would be really irresponsible because this is going to go on for some time,” Scarpinato said. “There’ll be additional public health decisions that need to be made.”

What that also means is that, under current law, Ducey’s power to make those without legislative input continues as long as he wants.

So what would be wrong with a requirement for the governor, after some period of time, to go to the legislature, explain the situation and seek permission to keep the emergency in place?

“Our perspective would be that the way to determine whether a public health emergency should continue would be based on public health, the recommendation of public health (officials) and the facts on the ground” Scarpinato said. “In this case, the crisis is escalating, the cases are growing.”

Finchem, however, said Ducey’s stated goals in declaring the emergency appear to have morphed.

“It was to flatten the curve on hospitalization,” he said, spreading out over a longer period of time the number of people who got the disease to prevent overwhelming health care facilities.

“It was not to flatten the goal on transmission,” Finchem continued. “Well, now we’ve moved the goalposts.”

And that, he said, is where constitutionally required legislative oversight would fit in.

Scarpinato said that confuses two separate issues: the declaration of emergency which was issued first and then the stay-at-home order which he said was aimed at slowing the spread.

Finchem, however, said he still believes that, at some point, the governor should have to come to the legislature, explain the decision to declare an emergency and, potentially more significant, detail exactly what metrics he is using to determine when that declaration — and the expanded powers the governor assumes — is no longer necessary.

And, absent legislative blessing, the emergency declaration would cease.

He, like Fann, stressed this isn’t about Ducey.

“This is against the idea that a governor, any governor, can have unlimited, unrestrained power without the people intervening and saying, ‘Not so fast there, cowboy,’ ” Finchem said.

Townsend said something like this would restore the balance of power.

“The legislature is a co-equal branch of government, not subordinate to the executive,” she said.

Townsend is looking at what other states are doing to find a model that might work in Arizona. One, she said, would limit the number of days the governor can have a declared emergency without getting legislative consent.

Some of the powers, Townsend said, followed the terrorist attacks in 2001 “when fears of biological warfare were cresting.”

“I believe the entire state now realizes that this is not a good idea, and the people in each district want their voice to be heard and desire the representative government that they were promised,” she said.

With Ducey showing no interest in calling a special session on the issue, Townsend pointed out that lawmakers can call themselves back to the Capitol with a two-thirds vote of each chamber.

That, however, would require at least some Democrats to go along with the Republican majority.

For the time being, though, Fernandez sees no reason to act.

“I really do trust that someone elected to that office should know when to use that and when not to use those powers,” she said. In fact, Fernandez said, she doesn’t believe that Ducey has used those powers enough to deal with the current pandemic “as well as he could.”

“But I feel comfortable knowing that he could,” she said.

This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about the latitude given to the governor.

That 2002 law, crafted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, gave the chief executive broad new powers to order medical examinations and even isolate and quarantine people without first getting court approval. And it even empowered the governor to use the National Guard to enforce those orders.

Only 10 lawmakers voted against the plan, including House Minority Whip Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park. He said the governor already has broad emergency powers.

Governor’s Office doing ‘homework’ on jobless benefits extension

unemployment job application

Arizonans whose enhanced jobless benefits ran out this week may get a chance for some additional cash.

But it will depend on Gov. Doug Ducey.

Aides to the governor confirmed Monday the Governor’s Office is reviewing the offer by President Trump to provide an extra $400 a week in payments if the state picks up $100 of that.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that states can use money they already received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to provide their match. And Ducey had previously set aside some of the CARES dollars he had received.

But Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, told Capitol Media Services that it’s not that simple. He said his boss needs more information before committing the state — and its resources — to additional jobless aid.

“The governor is very thankful to the president,” he said. “We’re digging into the details and figuring out what the art of the possible is.”

But Scarpinato said Ducey “does want to help Arizonans who have been put out of work through no fault of their own.”

One of those details that Ducey wants figured out first is how much it would cost the state.

Scarpinato had no firm figures. But Dave Wells, research director for the Grand Canyon Institute, penciled out the price tag of Arizona’s share at about $65 million a week.

“We’ve got to crunch the numbers,” Scarpinato said.

And there’s something else: Can Ducey simply reallocate the funds by himself for jobless benefits or does he need legislative approval?

“We’re doing our homework,” is all Scarpinato would say.

Even if Ducey goes along, questions remain when the new checks will arrive — and how long they will last.

The latest action by the president comes after congressional authorization for the extra $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation ran out last week. When federal lawmakers could not reach a deal, Trump signed a memo with the $400 figure and the 25 percent match.

At last count there were about 260,000 Arizonans receiving regular state benefits, which are capped at $240 a week. That does not include another 440,000 who are collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a special program for those ineligible for regular state benefits such as the self-employed.

On paper, the new program is supposed to apply retroactive to Aug. 1, right after the $600 benefits expired. But there is no clear guidance from Washington about when the money will be available.

There also are questions about how quickly the state Department of Economic Security can convert its current programming — one that ran into repeated problems with the current jobless crush — to deal with the new benefits.

Trump’s plan is to take the cash from the federal Disaster Relief Fund which currently has about $70 billion. According to the presidential order, the additional payments will last until the fund is drawn down to $25 billion or Dec. 6, whichever comes first.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates there’s only enough in the account to provide benefits for five weeks, essentially through the end of August. The Grand Canyon Institute came up with a similar projection.

Even just that delay, however, could provide some breathing room for Congress and the president to come up with a deal.

When talks broke down, Democrats were insistent on keeping the $600 a week. Republicans countered with $200 a week through the end of September, with benefits equal to 70 percent of what people were making for the balance of the year.

Then there’s the legal question of whether Trump has the authority to simply redirect the dollars from the Disaster Relief Fund.

At this point there are no legal challenges, with even U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while questioning Trump’s authority, apparently loath to do anything that would slow up the checks.

Not everyone who has been getting the extra jobless benefits would benefit.

Trump’s directive specifically excludes anyone who is not getting at least $100 a week in state jobless benefits. That means it may provide no real help to the people who were in the lowest-paid jobs, including people whose compensation largely included tips.

There was no immediate response from the Department of Economic Security as to how many of those 260,000 Arizonans currently collecting basic jobless benefits might be ineligible with that threshhold. But in a Twitter post, Eliza Forsythe, a labor economist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, estimated about 6 percent of regular unemployment insurance recipients receive less than that $100 cutoff.


Jobless to get boost in federal funds

A sign warning against COVID-19 is seen in front of a closed restaurant Friday, March 27, 2020, in Phoenix. Gov. Doug Ducey accepted federal aid Aug. 14 that will provide an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A sign warning against COVID-19 is seen in front of a closed restaurant Friday, March 27, 2020, in Phoenix. Gov. Doug Ducey accepted federal aid Aug. 14 that will provide an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday accepted a federal offer of an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits to more than 370,000 Arizonans out of work to replace the $600 payments that expired at the end of July.

In a press release, the governor described the move as the state “partnering” with the Trump administration.

But that partnership involves no state cash — or even cash the federal government has given to Arizona as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

All Arizona will provide is the regular state unemployment benefits which are capped at $240 a week, a figure the governor has shown no interest in adjusting. And that is paid for not by the state but by a tax on employers based on how often they lay off workers.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, acknowledged that Ducey had the option of boosting the additional aid by $100 a week, to $400, using money left over from the $1.9 billion in CARES funding that he did not distribute in May to cities or others. He estimated the price tag as something in excess of $40 million a week.

But he said the governor decided instead he wants to help replenish the trust fund that fuels the regular state jobless benefits — that $240 a week — to keep the taxes from going up on the businesses that fund it.

Scarpinato said the aid could start flowing within days.

He also pointed out that the extra cash is retroactive to Aug. 1. That means eligible Arizonans would be paid next week not only for that week but for the two weeks they missed.

That extra cash, however, won’t last long.

The federal dollars are coming out of the Disaster Relief Fund. But President Trump has limited that withdrawal to about $44 billion, an amount that is estimated to provide just five weeks of payments.

Scarpinato acknowledged the limited duration. But he said it provides time to break the stalemate in Congress that allowed the $600 additional benefits to expire.

“That’s why it’s so important for Congress to do something,” he said.

“They need to work together,” Scarpinato continued. “They need to do their job and get this done.”

Talks broke down after Democrats demanded the full amount. Republicans countered with $200 a week, followed by some figure tied to what people were earning before.

The governor’s decision not to add another $100 a week — a move that would have restored two-thirds of the extra payments that expired — was a conscious determination to prioritize employer finances over additional dollars for those who lost their jobs due to both the pandemic as well as Ducey’s own orders shuttering some businesses and limiting operations at others.

President Donald Trump holds the pens he used to sign four executive orders addressing the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic from his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. Trump signed the executive orders and bypassed the nation's lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump holds the pens he used to sign four executive orders addressing the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic from his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. Trump signed the executive orders and bypassed the nation’s lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

At the heart of that is the trust fund. It is fueled by a tax paid by employers on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary.

The presumptive rate for new employers is 2%, or $140 a year. But the actual rate varies from 0.05% to 12.85%, depending on how often companies fire or lay off workers without cause.

Arizona’s double-digit unemployment rate has taken the fund from $1.12 billion in March to $580 million as of Aug. 8, the most recent figures available.

At this rate, the fund would run out of money in November or December.

But benefits would continue, with the state borrowing the needed money from the federal government. That is what happened during the last recession when the fund went $420 million in debt.

But that, in turn, required employers to pay a surcharge to pay that off. Scarpinato said that’s something the governor wants to avoid this time around.

“Most businesses in Arizona are small businesses,” he said.

“They’ve been hit very hard,” Scarpinato continued. “We want to do everything we can to avoid raising taxes during this pandemic.”

And the fact the state does have the money for an additional $100 a week to bring the total to $400?

“The state has to protect the social safety net on an ongoing, long-term basis,” he said.

Anyway, Scarpinato said, the arrangement means that eligible Arizonans will get $300 more than they would otherwise receive if they had to rely only on state benefits.

That, however, still leaves the fact that, at some point, there will no longer be federal funds to supplement what each state provides in benefits. And that will leave Arizonans who lose their jobs through no fault of their own with only the state benefit.

On paper, unemployment compensation is supposed to provide one-half of what someone was earning before being fired or laid off. But Arizona lawmakers have capped payments at $240 a week, a figure that has not been adjusted since 2004. Only Mississippi pays less.

Scarpinato acknowledged calls to raise the cap, specifically citing a proposal by the Grand Canyon Institute to boost that to $490 a week — half the state average wage — with automatic adjustments after that. But he sidestepped repeated questions of whether the governor at some point would be willing to consider that, instead focusing on that extra $300, as temporary as that may be.

“This provides immediate help to Arizonans,” Scarpinato said.

Justices explain why Invest in Ed measure booted from ballot

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are Robert Brutinel, John Lopez, John Pelander, Scott Bales, Andrew Gould, Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer.

Citing confusing language that could trip up voters, five of Arizona’s Supreme Court justices explained their decision to bar a citizen initiative to raise taxes for education in a ruling released Friday morning.

Vice Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel, joined by justices John Pelander, Clint Bolick, Andrew Gould and John R. Lopez favored throwing the Invest In Ed initiative off the ballot, a decision that drew the ire of teachers and public school advocates throughout the state. Their explanation was penned anonymously — the ruling was issued “per curiam,” meaning no one author takes credit for the written opinion.

Those justices determined that the “description of the initiative’s principal provisions omitted material provisions and created a significant danger of confusion or unfairness to those who signed petitions to place the measure on the ballot.”

The key omissions included a failure to address the initiative’s impact on income tax indexing, a change that would affect all Arizona taxpayers, and a strict reading of the initiative’s effect on income tax rates for wealthy Arizonans.

Invest In Ed backers hoped to raise taxes on Arizona individuals earning more than $250,000 annually and households earning more than $500,000.

The opinion was exactly as Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign staffers had predicted it would be, having told reporters back in August the decision was a 5-2 split with the same two justices dissenting. When two reporters revealed the information on a local TV news program, the governor and his campaign dismissed the information as a rumor that was presented to the reporters as such.

A representative from the Invest in Ed committee said the Supreme Court overstepped by striking the initiative from the ballot and release of the full opinion raised concerns about Arizona’s political system being “rigged” against voters.

Invest in Ed co-chairman Josh Buckley said his greatest concern with the ruling is that it gives the Republican-controlled Legislative Council major leeway in describing and interpreting ballot initiatives, regardless of its drafters’ intent.

In the opinion, a majority of the justices suggested that had the Invest in Ed language been submitted to the nonpartisan Legislative Council staff for review prior to volunteers circulating petitions, the staffers may have altered the language to a point that the initiative could have gone on the ballot.

But Buckley also said the appearance that Ducey’s campaign knew about the ruling before the general public is troubling.

“Leaks concerning the outcome of the Supreme Court vote, the identity of the dissenters and the timing of the opinion all raise concern about improper communications between the Court and outside interest groups,” he said in a statement.

Some have blamed the decision on Ducey and legislative Republicans boosting the size of the court from five justices to seven, allowing the governor to appoint to new justices, Gould and Gomez. But that maneuver had no effect on the outcome, which would have been a 3-2 decision without expansion.

“We greatly respect the initiative process, including the civic activism required to collect the signatures necessary to qualify a ballot measure, and we do not lightly disturb the fruits of such efforts,” the five justices wrote. “However, we must do so, as the Court has done in various prior circumstances, when essential requirements necessary to qualify a measure are not adequately followed.”

Chief Justice Scott Bales and Justice Ann Scott Timmer dissented, and each wrote opinions explaining their rationale.

The justices also avoided issuing a ruling on the constitutionality of strict compliance, and did not address a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

In responding to the opinion released Friday, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato doubled down on the campaign’s stance that they had no inside information on the ruling, and instead that they heard a rumor about the vote split.

Scarpinato referred the Arizona Capitol Times back to a statement issued more than a month ago in response to an Arizona Republic column questioning why Ducey’s campaign purported to know the vote split. The statement said Ducey did not know the vote, and that his campaign simply shared a rumor with reporters on background.

Carmen Forman contributed to this report. 

K-12 to get boost from agency budget cuts under Ducey plan

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

Gov. Doug Ducey wants agencies to reduce their budgets next year and put any savings toward K-12 public education.

Ducey’s new chief operating officer, Gilbert Davidson, kicked off his time in the gubernatorial administration with a challenge for agency directors.

Davidson, formerly the town manager of Marana, presented the budget-cutting initiative at a meeting with all state agency heads on Tuesday.

In an email after Tuesday’s meeting, Davidson asked directors to detail any potential savings, ways to change their operations, regulations or cultural practices getting in the way of their business, or potential for combining with other agencies to save money and increase capabilities.

