Bill bans sex ed in elementary, middle schools

In this May 3, 2018, file photo State Sen. Sylvia Allen keeps warm during a late-night session as the Arizona Legislature prepared to adjourn for the year in Phoenix. The veteran Arizona legislator is apologizing while defending herself from criticism for comments she made on immigration and birth rates. The Phoenix New Times posted audio of a July 15, 2019, speech during which Allen said a flood of immigration and low birth rates among whites amid a lack of cultural assimilation mean "we're going to look like South American countries very quickly." The Republican from Snowflake, Arizona, who is white, also said the U.S. has to regulate immigration so the country can provide jobs, education, health care and other needs. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)
Sen. Sylvia Allen on the Senate floor during the 2018 Legislative Session. (AP Photo/Bob Christie, File)

A Republican senator wants to bar schools from teaching sex education before seventh grade.

The bill from Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, also deletes “homosexuality” from acts constituting “sexual conduct” in a section of the statutes, a move that appears to ban any discussion of homosexuality during sex ed courses. 

Allen has already scheduled the measure for a Jan. 14 hearing in the Senate Education Committee, which she chairs, making it the first 2020 salvo in an conflict that’s been brewing since last spring, when lawmakers repealed a decades-old law that forbade the promotion of  a “homosexual lifestyle.”

On the other side, Democratic Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley wants to require schools to teach comprehensive and “medically accurate” sex education on an opt-out basis. Senate Democrats plan to introduce similar legislation in their chamber.

Democrats, who hope to build on their success in repealing the state’s “no promo homo” law, accused their Republican colleagues of using a furor over sex education to rally parents wary of children getting exposed to sexually explicit material in classrooms. 

Geoff Esposito, a lobbyist with the progressive-leaning Creosote Partners, said the repeal of that law shows “anti-LGBT forces” have been losing ground in recent years.

“[Conservatives] are pushing an incredibly unpopular issue among the exact people they need to win over, and threatening vulnerable legislators’ re-election with a bad vote that will get a ton of media attention,” he said. 

Aside from explicitly barring schools from teaching sex education before seventh grade, Allen’s bill would remove references to “homosexuality” from a section of the criminal code describing types of sexual conduct. The bill then describes “sex education” by referring to the section deleting “homosexulity;” thus, potentially precluding any discussion of homosexuality in sex ed courses.  

Neither Allen nor Sharon Slater, president of the Gilbert-based nonprofit Family Watch International, immediately returned calls. Family Watch International hosted Allen this summer at a discussion about sex education. Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, another Republican lawmaker actively discussing sex education, also could not be reached for comment.

Socially conservative groups and their allies in the Legislature have raised questions about whether sex ed, as currently taught in schools, is age-appropriate or aligned with “family values.” 

“As a parent, you have the right to know exactly what your child is learning about sex. You even have the right to examine the materials they are exposed to. Are they age-appropriate? Do they align with your family’s values? Are they science-based?” Barto said on her campaign website. 

Democrats view Allen’s bill as an attempt to undo the state’s repeal of the “No Promo Homo” law. Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, who is openly gay, said he might have been able to come out sooner had his Arizona teachers been able to answer his questions about homosexuality. 

“This is really a health issue,” he said. 

Sex education, like all other curricula in Arizona, is primarily handled at the school district level. But Allen’s bill would require all districts and charter schools to revise their existing sex education courses to comply with her bill. 

Under the bill, all coursework would have to be developed during publicly noticed meetings, and curricula would be available for public comment for at least 60 days before a school board could adopt the educational guidelines. The bill says schools would not be required to provide sex education, and attempts to get around new public notice requirements by providing it after school hours would not be allowed.

The bill advances the state’s existing abstinence-promoting guidelines by requiring any sex education instruction to emphasize avoiding, rather than reducing, sexual risks and by encouraging pupils who are sexually active to “return to abstinence.”

It would also forbid schools from providing any instruction that “normalize(s) sexual conduct between minors or sexual conduct with a minor,” “suggest(s) that any type of sexual conduct between minors is safe or without risk” or provides materials that could be deemed harmful to minors.

That last clause addresses education materials, such as the commonly used — and banned —  sex education book “It’s Perfectly Normal,” which Allen and other conservative lawmakers find inappropriate. House Speaker Rusty Bowers in September described the book as “grooming children to be sexualized” and teaching them how to masturbate. 

The book, which discusses puberty, pregnancy and how sex works, includes color illustrations of cartoonish naked people. Conservatives charge it is sexually explicit, akin to showing minors pornography. 

Allen’s proposed ban on sex education for students in kindergarten through 6th grade would not extend to instruction on health, including puberty, or personal safety, potentially  easing an expected conflict with planned legislation to teach children how to identify and report sexual abuse. 

The Arizona Department of Education expects sexual education to be a top issue this legislative session, although Richie Taylor, who speaks for the department, said State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman doesn’t plan to push legislation on this subject.   

Last summer, Bowers referred to Hoffman as a “radical” for supporting changes to sex education at the State Board of Education. 

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, told Arizona Capitol Times she has no intention of filing any sex ed bills of her own in 2020 but agrees it’s a major issue in the upcoming session.

“It is important to many parents, and legislators are responding to that,” Townsend said.

