2-time US Senate candidate Ward seeks top Arizona GOP post

In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, Kelli Ward concedes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in their contest. Ward, who is running to unseat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said July 17, 2017, she has met with White House officials about the campaign. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)
Kelli Ward  (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Two-time U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward said Monday she’ll seek the top post in the Arizona Republican Party and likely forego any effort to seek the late Sen. John McCain’s seat in 2020.

Ward said she believes her two Senate runs and background in the state Senate make her a solid candidate to shore up the party as Arizona becomes a battleground state.

“I think that it’s time for a new strategy, it’s time for a new leader, it’s time for the old guard to be moved out and people who embrace the entire party to move in,” Ward said.

Ward would likely face current chairman Jonathan Lines in a scheduled Jan. 26 election by party committee members. Party spokesman Robert Maxwell said Lines is expected to seek a second term, but had no further comment Monday on Ward’s announcement.

The state party has been fractured for years between moderates who embrace business-friendly strategies and avoid hot-button social issues and a more conservative wing that has embraced the tea party and President Donald Trump’s initiatives. McCain, who died last summer, was a frequent target of those conservative party activists, and Ward challenged him in the 2016 primary but lost by 11 percentage points. She ran again for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat this year, but lost in a three-way primary won by Rep. Martha McSally.

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema beat McSally in the general election.

Despite her campaign losses, Ward said those two statewide efforts have given her insight into what Republican voters want and an understanding of the issues that others don’t have.

The physician from Lake Havasu City said she’ll focus on changing GOP messaging on education and health care that she says has been poorly managed. She said she supports school choice, and public school teachers, but that GOP message hasn’t resonated. The same is true with health care.

“I think that as the GOP chairperson I can help us at the state level, at the local level and at the national level to make sure that our messaging and our strategy are appropriate so that we take the state from the purple that’s it’s become under the last two GOP leaders and become strongly right once again,” she said.

Arizona Senate race could impact confirmation of new justice

Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., smiles as she removes her face covering to speak prior to Vice President Mike Pence arriving to speak at the "Latter-Day Saints for Trump" coalition launch event Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., smiles as she removes her face covering to speak prior to Vice President Mike Pence arriving to speak at the “Latter-Day Saints for Trump” coalition launch event Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

If Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly wins a seat in the U.S. Senate, he could take office as early as Nov. 30, shrinking the GOP’s Senate majority at a crucial moment and complicating the path to confirmation for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Kelly has maintained a consistent polling lead over Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who was appointed to the seat held by John McCain, who died in 2018.

Because the contest is a special election to finish McCain’s term, the winner could be sworn in as soon as the results are officially certified. Other winners in the November election won’t take office until January.

Trump has pledged to nominate a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died Friday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that Trump’s nominee “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Mark Kelly rallies supporters at the launch of his campaign for U.S. Senate on Feb. 24, 2019, at the Van Buren in Phoenix. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Mark Kelly rallies supporters at the launch of his campaign for U.S. Senate on Feb. 24, 2019, at the Van Buren in Phoenix. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

If Kelly wins, the timing when he formally takes office could be crucial in determining who replaces Ginsburg. It could eliminate a Republican vote in favor of Trump’s nominee — the GOP currently has 53 seats in the 100-member chamber — or require McConnell to speed up the nomination process.

With McSally in the Senate, four GOP defections could defeat a nomination, while a tie vote could be broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

McSally quickly laid down a marker, declaring on Twitter within hours of the announcement of Ginsberg’s death that “this U.S. Senate should vote on President Trump’s next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.”

She has not elaborated on whether the confirmation vote should come before or after the election. But she highlighted the renewed stakes of her race in a fundraising pitch on Saturday.

“If Mark Kelly comes out on top, HE could block President Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee from being confirmed,” she wrote.

Democrats in 2018 found success in Arizona, a state long dominated by the GOP, by appealing to Republicans and independent voters disaffected with Trump. The Supreme Court vacancy could shake up the race and boost McSally’s lagging campaign by keeping those voters in her camp.

Kelly said late Saturday that “the people elected to the presidency and Senate in November should fill this vacancy.”

“When it comes to making a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, Washington shouldn’t rush that process for political purposes,” Kelly said in a statement.

FIn this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks during a discussion on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FIn this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks during a discussion on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Republican and Democratic election lawyers agreed that Arizona law is clear: If Kelly wins, he will take office once the results are official.

Arizona Supreme Court precedent favors putting elected officials in elected positions as soon as possible, said Tim LaSota, the former lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party and a McSally supporter.

“Somebody who has only been appointed does not have the imprimatur of the electorate,” LaSota said. “It’s sort of intuitive that the law should favor somebody who has won an election as opposed to someone who’s just been appointed.”

Arizona law requires election results to be officially certified on the fourth Monday after the election, which falls this year on Nov. 30. The certification could be delayed up to three days if the state has not received election results from any of the 15 counties.

Mary O’Grady, a Democratic lawyer with expertise in election law, said the deadlines are firm and there’s little room for delay.

“I don’t see ambiguity here,” said O’Grady, who was Arizona’s solicitor general under two Democratic attorneys general.

Arizona law allows recounts and election challenges only under very limited circumstances, she said.

“Usually, the Secretary of the Senate’s office goes out of its way to accommodate the new senators coming in,” former Senate Historian Don Ritchie told The Arizona Republic, which first reported on the prospect for Kelly taking office early a day before Ginsburg’s death. “The old senator is out of their office there. I mean, they actually literally put a lock on the door so their staff can’t go in.”

Bad blood, ineffective legislating threaten Mosley in LD5 primary

Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

A crowded Republican primary race in Legislative District 5 and friction among the candidates could pose a threat to Rep. Paul Mosley’s run for a second term in the House.

The Lake Havasu City Republican is facing off against seatmate Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, political newcomer Leo Biasiucci and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, who is making a third attempt for a seat in the Arizona House, in the August 28 primary.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin said while it’s hard to knock out an incumbent in a primary, the LD5 GOP primary is a competitive race.

He said Mosley is a freshman lawmaker, which is generally when incumbents are most vulnerable, and he hasn’t made many friends at the Capitol.

Laurence Schiff, chairman of the Mohave County Republican Party, said that while incumbents tend to win because they have name recognition, an established voting record and financial support from lobbyists and political action committees, Mosley could face an uphill battle.

Schiff said Mosley is the most conservative of the four candidates, a plus in one of the reddest districts statewide, but he has been criticized for being hard to work with at the Legislature. That reputation has made it difficult for Mosley to get bills onto the governor’s desk, Schiff said.

Just a few of Mosley’s bills were signed into law this year. One of his measures, HB2459, which would establish a $250 individual income tax credit for each qualifying child a taxpayer claims as a dependent, was defeated in the House, 18-39, on reconsideration, faring worse than it did the first time around when it failed 20-38. He had tried all that week but failed to garner enough support for the bill, he told colleagues on the floor the day of the vote.

Mosley has also been slammed with allegations of financial impropriety during his time at a brokerage firm, Schiff said, and challenger Biasiucci accused Mosley earlier this year of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun shop. Mosley has denied both allegations.

Schiff said while those claims have mostly blown over, there are people in Lake Havasu City who don’t support Mosley and who could give an edge to Biasiucci or Jones-Esposito.

When Jones-Esposito ran in 2012, Schiff said, she lived on the southern end of LD5 in Quartzite and was relatively unknown in Mohave County. Since moving to Kingman, he said, she has gained name recognition and now she also has more experience running a political campaign.

Schiff said Biasiucci has also positioned himself as a serious candidate this year. He described Biasiucci as “a very attractive candidate,” adding that he is young, charismatic, and well-spoken. And he said the Lake Havasu City resident is getting help from Rep. Cobb and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who have “taken him under their wing.”

Cobb told the Arizona Capitol Times that she urged Biasiucci to run for the House. Though she said she isn’t running on a slate with him, she has held meet-and-greet and fundraising events with him and Borrelli throughout the district.