But, Davidson noted, current staffers need not worry. Any layoffs or other impacts to state employees, like pay reductions, are off the table, he said.

“This exercise should be focused on operational savings and streamlining in a way that continues to value the work of our employees,” he wrote.

Instead of forcing agencies to cut a certain percentage of spending across the board, Davidson said the goal is to be more strategic and work with the agencies to find savings in ways that won’t affect key areas.

“We need to protect vital services, especially in public safety, child safety and social services,” he wrote.

He called on agencies to submit a list of cost reductions to the governor’s budget office by December 5.

Ducey increased funding for K-12 education above inflation in last year’s budget, but many criticized the final budget’s 1 percent pay raise, followed by another 1 percent raise in the coming year, as paltry and impermanent.

Teachers and education advocacy groups have repeatedly criticized Ducey for claiming to support education while not fully addressing the state’s low teacher pay and ongoing teacher shortage.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the governor’s office is still working on the budget proposal and could not say what the overall number for K-12 education beyond inflation will be. But Scarpinato said he expects the savings from agencies to be in the “tens of millions.”

“The governor thinks that there is room for savings within state government, including in the governor’s office. He has long believed that we could find savings in state government, and those dollars would be better utilized in other areas, particularly K-12 education,” Scarpinato said.

Some examples of cost savings could be staffing reductions through attrition and retirements, renegotiating contracts, reducing fleet vehicles and their usage, ending leases and moving agencies back to the Capitol complex, Scarpinato said.

A lot of times, people view reductions in state spending as a bad thing, Scarpinato said, but the governor’s office sees reducing agency spending as a good way to put taxpayer money toward a better use in K-12 education.

Joe Thomas, the head of teachers union Arizona Education Association, said it’s great the governor is looking for additional funding for education. One straightforward way to do so would be increasing revenues through new taxes or rolling back tax cuts, Thomas said, both of which the Republican governor has been averse to.

And the state could find more money by hiring more auditors in the Department of Revenue, which would boost the tax money the state brings in, Thomas suggested.

The ultimate solution to the state’s teacher crisis isn’t slicing up agency budgets, Thomas said, but he believes the Ducey administration understands the problem is bigger than that.

“We’re looking for a big lift. Arizona needs a moonshot,” Thomas said. “Selling paper clips in one department to fund classrooms … it’ll be interesting to see how much money they can find.”

Lawmakers say Ducey must decide on civil war monuments if Legislature passes bill to remove them

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

Gov. Doug Ducey’s assertions that he has no role in deciding the future of four Confederate monuments on state land appear not to be backed up by statute, according to a key state lawmaker.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said any decisions about removing those monuments and memorials likely have to come in the form of legislation which has to be signed by the governor to take effect. And Mesnard said it’s appropriate to have a “thoughtful” conversation about each of the monuments on state property when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

By contrast, Ducey this past week made the pronouncement he does not favor removal of any of the monuments.

“I don’t think we should try to hide our history,” the governor said, including one within view of his office window at the Capitol that was not even erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy until 1961, a century after the Civil War and nearly 50 years after Arizona became a state.

Governors in several other states already had moved to take down some of these statutes even before the violence at the white supremacist demonstration in Virginia.

Ducey, however, is seeking to distance himself from the debate, saying if people have concerns they should approach the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission which has purview over the park across from the state Capitol where one of the monuments is located.

But Kevin DeMenna, who chairs that panel, said neither he nor his commission has any authority to actually require that a monument be removed. The decision, he said, ultimately has to come from the Legislature and the governor would have to sign any measure.

That’s also the way it appears to Mesnard.

“The mall commission’s more of a manager,” he said.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough agreed.

“The only way a memorial gets put on the mall or gets removed from the mall is with a bill,” he said.

Yarbrough said if someone introduces legislation in January to get rid of any or all of the monuments he will assign it to one or more committees for a hearing. And if it passes the Senate and House, that puts the question squarely in the governor’s lap.

Ducey, however, wants no part of the controversy.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato cited a law which says the commission can ask to “relocate” any monument or memorial. And he contends that includes the ability to “relocate” it right off state property.

Even assuming Ducey is correct about who controls the memorial on the mall, that still leaves three others dedicated to remembering the Confederacy that are on state property. But unlike the Capitol mall, they are under the purview of state agencies whose directors all serve at the pleasure of the governor.

But Scarpinato deflected questions about how his boss thinks the public could weigh in about having those monuments removed — other than petitioning Ducey himself, the situation the governor is trying to avoid.

“I have no answer for you on that,” he said.

Mesnard said any legislative decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, as there are some clear differences not only between the monuments but the text on each.

For example, Mesnard said he is uncomfortable with the verbiage on a monument at a cemetery run by the Arizona Department of Veterans Services in Sierra Vista — placed there in 2010 — saying it is a memorial to “Arizona Confederate veterans who sacrificed all in the struggle for independence and the constitutional right of self government.”

“If you read the Articles of Secession, they sound very similar to the Declaration of Independence except for one monumental difference,” he said. “And that is the right to own slaves.”

Mesnard said he is a supporter of states’ rights. But he called it “horrifying” that “the South hung their state sovereignty hats on slavery.”

“That’s not what I mean by state sovereignty,” he said.

He has not taken a position on a separate monument along a stretch of US 60 near Apache Junction on the right of way owned by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Originally placed along a different state road in 1943 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, it marks  the Jefferson Davis Highway which was supposed to become a coast-to-coast road honoring the president of the Confederate States of America.

Earlier this week it was vandalized with tar and feathers.

Then there’s Picacho Peak State Park, maintained by the Parks Department, where the only Civil War battle in Arizona was fought.

Erected there is a sign about the battle which has a Confederate flag and refers to the “War Between the States.” There also is a plaque “dedicated to those Confederate frontiersmen” who occupied the Arizona territory the Confederacy had claimed as its own and fought off Union soldiers.

Mesnard said there are things to consider when tearing down monuments to soldiers.

“They were drafted,” he said. “And probably most of the soldiers didn’t own slaves or probably couldn’t afford to own slaves anyway.”

But Mesnard said he’s not blind to what the war was about.

“They were fighting about slavery, which is an abhorrent institution,” he said.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, says Ducey should take the lead in removing all of the monuments to the Confederacy and those who fought for it.

“These were people who were saying people who looked like me should not have equal rights, we should be slaves,” Bolding said. And he said it is “appalling” that African Americans have to have these on public property and, in some cases, maintained at public expense.

Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said her agency is responsible for maintenance and cleaning of all the monuments across from the Capitol and tending the areas around them. And when someone put white paint on the Confederate monument there this past week, it was state employees who cleaned it off.

Scarpinato said the public sides with Ducey in wanting to keep the monuments in place. He cited a national Marist Poll done for NPR and PBS which said 62 percent of Americans think the monuments and statues to the Confederacy should stay, with just 27 percent saying they should be removed because some find them offensive.

Leadership styles, eras mark differences in outcomes of immigration measures

In this Aug. 26, 2014, photo, Gov. Jan Brewer, left, chides then State Treasurer Doug Ducey for beating her choice for governor in the GOP primary in 2014 gubernatorial race. (Associated Press)
In this Aug. 26, 2014, photo, Gov. Jan Brewer, left, ribs then State Treasurer Doug Ducey for beating her choice of candidate for governor in the GOP primary in the 2014 gubernatorial race. (Associated Press)

In one of the most enduring images of Gov. Jan Brewer, she stood on Jan. 26, 2012, on the Phoenix Sky Harbor runway and wagged her finger at President Obama as they discussed his challenge to SB1070, the immigration law she championed. Eight years later, when challenged, Ducey sat in the Executive Tower and sent his top aide to pull the plug on his similarly divisive immigration proposal and quell a growing uprising to it.

The differences in their leadership styles and the eras in which they have governed made for the divergent destinies of SB1070 and Ducey’s effort to put the state’s ban on sanctuary cities in the state Constitution. 

In the face of unprecedented, mounting economic and social pressures, Brewer signed the legislation and provided the model for other states to enact hardline immigration policy, although SB1070 was the last legislation of its kind for Arizona until Ducey’s proposal. 

SB1070, which aimed to control immigration locally, also galvanized an opposition movement that was ready to strike when Ducey said he wanted Arizona to vote to strengthen a key part of Brewer’s law. Ducey effectively ended the political storm that promised to match the intensity of the one that came with SB1070, which brought out throngs of protestors and a national spotlight. 

Although Ducey made it clear his effort to push sanctuary city legislation is dead, he may be tested again if HB2598 continues to move through the Legislature. The bill, which has yet to be debated on the House floor or gone to a vote, requires cities to comply with immigration detainers and allows a victim of a crime perpetrated by a person who lives here illegally to sue a sanctuary city that doesn’t comply with the detainer.

Brewer said while her signing SB1070 overshadowed the rest of her governorship, she knew it was going to be controversial, but it was necessary to do and she would have done it again.

Demonstrators hold signs to protest SB1070 on April 23, 2010. (File photo)
Demonstrators hold signs to protest SB1070 on April 23, 2010. (File photo)

“Once I make up my mind, I’m in for the fight, I’m in for the roll” Brewer said. “I think we did the right thing, it was handled appropriately and it made a difference in America, and out of it are results, I think, are yet to come.”

At the end of the day, it was about taking some kind of action in some direction and not continuing to stall on immigration.

Brewer said while she knows her place as a former governor, she still didn’t understand why Ducey was pushing his proposal. But regardless of his reasons, she said she wouldn’t have done the same thing as Ducey.

“Why would I? I already did it,” Brewer said. “Why create the chaos over again, when it’s already in law?”

Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato said lawmakers were unable to cobble together the votes to pass the proposal, which would have asked voters to determine whether the Arizona Constitution should prevent local jurisdictions from limiting their cooperation with federal immigration officials – effectively elevating a portion of SB1070, to the Constitution.

However, Scarpinato said that, had the governor continued to push for it, he would have got what he wanted: to put it on the ballot and see it passed overwhelmingly. But that would have distracted from the rest of the governor’s agenda – as Brewer allies said SB1070 distracted from her agenda – a chance the Governor’s Office wasn’t willing to take. 

 “Part of leadership is listening, and the governor listened and I think legislative leadership listened,” Scarpinato said.


In the decade since SB1070, activists who oppose hardline immigration measures are better organized, have earned more public support and refined their message. As the first and arguably most influential border state politician to take action, Brewer was a pioneer, in a sense, who led the legal fight against illegal immigration for states.

Being a pioneer isn’t easy, and Ducey likely learned from Brewer’s experience.

Veridus lobbyist Matt Benson, who became the communications director for Brewer months after she signed SB1070 into law, said the bill was “lightning in a bottle.” 

Matthew Benson
Matthew Benson

“We didn’t know what that was going to become, nobody did. Nobody understood the way that was going to take off as the dominant election issue that was going to, in many ways, characterize her governorship,” Benson said.

The bill’s passage was bittersweet as it came on the heels of Proposition 100, a state sales tax increase dedicated mostly to education, that splintered Republicans so badly that some walked out of Brewer’s 2010 State of the State Address, Benson said. 

SB1070 united Republicans, but immediately changed the state’s reputation nationally and with the Hispanic and business communities – perhaps giving a clear example of what Ducey should avoid,  Benson said.

Benson said there are two immediate differences between 2010 and now. 

The sanctuary city provision was “the least controversial aspect” of SB 1070 and activists and, in many cases, the media unfairly compared and overly conflated Ducey’s sanctuary city proposal with it.

Secondly, activists were quicker to establish and capitalize on a narrative this time around, Benson said.

“They said the language in this referendum was SB1070 at large. And yes, it was part of SB1070, but it was the least troublesome, the least politically toxic aspect of it,”  Benson said. “That was the downfall of the referendum – it never got a chance to take hold with the larger Arizona electorate.”

The greater contexts surrounding the 2010 legislation and this year’s are near-polar opposites.

Longtime lobbyist and former Brewer political advisor Chuck Coughlin said the two pieces of legislation can’t be compared, because the immigration and economic environments are vastly different. Before SB1070, the border was not as secure as it is today, Coughlin said. 

Obama wasn’t as supportive of hardline immigration policies as President Donald Trump is. In fact, SB 1070 fertilized the ground for expanding on strong state immigration measures in Arizona and across the country, Coughlin said.

However, after watching SB1070 play out, Ducey and his team “could have easily anticipated” that would happen again, Coughlin said.

Meanwhile, Ducey’s staff fully expected the measure to pass, but when reactions flooded in, they adjusted accordingly. 

“They clearly calculated that it wasn’t worth the political risk at this time,” Benson said, adding that the Governor’s Office may have concluded that it was politically toxic for Republicans in an election year.

Brewer owned the label she earned after signing SB1070 into law and tried to move on, but it became her legacy and overshadowed anything else she did as governor, and she’s accepted that.

In this April 23, 2010, photo, Kate Dionne, 34. Phoenix, demonstrates at the Capitol. Dionne said she was happy Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB1070. (File Photo)
In this April 23, 2010, photo, Kate Dionne, 34. Phoenix, demonstrates at the Capitol. Dionne said she was happy Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB1070. (File Photo)

“My mother told me a long time ago, ‘doing the right thing almost always means doing the hard thing,” Brewer said. “I was raised that way, and I was a fighter, I was a scrapper and I did what I thought was right for the people of Arizona.”

Brewer said there were consequences that are still trickling, but, above all, border security has improved and that’s what she and her team wanted.

After the “great pain” Arizona experienced after the law passed, like a temporary boycott and a stained national reputation, Ducey worked hard to ensure relations improved, especially with the Arizona-Mexico Commission, Benson said.

Coughlin said people at an Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Black and White Ball were standing up and screaming at Brewer.

“I can’t imagine them doing that to Ducey today.”

The biggest regret of Brewer’s administration was that SB1070 overshadowed the other important, bipartisan work it did – perhaps something Ducey and his staff recognized and wanted to avoid, Coughlin said.

After Ducey’s withdrawal, which caught Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, his hand-picked sponsor, off-guard, Ducey’s closest aides didn’t want to ponder what it meant. 

After killing what they called a “distraction,” they quickly attempted to pivot to talking about his long list of policy priorities – a handful of which are now struggling to earn support.

To them, this swift rescission was an example of “listening,” a key part of leadership. Anything else is speculation.

“I’m going to leave the kind of how all of this played out to the pundits and to you guys,” Scarpinato said. But one thing he didn’t leave to the pundits was how to interpret the measure’s failure.

“Anyone declaring victory — there is no victory for those who want sanctuary cities, sanctuary cities are not allowed,” Scarpinato said, adding that he saw their failure as a victory.