Democrats, Ducey PAC, begin election spending

(Deposit Photos)
(Deposit Photos)

Democratic PACs are beginning to spend on the general election, spreading money far and wide in an effort to support the party’s attempted takeover of the Legislature. 

Two independent expenditure groups – a type of organization that allows (sometimes anonymous) donors to funnel money into elections, so long as they don’t coordinate with candidates – have spent a combined $200,000 across the state to elect Democrats in GOP-controlled legislative districts. 

And they’re just getting started. Campaigns and PACs don’t have to report their third quarter finances for another month, so this figure just represents initial spending, an early peek at where political influencers are throwing their weight. 

If these figures are an indicator, Democratic groups see a wide-open map. 

Forward Majority Arizona and Opportunity Arizona, the two Democratic PACs spending the most so far, are allocating in the expected places: Legislative Districts 6, 17, 20 and 21, all places where demographic shifts give Democrats hope that they can nab a seat from Republicans. 

But the money is going beyond the usual suspects. Forward Majority, for example, has spent around $5,000 each opposing Rep. Mark Finchem and Sen. Vince Leach in Legislative District 11 and Reps. David Cook and T.J. Shope in Legislative District 8. 

It’s part of what communications director Ben Wexler-Waite calls “an aggressive portfolio strategy.” In other words, spending on Democratic candidates in districts where the odds are stacked high against.

LD8 has been comfortably in Republican hands since 2016, when incumbent Sen. Barbara McGuire lost a re-election bid to Sen. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande. McGuire is now challenging Shope, R-Coolidge, for her old seat, but the district hasn’t shown that it’s trending bluer. LD11, meanwhile, is solidly Republican, and would seem a stretch for Democrats to mount a credible campaign – Republicans there enjoy a sizable 10,000-voter registration advantage. Leach and Finchem, Republicans from Tucson and Oro Valley, respectively, are among the most conservative lawmakers in the Legislature. 

Finchem, for example, is a member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization whose members often show up armed at demonstrations for racial justice. 

 “Nobody has ever run a real campaign against him,” Wexler-Waite said, adding that it’s important that Democrats are aggressive in what they hope to be a wave year.

“I think that the conventional wisdom of the past decade is going to be radically changed,” said progressive lobbyist Geoff Esposito. “There are definitely new opportunities and investments are going to reflect that.” 

Forward Majority, a Super PAC founded in 2017, is one of the several national groups working to turn statehouses to Democratic control in 2020. Arizona is one of its four targets. Since July, the group has spent more than $120,000, primarily on House races in LD6, LD20 and LD21 – all districts that Democrats see as among the most achievable wins. 

If Democrats hold all their House seats, and pick up two of the three, they’ll gain a slim majority in an Arizona body for the first time in recent memory. 

“They’re using millions of dollars against the limited amount of money that I have,” said Rep. Walter Blackman, a Republican from Snowflake – he and former Republican lawmaker Brenda Barton are facing off against Democratic Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans. 

While it’s not quite millions, money is materializing for the Democrats. Opportunity Arizona, for example, has spent more than $23,000 on ads and mailers against the incumbent Blackman in August alone. And Evans is far outpacing both of the LD6 Republicans in fundraising, 

Generally, Republicans have been slow to respond, though there’s plenty of time for that to change.  

Conservative groups have ponied up less than $2,000 to support Blackman. In LD20, Americans for Prosperity has spent $2,525 to support Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, a number dwarfed by the nearly $13,600 that Opportunity Arizona has spent in August to oust the incumbent Bolick. The trend holds for other candidates in these key districts – of all Republicans running for House in LD6, LD20 and LD21, only Bevery Pingerelli in LD21 has made it to the end of August without large spending by outside Democratic groups. 

Prominent Republicans and their bundlers have been more active on the Senate side. Arizonans for Strong Leadership, Gov. Doug Ducey’s PAC, has since July spent more than $211,000, largely for Republicans and against Democrats in Senate races in LD20, LD17 and LD6 – where it spent $42,000 on newspaper and radio ads targeting Democratic Senate candidate Felicia French, Democratic House candidate Coral Evans and Independent House candidate Art Babbott. 

The ad buys are handled by Mentzer Media, a Maryland-based firm that designs and places ads for conservative groups and is perhaps best known for handling the 2004 campaign “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. 

As of the pre-primary reporting period that ended July 18, Arizonans for Strong Leadership held just over $2 million in cash on hand, nearly a quarter of which is from a $500,000 March 4 contribution from GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. 

Ducey is also directly helping some vulnerable incumbents through a second PAC, the Arizona Leadership Fund. Since December, Arizona Leadership Fund has given $33,500 directly to incumbents in five swing districts: LD6, LD8, LD17, LD20 and LD28. Sens. Kate Brophy McGee and Frank Pratt, and Reps. Anthony Kern, T.J. Shope and Jeff Weninger each received $5,200 from the PAC. Blackman, Bolick and Rep. David Cook of LD8 each received a single contribution of $2,500 on December 31. 

Ducey to decide on first 2022 election bill

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, front, gives his state of the state address at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The first election bill of the 2022 legislative session made its way to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk, setting up a test for the governor, who has largely avoided talking about what election-related measures he supports. 