However, Schiff said Biasiucci ran as a Green Party candidate for the House in 2014 and only recently became a Republican, also at Cobb’s urging, and that could hurt his chances in the extremely conservative district.

“He talks about taking conservative positions but he doesn’t have a voting record, so you never know,” he said.

Former state Sen. Ron Gould, a Lake Havasu City Republican, is less convinced that the crowded field will impact Mosley’s re-election chances.

He said any allegations that have been leveled against Mosley are most likely only known among political insiders, and he said people who are attending events put on by the other candidates were likely already supporters.

He said the race will come down to who has the most money and how effective the candidates are at getting their message out to voters.

“The real battle is in the mailbox and in the media,” he said.

Mosley said he’s unfazed by the competition or by Cobb’s and Borrelli’s apparent support for Biasiucci in the LD5 House race. He said his relationship with Cobb has never been great and he isn’t surprised she urged Biasiucci to run.

He said he is far more conservative than the other candidates and said his voting record speaks for itself. He pointed to his A+ rating with the Center for Arizona Policy, Arizona Free Enterprise Club and the National Rifle Association as examples of his conservative record.

Still, he was snubbed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which only endorsed Cobb for LD5 House, and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Cobb and Biasiucci. Neither group endorsed Mosley in 2016.

“I don’t see them as a threat,” Mosley said. “I’m on the right side of all of the issues. As long as the voters know my ratings and where I stand on the issues, I’m not threatened at all.”

Behind the Ballot: Down-ballot drama


Tracy Livingston, a Republican candidate for superintendent of public instruction, greets voters at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Livingston has been embraced by many in her party as the GOP’s best hope at keeping the office red. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

The race for superintendent of public instruction has historically struggled to garner voters’ attention and donors’ dollars.

And this election cycle is proving no different even with the energy that erupted from Red for Ed earlier this year.

But in allowing that old attitude to take hold, the GOP is failing to capitalize on the moment, and that could cost Republicans the office responsible for implementing education policy and distributing billions in school funding.

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

Behind the Ballot: Spread thin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the Ballot: Toxic


toxicArizona is no stranger to legislative candidates with baggage, but this election cycle stands out for the number of candidates, namely Republicans, who are seeking office despite their tarnished reputations.

Candidates like Don Shooter who was expelled from the state House just this year and Representative David Stringer who made comments widely condemned as racist want a second chance.

And in a year when promises of a blue wave were already being made, Democrats are practically salivating at the chance to flip the seats these toxic candidates seek.

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

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

Bennett lacks campaign funds, criticizes Ducey in Clean Elections forum

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (AP Photo/The Arizona Daily Sun, Jake Bacon)
Ken Bennett (AP Photo/The Arizona Daily Sun, Jake Bacon)

Ken Bennett compared his campaign against Gov. Doug Ducey to Donald Trump taking on the GOP establishment during the 2016 presidential race.

Bennett, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, likened himself to Trump and lashed out at Ducey on education, taxes and the governor’s record in a televised question-and-answer session August 1 on Arizona PBS.

In the half hour interview with “Arizona Horizon” host Ted Simons, the former secretary of state and Arizona Senate president dismissed the idea that he was ever an establishment Republican.

Bennett, who used to be seen as a folksy and well-liked character within the Republican Party, has taken a hard-right turn as he takes on Ducey in the August 28 primary.

He copied a tactic out of Trump’s playbook as Arizona GOP leaders have urged Bennett to exit the race.

“President Trump beat the Republican establishment and I’m offering myself as a similar option,” he said.

In the interview, Bennett called out his opponent for not cutting income taxes — a pledge Ducey made on the campaign trail in 2014. He also criticized Ducey for raising taxes this year.

Specifically, Bennett was talking about a new car registration fee that will cost all Arizona motorists approximately $18 per year. Some legislative Republicans also cried foul when it passed the Legislature, labeling it a tax. Ducey has disputed claims that the new, annual fee is a tax.

Bennett — who came in fourth in the six-way gubernatorial primary that Ducey won in 2014 — cited the new fee as one of the accounting “tricks and gimmicks” Ducey used to pay for lofty teacher pay hikes spread out over the next few years.

Ducey’s plan for teacher pay raises is what incited Bennett to jump into the gubernatorial race.

In the televised interview, Bennett said Ducey “caved” to the “Red for Ed” movement by offering teachers pay bumps after saying the state could not afford such hefty raises for months prior.

“On April 12, he was saying one thing and on April 14, all of a sudden he says something totally different,” Bennett said. “My question was: ‘How are we going to pay for it?’”

Bennett also doubled down on false statements that Ducey told Sen. John McCain to oppose the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, which caused the ailing senator to cast a decisive vote against the bill.

He also expressed no remorse for tweeting that Ducey should not appoint Cindy McCain to her husband’s U.S. Senate seat should he vacate the position, which rankled Republicans across the state. Bennett’s tweet was based off unverified reports.

“I think the people of Arizona want transparency from our governor as to who’s on his list,” he said.

Bennett appeared on Arizona PBS as part of a Clean Elections Commission forum. What was initially billed as a debate turned into a question-and-answer session between Bennett and Simons, the host, when Ducey declined to participate.

Candidates seeking public financing for their campaigns are required to participate in the televised Clean Elections forums. With less than a month until the primary election, Bennett still has not turned in enough certified $5 contributions to qualify for $839,704 in public financing he could use in his primary race.

Bennett’s campaign must provide a status report on his contributions to Clean Elections by August 6.

Border top issue for statewide GOP hopefuls

FILE – In this March 2, 2019, file photo, a Customs and Border Control agent patrols on the U.S. side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico east of Nogales, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel,File)

“Chaos. Crisis. Children dropped alone in the desert,” U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon said, over grim, grainy images in a political ad showing people crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. “In only 100 days, open border politicians like Chuck Schumer and Mark Kelly created a disaster.” 

Lamon, who paid more than $100,000 to take out the ad in late spring, is one of several candidates seeking the Republican nomination to run against Kelly, one of Arizona’s two Democratic U.S. senators. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee apparently sees the border as a winning issue as well and has taken out several ads seeking to tie Kelly to the Biden administration’s policies and the increase in the number of people trying to enter the country.  

And the other Republicans running for Senate are sticking to the same simple message as Lamon when it comes to border security – the border is a mess, President Biden is to blame and a return to former President Trump’s approach is needed. 

“I think the solution is actually quite simple,” U.S. Senate candidate Justin Olson said in an interview. “We need to reinstate the policies of the Trump administration. The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy for asylum seekers was a significant deterrent to illegal immigration. We need to finish the wall. We need to properly fund the Border Patrol. We need the National Guard on the border. We need universal E-verify requirements for all employers and employer sanctions for those who do not comply.” 

Jim Lamon speaks on July 5, 2021, with supporters at a “Stand for Freedom” rally at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Scottsdale Resort in Scottsdale. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Blake Masters’ Twitter header picture is a photo of the border wall. Attorney General Mark Brnovich has been suing the Biden administration over its border policies every chance he gets. Mick McGuire sent out a fundraising email on November 1, saying that while he was doing an interview with a local TV station in Yuma, an illegal immigrant crossed the border behind him right in front of the cameras. 

“Joe Biden’s open border policies have made these people fearless,” McGuire wrote. “They are willing to cross our border out in the open for everyone to see.” 

With border issues, Republican candidates seem to think they have a good message that’s going to resonate with the right people. Chuck Coughlin, a longtime GOP consultant, said polling shows immigration is the top issue among Republican voters. And, he said, “I believe they’re (Democrats) going to be vulnerable on those issues.” 

Although immigration and border security are largely federal responsibilities, they have long been a factor in state-level elections in Arizona as well. Republican governors throughout the country, including Arizona’s Doug Ducey, have been among the most visible critics of the Biden administration when it comes to the border.  