“We wanted to make the law stronger and more enshrined, but 95 to 98 percent of what we want, that’s pretty good. We can live with that,” he said.

Legislative legalization of recreational marijuana arduous, possible

This September 11, 2018, file photo shows a marijuana plant at in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has suggested the Legislature, instead of the voters, legalize recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
This September 11, 2018, file photo shows a marijuana plant at in the coastal mountain range of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has suggested the Legislature, instead of the voters, legalize recreational marijuana. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Only two states have legalized marijuana for recreational use legislatively. Could Arizona become the third?

Some top Republicans would prefer it that way, at least opposed to the more likely alternative: Arizona voters getting a say at the ballot in November 2020, as marijuana advocates prepare to launch a campaign proposing legalization and regulated sales for adults 21 and older.

Most states have approved legalization as a ballot issue, be it for medical use or recreational, as state legislators have been reluctant to address a politically controversial subject.

Vermont broke the mold in January 2018, when Republican Gov. Phil Scott somewhat reluctantly signed a law that legalized possession and cultivation of marijuana, but did not establish a state marketplace for marijuana sales.

Illinois became the first state to accomplish full legalization, sales included, in June, when newly-elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law that also could expunge criminal records for those previously convicted of purchasing certain amounts of marijuana.

Assuming legalization is all but certain if it goes to a vote of the people, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in July it’d be better if the Grand Canyon State followed in the path of Vermont and Illinois, arguing that legalized marijuana is far too complex an issue to be decided by a simple up or down vote at the ballot.

Also of concern to Brnovich is the state’s Voter Protection Act, which only allows laws approved by voters to be amended by a three-fourths majority vote of the Legislature.

Brnovich’s concern is nothing new among the state’s Republican majority. Lawmakers frequently gripe that their hands are “tied” by the Voter Protection Act, which further states that even with a three-fourths majority vote, a voter-approved law can only be changed if it furthers the intent of the law.

To avoid the act’s restrictions, the Legislature would need to approve a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, an achievement most are skeptical of occurring at the state Capitol.

And while Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson said the attorney general doesn’t mind if the Legislature refers the question of legalization to voters, it would at least allow for a thorough vetting process and public hearings on the issue. Anderson said a legislative referral doesn’t bypass the Voter Protection Act.

Some have noted that the courts have yet to litigate whether measures referred to the ballot by the Legislature are protected in the same way citizen-led ballot initiatives are protected.

Constitutional law attorney Paul Bender said there’s a simple reason why.

“I’ve always assumed the reason for that is it’s so clear that [the Voter Protection Act] would apply,” Bender said. “It doesn’t really make a difference who puts it on the ballot. The idea of the Voter Protection Act is the voters are supposed to have the last word under the [Arizona] Constitution. So, if they say something, it doesn’t matter how they say it or who asked them to say it … it’s voter protected.”

That means for lawmakers to avoid the act, they’ll need Gov. Doug Ducey’s help.

The governor at least shares Brnovich’s concerns that the Voter Protection Act is a hindrance to fixing “unintended consequences” in laws.

Voter protection doesn’t contemplate that … And, yes, that does concern me,” Ducey told Capitol Media Services in July.

“Of course, I want to protect the will of the voters,” Ducey added. “But I also think we have a legislative process for a reason, and that’s to adjust and improve policy when we can.”

How Ducey feels about a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, let alone legislation, the governor won’t say. Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, tweeted a reminder that Ducey “was a strong opponent of the 2016 measure,” which voters rejected. He’s still opposed to recreational marijuana, Scarpinato added, but before Ducey will comment on ballot measures, “he wants to see the specific language.”

It’s also possible, at least theoretically, that Ducey could allow a legalization bill to become law without signing it. Bills the governor doesn’t sign or veto within a set number of days after session become law automatically.

Matthew Schweich helped facilitate the 2016 campaign in Arizona to legalize recreational marijuana. As deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, he has

had a hand in state-level marijuana campaigns across the country, and he remembers well Ducey’s opposition three years ago.

So it’s difficult for him to believe that Ducey would ever consider signing a bill that legalized marijuana for adult use, Schweich said.

However, like in Vermont, there are circumstances that could persuade Ducey, Schweich said.

“It will really come down to the details of the law,” he said. “If it is a very conservative approach to legalization, then I imagine it’s possible for a conservative governor like Doug Ducey to sign that bill into law.”

On the other hand, if the Legislature were to pass a more comprehensive legalization bill that addressed most of the issues expected to be addressed by a citizen-led ballot initiative – including regulated sales – that could make it less likely that Ducey would sign it.

And even if the governor were to sign a “conservative” form of legalization, Schweich said there’s nothing to stop unsatisfied marijuana advocates from launching their own initiative anyway.

“I think the only scenario in which there’s no ballot initiative is one where a very sensible, well-reasoned legalization policy that is in line with what has been adopted in other states is approved by the Legislature, but that seems unlikely given the conservative leaning of Arizona’s Legislature,” Schweich said.

For instance, Vermont was a case in which a Republican governor who’s not a proponent of marijuana recognized the popular support in favor of legalization, and agreed to let a bill legalizing adult use become law. That’s the best example yet of the political calculation Ducey may consider if the Legislature considers a marijuana bill, Schweich said.

Yet Vermont’s version of legalization would never satisfy Arizona marijuana advocates, Schweich said. Many advocates are medical marijuana dispensary owners who would stand to benefit from sales of recreational marijuana.

Legislators aim to reassert authority with early budget

Businessman hand touching king pawn on chess board. Gray background. Business concept
Businessman hand touching king pawn on chess board. Gray background. Business concept

Republican leaders in the Arizona House and Senate are moving ahead with plans to draft their own budget proposal by the end of the year, reasserting legislative authority they say they lost during recent years.

By the time Gov. Doug Ducey tells the Legislature his plans for how to spend or save an estimated $170 million in ongoing funds and $475 million in one-time appropriations in mid-January, legislative leaders want him to know how the Legislature wants to use that money, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said.

Rick Gray
Rick Gray
Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

“My hope is that by the end of the year we actually have a budget put together, that it will be in the governor’s hands and he’ll actually know what our House and Senate legislative body is looking at so we can be a little more cooperative,” the Sun City Republican said.

And House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she has met with 80% to 90% of her caucus and has reached out to agency heads about their budgetary priorities.

Cobb said she and her counterparts in the Senate will begin meeting in the coming weeks to start drafting a legislative budget proposal.

Although Cobb and other GOP leaders wouldn’t put it in such terms, long-time Capitol insiders say the plan harkens back to a time when the Legislature more readily wielded its appropriations power, going toe-to-toe with the Governor’s Office to fight for spending priorities that were fleshed out before the governor could go public with his or her plan. There were powerful appropriations subcommittees that grilled agency heads and full-fledged line-item budget proposals that had party support prior to the release of the governor’s own plan.

But over time, Arizona’s governors exerted increasing control over the appropriations process. Although there has been no shortage of recent budget fights between the Ninth Floor and the Legislature, lawmakers ceded some of their autonomy in the name of a more efficient — albeit less publicly transparent — process that puts the governor’s priorities front and center.

This old arrangement might not only pull back the blinds on the appropriations process, but also provide an opportunity for some of the state’s more beleaguered agencies and departments to work their connections in the Legislature and vie for greater funding than they might get otherwise.

And in theory, it could provide an opportunity for Democrats yearning to make their desires heard — though whether those desires manifest themselves has yet to be seen, as some key Democrats say they haven’t received an entree into the nascent budgeting process.

“I have felt that we should have done this a long time ago,” Cobb said. “Last year, we were way behind where we should have been. When that budget comes out from the governor, we shouldn’t have any surprises.”

A return to times past

The governor has been statutorily required to present a budget since the late 1960s, but lawmakers relying almost exclusively on the executive budget to frame debate is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained steam within the past two decades.

Chuck Coughlin
Chuck Coughlin

“There used to actually be budgeting committees,” said Chuck Coughlin, the president of HighGround Public Affairs Consultants and a political adviser to then-Gov. Jan Brewer. “You go back to those ancient times, what those processes all did was create ownership in the legislative body of ideas, instead of reacting to what the governor proposes.”

There aren’t many left in the Legislature who were around in those days — though some have been more vocal about wanting to restore legislative authority than others.

“At least since I’ve been in the Legislature, we’ve always waited until the end to get all the numbers,” Gray said. “I think that’s a little too reactionary.”

Gray is one of a handful of Republican legislators who have pushed for years to return to an earlier way of budgeting. They first started to make progress in 2017, when new House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, now a senator, created Appropriations subcommittees to develop an initial budget proposal that could be shopped around to Republican House members.

Long before most current members joined the Legislature, Appropriations subcommittees played a larger role in the budget process, holding hearings with agencies throughout the state in the fall before the session began. Subcommittees held ongoing hearings throughout the session as well, longtime Capitol lobbyist Don Isaacson said.

“They would actually work a budget from the ground up and then toward the end of that process reconcile their differences between the House and the Senate,” he said.

That institutional memory had faded so much by the time Brewer took office that the Ninth Floor had to take control just to get a budget written, Coughlin said.

When the economy tanked in the Great Recession, legislators “kind of punted” a lot of their budgeting authority to the governor because taking responsibility for necessary cuts can be painful, but it’s time to change that culture, Gray said.

“Just like with a business, you have a corporate culture that will set the pace on how things are done and the way things are done,” he said. “We have the same thing in the Legislature. It takes a little while to change that culture, and I think we’re really beginning to see that it becomes much more effective to have a deeper dive into the budget than we have before.”

The Governor’s Office also is further ahead on its budget this year than it has been in previous years and has been in regular communication with House and Senate leadership, Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato said.

In this Jan. 14, 2019, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, center, speaks during his state of the state address as he talks about Arizona's economy, new jobs, and the state revenue as Senate president Karen Fann, R-Prescott, left, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, right, listen. In recent years, the Legislature has allowed the governor to set the agenda on the budget, but this year legislative leaders intend to reassert its authority in making the state’s spending plan. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Jan. 14, 2019, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, center, speaks during his state of the state address as he talks about Arizona’s economy, new jobs, and the state revenue as Senate president Karen Fann, R-Prescott, left, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, right, listen. In recent years, the Legislature has allowed the governor to set the agenda on the budget, but this year legislative leaders intend to reassert its authority in making the state’s spending plan. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

“We’re all for more collaboration and discussion sooner,” Scarpinato said.


Perpetually underfunded areas of state government see some promise in lawmakers drafting their own budget proposal.

The state Housing Trust Fund, for instance, had been capped at $2.5 million annually for nearly a decade. Ducey’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal would not have increased that amount, but because lawmakers made the fund a sticking point in their budget negotiations, it received a one-time appropriation of $15 million this year.

The Arizona Housing Coalition has good relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle, spokesman Camaron Stevenson said. He’s “optimistically curious” about how the Legislature’s budget plans will proceed.

“It’s easier for us to work with them than it is for 20 different organizations to go to the governor,” he said.

One Republican lawmaker in the House, Scottsdale Rep. John Allen, has already scheduled a meeting with representatives of the developmental disability community to discuss their budget needs, said Jon Meyers, executive director of the disability advocacy group Arc of Arizona.

“It’s never a bad sign that they want to get started on the budgeting process early,” Meyers said. “It certainly gives stakeholders like us the opportunity to provide more input and work with those legislators over a longer period of time, rather than try to compete with all of the priorities that are on their desks during the legislative session.”

Sen. Lela Alston, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature taking a more active role in the budgeting process could embolden executive agencies, such as the Department of Corrections, to ask for the money they need.

“The agencies that might have needs have to take whatever the governor says because they work for him,” she said. “Sometimes the agencies have needs that they’re not able to put forth because of the restrictions placed on them by the Governor’s Office.”

Democrats in the dark

Beyond one-on-one conversations with Senate President Karen Fann about their priorities, Senate Democrats said they haven’t been involved in any discussions about an early budget.

Alston said she hasn’t yet had any conversations with her committee leadership, though she half-jokingly offered to serve as a “consultant” for them on better ways to work on the budget. She previously served in the Senate from 1977 to 1994.

Sean Bowie
Sean Bowie

Sen. Sean Bowie, a Tempe Democrat who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said one-on-one meetings are more than his caucus has had under previous Senate leaders.

The Legislature came close to reaching a bipartisan consensus last year, Bowie said, though all Democrats in both chambers ultimately voted against every budget bill. He said he’s hopeful that there will be a bipartisan budget agreement next year.

“We really want to make sure it’s a true bipartisan process and that Democrats are actually being included as we put together these proposals and put together these budgets,” Bowie said. “We’re not just handed something at the end and told, ‘Hey, come and vote for this.’”

Fann, R-Prescott, told the Arizona Capitol Times in June she still planned to meet individually with Democrats but wasn’t particularly inclined to include their priorities.

“After what we saw this year in the last part of the session, I am reluctant to put any of their asks in right up front,” Fann said at the time. “It didn’t do me any good to fight for them this year.”

In the House, Cobb said she’s met with a half-dozen Democrats. But several Democrats, including leaders, say that though they’ve heard of the budget plan, they have yet to be involved.

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, the ranking member on appropriations, said he hasn’t heard anything from Cobb. Neither have Rep. Reginald Bolding, the ranking member on education, Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez or several other key Democrats, including moderates like Reps. Robert Meza and Cesar Chavez.

“It has been the typical way that we’ve seen the Legislature operate since forever, that the majority party is going behind closed doors and creating a budget they want,” Bolding said. “If there’s an opportunity to pick at the margins, they’ll reach out to Democrats. But there’s been no type of collaboration.”

While the Democratic caucus is supportive of the greater legislative control in theory, many in the minority said they’ll find more common ground with Ducey’s plan than whatever a GOP-controlled Legislature comes up with.

“I believe the governor should set the vision,” Friese said. “It’s not unreasonable to get a pulse, but not to get a jump on the governor.”

Missing details of Ducey pay plan leave teachers skeptical

Public education advocates rally at the Arizona Capitol on March, 28, 2018, to demand higher teacher pay, among other improvements to public school funding. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Public education advocates rally at the Arizona Capitol on March, 28, 2018, to demand higher teacher pay, among other improvements to public school funding. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lack of details of where the money is coming from and what the governor’s plan does not include has Arizona educators panning his offer of a big hike in teacher pay.

But groups that represent school boards and business personnel are lining up behind it, even while waiting to see specifics, calling it a good first step.

Gov. Doug Ducey Thursday said he can find funds to add 8 percent to teacher salaries this coming school year, on top of the 1 percent he already offered. And Ducey said he believes there will be money in the budget for a pair of back-to-back 5 percent pay hikes in the two subsequent years.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato cited forecasts by economists released just this past week which predict that revenues for this year will be $262 million higher than anticipated, with an additional $300 million from all sources for the coming budget year.