House Bill 2492 would codify requirements for proof of citizenship when registering to vote and would make federal voter registration forms insufficient as proof of citizenship. It would also make any county elections officer or recorder who fails to establish a voter’s citizenship status guilty of a felony if the person turns out to not be a citizen. 

The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday, sending it to the governor. 

Election-related legislation has dominated the schedule of many Republican legislators this session and they’ve introduced 139 bills dealing with elections. Ducey has maintained that he’s open to new election laws but hasn’t committed to specifics. 

He reiterated that stance in an interview with Fox 10 this week. “Where we can put reforms forward that increase trust and voter integrity, those are policies I’ll sign. … I will sign good policy and you can count that I will veto bad policy,” he said. 

The governor has been willing to break with his own party when it comes to some of the bolder attempts to rewrite Arizona’s voting system. He shot down a lawsuit from the state GOP that seeks to end mail-in voting and hasn’t leaned into claims of election fraud. But he’s also avoided vocal criticism of the GOP legislators who want to rewrite state election laws while raising questions about the validity of the 2020 election. 

Ducey now has five days to sign or veto the bill – if he does neither by early next week, it becomes law by default. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the governor declined to comment on what Ducey was going to do, noting the decision will come soon anyway. “You will know then,” spokesman CJ Karamargin said. 

The bill passed the House 31-26 and the Senate 16-12, with both votes split along party lines. It was sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, who has disputed the results of the 2020 presidential election and supported the Senate audit. 

Sen. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, described the bill as a commonsense measure: “The issue is making sure that citizens of this country are voting, and if you’re not a citizen of this country, you’re not allowed to vote.” 

Arizona Democratic Party Chair Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, connected the bill to the audit and claims that the 2020 election was stolen.  

The bill also got a critical thumbs-up from the Republican legislator who has single-handedly killed a dozen election laws this session that had the support of the rest of the caucus. Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he voted “Yes” because the bill deals with voter identification, and he doesn’t think it will create problems for election administrators. 

“The (election bills) that I haven’t supported have primarily made the elections process unworkable for those who have to implement the policies,” Boyer said on Thursday. 

Paul Bentz, a pollster with the GOP firm HighGround, said there’s widespread support for measures around voter identification and voter proof of citizenship, even if Democrats attack them as amounting to voter suppression. But, Bentz added, there are also policies being “cloaked in the guise of election security.” 

“I think that’s where we’ll see the line that some of these leaders will take,” he said. “Which of these items really do have to deal with security, and which ones really are borderline voter suppression?” 

Geoff Esposito, a progressive consultant whose firm Creosote Partners lobbied against the bill, said Ducey could separate himself from members of his own party by rejecting the bill. 

“I think thus far, the governor has shown instances of not falling in line with those conspiracy-minded folks within his party. And I think if he wanted to draw a clear distinction between that wing and him, this is a great opportunity to do so,” he said. 

If Ducey does sign the bill, it will probably draw a legal challenge from opponents. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned that the bill will bring lawsuits against Arizona if it becomes law. 

Senate Rules Attorney Chris Kleminich said on March 14 at the Senate’s Rules Committee meeting that the bill is “unconstitutional” and likely opens the states up to lawsuits for violating the National Voter Registration Act. “There are constitutional concerns with the law at least as the federal law is currently interpreted and implemented,” he told the committee. 

According to federal law, states are required to accept federal voter registration forms for federal elections, including presidential elections. The form requires voters to check a box verifying they are U.S. citizens. States are allowed to make their own laws regarding state elections, but for federal elections, voter registration forms must always be accepted. Hoffman’s bill would make the form insufficient as proof of citizenship. 

Arizona Association of Counties Executive Director Jen Marson spoke against the bill in the judiciary committee and said it puts counties in the “terrible position” of either violating federal law or violating state law and becoming felons. 


Incumbents kill union ploy to shape Democratic caucus


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

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

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

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

Israel Torres
Israel Torres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Andrade
Richard Andrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge takes flak for decision against school tax measure

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

Backers of a measure to tax the rich for public education called Judge Christopher Coury’s decision to strike it from the ballot “politically motivated” and are calling for his removal in November’s retention election. 

Arizona uses a merit selection process to appoint judges to four county superior courts and three appellate branches (two divisions of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court) and allow voters to retain them. 

In 2018, there was an effort to oust Arizona Supreme Court Justice John Pelander and Justice Clint Bolick since they were the only justices on the ballot after voting in a 5-2 decision to toss out that year’s attempt at taxing the rich to fund public schools. Pelander and Bolick survived and Pelander retired in 2019. 

Losing retention is rare, and has only happened once since 1978, when Benjamin Norris lost in 2014, but that won’t stop backers from trying.

Progressive lobbyist Geoff Esposito and Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale were among those who tweeted about Coury being up for retention. 

“Judge Coury and his #INVESTinED decision was the reason why the ‘NO’ option was created on the ballots for the retention of Superior Court judges. Vote accordingly this November,” Quezada wrote. 

Norris, a judge in Maricopa County, was voted out largely in part due to his judicial performance review from his peers who said he was unfit to serve. Coury, on the other hand, received a perfect score from 33 of his peers. 

Coury’s Invest in Ed decision, depending on what the Supreme Court ultimately decides, could be the biggest decision he made that will motivate Maricopa County voters to try to oust him.  