Earlier this year Ducey sent the Arizona National Guard to the border – drawing criticism from many Arizona legislative Democrats but with the support of the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly.  

Republican state legislators routinely decry illegal immigration from the House and Senate floors and call for increased border security. This year they appropriated $55 million to support the National Guard mission and to assist local law enforcement at the border. 

In this May 19, 2021 file photo the border wall stretches along the landscape near Sasabe, Ariz. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

And the Republicans running for governor are beating the same drum as their Senate counterparts. Kari Lake and Matt Salmon have both promised to finish the border wall themselves if the feds won’t do it. 

In a radio interview in late October, Salmon said, “I’ve said repeatedly when I get elected governor the first press conference I do is with a post-hole digger on the border, because if the feds aren’t going to do it, we’ll get it done. And if we have to offset and put it on state land to get that done, then we’ll get that done,” adding that finishing the wall will also require negotiating with the Indian tribes since much of the border is on tribal lands. 

Coughlin said ideas like the state finishing its own border wall are far-fetched, but could still be politically advantageous. 

“I don’t think there’s any credibility to the issue of Arizona could do the wall … but that doesn’t prevent elected officials playing to the peanut gallery in order to advance their own popularity,” he said. 

Border security is one issue where Kelly, who narrowly won a special election last year and is running for a full term in 2022, has sought to emphasize his more centrist views and put some distance between himself and other Democrats. 

Mark Kelly speaks with supporters at the Phoenix launch of his U.S. Senate campaign on Feb. 24, 2019, at The Van Buren in Phoenix. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

In a statement after Biden’s first address to Congress in April, Kelly criticized Biden for not laying out a plan to address the increase in crossings and referred to the influx as a “crisis.” Kelly has also called for dedicating more federal resources to border enforcement, introducing a bill earlier this year to boost Department of Homeland Security funding to make sure money spent caring for migrants doesn’t take away from funding for security. More generally, Kelly has portrayed the situation as a bipartisan policy failure that spans administrations. 

“The federal government has failed Arizona and other border states on this issue for decades,” Kelly told the White Mountain Independent in October. “We don’t have the border security we need. We need more staffing at the border, more border agents, and the border control agents we have need to be in the field. We need more technology at the border, and more immigration judges. This (situation) has been a failure in Washington, one administration after another.” 

The Democrats running for governor have put less of a focus on the border than the Republicans have. The campaigns of Democratic candidates Katie Hobbs, Aaron Lieberman and Marco Lopez did not respond to questions or interview requests by our deadline. 

Lieberman said in an interview with Yuma public radio station KAWC in September that border security is a federal responsibility, not a state one. 

“At the same time, I want to make sure that we have a secure border, that we know who’s coming across the border (and) that we have a process for doing that,” he said. 

Julie Erfle, a liberal political consultant and commentator, said Democratic candidates should be thinking about shifting conversations away from the border to issues like education. “I think Democrats need to do a better job of setting the message,” she said. 

Still, Erfle added: “they don’t have to punt on the border, either.” A winning message for Democratic candidates on border issues, she said, will emphasize that border enforcement matters, but so does immigration policy reform and addressing humanitarian issues. 

Hobbs tweeted in late October, after visiting Nogales to meet with Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway, that she is committed to listening to the affected communities and learning about the problems. 

“The situation at our border puts pressure on all our communities,” Hobbs said. “We have to reduce illegal border crossings in a way that promotes security and safety for everyone and most efficiently uses taxpayers’ dollars. Arizonans need a leader who is learning from the officials who are on the front lines and understand this important issue best.” 

Lopez is the one candidate with roots in Arizona’s border region, something his campaign has emphasized, but his past work as chief of staff for U.S. Customs and Border Protection could be a stumbling-block for progressive voters. Even so, Erfle said Lopez doesn’t need to worry as much about countering criticism of his work for the federal border agency as he focuses on getting voters energized about his vision for Arizona. 

Coughlin, the GOP consultant, added that Democrats might try to shift the conversation from border security to the social and economic impacts of an immigration system that’s been broken for years. 

“If I were a Democrat, that’s what I’d be trying to talk about,” he said. “Not the failure of the Biden administration to maintain operational security at the border.” 

Budget calls for school districts to divvy up pay increase

MRebuffing last-minute protests by educators picketing the Capitol, Republican lawmakers took the first steps Monday to providing a 9 percent raise this coming year for teachers.

But not necessarily all teachers.

The final version of the budget deal negotiated between GOP leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey puts $273 million into the $10.4 billion spending plan for the coming year specifically for teacher pay hikes.

But unlike Ducey’s original proposal, each school district will get its share as a bulk dollar amount. That, then leaves it up to board members to decide how to divide it up.

What that could mean is a larger bump at the bottom of the pay scale, both to attract new teachers and keep them in the profession. The state Department of Education estimates that 40 percent of new teachers leave after two years.

Some of that is because the job isn’t what they expected or other non-financial issues like workload. But state schools chief Diane Douglas, who has been a prime proponent of higher pay for teachers for years, has said that money is clearly a factor.

That same plan for bulk salary grants to school districts also will apply for the 5 percent pay hike proposed for the following school year and an additional 5 percent the year after that.

Along with that flexibility, the spending plan unveiled Monday also calls for more transparency, with new requirements for school districts to annually report on their web sites their average teacher salaries. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said that ensures “this is all out there for people to see.”

Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It's the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Teachers rally outside the Arizona House of Representatives Monday, April 30, 2018, in Phoenix on their third day of walk outs. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. It’s the latest in a series of strikes across the nation over low teacher pay. (AP Photo/Matt York)

None of this satisfied educators who remained on strike for a third day on Monday as they marched around the Capitol in what they hope will be a successful effort to convince lawmakers not to adopt the budget and pay-hike plan that Ducey has proposed. And all indications are that many teachers will remain on strike through at least today — and possibly until the budget is enacted at the end of the week.

Ducey and Republican lawmakers question the protests, pointing out it provides for a 19 percent increase in teacher pay, at least on average. But education groups are not confident that the funds will be there, particularly in later years, leaving open the possibility a future governor and future lawmakers could rescind the promise.

What’s also missing as far as educators are concerned are specific dollars earmarked for support personnel like janitors, reading specialists, counselors and bus drivers.

Ducey counters that his budget includes $100 million in additional district assistance, money that schools can spend on whatever priorities they have, whether repairs or other pay increases. But that, however, is only part of $371 million a year schools are supposed to have been getting all along for books, computers, buses and other minor repairs.

But the biggest complaint is that state aid on a per-student basis is less now than it was a decade ago, even before the effects of inflation are considered. The education groups want that $1 billion difference restored.

That question of whether the funds will be there to finance higher teacher pay is what’s behind an initiative to hike personal income taxes, at least on the wealthiest Arizonans, in an effort to raise $620 million.

But David Lujan, who chairs the Invest in Education campaign, denied Monday that financing increased aid to education this way is a kind of class warfare.

“Right now, lower and middle-income people are paying a larger portion of their income in taxes,” he said. “I think this is a fair way to go.”

In criticizing the plan, Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that one big flaw is that there are not that many people in Arizona who are in those top tax brackets. The result, he contends, is that it would take only a few of the richest choosing to move — or find other ways of shielding their income — to drop the bottom out of the anticipated $620 million in annual revenues.

Lujan brushed that concern aside.

“The answer to volatility is making a more diverse economy,” he said.

“How do you get a more diverse economy?” Lujan continued. “One of the biggest ways is to invest in your public education system.”

But the most recent figures from the state Department of Revenue — from 2012 — suggest there aren’t a lot of people at the top end of the income scale to bear the burden. It found there were fewer than 15,000 filers in Arizona with a federal adjusted gross income of more than $500,000 out of more than 2.4 million tax returns.

Lujan also said that the proposal simply brings the taxes back to where they were before lawmakers started making cuts.