With other expenses, that by itself will not be enough to fund the $274 million first-year cost, much less the more than $670 million price tag when fully implemented. But Scarpinato said an improving economy also means fewer people in the state’s Medicaid program and needing other state services.

He also said Ducey is willing to forego some of the things he asked for in January, though he would not provide specifics. Scarpinato acknowledged one “ask” likely being thrown overboard is a tax cut for military retirees, though that saves the state just $15 million.

That lack of financing details, however, addresses only part of the reason that members of Arizona Educators United are not ready to give up their protests, their walk-ins — and even the possibility of a strike.

Noah Karvelis, one of the organizers of Arizona Educators United, said Ducey’s proposal deals with only one of the group’s five demands. And it doesn’t even fully address that one, providing 19 percent over three years versus 20 percent immediately.

The potential political problem now is that it has been strong public support that has gotten the educators this far, with the governor acceding to demands for a pay hike that only a week ago he had dismissed as “political theater.” Karvelis said some people could see the governor’s offer and believe the problem has been solved.

“We all realize that,” he said. “But I think we’re going to be able put out a higher level of engagement and really educate people on what some of the flaws are in the plan and what pieces it lacks.”

Derek Harris, another organizer of the newly formed and loosely knit group of teachers and support staff, said that will be crucial.

“Whenever you get a chance to educate someone on the real ins and outs of an issue and show them the facts and point them in the direction of what really is going on somewhere, they usually have a more detailed appreciation for where people stand,” he said.

Demands not addressed in Ducey’s offer are a system of permanent future salary increases, restoring education funding to 2008 levels, and a promise of no new tax cuts until per-student funding in Arizona reaches the national average.

And then there’s the question of who would — and would not — get a raise.

There is no new money in the governor’s plan for support staff. And that slight is not sitting well for members of Arizona Educators United in that group.

Vanessa Jimenez, vice president of the Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association, said her “heart sank” when she listened to the governor’s plan.

“Everybody knows it takes a village to raise our students,” she said. “And that village includes teachers and classified staff.”

Jimenez called the governor’s plan “clearly an attempt to divide us.”

Scarpinato, however, said there actually is money in the governor’s plan for classified staff — sort of.

He said the governor is committed to eventually restore the $371 million a year schools are supposed to get in what’s called “district additional assistance,” money that even Ducey himself had taken from the fund in prior years to balance the rest of the state budget.

This money is primarily earmarked for things like books, computers and buses. But school boards have flexibility to use it for whatever priorities they have.

Ducey also has vowed to boost basic state aid each year for inflation, something that lawmakers failed to do for years.

In any other school year, Scarpinato said school boards would use those funds to boost teacher pay. But now, with new dollars earmarked specifically for pay hikes, local officials have those dollars for other priorities, like pay for classified staff.

Harris said that’s hardly reassuring, noting the governor’s plan leaves the question of what raises to give to support staff — if any — is left to the whims of local school boards.

“One person can say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re going to free up all of this money for custodians and cafeteria workers and all that,’ ” he said. “It’s another thing to actually do it.”

Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said his members realize that boosting teacher pay, by itself, does not solve all problems.

“The classified folks are underpaid also,” he said. But Ogle said there’s nothing wrong with leaving the question of their remuneration to individual school boards.

“The reason we have locally elected boards with fiduciary responsibility is that they make value judgments in their communities,” he said. He said the governor’s plan, in providing more dollars for teacher pay, gives local officials more flexibility to decide how to divide up the other dollars that will be coming in, including for support staff.

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Association of School Business Officials agrees that having the state pick up the burden for teacher pay hikes frees up other dollars for other priorities.

“They can go to the ‘district additional assistance’ and the regular inflation funding to meet some of the other needs in the district because the teachers would have gotten probably the biggest raise any of them have gotten in their career,” he said.

Essigs acknowledged the plan does not give Arizona Educators United everything it wants, like restoring funding to 2008 levels. Estimates are that, on an inflation-adjusted basis, schools are getting $1 billion a year less now than a decade ago.

But he does not see it as a reason to reject it.

“It’s a great start,” Essigs said, saying the additional dollars will give schools about $300 extra per student.

“That’s pretty significant,” Essigs said, though it still leaves schools far short of the national average. The most recent numbers from the National Education Association put total spending at $7,566 in Arizona compared to $11,787 nationally.

What it will also do is finally bring the amount of money the state provides on a per-student basis back above where it was in 2009, even before inflation is considered.

“That’s a pretty nice bump,” Essigs said.

New school ratings have something for everyone to hate

The chair of the Arizona Senate Education Committee felt the harshness of the state’s new school accountability system this week.

The school that Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen co-founded, a charter school in Snowflake called the George Washington Academy, received an F in the ratings, released October 9 by the Arizona Board of Education.

For Allen, the fact that a school her grandchildren now attend, where she works to create teachings about character traits like honesty and patriotism, could fail under the new system shows the A-F accountability program needs to be adjusted.

But it’s not just Allen who found something to hate when the grades were released – the A-F grades have been roundly criticized from all parts of the education advocacy spectrum. Nearly everyone has found something to hate in the grades.

The Arizona Legislature approved a law in 2016 that directed the state board to create new accountability measures for its statewide school ratings system, dubbed the A-F School Accountability Plan. The board finished a methodology in April and began crunching the numbers, though the data released October 9 still was not a complete database of the grades, and the board called the results “preliminary.”

But the database still shocked many, despite what was known to be the case before the ratings were publicly released: There are far fewer A grades than under the previous system, and many schools, particularly heavyweight charter brands, were shocked to see they didn’t achieve the highest marks.

Arizona A-F letter grades


So far, 258 schools, or about 15 percent, have earned an A under the new grading system, compared to more than 500 schools that got an A under the previous system. The bulk of schools got Bs and Cs this time. Thirty-five schools failed.

But 170 schools are still listed as “under review” in the board’s database, meaning the numbers for each grade will likely change.

The board itself has also recognized its work isn’t done. The board recently announced a series of open houses to gather public input about potential changes to the grades and an advisory committee designed to look at ways to alter the grading system.

The board would not answer questions from the Arizona Capitol Times about what changes should be made to the system, if the grades are a valuable way to measure schools, who is primarily responsible for the system succeeding and more. Instead, board spokesman Catcher Baden said the board will be addressing these questions at a meeting on October 23.

For schools that received low marks, though, the public damage may have already been done. The grades are intended to inform parents on their children’s schools and hold schools accountable.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, speaks at a press conference calling for increased public school funding on April 13. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, speaks at a press conference calling for increased public school funding on April 13. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

“These letters, A-F, are very powerful in the education setting, and parents aren’t going to understand why schools are coming out with low letter grades,” said Joe Thomas, the head of the Arizona Education Association, the teachers union.

The state’s highest elected official also wants to see changes in the grading system. Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said Ducey thinks a lot more work needs to be done to make sure schools are accurately assessed and that parents know what the grades mean.

“This is a public policy shift, so we need to make sure we get the details right,” Scarpinato said.

And this time around, there’s money on the line for some schools with regard to the grading system. Next year, the school grades will decide if schools qualify for extra funding under Ducey’s results-based funding plan, which financially rewards high-performing schools.

Under the new grading system, K-8 schools will be graded based on student proficiency (weighted at 30 percent) and student growth (50 percent), both of which are judged on scores students received on AzMERIT, the statewide achievement tests. The formula also includes English Language Learners’ growth and proficiency (10 percent) and acceleration and readiness measures (10 percent).

At the high school level, the grading system will consider student proficiency (30 percent), student growth (20 percent), ELL growth and proficiency (10 percent), graduation rates (20 percent), and college and career readiness (20 percent).

For Thomas, the formula’s emphasis on standardized test scores, particularly at the K-8 level, means low-income schools are less likely to get high marks since test performance and income are strongly correlated.

There should be a wider range of measures taken to assess a school’s success, he said, like the number of counselors accessible to students or the available Advanced Placement course offerings.

Allen and Thomas, not typically allies at the Legislature, seem to agree on this point.

Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)

Allen, an advocate of school choice, said there needs to be a way to capture the uniqueness of the variety of school offerings in the state instead of primarily looking at test results.

If the state wants to maintain school choice and allow parents to pick schools that best reflect their values, there should be a “menu of assessments” schools can choose to be judged on, she said.

It wasn’t just the scores for George Washington – which says on its website that it aims to educate kids in a “brain-compatible manner” – that weren’t justified, she said, but many of the district and charters that she has visited in her area and across the state. Beaver Creek School in Yavapai County, for instance, focuses on hands-on methods, including raising chickens and taking kids to a creek for instruction, she noted.

“They were ranked a C. How could you rank them a C? That’s the kind of school I just love,” she said.

While some districts and education advocacy groups have long lamented the role the AzMERIT and A-F grading system play, charter schools are now joining the chorus of critics questioning the grades.

In a message to parents last week, Peter Bezanson, the CEO of BASIS schools, routinely the poster child for charter schools in Arizona, questioned the new grading system and said it would not accurately reflect BASIS’ successes.

The scores place more emphasis on students’ growth than their overall proficiency, which means high-performing schools with smaller margins for growth get dinged, he said.

He assured parents that nothing will change at BASIS campuses and “your children will still attend one of the highest-performing schools in the entire world.”

Many of the BASIS schools show as “under review” in the state’s database, though Bezanson told the Capitol Times the schools didn’t appeal the grades. Rather, the state is still figuring out how to assess them because they don’t fall under a typical K-8 or 9-12 configuration, he said.

That’s another flaw with the data released by the board – it makes no distinction between schools that are “under review” because they appealed their grades or those still being reviewed by the state.

Several of the schools in the Great Hearts Academies network also show as “under review,” though the charter operator has only appealed one school’s grade, its chief innovation officer, Erik Twist, said in an email.

Twist said that any ranking system should reflect the quality of a school, but it’s “glaringly apparent” the formula as it stands today does not do that.

For example, Twist said, a Great Hearts site in Glendale scored well above the top 10 percent in the state on AzMERIT in the past year, but the formula gave the school a C.

“This is absurd! Any school that has proficient and highly proficient students and keeps them at that level year over year, as our Glendale school does, should be recognized as an A school,” he said.

The charters publicly criticizing the system, coupled with the discontent overall on the scores and the board’s rollout of them, will likely pull weight at the Capitol for changes to the grading methodology.

Thomas of the AEA said the problems could be ironed out in short order if all the stakeholders, brought together by the Legislature, got into a room and discussed the proper way to assess students. And it’s vital that the grading system get fixed soon, he said.

“We have to see this moment as a moment of correction. It is absolutely broken,” he said.

Indeed, the myriad issues and complaints people have brought up with the A-F system mean the Legislature will have to dive back into the issue and try to make it right, Allen said. She wants to hold a hearing and listen to what all stakeholders have to say, then come up with a better path.

“I think we have not hit it right. I think it’s flawed. My goal was to make it to where every school would have the possibility of becoming an A school,” she said, adding that the new system doesn’t do that.

The board needs to “go back to the drawing table” and figure out a way to measure and analyze metrics that parents and schools care about in a way that allows for the uniqueness of schools, she said. And she questioned whether any A-F system would really be able to do that.

Night clubs, bars in state’s sights as businesses reopen

Deposit Photo
Deposit Photo

Two state agencies are scouting Old Town Scottsdale and Mill Avenue in Tempe for businesses that violate restrictions enacted to prevent further COVID-19 spread. 

The Department of Liquor Licenses and Control has been conducting its own investigations into bars and nightclubs it suspects would not comply with the waiver they signed in order to partially reopen. Three nightclubs over the final weekend in August got their licenses suspended. 

Daniel Ruiz, the state’s chief operating officer, said the Department of Liquor did surveillance as soon as the bars opened on August 27. Local police and the Department of Health Services conducted their own investigations into the same locations. 

“We know from previous events which locations are likely to evolve into congregation, some dancing and some craziness,” Ruiz said about Old Town Scottsdale and Mill Avenue. “They [the Department of Liquor] were actually out there on [August 28] and were monitoring some of these locations and discovered what we ultimately believe should lead to a closure for two bars in Scottsdale.” 

The health department and liquor department issued notices of closure for noncompliance and liquor license suspensions respectively for three locations in the first weekend the businesses were allowed to be open due to Maricopa County reaching moderate spread of COVID-19. 

The two Scottsdale bars — Bottled Blonde and Casa Amigos — are owned by the family of Gov. Doug Ducey’s senior health policy adviser, Christina Corieri. The third bar, in Tempe, is Glow Shots.

Ducey and DHS Director Cara Christ pointed to bars in these locations as likely top contributors to the spiking cases in June, Arizona’s worst month for the virus. The spiking cases resulted in Ducey and Christ shutting down all bars and night clubs with a series 6 or 7 liquor license, but restaurants that served alcohol could remain open for dine-in. They issued a metric-based system following a judge’s order on how to safely reopen gyms, bars, water parks and indoor theaters. 

Christ said bars were being forced to close for various reasons, including not following social distance guidelines, dancing, having patrons not seated at tables and not serving food. The benchmarks from the state laid out clearly state that bars could only open with the promise they would operate as dine-in restaurants and each location that opened signed a waiver promising to operate as such.

The bars can now only reopen once DHS thinks it’s safe, and the license suspensions are indefinite. 

“Continued defiance … is unlawful, will result in legal action and may result in the imposition of any and all available civil and criminal penalties,” the agency notice displayed on the bars’ entrance reads. That notice from DHS and a notice of the license suspension were posted on all three properties. 

The summarily suspension is different from a full license revocation, since bars (and other license holders) can go through a process to get their licenses back. If the license were revoked, the bars “generally” cannot get it back, the Department of Liquor told Arizona Capitol Times in June.

Before bars — and other businesses covered under Ducey’s executive order — were allowed to partially reopen once the counties reached moderate (or minimal) spread, they could apply through an attestation process to DHS to reopen earlier.

The state previously denied Bottled Blonde’s application to reopen before Maricopa County met the appropriate benchmarks for partial reopening. Casa Amigos and Glow Shots did not apply to reopen earlier.

Outside of seeing violations in person, Ruiz said the department relies on social media posts to ferret out the bad actors. 

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, said other bars were voluntarily starting to close after learning about the locations that the state was closing. 

As of August 28, DHS had received nearly 1,100 complaints from various avenues. Christ said 25% of those were invalid complaints and another 25% did not regard businesses covered under the executive order.

DHS installed a complaint hotline where anybody could call about noncompliance. It’s still unclear who tipped off the health department, but a spokesman for DHS said it was an anonymous tip through the online tracker.