Coury recently applied for a position on the Court of Appeals, but Gov. Doug Ducey chose Cynthia Bailey instead. Coury has been relentless in his career for court appointments, so it’s likely he will try again. It took him eight tries to land on the Superior Court after Gov. Janet  Napolitano turned him down six times and Gov. Jan Brewer appointed him on his second attempt during her term. 

He has served on the court since 2010 and has heard many cases, but recently he has come under fire in legal and education circles for his “political” decision that kicked Invest in Ed off the ballot, but it’s far from his first controversial decision of late.

In June, he sided with Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services against media organizations in a lawsuit seeking information about the scope of outbreaks in nursing homes.

In July, Coury ruled in Ducey’s favor, blocking the eviction of tenants who weren’t paying rent during the pandemic, which is now up for appeal. He also settled a heated election challenge in 2018 over the petition of Mark Syms, husband of former lawmaker Maria Syms, who was trying to unseat Sen. Kate Brophy McGee in the Senate. 

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who supports Invest in Ed and wrote an amicus brief on its behalf, said he has known Coury and his family his “whole life,” but still believes he made the wrong call over the initiative ruling. 

But Woods said he didn’t think the decision was politically-motivated, it was just wrong. He said Arizona’s founders didn’t set up the laws and the Constitution to say, “If you collect enough signatures the petition becomes a law,” instead that “if you collect enough signatures voters can decide on the ballot.”

“So the idea that you could stifle all of that because you didn’t feel that the 100 word summary at the top of the petition was adequate is to me nonsense,” Woods said.

Rep. Shooter accused of repeated sexual harassment of Capitol women

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Seven women at the Arizona Capitol, including three legislators, say a prominent Republican state lawmaker has harassed them.

The allegations against 65-year-old Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, range from sexually charged comments to unwanted touching.

The women decided to publicly discuss the incidents after reporting from various news outlets, led by The New York Times and New Yorker, broke open sexual harassment claims from numerous women against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, women in various industries have gone public with stories about men in their businesses who have harassed them.

The topic of harassment at the Arizona Capitol came to the forefront on Oct. 20 after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she had been sexually harassed at the statehouse for years since taking office in 2011. Ugenti-Rita made her accusation more specific on Tuesday, when she told a local TV station one of the men who harassed her was Shooter.

Several women have since come forward with stories of unwanted comments and touching from Shooter.

Marilyn Rodriguez
Marilyn Rodriguez

One instance occurred off of Capitol grounds in 2013, said Democratic lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said she was trying to lobby then-Sen. Shooter, who was the chair of the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the chamber, on a budget issue in his office at the Capitol. He wasn’t listening, which she blamed on her newness as a lobbyist. He suggested they meet that evening at a restaurant, Windsor, in Phoenix.

Rodriguez brought another female lobbyist, who she declined to name, with her. After about two hours attempting to talk about the budget issue, the other lobbyist had to leave, leaving Rodriguez and Shooter together. Rodriguez said she decided to stay to continue lobbying him.

Shortly after the other lobbyist left, Shooter put his hand on Rodriguez’s knee, she said. She moved away from him and left as soon as she could after that, she said, adding that she felt paralyzed and overwhelmed.

Rodriguez hasn’t met with him in the two years since then, which she said makes it more difficult to work as a lobbyist given his prominent role in the budget process. Shooter now is the chair of the House appropriations committee.

“I don’t feel comfortable meeting with him. Every time I see him, I think about that moment. I still to this day feel incredibly ashamed about it,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez hasn’t publicly told the story before and and she said she still feels leery about discussing it, though she now owns her own lobbying firm. It’s a tough spot for lobbyists, who need to maintain relationships with lawmakers in order to advance their clients’ agendas, she said.

“It’s entirely possible there’s a chance for retribution, and I don’t know what to do about it,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez pointed to comments made by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard last week, after Ugenti-Rita publicly said she had been harassed at the Capitol. Mesnard noted that it’s especially hard for lobbyists to seek recourse for inappropriate treatment at the Capitol, saying one of their only options is to make a public statement.

“I agree. I don’t know if, at the end of this, my stories and the other women’s stories that come out are going to do anything. I don’t know if next session he’s still going to be chairman of the appropriations committee. That’s out of my control,” Rodriguez said.

In a statement sent through attorney Melissa Ho, Shooter would not comment on the allegations by Ugenti-Rita nor the women who spoke to the Arizona Capitol Times for this story, saying only that he had requested an investigation by the House.

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

Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, confirmed to KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch on Nov. 7 that Shooter was one of the men who harassed her at the Capitol. She said he asked about her chest in her office once and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.

Ugenti-Rita also detailed a June 2011 encounter where he told her he was in love with her and said he wanted to have a relationship. She wrote a memo about that incident, and said she told Republican leadership, but nothing was done.

“He tells me that he loves me and asks if there’s an opportunity for us to be together in the future,” she read to KTVK from the June 2011 memo. “Just then, he bursts out, ‘I have been married for 32 years and have never done anything.’”

Ugenti-Rita said she’s worried about retaliation now that she’s named Shooter.

Initially, according to the Nov. 7 KTVK report, Shooter issued a written statement and said he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.”