That, however, is not true. The tax rates that the initiative seeks to impose are actually higher than they’ve been in decades.

Prior to 1990, couples with taxable income of more than $15,480 paid income taxes at a rate of 8 percent. That year the Legislature put in a tax schedule closer to what exists now, with the top bracket being 7 percent for couples with taxable income of more than $300,000.

The initiative spells out that couples earning more than $500,000 pay $20,622 — a 4.1 percent blended rate for that first $500,000 that is identical to what they pay now — plus 8 percent of anything over that figure.

And at $1 million the tax bill becomes $60,622, a 6.1 percent blended rate for that first $1 million, as compared to a current bill of $43,322. Plus they would owe 9 percent of anything in excess.

“We wanted to hit it where it was people who were going to be able to afford it, who benefited from past tax cuts,” Lujan said.

The initiative actually differs in one key way from the original plan that had been unveiled late last week.

That would have required school boards to get approval from teachers and support staff for how they spend the money, essentially mandating collective bargaining on school districts. Lujan said Monday that controversial language now is gone.

C.T. Wright: Politically active clemency chairman prays for unity

Cap Times Q&A

If you’ve sat through a day at Arizona Senate in the past three years, there’s a chance you’ve heard a booming prayer delivered by C. T. Wright. His prayers have also been heard in the Arizona House of Representatives, at state GOP meetings, and even at a campaign rally for President Trump in 2016. As a politically active resident of Fountain Hills, Wright has served in the past as a delegate at national political conventions, a member of the Arizona Electoral College, and currently as chairman of the Board of Executive Clemency.

C.T. Wright (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
C.T. Wright (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

What do you enjoy about delivering the prayer before the Senate?

I enjoy being there and meeting and getting to know the senators, the staff, and getting to, hopefully, influence them just a little bit. Because one of the things I truly believe in, that is unity. If you’ve heard me several times, I like to say, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is together, together in unity.” And that’s one of the things that I like to try and get over to the senators, for them to hopefully come together, work together in unity, rather than divided as so oftentimes we are.

Do you get to do more than just pray? How else can you reach out to lawmakers?

It’s through the prayer, but I spend a great deal of time over there, knocking on doors, both Senate and House. I also had the opportunity to pray on the House side. But I enjoy talking to them, getting to know them, and I think I can say safely that I probably know at least 90 percent of the ones on the Senate side. On the House side, because you had so many freshmen this year, I’m gonna say that I probably know maybe about 60 percent of those on the House side.”

How long have you been in Arizona?

I came to Arizona in 1989, but from ’89 until ’04 I was traveling all over the world doing some work for Africa. But in ’04 I had an illness — my back went out on me — and I made a commitment at that time, rather than trying to travel over the world and that type of thing, I should concentrate on Arizona, and I’ve been concentrating on Arizona since then.

I’ve heard you say this plenty in the Senate, so I can’t help but ask: What’s the greatest city in the world?

The greatest city? Let’s say first of all the greatest state on the planet is the state of Arizona. Arizona is a great state. We have great leaders here in Arizona, and they really position Arizona into the 21st century and beyond. And that started with Governor Doug Ducey, to the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House, all the way down to, as I like to say, to the doorkeepers, to the dog catchers and everybody else – Arizona is really an outstanding place. Now you get me when you say city. I’m going to have to say, although initially I was staying in Scottsdale, but I’m going to have to say Fountain Hills is the greatest town in the world. I am going to make that distinction between city and town, because Fountain Hills is really outstanding, and that’s one reason I’ve become so involved, because of my respect for Fountain Hills.

What to you is the overlap between the spiritual and the political?

I think that my philosophy is to try to help to create an environment to bring leaders together — political, economic leaders, all leaders. We can come together and they can truly make a difference. I think that one of the problems that we have today at the federal level, at the state level and at the local level, we are not talking to each other. We are talking over each other. We never listen to each other, and that’s a problem, in my opinion. If we begin to listen to each other, then we can achieve so much more. America is the greatest nation in the world, Arizona is the greatest state in the world, in the United States of America, but now that we are so great, if we don’t work together, we’re going to be divided. Together we stand… We need to come together – otherwise we are going to fail. I believe, I hope, that I can have some influence through prayers, as well as behind closed doors.

How do you aspire to accomplish that?

My philosophy is quite simple. Let the work that I do speak for me. I don’t need to be in the press every day, I don’t need to be out there every day. But if I can do something behind closed doors to truly make a difference, to bring people together who ordinarily would not talk to each other — and that’s one of the things I try to do, through prayer, through spirituality, as well as an individual who is somewhat involved in the political process.

Unity is clearly your focus, but at this point in time, is the nation even close to accomplishing that?

I think at the moment we’re totally divided, and I think that is quite evident. I don’t have the data that you would have, but I’m going to make up some numbers at the moment, some percentages: About 40 percent in my opinion are Republicans, about 40 percent are Democrats, and then you other 20 percent somewhere out there. That’s where we don’t have unity at the moment. But I have faith in this country that unity will come. I go back to the 1860s, with Abraham Lincoln. The country became totally divided at that time. But the country came back together. We’re divided now, but the country can come back together. But in order for the country to come back together, our leaders are going to have to work together to truly make that difference. And if our leaders begin to work together, and I’m going to say something else, and most people won’t say this anymore, not only must they work together, but they must pray together. I think if we begin to pray, forgive me for saying that, if we begin to pray, I think we will come together. We’ll get to know each other better.

Candidate says no coordination with Worsley for LD25 senate seat

Mesa Republican Tyler Pace knew that Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was considering retirement before he filed to run against the incumbent for the state Senate.

But the 29-year-old candidate in Legislative District 25 said he had nothing to do with Worsley’s decision to withdraw from the campaign, which Worsley timed perfectly to ensure that Pace would go unchallenged in the GOP primary election.

Pace said he met with Worsley before he began his campaign for the LD25 Senate seat, and that the senator told him he was thinking about calling it quits.

Tyler Pace
Tyler Pace

“Bob and I met before I filed my signatures, before I filed my candidacy,” Pace told the Arizona Capitol Times on June 21. “And at that point, I had become aware, and from Bob, he told me when we were meeting that he was considering retiring. And people, several other people we’ve met were like, ‘Oh we’ve heard him say that.’”

Worsley has openly acknowledged that he’s only retiring from the Legislature because he’s comfortable with Pace as his replacement.

By withdrawing from the race on June 18, after filing signatures to run on May 30 and past the June 13 deadline to challenge the petitions of those seeking access to the ballot, Worsley ensured that no Republican other than Pace will be on the ballot in August. Only a write-in candidate could challenge Pace in the Republican Primary.

Pace adamantly denied that he coordinated with Worsley or with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, his uncle by marriage, to secure the GOP nomination.

He described himself as a newcomer who stumbled into a perfect storm that created a clear path for his ascension to the Senate.

“Bob didn’t recruit me. He didn’t solicit me or hunt me out. I think it kind of was mostly circumstantial what was going on,” Pace said. “And as we now know, Bob was wanting a way out. And I think to sum it up, I was the only person who was available and there. No one else was running against him.”

The timing of Pace’s decision to enter the race has left some Mesa Republicans skeptical of his candidacy.

Pace registered his website’s domain name on May 25, the same day he created a campaign committee with the Secretary of State’s Office. He then collected 1,461 signatures in just five days, a staggering pace of roughly 292 signatures a day.

Pace credited a team of family volunteers and friends, and paid signature gatherers, for gathering his nominating petitions.

And he credited his grandfather, who served for decades in Utah’s Legislature, for the idea to run for the state Senate. Pace initially explored running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Mesa. But Pace said he settled on Worsley because, like Biggs, the senator faced no opposition from his own party.

“You can see with Andy Biggs. Nobody was running against Andy Biggs and I thought, we can have some discrepancies on what we agree, on little things,” he said. “Competition in politics gives people options, so I figured, it’s last second and everyone’s thinking I’m a bit crazy, so I jumped in.”