“We worked with the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, which was onsite the night before the closure notices were issued, observed the activity, and physically closed down the establishments,” communications director Steve Elliott said. “(Department of Liquor) suspension of their license occurred prior to our notice of closure. However, ADHS has authority through the executive orders, emergency order, and the attestation signed by the establishments to enforce the public health requirements.”

Investigations from the agencies are expected to continue as more businesses begin to reopen and more counties reach moderate spread of the coronavirus. 


Once a top priority, liability measure flounders

In this file photo, a flag flies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Congress has a measure to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits, but has yet to act on it, and Gov. Doug Ducey is content to wait on the federal measure rather than call the state Legislature into special session to pass liability legislation. PHOTO COURTESY ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL
In this file photo, a flag flies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Congress has a measure to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits, but has yet to act on it, and Gov. Doug Ducey is content to wait on the federal measure rather than call the state Legislature into special session to pass liability legislation. PHOTO COURTESY ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL

Republican lawmakers and business lobbyists who described protecting businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits as their top legislative priority are waiting on Congress to act after months of being unable to reach a deal on a state-specific bill. 

Federal lawmakers aren’t expected to return to Washington until after Labor Day on September 7, and how long it will take to pass legislation on civil liability — or any other parts of the next COVID-19 relief package — is unknown, as the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have been at an impasse since early this summer.

In the meantime, business interests are eager to see action on a civil liability measure, whether from Congress or from the Arizona Legislature in a special session. No Arizona businesses have yet reported lawsuits from employees or patrons who contracted COVID-19, but actions have been filed across the country and schools and businesses have reopened with waivers asking patrons to sign away their right to sue. 

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor said quick legislative action to provide broader protections for businesses will help them reopen safely. 

“The reason we were considering some sort of action in a special session and why we believe it’s important for Congress to act is because you want to encourage businesses that are good actors to reopen with confidence and not be looking over their shoulder constantly in fear of predatory lawsuits,” he said. “Action and clarity sooner rather than later would be preferable, but there’s never a bad time for good policies.” 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Lawmakers adjourned in May with the expectation that they would be back in a special session in a matter of weeks to address the damage the COVID-19 pandemic and associated business shutdowns did to the budget, and to pass a bill protecting businesses from lawsuits that GOP drafters assumed needed just a little fine-tuning. 

Nearly four months later, fiscal fears appear to have been unfounded: state budget analysts announced last week that the state ended fiscal year 2020 with a positive balance of $377 million instead of the projected shortfall of $190 million, and they now estimate the total deficit at the end of fiscal year 2021 will be just $62 million — a far cry from the $1 billion deficit budget analysts feared at the start of the pandemic. 

And the liability measure still doesn’t have the support it would need to pass even if Gov. Doug Ducey agreed to call lawmakers back to a special session.

Republican lawmakers have left drafting the bill up to a single senator, Vince Leach of SaddleBrooke. Leach has not returned calls or texts throughout the summer – when the Arizona Capitol Times caught up with him in person last week he said only that he had nothing new to report. 

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry has played a coordinating role in helping Leach draft his version of a liability measure, which Taylor and chamber lobbyist Courtney Coolidge said smoothed out wrinkles in a version of the bill drafted by Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, that was shared with lawmakers near the end of the regular session but never formally introduced.

“They’re fairly similar in the sense that they don’t cover gross negligence,” Coolidge said. “The Leach bill does have provisions to help with our health care providers to provide liability coverage for them, which the Farnsworth bill did not.”

Vince Leach
Vince Leach

Requiring plaintiffs to prove “gross negligence” means people who contract COVID-19 while working, shopping or studying at a business, nonprofit agency, church or school would have to meet a much higher burden of proof than someone who sues after falling and injuring themselves. 

Liability language included in draft legislation introduced by U.S. Senate Republicans would go even further, requiring plaintiffs to list all other places they visited and people they were in contact with for the 14 days before the onset of symptoms and explain why each of those people or places didn’t cause the disease. 

Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato said liability legislation is a pressing issue, particularly in the context of reopening schools. However, the Governor’s Office doesn’t plan to call lawmakers back to pass a liability measure. 

“In the immediate, we’d like these liability issues addressed at the federal level,” Scarpinato said. “At this point, there’s no special session on the horizon, but some of this can be done retroactively.”

Ducey’s office will work with lawmakers next session on a liability bill if Congress hasn’t taken action, Scarpinato said. But waiting until January could mean the executive branch would have to deal with a House, Senate or both in the control of Democrats — who haven’t been invited to participate in crafting liability bills. Democrats are saying they would be open to voting for such a measure if they had a hand in drafting it and could ensure it protected businesses acting in good faith from frivolous lawsuits while not providing legal cover to businesses flagrantly flouting safety regulations.

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said he had an initial conversation with Leach about the measure right before lawmakers adjourned sine die but hasn’t heard anything since. Democrats can’t vote for a bill if they’re not involved in crafting it, he said. 

“Any time you want support from the other side of the aisle, the other side of the aisle has to have as much time invested into that legislation as the other side, and that goes for verbiage too,” he said. “So, if that’s something that somebody really wants to do, everyone needs to be there at the drafting from start to finish.”


Plans for plentiful spending turn to ‘skinny budget’ nearly overnight

The Second Regular Session of the 54th Legislature is a tale of riches to rags.

What began six months ago with optimism – about a strong economy, the possibility for the fulfillment of promises to educators, perhaps even bipartisanship – ended in confusion and disarray.

A global pandemic sidelined legislative priorities, doused the economy in ice water and inflamed existing divisions within and between the two parties.

But one thing remained constant, providing an even drumbeat to an uneven session that helped to guide rapidly changing priorities: reports from legislative budget analysts. These dense, occasionally arcane documents help tell a story of a unique legislative session and provide context to decisions that now feel very far removed from the present.

The release of reports from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee – and its sisters, the Joint Committee on Capitol Review and the Finance Advisory Committee – guided priorities throughout the session, and map closely to the seismic shift in those priorities as the coronavirus pandemic worsened.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. Since its establishment in 1966 to help lawmakers analyze and understand budget proposals from the Governor’s Office, JLBC has served as a lodestar for the Legislature. But its role in setting political agendas this session was outsized.

Take, for example, the budget reports released at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. In late December, JLBC released its monthly fiscal highlights for the prior month. That November, tax collections were 11.5% higher than the previous year, a reflection of the state’s “strong economic conditions.” Wages were up by 6.7%, the highest total increase since before the Great Recession, outpacing national wage growth.

In January, JLBC chief Richard Stavneak told lawmakers that an economic recession wasn’t likely until at least 2023. The committee predicted that the state would have almost $700 million to spend on a one-time basis. The state, at this point, was among the fastest growing in the country, and had an unemployment rate in the basement: only 3.6%.

At this juncture, the priorities of the fledgling legislative session were beginning to emerge. Budget proposals from Gov. Doug Ducey and legislative Republicans would soon take place. The big concern then was that the state might have too much money. Proposals emerged for massive tax cuts – Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Republican from Chandler, wanted to cut taxes by as much as $400 million over three years, repealing a highway safety fee in the process.

An estimated revenue of $12.5 billion allowed policymakers to dream big: tax credits and cuts, fulfillment of a promise to restore District Additional Assistance for public schools, and Ducey wanted another $25 million in the Rainy Day Fund.

Democrats, of course, saw things differently, and wanted to use the state’s overflowing coffers to boost social programs. Their “people’s budget,” as it was dubbed, assumed a tax credit repeal in order to spend heavily on schools, infrastructure and housing, a long-neglected line-item.

But things changed, and quickly. After a couple months of bickering over whether to cut taxes and whether to limit sex education, COVID-19 hit. Worldwide, fast-paced economies ground to a halt. Tourism declined precipitously. Suddenly, revenues that once seemed certain now hung in the balance.

In late March, JLBC released monthly fiscal highlights. The report shows two versions of the state’s economy. In the Arizona that existed in February, things were ho-hum. Sales tax collections were 10% above the previous year, and $18.7 million above forecast. But with that, analysts warned that revenues “will change considerably in the near future” due to the still-worsening pandemic.

By that point, much of the priorities of the session had melted away. Tax cuts now were off the table. Almost all legislative priorities not directly related to spending and saving were set aside, including many that had already made it through their chamber of origin – a sore spot for conservatives who felt the so-called experts were overstating the seriousness of the virus.

And lawmakers passed a “skinny budget” with substantially diminished spending that aimed to keep the state’s agencies afloat in case things went south.

The state’s budget analysts would take on a different role, becoming a one-stop shop for the doom and gloom of the coronavirus era – as well as breaking down the influx of federal and state coronavirus aid. JLBC even tried its hand at virus modeling, predicting deaths from the pandemic at a time when not even Ducey would give hard numbers. In April, the Finance Advisory Committee met, and sent shivers down the spine of the Capitol.

Analysts predicted that the state’s cash shortfall could reach as high as $1.1 billion by the end of the 2021 fiscal year. Retail, restaurants, auto sales, travel were all set to decline even further, analysts said. If it seemed bad now, just wait, they warned.

But this put lawmakers in a tricky position. These numbers were still provisional, and legislators wanted more certainty before committing to a path forward – likely, a special session to right the ship. Now, all eyes were on the committee once more.

But again, this wouldn’t hold. Though lawmakers had come to treat a special session as an inevitability, whispers began circulating that it wouldn’t actually materialize. Perhaps the $11.8 billion skinny budget was enough; perhaps the economy wasn’t that bad after all.

Indeed, JLBC’s May revenue estimates were auspicious, sort of. They were $163 million more than predicted, largely due in part to April sales tax revenues that exceeded expectations. The tourism industry was decimated, but only made up a relatively small part of collections.

Now, the big question is whether this holds. On June 19, the analysts will release a full budget report for the fiscal year, one that will provide needed clarity on the direction of the state’s economy. It’ll be a blockbuster event, of a sort, as lawmakers have been pointing to this report for weeks as the one that will provide the best idea yet of whether they need to take further steps to balance the books.

One key factor has changed. Whereas the state’s COVID-19 cases were relatively low for much of the year, they’ve now skyrocketed, the result of boosted testing, a reopened economy and mass protests over police brutality. There may not be much else to do.

“The ‘skinny budget’ was viewed by many as a worst-case scenario,” Ducey chief of staff Daniel Scarpinato told the Yellow Sheet Report in March. “It’s possible it could be more of a best-case scenario.”

Pressure mounts on Ducey to use benchmarks for school openings

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman at a press conference about COVID-19 earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman at a press conference about COVID-19 earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Pressure is building on Gov. Doug Ducey to scrap the idea of setting a firm date for students to be back in classrooms.

There is increasing consensus among some education and health officials that Arizona would be better served by spelling out the conditions under which in-school instruction could be considered safe – or at least less risky. That means establishing “metrics” to consider rates of infection and spread and how fast schools can get test results.

All this comes against the backdrop of the governor having set an “aspirational” start date for in-classroom learning of August 17. Ducey is expected to provide his latest projections for restarting in-person instruction at a July 23 press conference.

Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said his boss is working with educational officials and shares their goal of safely reopening schools “at the appropriate time.” And he indicated that Ducey was not necessarily opposed to some sort of metrics as well as providing flexibility to school districts.

But he said the issue needs to be kept in perspective.

Daniel Scarpinato
Daniel Scarpinato

“Schools are, if there is an essential service, they are the most essential service,” Scarpinato said. “We need to be thinking about how we best educate students and provide structured learning environments during a pandemic, which is not ending anytime soon.”

That, he said, does include digital and online learning “and how to do it right.” But Scarpinato said there need to be “options for students who have no place else to go, whose parents work, who may have special needs.”

The latest push for metrics comes from state schools chief Kathy Hoffman.

“School leaders should be empowered to work with local public health officials to examine data and determine when it’s safe to reopen for in-person learning, rather than relying solely on dates,” she said in a new memo. And Hoffman has some specific ideas of what should be measured.

For example, she wants a downward trajectory of confirmed new cases of COVID-19. Hoffman also wants the positivity rates for testing – the percentage of tests for the virus that show an active case – to go down.

And Hoffman said schools need not just widespread testing but “timely results.”

“I want students back in our classrooms because that’s the best place for learning and growing,” she wrote. “However, we cannot ask schools to make decisions that will impact their teachers’ and students’ health and safety without first providing them with the necessary public health data and funding to make safe decisions.”

That funding reference relates to a separate call for the state to provide the same dollars on a per-student basis for all youngsters, whether districts decide to provide full-time classroom instruction, full-time at home, or some sort of hybrid.

Current law sets aid as low as 85% in some of these cases. And with average aid at about $5,300 a year, that can reduce state funding by close to $800 a year for each remotely-taught youngster.

Multiply that times the number of students being taught at home, full or part time, and it means a real hit to affected districts. Hoffman said that’s not acceptable.

“Distance learning costs to schools are high,” she said.

“Many public schools already have invested considerably in technology, online learning platforms, and other tools needed during distance learning,” she said. “Students need access to services that support their well-being and academic success across multiple scenarios and conditions during a pandemic.”

And if nothing else, Hoffman said school districts need the kind of “flexibility and budget stability” from a set state-aid figure.

On the issue of metrics, aides to the state school superintendent declined to say what specific figures of declining rates or testing she believes would show that the virus is finally under control.

But that was not a problem for Sheila Harrison-Williams, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association.

In her own letter to Ducey, she said that schools should not reopen for in-class instruction until the number of COVID cases has been on a downward trend for at least 28 days. Ditto, she said, on the rate of positive tests.

And Harrison-Williams said that those positivity rates need to be no greater than 15% for 14 consecutive days – and that the median time for test results should be no more than three days.

Will Humble
Will Humble

Even Will Humble, the former state health director, has some specific benchmarks.

Most significant, he said, would be an 80% of case and contact tracing completed within 96 hours of sample collection. He, too, wants a “consistent” reduction in new COVID cases in the community.

Humble said that setting these metrics and doing so in a public way has a bonus effect.

“It gives the community something to work for together,” he said, taking the steps necessary to meet the goals and get kids back in the classroom.

There are signs that the infection rate is decreasing – at least on a statewide basis.

Data from the Department of Health Services shows the state hit a peak of 5,411 confirmed cases on June 29. But state health officials caution that delays in getting data mean that the numbers for the past seven to 10 days are subject to change.

Positivity is a different story. Over the past week, nearly one out of every four tests confirmed infection, compared with just 8.5% nationally.

Christine Severance, a family medical physician in Phoenix, said even that national rate is too high to ensure safe operation of schools. She said the original guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization set a target of less than 5% positivity.