However, later on Nov. 7, he retracted that statement, stating he had previously been told only that Ugenti-Rita was upset by comments he made but wasn’t given details.

“I’ve been happily married for 41 years, I’ve never cheated on my wife and there isn’t a woman on this planet I would leave my wife for,” he wrote.

Shooter went on to blame the trouble between him and Ugenti-Rita on “how she has conducted herself personally, with staff and later with legislation,” including “a very public affair.”

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

Ugenti-Rita has called attention to the lack of policies and procedures to investigate harassment among the elected members of the legislature, which resulted in a new policy.

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

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, recalled her first interaction with Shooter. During the first week of the legislative session this year, another representative introduced Shooter to her.

Salman said Shooter told her: “You’ll be a nice view to look at.”

She found the comment on her appearance unprofessional, she said.

Rep. Wenona Benally (D-Window Rock)
Rep. Wenona Benally (D-Window Rock)

Another lawmaker, Democrat Rep. Wenona Benally of Window Rock, said she heard Shooter use “suggestive and sexually inappropriate language” during the 2017 legislative session. While bills were being debated on the House floor, Benally was in the member’s lounge when Shooter sat across from her. Another male colleague joined him.

“They engaged in a joking but graphic conversation in front of me in which Rep. Shooter repeatedly referred to his male genitalia as a ‘gun.’ The conversation made me extremely uncomfortable,” Benally said in a statement.

She reported the incident to Democratic leadership, who reported it to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

In another instance, Shooter bear-hugged a 19-year-old Capitol Times intern at a company awards event earlier this year.

The intern, Kendra Penningroth, said Shooter, who she had never met, came up to her at the Best of the Capitol event in June and wrapped her in a long hug, then ran his hands down her back.

Shooter held onto her as he told another intern, who had a camera, not to take any photos of him, Penningroth said.

“It wasn’t like a colleague, side hug. It was like a bear hug. He pushed my face into his chest, which was weird, and then he continued to talk to me about how private his life is and how I know that he doesn’t like when people take pictures of him. But I had never met him before. Ever,” she said.

Another woman had a similar experience with Shooter. At a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference in Tucson in 2015, the woman, a city employee who did not want her name or city identified, was at an after-hours event when Shooter arrived.

She said she greeted him and he wrapped his arms around her, then slid his hands down and grabbed her buttocks. She pulled away and pushed him back, she said. She walked away and was talking to coworkers, but Shooter came up behind her and began waving his hands and mimicking what she was saying.

She looked at him and told him to stop being creepy. He responded that he didn’t know if he could, she said.

She said she doesn’t think he remembers her or the incident because she saw him a year later and he came up to her and attempted to hug her again. She told him no, saying that the hugs with him never end well, she said.

Another woman who was at the conference confirmed to the Capitol Times that the city employee told her the same story immediately after it happened.

In another incident, at an education event at the Phoenix Public Market during the 2017 legislative session, Shooter made inappropriate sexual comments to two female lobbyists, who did not want to be named. A male lobbyist who witnessed the interaction, Geoff Esposito, recounted what happened, and one of the female lobbyists confirmed the account.

The lobbyists did not want to detail on the record exactly what was said for fear of retribution, but said the comments were extreme and sexual in nature.

Esposito, then a lobbyist at the statehouse, said he was keeping an eye on the conversation Shooter was having with the young female lobbyists. Esposito eventually received text messages from one of the lobbyists saying “SOS,” indicating that he should intervene.

He walked up to Shooter to try to interrupt, but Shooter physically pushed Esposito out of the way and said: “‘I’m working on something here, buddy,’” Esposito said. The female lobbyist confirmed Esposito’s account.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the House will be investigating all claims of harassment as they become aware of them.

“Anything that becomes public or that is personally requested to investigate, either way, that’s what I’m going to pursue. … We are going to be very thorough,” Mesnard said.

The investigation will be conducted by a bipartisan group, and could include outside attorneys and specialists, if needed, he said. He added that the House will investigate any claims that come up, regardless of who the claims are against.

As to whether Shooter will remain as appropriations chair, Mesnard said he didn’t want to speculate, instead preferring to take the investigative process one step at a time.

The stories about Shooter and other members that Mesnard has heard in recent weeks are concerning, and he’s not trying to minimize the claims any women have made, but he wants to thoroughly investigate the issues through the proper channels, he said.

“We have a cultural problem we have to fix, and this is even bigger than Mr. Shooter,” he said.

Due to a transcription error, a previous version of this story included the wrong year for an incident. The alleged incident involving Marilyn Rodriguez and Rep. Don Shooter happened in 2013.


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School funding a ticking time bomb

Arizona schools are counting down to a March 1 deadline for the Legislature to override a cap on spending or face not being able to spend $1.1 billion already approved for them. 

The cap, known as the aggregate expenditure limit, is determined by a formula enacted in 1980 and since then, raising it has not been a point of contention. The limit typically increases as the state adds new residents and is also adjusted for inflation and enrollment. But the limit – which relies on the previous year’s enrollment – took a hit after K-12 public schools lost roughly 38,000 students last school year due to the Covid pandemic.  