The circumstances around Worsley’s retirement have left LD25 Republicans suspicious, according to Kathleen Winn, first vice chair of the district’s Republican Party. Their party members are having a tough time separating Worsley’s maneuver from Pace’s candidacy, she said.

Pace had a chance to win over those Republicans at a meeting on June 21. The Capitol Times was barred from the meeting, but Winn said Pace spent the night answering questions about his political views, the circumstances surrounding his entry into the race and his connection to Worsley and the outgoing senator’s allies.

Winn said the crowd received him politely and didn’t go on the attack, but remained skeptical.

“He didn’t win over the crowd, but they didn’t try to attack him and shout him down, which I’ve seen happen,” she said. “I don’t think that they were 100 percent trusting of what he had to say, but I think that really goes way more to Bob Worsley than it does to Tyler Pace.”

Had Worsley been more open with the district’s political leaders about his desire to retire, some LD25 Republicans may have put another candidate forward. Winn said Dr. Ralph Heap, a Mesa Republican who challenged Worsley in the 2014 primary, likely would have made another run and probably would have gotten the support of many in the district.

Yet had a candidate like Heap run against Worsley, the senator had indicated he would have stayed in the race.

Worsley only ran for re-election against Heap in 2014 because wasn’t satisfied that Heap would represent the district appropriately, according to Tyler Montague, a consultant who helped recruit Worsley for office.

Now the district’s Republicans are left to decide whether to support Pace, or scramble to find a write-in candidate. Winn downplayed that possibility, calling discussions about a write-in a “knee jerk reaction” to Worsley’s announcement.

Nonetheless, Pace is at a disadvantage while introducing himself to the district.

“Tyler is very politically naive, but he’s very intelligent. And I think he represents a lot of our viewpoints, so we’ll see,” Winn said. “Unfortunately the way that Bob did this, he left Tyler in a  compromised position, which is unfortunate because now Tyler’s starting at a deficit… He’s getting any angst that people have against Sen. Worsley is now getting projected onto him, because people don’t trust Sen. Worsley.”

Can’t hurt to ask: Arizona lawmakers raise earmark requests by $194 million

earmarks, construction, Arizona, Congress
Transportation projects were among the biggest requests by members of Arizona’s congressional delegation for fiscal 2023, the second year Congress has allowed “community project funding” – or earmarks – after a 10-year hiatus. But requests covered the gamut, from military construction to medical equipment to counseling programs. (File photo by Jenna Miller/ Cronkite News)

Add another item to the long list of things that Republican and Democratic members of Arizona’s congressional delegation disagree on: earmarks.

For a second straight year, Republicans refrained from requesting any funding for local projects, while Democrats this year raised their requests by more than $194.5 million, a 43% increase over last year, when earmarks were restored after a decade-long hiatus.

The increase was sharpest in the House, where Arizona lawmakers asked for $148.1 million, more than three times the $45.2 million in “community project funding” they sought last year. The House also raised the number of projects members could request, from 10 last year to 15 this year.

The bulk of the requests came, not surprisingly, from the state’s senators, who are not limited in the number of “congressionally directed spending requests” and who seek projects statewide: Sen. Mark Kelly’s requests went from $210.7 million last year to $254.6 million this year, while Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s requests rose from $192.1 million to $239.5 million in the same period. Their requests appeared to be about in the middle of the pack for the Senate.

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, who asked for a relatively modest $26.6 million this year in local project funding, defends the program as needed and targeted.

“For many decades, Arizona hasn’t received its fair share of federal funds – our tax dollars have gone to fund projects in other states,” Stanton said in an emailed statement. “That’s unacceptable.”

But critics say the program to fund congressionally directed, local projects is little more than wasteful “pork-barrel spending” on projects that would not merit funding otherwise, criticism that led earmarks to be put on hold for more than a decade.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but … I know that’s a cliché, but the point is that an earmark is still an earmark,” said Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “No matter how it’s defined, it means that members of Congress are obtaining funds outside of the regular appropriations process.”

Schatz noted that former Arizona Sen. John McCain was one of the driving forces behind a 2011 move to ban earmarks, which McCain called “wasteful pork-barrel spending” and a “gateway drug to corruption and overspending.”

But Congress lifted that ban last year, with new safeguards against past abuses. Lawmakers have to report every request, show need and community support for it, and prove that neither they nor any family members will benefit from the funding. House members are limited in the number of projects they can request – senators are not – but the total number of earmarks approved cannot account for more than 1% of the budget’s discretionary spending.

Arizona’s five House Democrats asked for $148.1 million to fund 75 projects this year, while the state’s two Democratic senators each requested 106 projects, totaling $494.1 million. There is some duplication in the requests: Kelly, Sinema and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, all sought millions to fund a gate and other projects at Morris Air National Guard Base, for example.

For the second year in a row, Kirkpatrick led the state’s House delegation with a total request for $38.5 million, well above the median House request of $27.8 million.

“We were not trying to be like, ‘Oh, we’re only going to pick the projects that have the most money.’ That’s not how we thought,” said Abigail O’Brien, Kirkpatrick’s chief of staff. “We really tried to prioritize the projects that made the most sense and could do the most good.”

Kirkpatrick was followed by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, whose $37.1 million request ranked 92nd among the 345 House members who put in requests. Other Arizona Democrats were Reps. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona, whose $31.5 million request put him in 139th place; Stanton, whose $26.6 million was 189th; and Rep. Raul Grijalva of Tucson, whose $14.4 million request was 319th. Kirkpatrick was in 83rd place.

O’Brien said one reason for the increased number of requests this year is that lawmakers were more familiar and knowledgeable about the process than last year.

“There is a desire to make those community project funding dollars stretch as far as they can this year,” she said.

The largest single requests in Arizona came from Sinema and Kelly, who both asked for $28.7 million for a new wastewater treatment plant at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and $20 million for a munitions storage complex at Morris ANG. Their total number of requests was less than half the Senate average of about 220, and their lists fell well shy of heavyweights like Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who asked for $663.8 million in projects or Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who sought $509.4 million.

Requests from Arizona House members ranged from the $12 million Kirkpatrick sought for upgrades to the main gate at Morris ANG, to Grijalva’s $167,700 request for an education program for students dealing with mental and economic stress. Other requests included everything from affordable housing to water infrastructure, from workforce development to bus shelters, among others.

In the House, more than 340 members asked for $12.4 billion in earmarks for fiscal 2023, up sharply from the $7.1 billion in requests made last year.

While no Arizona Republican asked for earmarks, more than 100 of their House colleagues were not so shy: The top seven House requesters this year were GOP lawmakers.

Texas Rep. Randy Weber led the way with a $545.5 million list that included $283 million to deepen a commercial waterway in his district. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., fell from first place last year to second this year, with $341.1 million in requests. Most of that was $314 million for an Everglades rehabilitation project, the single biggest ask of this year.

Schatz said one of the dangers of earmarks is that they can “entice or encourage or incentivize members of Congress who might otherwise be fiscally conservative to vote for the spending bill, because they have a project in the spending bill.”

But O’Brien said earmarks give lawmakers a chance to “bring back federal dollars to the community.”

“It’s been such a huge, effective and new practice in Congress to do community project funding,” she said. “The people that receive this money – the organizations and the nonprofits and the local municipalities – they’re so grateful and it goes such a long way.”

Schatz is not convinced.

“If the federal agencies have not approved them in the past, it likely means that they didn’t qualify, or they weren’t a high priority or some other reason why they didn’t get funded,” Schatz said. “So even though somebody asks for them from the local government, or the state government, it still doesn’t mean it should get federal money, or that it’s really essential.

“It just takes away money from other areas of the country that may need it more,” he said. “But because the member of Congress said, ‘Hey, it’s a community project,’ everything is a community project.”