Severance, who is coordinating efforts with Save Our Schools Arizona, said that’s only part of the equation. What’s also needed, she said, is both adequate testing and prompt results.

“What we’re seeing right now is a lag time in test results of almost two weeks,” Severance said. “That’s just too much because people feel they can’t miss work while they wait for those two weeks to pass to find out if they’re positive or negative.”

Prison health care case shaping up for years of litigation


Chick Arnold set out to do one thing when he filed the historic lawsuit that bears his name: compel the state to provide services for the seriously mentally ill as mandated by law.

He accomplished that mission after 33 years of litigation.

Arizona saw seven governors come and go in that time, and another case that addresses a forgotten population – prisoners and their health care – began.

Arnold’s 1981 case was simple. He said the state was not providing services as dictated by legislation passed in 1979. The state did not deny that, but claimed there simply was not enough money to meet everyone’s needs.

Arnold compared his role in the process to Columbo, the fictional TV detective whose seeming absent-mindedness masked his shrewdness.

“I sort of walk in and scratch my head and say, ‘So, what’s the problem here?’”

The problem in the case was that a pattern emerged that caused it to drag on for so long.

The court would issue an order requiring the state to do something. The defendants, which originally included the Arizona Department of Health Services and Maricopa County, would commit to comply – but didn’t. The plaintiffs would file a motion for contempt. The defendants would respond with a corrective action plan, and the court would approve it before the whole cycle started over.

And now, Arnold said, the same thing is happening in the Parsons v. Ryan prison health care case.


Parsons lacks a Columbo like Arnold, who became the plaintiff in Arnold v. Sarn as the court-appointed guardian for people who were entitled to services by law but who weren’t receiving them.

Parsons was filed in 2012 and settled in 2014, yet litigation continues. It is fueled by the private contractor Corizon and the Arizona Department of Corrections’ continued failure to fully comply with 103 performance measures.

Those performance measures dictate best practices, such as ensuring there be no lapse in chronic medication renewals, and were agreed upon by the parties, including Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan and Assistant Director Richard Pratt.

“Presumably, they didn’t promise to do things that they thought were impossible,” said plaintiffs’ attorney David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project.

To terminate court-ordered monitoring of those measures, the state must show compliance in 18 out of the previous 24 months without three consecutive months of noncompliance within that time.

But the case is based on a “fuzzy” constitutional question, Arnold said.

Whereas his case could point to a statute with specific obligations of the state, he said there is no such statute laying out exactly what the Department of Corrections must do to care for prisoners.

Instead, the court has been asked to essentially advocate for the improvement of services.

He said this is the core of Parsons’ unfortunate similarities to Arnold v Sarn. The state is required to provide medical care to its prisoners, and an outside advocate such as the ACLU had to come in to ensure that obligation was being met.

But the court is limited in what it can do to advance that interest.

“It lasts forever because the court doesn’t want to let go, yet they can’t fund it,” Arnold said.

And in Parsons, the fuzziness has opened the door to criticism lobbed against recently retired U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan, who has been accused by various people on the state’s side as exercising bias.

Duncan drew criticism through the course of increasingly sharp admonishments against the state as he grew more frustrated.

His grandiose sermons from the bench were punctuated with threats of contempt charges and monetary sanctions – threats that materialized in an order for nearly $1.4 million to be paid for noncompliance with 10 performance measures.

The state has said it will appeal Duncan’s order, a detour that will likely take months to resolve.

Charles "Chick" Arnold
Charles “Chick” Arnold

Arnold’s recollection of the judge who oversaw most of his case bore striking similarities. He said Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bernard Dougherty quickly became “quite energetic in his advocacy.”

But after 25 years on the case, Dougherty, like Duncan, retired.

And from there, Arnold said, the court was not as energetically involved. That left the parties to get more creative to continue in the right direction.

“It was time,” he said.

It was time for the case to find a champion within the state, something he said the Parsons case is lacking.


Picture it: The governor locked in a warm embrace with the plaintiff in a case against the state, having just recognized the value of that legal challenge.

This was not a scene playing out between Gov. Doug Ducey and Victor Parsons, the titular plaintiff in Parsons v. Ryan.

This was former Gov. Jane Hull embracing Chick Arnold.

A defendant in the case at the time, Hull had actually gone to court for a contempt hearing, Arnold recalled. So had then-Health Services Director Ted Williams, who Arnold said brought a toothbrush with him in case he’d have to spend the night in jail.

Hull was not the only governor to see eye-to-eye with Arnold.

Former Gov. Jan Brewer made the case a priority and shepherded it to a conclusion that included enhanced services for about 19,000 people in Maricopa County alone and another 7,000 to 8,000 people across the state.

In part, Arnold said, that came from a willingness by everyone involved to admit they could not do it all for everyone, that there were “priority clients.”

“The advocacy had to be like ‘The Price is Right’ – the closest without going over,” he said.

In Parsons, though the performance measures exist, the parties do not share a common goal line.

And there is no one like Brewer to bring the case home.

She, of course, had her personal reasons for getting involved.

Arnold said Brewer had a family member with mental illness. She was especially sensitized to what was at stake in the case and what those services meant to the people who needed them.

Ducey, he said, does not likely have the kind of coincidental experience in the Parsons context. But that doesn’t mean he cannot make a difference.

“Of course, the governor could be more assertive in trying to confront the issues that are problematic in getting that case resolved,” Arnold said.

After all, Ducey was the one who appointed Charles Ryan, and he could be the one to remove him.

Ducey’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In a text to the Arizona Capitol Times on June 29, spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said, “We just don’t really have anything new to say right now.”

Ducey was asked about Ryan at an event on July 11, however. The governor responded with praise for the director and a jab at Duncan, who left the bench on June 22 due to health challenges following a series of strokes.

“I have complete confidence in Charles Ryan,” Ducey told reporters, “and I think that we’re going to have our agency directors run our agencies, not judges.”

The Department of Corrections declined to comment, too, and another request for comment went unreturned from attorney Daniel Struck, whose firm Struck Love Bojanowski & Acedo has been hired to represent the state to the tune of at least $1.9 million as of last July.

Their silence on the issue and the governor’s is indicative of a significant obstacle.

“The people at the health department always wanted to do the right thing,” Arnold said. “They were sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ efforts. I don’t see that in Parsons.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Fathi said the case could come to a close very soon – “if the state would fix its obviously broken health care system.”

“But it seems more interested in fighting in court than in fixing the problems that are obvious and plain for all to see,” Fathi said. “The case will end eventually, but probably no time soon.”

Arnold sees a bitterness in Parsons that was never present in his case. And even without that negative energy, Arnold went on for more than three decades.

Ultimately, he said, reason prevailed.

But Parsons has gone beyond reason.

“There is room for wiggle, and that creates room for too aggressive advocacy,” Arnold said. “And that’s a fatal impediment. The case will never resolve so long as the lawyers bring that kind of energy to the case.”

Fathi said he’s been working on cases like Parsons across the country for more than 20 years, and Parsons is “an extreme outlier” in terms of the hostility exhibited by the state and its counsel.

Typically, he said, when two sides reach a settlement, there is agreement that something is broken and that they must work together toward a safe solution.

In this case, it hasn’t worked that way.

“There has been litigation over every little thing, every little word in the settlement agreement. And that has been counterproductive,” Fathi said. “That’s unfortunate for, first and foremost, the prisoners who are at the mercy of a broken system. It’s unfortunate for the taxpayers of Arizona who are paying the private law firm millions of dollars. It’s unfortunate for everyone. And it doesn’t have to be this way.”

PTA group withdraws support from Ducey’s teacher pay hike plan

Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, explains Monday that while a proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey for a 19 percent pay hike for teachers is not perfect, accepting it keeps the door open for future negotiations. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, explains Monday that while a proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey for a 19 percent pay hike for teachers is not perfect, accepting it keeps the door open for future negotiations. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Calling the governor’s plan not sustainable, the Arizona PTA has withdrawn its backing for Gov. Doug Ducey’s teacher pay hike plan.

Beth Simek, the organization’s president, told Capitol Media Services this afternoon that her own research shows there is no way Ducey can finance both the pay raise and restoration of capital funding without cutting the budget for other needed programs. And Simek said she believes some of what the governor plans to slice could end up hurting the very children her organization is working to protect.

The change of heart comes just two days after Simek stood with the Arizona School Boards Association and other school groups to give their blessing to Ducey’s proposal.

Potentially more significant, one purpose of that press conference was to convince teachers to vote against a strike. And her new decision comes even as teachers are voting through today on whether to walk out.

And what is her message to teachers now?

“If they feel like they cannot afford in their personal financial household to walk out, then they should follow their heart,” Simek said. “If they feel they can afford this, or that it’s something they feel morally strongly about, then they should follow their heart and walk out.”

Simek said that she was not given all the relevant information about how Ducey plans to finance his plan when the governor first asked for support. So, what she did was strike out on her own and gather as much in specifics as she could from various other sources, including other state agencies.

Most crucial, she said, are the cuts being made elsewhere in the budget.

For example, Simek said, Ducey’s plan cuts $2.9 million that had been allocated for skilled nursing services in both the state Medicaid program and the Department of Economic Security. Also gone is $1.8 million aid for “critical access hospitals” and $4 million that the governor had proposed in additional dollars for the developmentally disabled.

“We can’t support that,” Simek said. “That hurts kids and it hurts families.”

The governor’s plan also cuts back $2 million in arts funding, which arts advocates say would decimate grants that fund programs that benefit pupils.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said nothing in the plan actually reduces existing funds. Instead, he said, this is simply Ducey deciding not to add money to these programs.

Simek, for her part, said she’s not convinced that deciding not to add those dollars – dollars that originally had been proposed as necessary – will not harm children.

More to the point, Simek said none of this was disclosed to her when she was asked to support Ducey’s plan.

State Board of Education will reconsider new school grading system

Tim Carter, president of the State Board of Education, explains the apparent problems Monday in the new grading system for schools. Listening is Diane Douglas, the superintendent of public instruction, who also serves on the board. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Tim Carter, president of the State Board of Education, explains the apparent problems Monday in the new grading system for schools. Listening is Diane Douglas, the superintendent of public instruction, who also serves on the board. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Facing a barrage of questions and criticism, the State Board of Education voted Monday to take another look at its new system for grading schools.

The unanimous vote means that some schools which found themselves with preliminary grades of D and F could move up. That’s important because parents use these grades to make decisions about where to send their children to school.

It could also means more A grades. That, in turn, has financial implications, with those schools eligible for additional state dollars.

But a revamp may not create all positive results, with some schools potentially finding out that they are not performing as well — at least by state standards — as they had initially been told.

The move came amid questions about whether the data used to give out grades ranging from A to F is accurate. There also were issues raised about whether information was properly coded.

But many of the problems appear to be associated with the board’s decision on how much weight to give student improvement versus actual achievement.

That was inserted in a bid to ensure that lower-performing schools in high poverty areas had a chance to get high grades because their students were improving. But officials from some higher performing schools said that’s not fair to them because their students already were scoring at the peak and therefore have nowhere to go — and no way to earn improvement points.

What may be worse is that grading plan may not have produced the desired results.

Board member Patricia Welborn said an analysis she did shows that among schools where 70 percent or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, fewer than 5 percent earned an A grade. Conversely, a quarter were rated D or F.

At the other extreme, she said, more than 54 percent of schools with fewer than 30 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches earned an A; 90 percent were rated A or B.

And there were no schools earning an F.

“I’m very concerned that one of the fundamental rules that we intended not to happen has happened,” she told her colleagues. She wants a special Technical Assistance Committee being formed to look at the results to take a closer look to find out why that happened.

“Is there something we can tweak in our calculation that would remove this influence?” she continued. “I’m really concerned that we have too few high-poverty schools that are represented in the top areas.”

And then there are problems with schools that the system wasn’t designed to handle.

In essence, the grading is based on one set of standards for K-8 schools and another for 9-12.

But a tearful Mary Jo Mulligan, principal of the Thunderbolt Middle School in Lake Havasu City, said the decision to squeeze her school of 900 seventh and eighth graders into that system resulted in it getting an F, the only one in the county. Before this, she told board members, it had never been rated less than a B.

“I’m not here to make excuses,” she said.

But Mulligan detailed the things she believes a grading system should take into account that apparently didn’t matter, ranging from a high attendance rate and high school safety to eight exploratory classes that lead to high school career and technical education pathways as well as advanced classes in English, science and algebra.

And she said her seventh graders met the state average test scores in English language arts and exceeded those scores in math.

Tim Carter, president of the state board, said the complaints are in many ways not a surprise.

“All of us knew going in that with a new grading system, based on all you’ve heard today, that issues were going to arise,” he told his colleagues. Carter said that’s part of the reason that the grades that were made public earlier this month were determined to be preliminary, with the potential they can be changed.

The problems with the grading system are being monitored by aides to Gov. Doug Ducey.

It was Ducey who put $38 million into the budget for this year to be divided up among high-performing schools.

This year it was parceled out based on scores on the AzMERIT standardized tests. But the plan for next year is to use those grades.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss wants to make sure the money is going where it was designed — and that the final grading system approved by the board does that.

“Some of his priorities are that it’s something that certainly takes into account the very different nature of some schools and that we find a way to objectively identify which schools are doing well and which ones need improvement,” he said.

And Scarpinato said the findings linking grades to poverty underline why “getting the formula right” is important.

“A school that may be dealing with a unique population, a unique issue, might have very high poverty issues, that the model is taking that into account so that we can truly understand what’s happening there,” he said.

But Scarpinato said his boss is having no second thoughts about providing financial incentives to high-performing schools — assuming the formula truly identifies them — because the funds can be used for everything from bonuses for teachers to helping a charter school expand to accommodate more children.

Charter schools have their own concerns.

Eileen Sigmund, president of the Arizona Charter School Association, told board members more than half those schools didn’t get a grade, some of that because of their own non-traditional grade configurations. And those that did, she said, ended up with “significantly different” scores than last year.

Sigmund blames much of that on the new grading formula putting more emphasis on improvement than academic achievement. The result, she said, is schools whose students already are performing at maximum levels are penalized because they don’t get points for improvement.

Carter said that issue of grading schools with “non-traditional grade configurations” goes beyond the fact that there are middle schools that do not fit the grading system. Carter said he has seen, for example, districts with K-5 elementary schools and high schools with students in grades 6-12.

There’s even one with all 12 grades in a single school. All that, Carter said, is within the legitimate power of local school boards.

Then there’s the question of data, specifically schools claiming one set of numbers and a different set being used by the Department of Education to compute grades.

“I’m not pointing fingers anyplace,” Carter said. “I don’t think that does us any good.”