Further exacerbating the problem is the inclusion of Proposition 301 dollars in the funds that count toward the limit. Voters approved the 0.6% sales tax for education in 2000, which would have caused funding to exceed the expenditure limit in the 2001-2002 school year. At that time, legislators referred the issue to the ballot, and voters approved exempting Prop. 301 revenues from the limit.  

However, when legislators renewed the 0.6% sales tax for education in 2018, they did not exempt it from the expenditure limit, which would have again required voter approval. The renewed measure went into effect July 1, 2021. The tax brings in more than $600 million a year for education.  

The $1.1 billion schools won’t be able to spend translates to about a 16% budget cut, said Chuck Essigs, director of governmental relations at the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. 

Chuck Essigs
Chuck Essigs

“This is the biggest problem I’ve ever seen,” Essigs said. “We have never had any problem come anywhere close to this reaching the magnitude of this problem.” 

Essigs was working in Arizona school finance when the current funding formula was adopted in 1980. If the formula used the current year’s enrollment or if Prop. 301 dollars were still exempt, schools would stand to lose several million dollars, not more than $1 billion, he said.  

Essigs said there was concern that some lawmakers wouldn’t vote to override the limit because of Proposition 208, an initiative voters approved in 2020 to levy an income tax surcharge on the wealthy. But Essigs emphasized that Prop. 208 dollars are not part of the fiscal year 2022 budget. He said he saw no connection between this year’s limit and Prop. 208.  

“If the Legislature were to override the limit in 2022, that doesn’t allow (Prop. 208) dollars to be spent in 2022,” he said. “Because of the way the income tax works, districts won’t start to get any of that money until the following fiscal year.”   

“The tax rates have already been set to fund the budgets that the districts have adopted,” Essigs said.   

As the deadline approaches, Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the situation with the aggregate spending limit was “in a state of paralysis” until the Prop. 208 ruling was resolved. Mesnard was a central player in crafting 2021 legislation to sidestep the tax on the wealthy that Prop. 208 would impose. He and House Majority Leader Ben Toma are now looking to repeal and replace the so-called flat tax, which would kill the referendum on it, the legislators acknowledged to The Associated Press last week.  

J.D. Mesnard

Mesnard told the Capitol Times there was “a lot of interest” in dealing with the aggregate expenditure limit. He said he was willing to vote to exceed or waive the spending limit “under conditions.”  

“Among other things, I need Prop. 208 to not be a factor,” Mesnard said. “I am certainly not supportive until that is the case.”  

Democratic lobbyist Geoff Esposito said he thinks legislators will eventually override the limit but not before the March deadline – which could prove catastrophic for some schools, he said.   

“We’ve had Republicans who have supported it before, but it is not only tied to the (Prop. 208) fight but to every other pet project that these conservative voices are going to want to leverage to get in education, from critical race theory to masks and vaccines,” he said.  

One Valley school superintendent said his district is in line to lose the ability to spend tens of millions of dollars this year if the Legislature doesn’t act. The superintendent said he has heard from colleagues in other districts who could be forced to close schools temporarily.   

“There have been conversations, and one district said that the impact on their district would be the equivalent of 77 days of instruction … I would argue that a district shouldn’t ask its employees to work without being compensated,” he said. 

The state budget the Legislature adopted for fiscal year 2022 automatically included money to fully fund the budget, and those dollars can’t be spent elsewhere because they’ve already been appropriated to education, Essigs said.   

If the Legislature failed to override the limit, Essigs asked what schools were supposed to do with the $1.1 billion they already had coming to them.  

“You’re not saying they can’t raise it; you’re just saying you can’t spend it,” he said. “That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”   

Unlike district schools, charter schools are not subject to the limit because they didn’t exist in Arizona in 1980 when the formula was approved.  

Geoff Esposito (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)
Geoff Esposito (Photo by Ben Giles/Arizona Capitol Times)

Esposito said he believes legislators will eventually raise the limit because “it has to get done,” but not before “schools have to like, start telling parents that they’re going to be shutting down in April and to start to think of child care.”   

In August, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Prop. 208 revenues were not grants and therefore not exempt from the spending limit.   

“(I)f the trial court finds that (Prop. 208) will result in the accumulation of money that cannot be spent without violating the expenditure limit, it must declare Prop. 208 unconstitutional and enjoin its operation,” Chief Justice Robert Brutinel wrote at the time.   

Stand for Children Executive Director Rebecca Gau said the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision regarding Prop. 208 doesn’t just affect Prop. 208. Stand for Children is one of the organizations that led efforts to get Prop. 208 on the 2020 ballot.  

“Unless that expenditure cap is dealt with permanently, one way or the other, either increased significantly or done away with, then we’re never going to be able to increase school spending to where it needs to be,” she said.  

Beyond overriding the limit, Essigs hopes the Legislature will be proactive in addressing the limit long-term because it’s not a one-year problem. As long as Prop. 301 dollars are included, the limit will be exceeded, he said.  

Essigs said he hopes lawmakers will consider the value of the 40-year-old formula.   

“First, do we even need that limit?” Essigs asked. “In the Constitution, it says that the Legislature shall adopt budget limits for every school district… It’s not like the Legislature can say, ‘Well, we don’t want to put limits on schools anymore.’ They’re required by the Constitution to do that.”   

If the Legislature decides the aggregate limit should continue to exist, Essigs said it should be modernized. To make changes or to rescind the limit, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment. 