That was echoed by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who said the funds could be better used elsewhere, as the nation battles high inflation and a growing national debt.

“Before Congress returned to the use of earmarks, we should have had a conversation about balancing the budget and reining in Congress’ out-of-control spending,” Lesko said in a statement.

But Stanton said one of the reasons voters send lawmakers to Washington is to fight for local projects.

“I’m going to keep working so that Arizona gets its fair share, and that means delivering on projects that invest in and strengthen our communities,” Stanton said.

House and Senate committees began accepting requests in March, with reviews wrapping up this summer as the fiscal 2023 appropriations bills move through Congress.


CD8 – where GOP winner can hold the seat a long, long time

With a nearly 2-1 Republican advantage over Democrats in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, the recently vacated seat offers job security to the victor of the special primary election.

Although Democrats Dr. Hiral Tipirneni and Brianna Westbrook are also seeking the seat, Republican consultant Chris Baker says neither will win.

“Not only is it a heavily Republican district, the independents are generally conservative and the Republicans in the district are not of a type who would even remotely consider voting for a Democrat,” he said.

And that means the winner of the Republican special primary election on February 27 can expect to hold onto the seat for as long as he or she wants it. The district includes many of the suburbs west and north of Phoenix.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., takes his seat before the start of a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, on Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Franks says in a statement that he never physically intimidated, coerced or attempted to have any sexual contact with any member of his congressional staff. Instead, he says, the dispute resulted from a discussion of surrogacy. Franks and his wife have 3-year-old twins who were conceived through surrogacy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Former Rep. Trent Franks (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Baker speaks from experience. He worked for former U.S. Rep. Trent Franks when he was first elected to serve the district in 2002.

Franks held that seat until December when he resigned after allegedly asking female staffers to carry his child via surrogacy.

Baker said this primary will not require the same level of name recognition as in other congressional races. The candidates also don’t have the time or resources to cultivate that image.

Instead, it will be about who can reach the magic number of voters and hold on tight with a socially conservative message.

Baker said Franks won the primary in 2002 with 28 percent of the vote.

He said the winner now will have to worry less about standing out in the crowded Republican field and more about fostering a coalition of voters that can get him or her to around 30 percent.

Twelve candidates are seeking the GOP primary nomination, including  Chad Allen, Brenden Dilley, Stephen Dolgos, David Lien, Richard Mack, Christopher Sylvester, Clair Van Steenwyk and Mark Yates.

However, Debbie Lesko, Phil Lovas, Steve Montenegro and Bob Stump, all former state legislators, are widely considered to be the top competitors.

Republican consultant Ryan O’Daniel narrowed the presumptive field even more. He said Lovas, Montenegro and especially Lesko will have an advantage because of their experience in CD8.

“It’s going to be an insider election,” he said. “The people who pay attention to politics and already have some loyalty to one of the candidates are the ones who are going to vote.”

He predicted there won’t be many undecided voters on Election Day, and fewer minds will be changed.

The short time frame on the special election will not allow for wiggle room.

By Katie Campbell
By Katie Campbell

Consultant says Dems need to be lucky and good to win CD8

In these early days of the 8th Congressional District special election, little attention – if any – has been paid to the two Democratic candidates running in the overwhelmingly red stronghold.

Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician, and Brianna Westbrook, a transgender woman working in the automotive industry, according to her campaign bio, entered the race while Franks was still in office and was presumed to be running for re-election. And both are still in now that Franks is out and an expedited process to replace him is in full-swing.

Both claim strong grassroots support and hope to ride on their image as political outsiders making their first runs for office.

Unfortunately for them, even Democratic consultants don’t think that will be enough to make CD8 a real contest.

The special election already features an increasingly crowded Republican field, which as of publication includes state Sen. Steve Montenegro and former legislators Phil Lovas and Bob Stump. Others are expected to join the hunt in the coming days.

The special primary will be held on February 27, followed by the general election on April 24. Candidates have until January 10 to file paperwork to officially enter the race.

Chad Campbell
Chad Campbell

Former House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said chances are slim that a Democrat stands a chance in the special general election.

The numbers certainly don’t bode well. Republicans outnumber Democrats, 187,234 to 109,467, according to the most recent voter registration numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office.

And Campbell said there isn’t likely to be much Dem money funneled into that race, especially considering more competitive congressional districts may be up for grabs.

Instead, he said the focus will be on Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat and, presumably, Republican Rep. Martha McSally’s, who is expected to vacate for a Senate run.

Campbell said those seats are must-wins for Democrats if they want any shot at getting a majority in the House, so there won’t be much to spare for CD8 in terms of resources.

Even if there was, neither Tipirneni nor Westbrook is likely to be the right candidate when even a higher profile contender would have little chance at success.

“You need a rural Democrat for that district,” Campbell said. “But again, I’m not sure that candidate exists right now. And even if that candidate did exist, I don’t know that there would be money there.”

Consultant Andy Barr said Democrats’ ability to make a stand will depend heavily on who wins the Republican nomination, as demonstrated in Alabama, and he suspects donors will need to see reliable data showing a competitive general election before serious money comes into play.

“There is just such an appetite for wins right now on our side,” he said. “But we have a lot of objectives this cycle and very real objectives. These guys [running in CD8] are going to struggle.”

But Barr also said Republican candidates will likely find more of a challenge than they’re expecting.

“These guys coming over from the Legislature are in for a rude awakening because nobody knows who the hell they are,” he said. “They’ll think they’re starting with an advantage, but the truth is they’re not. The name ID on these guys is going to be nonexistent.”

Barr did predict one advantage for both candidates from his side of the aisle: They’re women. He said much of the recent energy in the party has been sparked by women activists.

Still, the special primary winner will have to prove she can inspire a movement and bring together the other pieces of a true contender.

“If we have a superior candidate in a superior campaign and get lucky, we can win this seat. But we need those things to align,” Barr said.

“They’re going to have to get good really quick, and that’s true of both the candidates and the campaigns. These guys are going to go from obscurity to having to perform at a very high level very quickly.”

Westbrook said she’s been “playing to win” since March when she filed to take on Franks.

She’s not especially concerned about Tipirneni, and she disagrees with the assumption that the district will swing Republican even if that’s what the numbers show.

“They’re looking for someone to believe in,” she said. “We just haven’t ran a candidate here in two election cycles, so the Democratic Party has nothing really to stand on in this district.”

But while Westbrook said she has focused more on reaching the people of CD8 and less on money – “I’m not buying my way through this election” – Tipirneni may have a funding advantage.

Consultant DJ Quinlan, who’s working for Tipirneni’s campaign, said she has fundraising powers and a story that will resonate with voters.

Tipirneni has more than $120,000 on-hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission data.

Quinlan pointed to Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory over staunch Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate as proof that even Republican bases cannot be written off as sure things for conservative candidates.

“A creepy congressman in a scandal is the context by which you have the special election,” he said, drawing a connection to the circumstances under which Jones was elected and Franks, who resigned last week after two women said he discussed surrogacy with them.

Court dismisses Ward election suit

Cork, Ireland

A federal judge has tossed out a bid by Kelli Ward and other Arizona would-be Republican electors to force Vice President Mike Pence to use a different procedure when counting electoral votes this coming Wednesday.

In a 13-page order, Judge Jeremy Kernodle said that Ward, who is chair of the Arizona Republican Party, and her fellow plaintiffs lack standing to even sue Pence in the first place.

He said what they want is for him to order the vice president to ignore the procedures set forward in the federal Electoral Count Act, one that should result in a finding that Democrat Joe Biden won the race with 306 electoral votes versus 232 for President Trump. That would set the set the stage for Pence, as presiding officer of the U.S. Senate, to reject the election results, certified by Gov. Doug Ducey, which found that Biden had outpolled Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes.