But he said those numbers, including things like graduation rates, are important because they can make a significant difference in the grade a school gets.

A related issue, he said, is how those numbers were put into the grading system.

“If there are coding issues and they’re widespread, that is something we’re going to have to deal with,” he said.

State employees, retirees will pay for health insurance trust sweeps

Arizona state employees will pay higher premiums and copays for health insurance next year, and some lawmakers say funding sweeps approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature are partly to blame.

Employees and state retirees were notified September 18 that their insurance premiums will increase effective January 1, the first hike in employee’s insurance payments since 2011, according to a memo from the Arizona Department of Administration. Copays are also increasing for some services, while chiropractic care and certain therapy services will now be classified as specialist care, requiring co-pay hikes of $25 more per visit.

Premium hikes will cost an average of $151.32 more annually for state employees, an expense ADOA officials say is necessary given “skyrocketing” health care costs that have endangered the solvency of a trust fund that pays the costs of employee’s medical and dental claims, according to the memo.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which was briefed on September 6 of the department’s decision to raise insurance costs, opposes the plan, as some argued that funding sweeps are truly to blame for the Health Insurance Trust Fund’s financial woes.

Since 2011, the Arizona Legislature has approved budgets that swept roughly $275 million from the trust fund under then-Gov. Jan Brewer and the first two years of Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration, according to legislative budget analysts.

That would have, at least for now, more than covered projected deficits for the trust fund, Rep. Mark Cardenas said.

Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix)
Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix)

“The employee’s health insurance fund has been the Legislature’s personal piggy bank for the last eight years,” the Phoenix Democrat said.

The most recent sweep, $78.9 million approved in Ducey’s second year in office, was the largest of six consecutive years of dollars swept from the trust fund to the state’s general fund to help balance the budget.

The Health Insurance Trust Fund is financed by insurance premiums paid by state employees and various state agencies, which as employers cover 90 percent of state workers’ health care costs.

Sweeping those funds to cover costs elsewhere in the state budget has now come at the expense of state’s 60,000 insured employees and retirees, said Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa.

The adjustment for current employees ranges from a low of $48.10 to $301.08 annually.

The cost to retirees is even higher, since they pay 100 percent of their premiums. For instance, for those not on Medicare, premiums will jump from a low of $711.60 annually for a retiree-only plan, while family plans will increase as much as $2,636.40 annually.

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

“When the Legislature sweeps the fund over and over again, and then we come back and we have a crisis, we refund the fund on the backs of state employees,” Farnsworth said. “I don’t think that’s right.”

As a Republican lawmaker, Farnsworth is responsible for voting for some of those funding sweeps since he began serving in the Senate in 2013. Rep. Don Shooter, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, acknowledged that wounds to the Health Insurance Trust Fund are in part inflicted by lawmakers, and in the future, lawmakers must cease sweeping those funds.

“We kind’ve dug a hole, which now we’re living with,” the Yuma Republican said.

However, Shooter said he doesn’t regret voting for budgets that included those sweeps. While “it doesn’t take a genius” to realize that six consecutive years of funding sweeps wasn’t sustainable, Shooter said that budgets are never perfect, and the sweeps were necessary to secure budget deals in the past.

Ducey Spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said that the sweeps weren’t done lightly, and that the money was put to good use.

“The state was in a real bind during the recession, and continued to be when we took office in 2015,” Scarpinato said. “There were some difficult choices made. I think it was a good thing that we limited layoffs and drastic cuts, or more drastic cuts, to certain areas that would have really had a detrimental impact, (rather) than to just let cash sit around.”

State lawmakers already acknowledged problems with the Health Insurance Trust Fund earlier this year, when they approved a $75 million cash infusion as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget. But that was not enough, and now the only way to make the Health Insurance Trust Fund whole again is to stop future funding sweeps and to raise premiums, Shooter said.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez (D- Yuma)
Rep. Charlene Fernandez (D- Yuma)

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D- Yuma, said hiking premiums wasn’t the only option. The Legislature could have continued to appropriate money to support the trust fund, and found other areas in the budget – Democrats have long proposed taking a closer look at the state’s multitude of tax credits, and letting some expire – to pay for it.

That option would have held state employees harmless from the Legislature’s errors, she said.

Memos to state employees and retirees note some benefits to the adjustments to insurance plans, including making preventative care free – under current plans, employees still paid a copay for routine checkups. The state has also sought to make the cost of care competitive compared to other government entities and the private sector, Scarpinato said. In years when the trust fund was considered healthy enough to sweep from, employees were sometimes given holidays from paying premiums, and in 2016, premiums were lowered for some employees and retirees he said.

“I think you’ve seen a real effort by the state, and not just under our administration, but really all through the recession, of really avoiding any increases in premiums for our employees, and in fact at one point in time actually lowering premiums,” Scarpinato said. “That is, I think, unheard of to anyone … who doesn’t work in state government.”

ADOA officials have no say over the past sweeps of the Health Insurance Trust Fund by lawmakers. In those years, the fund did have a healthy balance, well above best practices and industry standards, according to Megan Rose, an agency spokeswoman.

In recent years, however, state officials have underestimated the rising costs of medical care, she said, an indication of how much those costs have risen.

Now, based on those same industry standards, “with the reserve that we have and we keep, and the premiums we collect, we are not able to pay the bills,” Rose said.

In a budget request submitted this month to the Governor’s Office, officials wrote that the fund would have a deficit of $219.3 million in 2019 if no changes are made to the premiums paid by employees and state agencies. With the adjustments in premiums and copays, that has been trimmed to a projected $55.6 million deficit. Rose said premiums are designed to cover all the expenses from medical and dental claims of the state’s employees and retirees. No more, no less.

“The goal of the Health Insurance Trust fund is to collect what we spend. It’s not meant to be some type of savings account,” she said.

State ironing out performance pay program for public schools

Supporters of public schools called for increased funding on April 13 at the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Supporters of public schools called for increased funding on April 13 at the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

High-performing schools got a temporary boost in state funding because of their standardized test scores, but the additional money has proven to be incredibly short-lived for some schools under Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature performance pay plan.

The $38 million results-based funding plan, pitched by Ducey in his executive budget and approved by lawmakers this year, gives schools more money if they achieve high ranks and scores.

The money is directed to be spent on teachers or expansions of successful programs and practices.

This year, the program provided nearly 300 schools that score in the top 10 percent on AzMerit tests additional money per student. Low-income schools got $400 per student if they score in the top 10 percent of all low-income schools. High-income schools received $225 per pupil if they score in the top 10 percent of all schools.

Next year and beyond, the way schools qualify for the money will change. Schools that receive A grades under the state’s new A-F accountability system will get the results-based money. The breakdown remains the same for low versus high income schools.

And that means some schools that qualified this year won’t make the grade next year, making the money the equivalent of a bonus.

The complaints about the A-F grades so far are wide-ranging, from those who say it makes it difficult for poor schools to get an A to those who say it doesn’t accurately capture schools’ successes.

And while some schools will lose out on the extra money next year, others that didn’t make the cut in the previous scoring will opt in as they achieve an A.

Of the nearly 300 schools that received extra performance pay this year, 120 schools, or 40 percent, received A grades. Overall, 258 of the state’s schools got A grades, though that number likely will increase as 169 schools are still under review for various reasons. Only one of the schools that received results-based money got an F, though six schools got a D.

Forty of the grades for schools that got results-based funding are still under review, which could either mean they appealed their grades or the state Board of Education is still deciding how to score them because they fall outside the standard K-8 or 9-12 grade configuration. Many of the schools under review are well-known charters.

That means the performance pay could theoretically go to fewer schools, stay roughly the same or increase – it all depends on how the final scores shake out, and it’s unclear when they will be finalized.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office is still analyzing how results-based funds are being used by schools this year, but anecdotally, some are using them for signing bonuses or one-time pay for teachers.

It’s unclear how schools that couldn’t be graded because of their size or their status as alternative schools could qualify for results-based funding. More than two dozen schools that received results-based funding this year fit that bill. Scarpinato said that issue will need to be addressed by the state Board of Education.

“We want to make sure that smaller schools and especially rural schools have an opportunity to qualify for these additional dollars. So I think that’s something that needs to be on the table as this process continues,” Scarpinato said.

Peter Bezanson, the CEO of BASIS charter schools, said that, while the state’s A-F letter grade database shows the majority of BASIS schools listed as “under review,” BASIS didn’t appeal any of its grades. Still, all of BASIS’s high schools received an A and most of the elementary and middle schools do as well, he said.

Sixteen of BASIS’s schools received funding under the results-based funding plan this year. Three of the 16 BASIS schools that received results-based funding this year received a B, while many of the others are still showing as “under review.”

“But even under that worst case scenario, it still wouldn’t be a devastating loss of funding for us,” he said.
Both BASIS and Great Hearts Academies, major charter school brands in Arizona, called the grading system itself into question after the grades were publicly released. The schools, known for their academic rigor, weren’t accurately measured for their success, they claimed.

The results-based funding ramifications are just a small piece of Great Hearts’ problems with the A-F grades, but the performance pay eligibility is a financially significant piece nonetheless, said Erik Twist, the schools’ chief innovation officer.

Eighteen Great Hearts schools received results-based funding this year. Of those 18, eight schools are still under review in the letter grade system. Five schools got a B and three got a C, while two received an A and will still qualify for results-based funding.

“The loss of (results-based funding) for our schools would be incredibly tough,” Twist said. “Over the past three years, we have seen about $475 per student cut from our state revenue, which equates to about a 
$6 million loss for Great Hearts network-wide. With creative solutions like Proposition 123 and (results-based funding), those revenue deficits have been lessened, but not removed.”

The group’s Glendale elementary site scored in the top 10 percent of schools statewide on AzMERIT, the statewide standardized test, Twist noted, but the new formula gave the school a C.

“For an excelling school like our Glendale campus, the loss is around $120,000, which is another 3.4 percent cut to that school’s budget. Our incredible faculty deserve more investment, not less,” Twist said.

Mesa Public Schools saw a handful of schools lose out on the funding because they didn’t receive A grades, while a few other schools now will be able to get the money because they got an A, but hadn’t scored high enough to qualify under this year’s metric, said the schools’ director of student achievement, Joe O’Reilly.

O’Reilly said the A-F grades are a well-rounded way to recognize which schools are succeeding because it looks at students’ growth and proficiency.

“How it’s calculated might be complicated, but what we expect and how we get kids to do better is pretty straightforward,” he said.

Since some of Mesa’s schools fell off the performance pay rolls and others came on, O’Reilly said it evens out financially for the district.

He said schools have understood the results-based funding is inherently temporary since it relies on school performance each year, so it shouldn’t come as a financial surprise or burden.

Top Ducey aides leave for new jobs

Daniel Scarpinato (File photo)
Daniel Scarpinato (File photo)

Two senior staffers for Gov. Doug Ducey are leaving their jobs after nearly seven years. 

Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato and Deputy Chief of Staff Gretchen Conger announced in a joint statement from the governor’s office that they would be leaving their posts with new jobs already lined up. Scarpinato who elevated to Ducey’s right hand man in late 2018 – after Ducey’s re-election – from the communications director job, will join an advertising and political consulting firm called Ascent Media as a partner.  

“Daniel has been a trusted and important part of my team since the beginning,” Ducey said in a written statement. “His leadership of our team through challenge after challenge has been critical to our success. I am beyond thankful for his dedication and service from our 2014 transition to my re-election, through COVID and the completion of our most successful legislative session to date. While Daniel is moving on, I know he will continue to have an important impact on politics and policy in this new and exciting role.” 

Scarpinato said working for Ducey was “the greatest honor of my career.”  

“Not only has the Governor been the most phenomenal boss I’ve ever had, but this team is one I’ve been so proud to be part of — dating back from day one, right up until now. They are the best,” he said.  

While Scarpinato will remain in Phoenix, his deputy will not. 

Conger will leave the office to join the campaign for Sarah Huckabee Sanders who is seeking the nomination for Arkansas governor. She will serve as a senior advisor.  

Conger, was widely viewed as the person who would become chief of staff over Scarpinato in 2018, she ended up as his deputy after serving as Ducey’s Director of Legislative Affairs before being elevated to Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Budget in 2016. 

“Gretchen has been a critical part of the team that has accomplished some of our most important initiatives and reforms, from the expansion of school choice to universal licensing to historic tax cuts,” Ducey said.  

An announcement is coming soon about who will be Ducey’s third chief of staff. 

Ducey’s first chief of staff was Kirk Adams, the former House Speaker and congressional candidate, who served in the role for four years.  

Long before joining the governor’s staff, Scarpinato dabbled in journalism. He reported for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, covering former Gov. Janet Napolitano, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid before making his way to Phoenix to become editor of Capitol Times sister publication Yellow Sheet Report. From there he worked on the unsuccessful congressional campaign for former lawmaker Jonathan Paton in 2010, became a spokesman for the Arizona House and the national press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.  

Conger was a legislative intern under Gov. Jan Brewer, worked in state government for a bit before landing a gig with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She worked there for three years before landing a job with Ducey’s Day One crew.  

Ducey only has a year and a half remaining in his final term as governor and will be the first governor since Gov. Bruce Babbitt to serve two full terms – he will just have to do so without most of his senior staff.  

Torunn Sinclair: #GOPvalues #baseball #wunderkind

Cap Times Q&A

Torunn Sinclair sits surrounded by the bare walls of her office at the Arizona Republican Party’s headquarters.

She has dropped a Diamondbacks hat atop a stack of papers, filled a faux-vintage cream vase with white and red roses from an admirer and left a John McCain sticker somewhat awkwardly placed above the door. Beyond that, the state GOP’s new communications director has had little time for decorating in the past two months.

At the old age of 24, she has carved out a place for herself in state politics as something of a social media wunderkind. She once led a successful Twitter campaign to promote her “Today Show”-themed dorm floor at Arizona State University — Matt Lauer retweeted, and Al Roker showed up to do the news live. It’s still on her resume.

She went on to work as the first digital press secretary for the Governor’s Office. And there, she got a blank slate to build momentum behind the rising stock of Gov. Doug Ducey.

Torunn Sinclair, Arizona Republican Party
Torunn Sinclair (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

You went right from college to a successful gubernatorial campaign. How?

I got really lucky. I did. I have a great mentor in Melissa DeLaney. I met her when I was an intern at the Greater Phoenix Economic Council in college. Melissa was the communications director there before she left for Governor Ducey’s campaign. I was graduating, and pretty much right when she started, she called me and was like, “Hey, do you want to come volunteer? There might be a possibility for a job.” That’s where it started. I was in the right place at the right time. I was never involved in politics in college. I grew up watching Fox News with my grandparents and my parents. We were always politically savvy, politically involved, but I had never really volunteered on a campaign before. My only experience was I phone-banked once for John McCain in 2008. But other than that, nothing. I was really thrown into the deep end, and I loved it.