“Very rarely do you do something that’s proper and correct four decades after you do it.” he said. “The world changes.”  

Yellow Sheet editor Wayne Schutsky contributed to this report. 


Several lawmakers weighing resignation

The historic Arizona Capitol building. Arizona legislators have introduced several bills this year to allow the Legislature to have greater control over state agencies and other elected bodies. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
The historic Arizona Capitol building. Arizona legislators have introduced several bills this year to allow the Legislature to have greater control over state agencies and other elected bodies. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Competitive races are already filling the entire 2022 ballot with roughly a year to go before the primary election on August 2, and several state lawmakers are planning to resign from their $24,000 a year jobs to focus on full-time campaigning. 

There are at least 13 legislators who are either running for higher office or have been rumored to do so and half of them are apparently planning to call it quits from the Legislature. Most of them are Democrats.  

On the top of the ticket is Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, who is seeking the governor nomination. He is planning to resign before the year is out, but sources within Legislative District 28 say there’s a push for him to resign immediately and some within the district are already seeking his replacement.  

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Rep. Shawanna Bolick’s campaign put to rest rumors she was going to jump ship to focus on a challenging four-way primary with two other lawmakers and an advertising executive for secretary of state.  

“She has no intention of resigning a position that ensures the work of the people gets done and as Chair of Ways and Means she plans on continuing to put the interests of the taxpayer over special interest lobbyists,” campaign spokesman George Khalaf said.  

And it’s the same with Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, the House Appropriations Committee chair who is seeking the GOP nomination for state treasurer.  

Her spokesman Ryan O’Daniel said Cobb is fully capable of multitasking as a lawmaker and a candidate for statewide office. 

“Quit? No chance,” O’Daniel said. “She has a record of fighting for the taxpayer, small business owners, and families, and will continue to do so as Appropriations chair because that’s why the hardworking people in Mohave and La Paz County sent her to the Capitol.”  

O’Daniel added that she isn’t running for treasurer to “add to her resume.” 

But a trio of Democratic lawmakers ready to battle it out for the open congressional seat in southern Arizona are all likely to resign, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers. 

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, would not confirm or deny the rumors. Neither would Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. Neither Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, nor his campaign provided comment.  

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, is also rumored to resign while he is seeking the nomination to take on Congressman Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, or whatever it becomes after redistricting.  

State lawmakers are not required to resign-to-run as they were in the past. 

Geoff Esposito, a Democratic lobbyist and consultant, said resigning and campaigning full time is the right decision for a candidate who is not viewed as an early front runner and needs to raise a lot of money.  

“For someone like Lieberman, or some of these others, they’re having to play catch up on opponents who have a larger war chest,” he said.  

It doesn’t apply to candidates who are running with clean elections money, Esposito noted.  

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

Plus, when Democrats aren’t in the majority, the chances of them making a difference legislatively are always slim, especially when politics is as polarized as it is.  

Esposito said that could weigh into the decision to tap out.  

“I think somebody described this coming legislative session as second semester of senior year,” he said, adding that roughly half of the Democratic caucus potentially not sticking around the Legislature after next year. 

That same reason could be an argument for Republicans to stay in their elected positions and campaign while building on their experience – especially if races are wide open with no dominant front runner or prolific fundraiser in these down ballot races.  

Esposito also said that when lawmakers resign, it could potentially be an advantage for whomever gets the appointment if they get a year of experience to use on keeping the seat during the 2022 election.  

How well someone utilizes that incumbency advantage and the relationships that they’d be able to build at the Capitol to come back there are important, he said.  

“I think we’ve seen instances of both being an advantage for somebody in a future primary and we’ve seen it fall flat. As much as legislators like to believe nobody really knows who they are or cares – especially if you’re appointed, voters don’t really feel a loyalty to you,” Esposito said.  

“Where the advantage comes in is if you’re able to turn that into institutional support, build the relationships with the people who play in those races, and show that you care about progressive values, and are willing to fight the good fight.” 

What’s really key in the district Lieberman is leaving where Democrats flipped a House seat in 2018 and a Senate seat in 2020, is someone who can represent not just Democrats but many Republicans and independents as well. And with redistricting, whatever LD28 becomes will be smaller than what it is currently and the entire makeup could be changed by the next election.  

A 4-1 split in favor of Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will decide who will be appointed to any vacancy from a district within the county lines, so the chances of a super progressive compared to someone more moderate could also play into that future decision. Two Republican supervisors live in LD28, too. 


Ward, Terán take different ways to lead parties

From left are Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party and Raquel Terán, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. ( Ward photo by Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP and Teran photo by Gage Skidmore)
From left are Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party and Raquel Terán, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party. ( Ward photo by Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP and Teran photo by Gage Skidmore)

In a state that has turned from red to purple, Arizona’s Republican and Democratic parties continue to push away from the center – one opens the door for more voices to be heard and the other shuts out those who disagree.

It was easy to predict who would win each party chair on January 23 — Raquel Terán for the Democrats and Kelli Ward for the Republicans — but what wasn’t as expected was what those margins of victory would be.

Terán, a Latina state representative in west Phoenix, got her political upbringing in the post-SB1070 movement. She’s a progressive through and through, but told Arizona Capitol Times she will make sure that whether a Democrat is progressive or moderate, they will have the same access to party resources, helping more members pick up seats like the party did in 2018 and 2020.