Kernodle said that, in the minds of the Arizona challengers, that would open the door for Pence to decline to give the state’s 11 electoral votes to Biden — and possibly do the same in other states where Biden won. At that point, the way Ward and the other GOP “electors” see it, Pence could either count their votes for Trump despite the fact they’re not the electors certified by the governor, or refuse to count either slate, setting the stage for the House, with one vote per state, to choose the president.

But the judge said their lawsuit is based on the premise that Ducey unlawfully certified and transmitted the votes of the Biden electors. And even if that were true, Kernodle said is not the fault of Pence who is named as the sole defendant in the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs do not allege that the vice president had any involvement in the certification and transmission of a competing slate of electors,” he said.

“That act is performed solely by the Arizona governor, who is a third party not before the court, the judge continued. “The vice president’s anticipated actions on Jan. 6 will not affect the decision of Gov. Ducey regarding the certification of presidential electors — which occurred more than two weeks ago on Dec. 14.

And Kernodle said there’s something else.

He pointed out that what Ward and the other electors want him to do is order Pence to follow a certain procedure when opening the votes, one they contend gives the vice president the “exclusive authority and sole discretion in determining which electoral votes to count for a given state.”

But Kernodle pointed out that even if he were to do that, that still doesn’t guarantee they will get the result they want: rejection of the 11 Democratic votes, whether by Pence or the full Congress. And that, he said, means they lack legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

The judge reached a similar conclusion that Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas, who also is part of the lawsuit, lacks standing to sue.

He said Gohmert intends to raise an objection on Wednesday when the electoral votes are counted for Arizona and several other states where voters chose Biden over Trump.

The Electoral Count Act then requires each member of the House and Senate to vote to resolve the objections. But Gohmert contends that violates the Twelfth Amendment which he said requires state-by-state voting, with each state having one vote, for which slate to accept, a process that likely would favor Trump.

“Members of Congress lack standing to bring a claim for an injury suffered solely because they are members of Congress,” Kernodle wrote. “And that is all Congressman Gohmert is alleging here.”

He said Gohmert is not alleging that he was denied the right to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

“Rather, he asserts that under the Electoral Count Act, he will not be able to vote as a congressional representative in accordance with the Twelfth Amendment,” the judge wrote, something Kernodle said he is legally powerless to address.

The judge also said that Gohmert’s claim suffers from the same flaw as does the one by Kelly and the other would-be GOP electors: It is based on what Gohmert believes would happen in “a series of hypothetical — but by no means certain — events.”

That ranges from what Pence will do on Wednesday in opening and counting the votes, whether any member of Congress would object, how members of Congress would vote individually if that were the process and how a one-vote-per-state result might be different.

There was no immediate response from Ward to the ruling. But the attorneys representing her, the other would-be Arizona GOP electors and Gohmert already have filed notice they intend to seek review by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is the second federal court defeat for Ward and that Republican “slate.”

Last month Judge Diane Humetewa tossed out claims of fraud and irregularities based on theories that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs conspired with various foreign and domestic individuals and companies to manipulate the results and allow Biden to win.

“The allegations they put forth to support their claim of fraud fail in their particularity and plausability,” the judge wrote. “The various affidavits and expert reports are largely based on anonymous witnesses, hearsay and irrelevant analysis of unrelated elections.”

That is among more than four dozen lawsuits filed by Trump or his supporters that have been rejected by state and federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court also has turned away several appeals, though Ward is involved with two more which technically remain on the court’s docket.

D.C. pundit has it wrong, Arizona Republicans ready for 2020


The Washington, D.C., pundit class has focused its sights on one of the fastest growing counties in the nation with the prediction that its voters could thwart the President’s re-election and jeopardize the chances of Republicans holding onto the U.S. Senate. Stuart Rothenberg penned an “analysis” for Roll Call, claiming that the Republicans’ chances in November look grim because of Maricopa County. Let me be unequivocally clear for the D.C. punditocracy: Arizona is Trump country and our Republican activists will keep it that way.

Maricopa County is one of the fastest growing counties because of opportunity. Despite the setback caused by the Coronavirus crisis that is impacting the entire country’s economy, the long-term outlook for both Arizona and Maricopa County is bright. We have a pro-business and pro-job growth environment. We are also considered to have among the strongest pro-life and Second Amendment laws in the nation. Going back to Barry Goldwater, Arizonans are known for passionately supporting individual liberties and limited government. This culture of freedom, combined with the historic accomplishments of President Trump and Republican leadership in our state, makes Arizona attractive to virtually all Americans.

Kelli Ward (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Kelli Ward (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In his piece, Rothenberg attempts to juxtapose data from the 2016 and 2018 electoral cycles to make dire predictions for Republicans in 2020 but neglects to point out on-the-ground realities. In 2016, Donald Trump was still a political newcomer and was mostly known for his luxury hotels, reality TV shows, and candid demeanor. Some Republicans and conservative independents were uncertain of how a President Trump would govern if elected.

Now they know and are convinced. They have seen a president who promotes and delivers on tax cuts; continues to appoint judges who interpret the Constitution instead of trying to rewrite it; firmly supports religious freedom and pro-life policies; cuts red tape that strangles business; and, when facing challenges from China and other foreign threats, always places America first. Most importantly, they see a president who has kept his promises.

This is compared to a Democratic Party that has prioritized endless investigations and an utterly failed attempted impeachment, embraces socialism and government-run healthcare, scolds Americans for their patriotism, divides our nation into the favored “special interest” groups of their intersectional identity politics, and incessantly proposes economy crushing regulations and spending.

With that said, Republicans in Arizona are still expecting a serious challenge. That’s why there are already 60 field staff strategically placed across Arizona working hard at training grassroots volunteers. In the past 10 months, Republicans have held more than 670 MAGA Meet Ups. We have also switched to an online format of campaigning in response to the stay at home order and, since March 13, have successfully organized 325 digital meet ups with Arizonans. In addition, this week, we passed the milestone of 1 million phone calls made to Arizona voters, fueled by the Republican grassroots activists who signed up and attended one of our nearly 1,000 Trump Victory Leadership Initiative trainings that have been held this cycle to date.

In 2020, unlike 2016, the Trump campaign is bolstered by a Republican Party that is united and has an established grassroots infrastructure. The reality on the ground – and this is something the Beltway class fails to understand – is that we are more ready than we have ever been before.

While Arizona Republicans do not take the challenge presented to us in a Maricopa County and across the state lightly, we certainly take Rothenberg’s predictions with a grain of salt. After all, in April of 2009 he forecasted the Republican’s chances of recapturing the U.S. House in 2010 as “zero” and as late as October of 2016, he placed Donald Trump’s chances of a victory as “non-existent,” ridiculously declaring that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were never in play. With that sort of track record, perhaps we should be encouraged by his analysis.

Dr. Kelli Ward is a family physician, two-term Arizona state senator, and the chairwoman of the Republican Party or Arizona. On Twitter: @KelliWardAZ

Democrats almost had a voice in budget process, but Republicans didn’t hear them

Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing this year – the minority party in Arizona had a rare opportunity to have some say in the budget process, thanks to the initial resistance of some GOP lawmakers to a borrowing plan for public universities.

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

In the end, Gov. Doug Ducey got his $1 billion bonding capacity for higher education, and Democrats got what they routinely get: Left behind.

Republicans say Democrats overplayed their hand. Ducey and GOP leaders were willing to talk, but Democrats asked for too much and were too firmly entrenched in their request to make negotiating a reality.

Democrats charged that Republicans, like always in recent years, have no interest in ever working across the aisle, no matter the offer, even on issues that are obvious candidates for bipartisan support.

In this case, a plan to let Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University borrow up to $1 billion over the next 25 years was initially rebuffed by almost all Republican senators and representatives. They were wary of allowing the state to borrow that much money, and of a mechanism to divert sales taxes from state coffers to finance the borrowing plan.