Will you stay in communications, or are you thinking of running for office?

No. No, I’m not running for office. I love communications. I love PR. I actually started journalism school thinking I’d be a journalist. I did one journalism internship my first semester there, and I could not stand it. It was not for me.

While you worked for the governor, he was called the “hashtag governor.” You were primarily behind his Twitter, so what did you think of that?

He’s the first governor of Arizona that’s really had a full-time, constant social media presence. Governor Brewer had started to get into the social media world a little bit more, but Governor Ducey was really the first governor breaking news on Twitter instead of calling a reporter. Sometimes he would just tweet about it. I really think that’s a new norm, and I think that’s good. It’s a way for him to speak directly to Arizonans and get his message across just to the people.

Lately, we’ve noticed the governor’s account uses a lot of emojis. Especially when he was celebrating education wins – apples everywhere.

It’s funny. That’s something Scarp (Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato) and I would always talk about – the emoji use. Scarp loves using emojis, but the governor does, too. If you’re just texting the governor, he likes to use emojis.

Are we talking smiley faces?

Yeah! I got a smiley face and a baseball the other day.

Because you obviously love the Diamondbacks.

I went to my first game for my sixth or seventh birthday. We played the Giants. Ever since, I started asking my dad, “Hey, can we go to a ballgame? Hey, can we go to a ballgame?” I’ve already been to three games this season.

Baseball is one thing we agree on, but you threw some major shade at the last Harry Potter book on Twitter–“#disappointed.” What’s up?

I was so disappointed. I love J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter is the reason I love to read. But I totally thought she sold out. I didn’t think it was a good plotline. I didn’t know where it was going. It was all over the place. And I read it in a day because it’s J.K. Rowling and it’s Harry Potter, but it just – I was not impressed at all.

You’re pretty fond of John McCain, too, but your tweets don’t reveal much about your opinion of the president. What are your thoughts on your party’s leader?

He’s our president. I like our president. I think he is going to enact some good, conservative policies. I’m a really big fan of Ivanka, I’m a big fan of Melania, and I’m a huge fan of John McCain and Jeff Flake. Republican values are Republican values.

But McCain and Flake have been at odds with the president.

Being a Republican isn’t all one thing, especially on regulatory issues. A lot of what Donald Trump is doing in D.C. in terms of cutting regulations — so is Doug Ducey. He’s doing it here. It’s about finding those areas that you can agree on and working together on them.

You went to journalism school where partisanship is a no-no. Was it surprising to you that you got involved in such a partisan career?

Yeah, especially because I have a lot of Democrat friends, too, so it’s always about trying to maintain that balance and be able to put that aside. Politics is one thing, and I love it and it’s a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, it’s also – you can have friendships outside of politics. And journalism really taught me that. Your first class, they ask you to stand up if you’re a Republican, stand up if you’re a Democrat. And then, they tell you, “Never do that again… You are not biased. You have to maintain your credibility.”… At some point for me, it just – I’m not going to be a journalist. I’m a Republican.

Tucson sets curfew in response to spike in COVID-19 cases

Three GOP lawmakers are preparing legislation to punish the city of Tucson, shown here in an aerial view, if voters pass a ballot measure to make the city a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

The decision Tuesday by the Tucson City Council to enact a curfew despite a gubernatorial prohibition could pave the way for a legal fight with Gov. Doug Ducey.

And if Tucson gets away with its plan, it potentially could embolden other cities to defy the restrictions he placed on their powers in March.

The ordinance which takes effect late Friday bars people from being on public streets or spaces between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless traveling to and from work or other essential activities. It exempts public safety personnel, health care professionals, essential workers and the homeless.

City Attorney Mike Rankin said that ordinance is justified and legal.

“This pandemic is an ongoing local emergency,” he said. “Certain emergency measures which are reserved to the mayor and which flow from both the charter and state law need to be taken at this time in order to curb the spread and the surge of this infectious disease.”

But Ducey, when he declared his own statewide emergency in March, declared that no local government can issue “any order, rule or regulation that … is in addition to the policy, directive or intent of this executive order.”

Regina Romero
Regina Romero

The governor has not imposed any sort of a curfew.

And in case there’s any question of the breath of his prohibition, Ducey’s order specifically says the preemption includes “any order restricting persons from leaving their home due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

In fact, it was that preemption that kept Tucson and other cities and counties from imposing their own mask mandates until Ducey relented — at least partly — and agreed to allow them to adopt policies about wearing face coverings.

Ducey at one time had a stay-at-home order in place, telling Arizonans they must “limit their time” away from their homes or property except to participate in “essential activities.”

He allowed that and other restrictions to expire in May. That, in turn, resulted in a sharp hike in the number of people infected.

And while Ducey did reimpose some restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and movies, he never again sought to limit individual activity even as the rate of infections is again on the upswing. So Tucson Mayor Regina Romero decided the city should act on its own.

And what of the restrictions?

“The mayor and I and other city officials are well aware of what the governor has included in his executive order,” Rankin said.

He said the law allowing Ducey to declare an emergency does give the governor certain powers.

“But it does not give him the authority to wipe away the legal authority of other officials who are also given emergency powers, including under the state statutes themselves

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey addresses the media on COVID-19 during a news conference in Phoenix, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic via AP)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey addresses the media on COVID-19 during a news conference in Phoenix, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic via AP)

The mayor insisted she’s not trying to pick a fight with Ducey.

“I did try and reach out to the governor,” Romero said, through the weekend and even on Monday, seeking a conversation of no more than 10 minutes. She said that was to talk about the issue of a curfew and the need for statewide action.

“Unfortunately, the governor declined to speak with me,” Romero said, saying that the response from the governor’s office was that he was “very busy.”

And mayoral aide Myriam Cruz said that as recently as noon on Monday the mayor’s staff was told that Ducey would not be available to speak with Romero.

But Daniel Scarpinato said while there were calls from the mayor’s office, there was never a request to actually speak with Ducey.

And Scarpinato on Tuesday refused to comment about whether his boss believes that cities can, in fact, enact their own curfews or whether that runs afoul of the gubernatorial preemption.

“We haven’t seen the specifics yet,” he said. “So when we get the specifics we’ll have our general counsel review it.”

Nor would he respond even to the generic idea of cities imposing travel restrictions.

Romero acknowledged that Tucson did not defy the governor earlier this year when, until June, he forbade local governments from imposing mask requirements. She had wanted to do that as far back as March but opted against it based on Rankin’s advice.

“He felt at the time such a mask mandate related to public health would be much better put through by the county or the state,” Romero said. It was only after seeing no action at the state level she said she began to pressure the governor for the exemption from his executive order.

Rankin, for his part, said there’s no inconsistency between agreeing in March to live within the governor’s constraints on masks and pushing ahead with a curfew now.

“We make different decisions at different times based on the needs of the community at that time,” he said.

Rankin said the city has the same authority as the governor to impose penalties for those who violate emergency orders: a Class 1 misdemeanor with a possible $2,500 fine.

But he emphasized that the goal is education, with the plan saying that anyone who is found in violation first be given an opportunity to comply. And even if a citation is issued, Rankin said, his office, which would be in charge of prosecuting the case, would be offered a “diversion” alternative, essentially an option to have the charge erased if the person doesn’t reoffend.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect the Tucson City Council’s vote to pass the curfew and add a correction. A previous version erroneously reported the curfew would begin on Tuesday, but it actually begins on Friday. 


Water manager’s lobbyist costs under scrutiny, ban possible

A water installation flows downtown Gilbert, Ariz. (Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
A water installation flows downtown Gilbert, Ariz. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Central Arizona Project has paid more than $2.5 million for lobbyists in Arizona and Washington D.C. over the past five years, an analysis of the agency’s lobbying contracts shows.

The water canal system’s lobbying costs came under fire from Gov. Doug Ducey’s office as part of meetings he has convened to lay out future plans for water policy.

In early proposals of what the meetings would cover, the Governor’s Office suggested banning Central Arizona Water Conservation District, CAP’s manager, from hiring federal lobbyists. More recent documents from the meetings show lobbying costs could be considered as part of required performance audits from the state’s auditor general.

The $2.5 million on lobbying over five years is a tiny fraction of CAP’s budget, its spokeswoman, Crystal Thompson, said in an email. During those five years, CAP’s overall budget amounted to $1.25 billion, so the lobbying money was only 0.2 percent of the agency’s budget, she pointed out.

From 2012 to 2015, Robert Lynch was CAP’s lobbyist in D.C. at $70,000 per year. CAP also had a contract for federal lobbying services with Bracy, Tucker, Brown and Valanzano from 2010 to 2016 at $20,000 per month.

Now, the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck lobbies for CAP in Washington. Their contract at $210,000 per year ends in May 2018.

At the state level, Don Isaacson has lobbied on CAP’s behalf for 33 years, CAP said. Its current contract, which started in January 2016 and ends in December 2017, is for $182,000.

“His historic knowledge of the legislative history of the CAWCD, and water issues in general, is invaluable and his partner, Cheyenne Walsh, is equally adept,” Thompson said.

But the lobbying costs in general, whatever they may be, are just a distraction, CAP claims.

“Whether or not the CAP utilizes the services of consultants to help understand the politics of the nation’s capitol or the state capitol is not the issue – prolonged drought conditions and the effect on Arizona’s Colorado River allocation is the issue,” Thompson said.

The governor’s water meetings have been punctuated with clashes between CAP and the state, which claims CAP has operated outside its authority on various issues, from water deals to court cases.

The meetings aren’t open to the general public, and the documents and agendas are not publicly posted. There will likely be a host of proposals that become bills in the next legislative session.

CAP has repeatedly said the meetings mark a change in how the state has approached water issues. In the past, though groups had varying interests, there wasn’t a high level of political infighting. Now, the tone has changed.

“CAP respectfully asks Governor Ducey to open up the process he has begun and lead a genuine effort of principled cooperation that has been the hallmark of Arizona gubernatorial leadership for more than five decades,” Thompson said.

The topic of lobbying costs has not been discussed verbally at recent water meetings, CAP and the Department of Water Resources both confirmed.

While cost for lobbyists is a concern for the Governor’s Office, the need for the state to speak with one voice on water issues is the larger point of the water meetings and any proposals that come out of them, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. Lobbying on opposite sides of an issue would run counter to the “speaking with one voice” issue, he said.

But it would be premature to say whether Ducey’s office would pursue a lobbying ban or include lobbying costs in audits at this point, Scarpinato said.

An audit of CAP was initiated by the Legislature last year, and the Governor’s Office is interested in seeing the results, he said.

And there’s also the fact that Ducey issued an executive order last year banning state agencies from hiring contract lobbyists.

“Our office isn’t a huge fan of public dollars paying for lobbyists,” Scarpinato said. “But I think we want to get to a place where entities can do their job, advocate for their users, but also be part of a state effort and a state approach to our water future.”

CAP said it’s necessary to have a federal lobbyist on hand because of the aqueduct system’s ongoing relationship with the federal government. CAP, which was initially formed as part of contract with the U.S. secretary of the Interior, also has a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to deliver water, Thompson said. It’s important to have an experienced government affairs group working at the federal level to maintain these relationships, she said.

Thompson also sent several links to other lobbying contracts for public entities both at the state and federal levels in response to questions from the Arizona Capitol Times about its lobbyists. Other contracts show the annual contract prices for CAP aren’t out of the ordinary.

Minutes from a 2016 city of Phoenix meeting show the city would pay $108,000 to Ballard Spahr, $54,000 to the Aarons Company and $90,000 to Axiom Public Affairs (which was recently rebranded Compass Strategies).

Mohave County pays $12,000 to HighGround for government affairs, minutes from a July meeting show.

A price sheet for the City of Tucson shows lobbying expenses should not exceed $222,000 per year.

Yarbrough: Ducey has NRA approval of gun proposal

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

The National Rifle Association will back Gov. Doug Ducey’s school safety plan – or so says the governor’s staff.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said Ducey staffers told him the NRA will support the governor’s plan when a bill is introduced, perhaps next week. As drafted, the legislation includes provisions to take guns away from those deemed a danger to themselves or others, more dollars for mental health training and school counselors, and a proposed $11 million to boost the number of school resource officers in Arizona public schools, among other provisions.

“We were told that the NRA is going to sign off on the school safety plan,” Yarbrough said, adding he expects they’ll support the proposal in its entirety. “I presume that if they’re going to sign off, surely they have to understand you don’t pick and choose parts of it. That’s what we have been led to believe is forthcoming.”

Yarbrough has passed along that message to his Republican colleagues. Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Chandler, said that he was told in meetings with Senate leadership and fellow senators that the NRA will support votes for Ducey’s plan.

Whether they back the governor, the NRA won’t say. Lars Dalseide, spokesman for the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said the NRA won’t comment on Ducey’s proposal until a bill is introduced at the Arizona Legislature.

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

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato sidestepped questions about what message the governor’s staff had conveyed to Yarbrough. Scarpinato also claimed ignorance as the NRA’s official position on Ducey’s school safety plan.

“I don’t know if they have taken an official position,” Scarpinato wrote in an email. “I would suggest reaching out to NRA for that. I do know that members of the legislature have asked about where they stand on some of the provisions of the bill. “

The NRA’s support would be a boon for Ducey. So far, the governor’s proposal has faced bipartisan opposition at the Legislature — Republicans and Democrats alike have found something in the proposal they don’t favor.

Republican lawmakers lean heavily on the opinion of pro-gun lobbying groups, according to Yarbrough, who has said many in his GOP Caucus are looking to the NRA and the Arizona Citizens Defense League for guidance.  The Citizens Defense League has made clear it opposes Ducey’s plan, but support from the NRA could give reason for GOP lawmakers to vote yes.

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

Democrats have vowed to vote against any school safety legislation that doesn’t include universal background checks or a ban on bump stocks. Those measures are supported by the March For Our Lives movement, a student-led effort lobbying the governor for gun control. Jordan Harb, the organization’s co-chair, called the draft of Ducey’s school safety legislation “51 pages of utter BS.”

“Your plan sucks,” he added in a statement. “Stop throwing pennies and empty promises at a problem that demands real funding and real action.”

That means Ducey may need to garner enough votes from his own party to marshall the school safety plan through the Legislature. Resistance from the Republican party could doom that effort. House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said lawmakers are concerned about the cost of the proposal, like the $11 million for more police officers in schools.

“I want to make sure it is not just window dressing to make it look like we’re doing something, but actually achieves the effect we want,” Allen said.