Democrats won several legislative seats in 2018, and four statewide races including the first U.S. Senate seat in roughly 30 years. In 2020, while less successful, Democrats picked up one seat in the state Senate, the other U.S. Senate seat and also handed its electoral votes to a Democrat for the first time in 24 years. 

Ward, a far right Republican loyalist to former President Trump, was elected to her second term leading the AZGOP, but on January 27, several Republican state committeemen questioned Ward’s victory and are looking into a full audit of the results. Party officials did not release any numbers for all of the races and resolutions and speculate that something nefarious could have happened.

It’s a show of irony as Ward has been a top voice pushing several debunked conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Trump despite a lack of evidence and every court from local to the highest in the country throwing out cases left and right. 

Ward previously served two terms in the state Legislature before running in GOP primaries for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and 2018 – and losing. As her political career began to fizzle out, Terán’s began to take flight. Ward did not respond to multiple attempts for comment on this story. 

Teran was first elected to the state House in 2018 along with her current seatmate Robert Meza.

Aside from the two party leaders having their fair share of differences, the party meetings could not have gone any differently. Terán won with 75% of the vote. Ward won in a run-off just barely eking out a victory by 3 percentage points, but no specific vote totals were revealed. 

The Democratic Party election, which was wide open after former chair Felecia Rotellini decided not to run again, also voted to condemn Trump and the riots on January 6, and urged U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to convict the former president when the impeachment trial takes place next month. Both Sinema and Kelly endorsed Terán for party chair.

The Republican Party voted to censure Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of U.S. Sen. John McCain, who branded himself as one of the most textbook Republicans in state history after Barry Goldwater. The party also voted to say there are only two genders and calls for revoking birthright citizenship, among other resolutions that passed. 

In between the November 3 election and the AZGOP meeting, several conservatives — and even more moderate Republicans — had had enough of Ward’s behavior and criticized her at every opportunity. One of those conservatives was Kirk Adams, the former Arizona House speaker and former chief of staff to Ducey.

Adams was dismayed that Ward won the chairmanship, saying true conservatives must do their part to quiet the noise coming from Ward and her crew of conspiracy theorists by “call[ing] out their [expletive].” 

Adams has been talking to just about any reporter who calls to say that Ward winning the chair again isn’t an end to the Republican Party here, but it’s not a good sign, and it’s not reflective of all Republicans. 

“You have to let voters know that this is not a Republican brand. Or if they think it is, [explain that] there are a lot of other Republicans who don’t think this way – give us a second look,” he said. “But if we sort of ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’ we don’t want to tick anybody off, then her style of politics becomes the Republican brand.” 

While Ward pushes away those who she calls RINOs or Republican in name only, Terán said she is trying to bridge the divide in her party that she now gets to lead. 

Geoff Esposito, a progressive lobbyist and political consultant, has been following Terán’s career for years and believes she is the right person to lead. 

“There are people who are just symbols of their generation in the moment and Raquel is that in so many ways,” Esposito said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a candidate for party chair that has engendered such enthusiasm from all the various factions of the party … she has a unifying presence that everyone from the progressive left to the moderates see something that inspires them and that they can support.” 

Compared to Ward, Esposito said Teran clearly has a vision for the party to move forward where the Republican Party continues to be more divisive than ever. “We’ll see how that holds over the next two years,” he said. 

2022 is a big election year for Arizona since Kelly’s Senate seat will be up, and all five statewide offices will be on the ballot, with the governor’s race wide open after Ducey terms out, plus two seats on the Corporation Commission and a redistricted Congress and Legislature. Both parties have a lot to work with leading up to that election. 

Adams said he believes that Republicans can continue to win in Arizona, despite now having an obstacle in Ward. He said there are several financial backchannels Republicans can use without having to go through the state party, but it just makes it more challenging. To win, Adams said, Republicans must continue to put forward good candidates because it’s no longer useful to rely on having an “R” next to your name. 

He said Republicans are increasingly willing to vote for sufficiently moderate Democrats, such as Sinema and Kelly, and the GOP needs to court “Ducey-Sinema” voters, who are the voters of the future, he said, not simply rely on the fringe that Ward represents. 

Adams has made it clear he thinks Ward is extreme and said Republicans who still haven’t made a point to come out publicly against Ward and her loyalists are still learning to navigate the waters in a post-Trump world. 

“Others have governing responsibilities that need to be tended to as a first priority. So they’re focused on that,” he said.

Count Kathy Petsas, the Republican chair of the Legislative District 28 party, among those who condemn Ward. 

She stands by Ducey, who lives in her district and is a state committeeman, and has adamantly criticized Ward for being a terrible choice to lead the party. She said not a single committeeman in LD28 voted for Ward in 2019 or this year. That includes Ducey, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and several other elected officials. 

“She is unfit to lead,” Petsas said, adding that she (Petsas) is tired of being lumped into the Ward-faction of the party just because she makes a lot of noise.

 Only 1,300 people participated in the AZGOP election, Petsas said, compared to roughly 1.5 million registered Republicans in Arizona. They do “not represent the diversity of thought, respect for the rule of law, economic pragmatism, and integrity of the full party.”