Knowing the bonding plan, Ducey’s signature proposal, lacked enough Republican support in both the House and Senate to pass without Democratic votes, minority leadership in each chamber united their members. Democrats would unilaterally oppose the bonding plan, preventing Ducey from proclaiming a bipartisan victory when, as in past years, a single Democrat or two broke ranks and voted for a bill or budget.

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

“What you saw happen was the Democrats stuck together with a unified request,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “If you asked every individual Democrat, they would’ve told you the same answer: Teacher raises and TANF.” TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides short-term cash assistance to families.

The Democrats’ demands, in exchange for their vote on bonding, was in line with their policy priorities for the session. The minority party had blasted the governor for his initial proposal of a teacher pay raise – 2 percent phased in over five years – as wholly inadequate. And they had spent the better part of two years criticizing Ducey for signing into law cuts to TANF in 2015.

Hobbs acknowledged that their initial request was more than Republicans were willing to pay for. A 4 percent teacher raise, whether it was in one year or phased in over two, would have added more than $100 million in spending.

“So for them it was less expensive to buy off Republicans individually,” Hobbs said.

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Barry Aarons said the request was a part of what undercut Democrats’ efforts to be taken seriously in a negotiation.

“I don’t think the Democrats gave themselves enough opportunity to find some wins for themselves, and that’s because they limited their offer to some things that were non-starters to begin with,” Aarons said.

Experience might have something to do with it, Aarons said. Not since Rose Mofford occupied the Governor’s Office have Democrats been given a chance to take part in the budget, he said, with the exception of the passage of Medicaid expansion in 2013.

Republicans began the trend of passing Republican-only budget under former Gov. Fife Symington, who served from 1991 to 1997, according to Aarons.

“I think that is a result of years and years in the desert,” Aarons said. “Basically when it came to negotiating, I think they had not had the experience of going through a legitimate negotiation. Now whether it would’ve come to pass regardless, I don’t know.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said the teachers’ raise and TANF was just an offer, not a demand.

House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

“If you’re going to meet someone to negotiate, you need a starting point. And it was simply a starting point,” said House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. “That was my opening offer to the governor.“

Rios said it was “naive” for critics to say the minority party overplayed their hand when the governor never seriously considered working with Democrats. A meeting between Rios and Ducey was cordial, though brief, she said. Negotiating was never on the table, so there was never an opportunity to give Ducey room to counter, she added.

Rather than work across the aisle, Ducey ultimately mustered enough support from Republicans to get the bill through. To some Republicans, that was, as it often is, always the goal.

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

“I wanted desperately to deliver 16 Republican votes on the university bonding,” said Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. Delivering 16 Republican votes on the university bonding was a very high priority for him personally, he said.

“And I obviously was extremely pleased when we were able to accomplish that,” Yarbrough said.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said it’s understandable for Republicans to desire to work within their own party. What bothers Contreras is the lack of any consideration of ever working with Democrats.

“It comes down to the unwillingness of the governor to even think about wanting to work with us as Democrats as a whole,” Contreras said. “He chose to go around and make his deals like everyone knows with numerous Republicans before even talking with us about what we were asking.”

Aarons said “there is probably a better than even chance that . . .  Republicans would have said screw it, we’re not going to do this with you,” no matter what Democrats had offered.

Daniel Scarpinato, a Ducey spokesman, did not dispute that the meeting wasn’t a negotiation of any sort, but he did dispute the reason why.

“I wouldn’t even characterize it as negotiations because they were not willing to negotiate. They provided some demands of what they would need, and were unwilling to move at all,” Scarpinato said. “And the problem with that is, what they wanted on TANF, there were not 16 and 31 for that under any circumstance. It was just really something that wasn’t even possible to achieve.”

As for the Democrats’ proposal to increase the teacher pay hike, “we certainly were open to ways to improve that, but certainly you need to be able to pay for these things,” Scarpinato said.

Yarbrough said a larger raise in the budget also would’ve made it more difficult to secure enough Republicans, along with 13 Democrats in the Senate, to approve a spending plan.

“It’s hard to see how that would’ve worked,” Yarbrough added. “The higher teacher raise, the challenge there is, show me the money… That’s a big number. What would we have done? How would we have paid for that. They never came to me, because that would have been my question.”

Scarpinato said Democrats overplayed their hand, and as the final votes made clear, weren’t negotiating in good faith because Democrats were negotiating against issues that they inherently supported. For example, when it became clear that the university bonding plan would pass with or without the help of Senate Democrats, eight of the 13 Democrats in the chamber voted for it.

Had Democrats simply signaled their support for a bill they liked all along, the university bonding could have been sent to the governor’s desk much sooner, and Ducey wouldn’t have had to make deals with individual Republicans – deals that Democrats aren’t happy about, Scarpinato noted.

“We could have passed bonding sooner, and there’s probably some stuff that ended up in the budget that Democrats don’t like that may not have ended up in there had they just supported bonding from the onset,” he said.

Perhaps if Democrats had offered more in exchange for their votes on bonding, Aarons said, the session would’ve played out differently. Decades ago, Republicans frequently approached Democrats to get their help to pass budgets. In the Senate, it was then-Minority Leader Alfredo Gutierrez’s role to barter with the GOP for votes.

Gutierrez would give Republicans a long list of demands, enough to “choke a horse,” Aarons said, but it gave Republicans ample room to trade with Democrats and approve a coalition budget.

This session, Democrats “didn’t put enough stuff on the table, so they didn’t have enough negotiating room,” Aarons said.

“When you’re negotiating for something you don’t come with one thing. You come with a whole pot full of stuff . . . You give the other side an opportunity to go along with you, and then you’re able to declare victory.”

Democrats narrow margin on early ballots

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

Election Day officially is tomorrow but more people already have cast their ballots in Arizona than four years ago – though not everywhere throughout the state.

New figures from the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday showed that 1,586,783 early ballots had been turned in. By contrast, in the entire 2014 midterm race, only 1,537,671 people voted at all, whether early or at the polls.

The biggest turnout for the moment appears to be in Maricopa County where there already are 100,000 more ballots turned in than those who voted at all in 2014.

At this point Republicans hold a decided edge statewide, with 41.4 percent of those early ballots coming from those registered with the GOP, versus 33.9 percent from Democrats and 23.9 percent from those unaffiliated with either major party.

But that split has been narrowing.

There were days last month where Republican ballots turned in exceeded Democratic ballots by more than 15,000. The most recent GOP edge is less than 2,000 a day as Democrats have started to mail in their early ballots.

Overall, Republicans hold a 136,587 registration edge over Democrats of the more than 3.7 million people registered for this election. So that makes turnout important for both sides.

But the real balance of power could rest with the more than 1.2 million people who are unaffiliated with any party.

Women seem to be outperforming men in ballot returns, turning in 51.3 percent of those early ballots come from women. By comparison, the Census Bureau says just 50.3 percent of the state is female.

And the average age of early voters at 58.2.

Elsewhere around the state, only two counties already have exceeded the 2014 turnout: Yavapai and Yuma. In all three counties Republican early ballots outnumber those from Democrats.

But in Pima County, where the early ballot count is just 6,000 below the total 2014 turnout, Democrat early ballots are running stronger than the GOP.

In other places, however, the difference between the latest numbers and the 2014 turnout is quite marked.

Most noticeable is Apache County, where total early voting is less than 8,400 to date, versus the 21,324 turnout four years ago. Much of that is likely due to the fact that more than two thirds of the county is Native American, with Election Day considered more of a community event and gathering.

Doug Ducey easily defeats Bennett, wins GOP nomination

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Gov. Doug Ducey easily brushed off an intraparty challenge from former Secretary of State Ken Bennett Tuesday.

Early voting totals shows the governor — an Arizona GOP darling who is seeking a second, four-year term — ran away with the Republican nomination.

Leading up to the primary, Ducey largely ignored his primary opponent as Bennett desperately tried to wage an uphill battle against the incumbent governor with a massive war chest.

Approximately 20 minutes after the first election results posted, Ducey put out a statement claiming victory and thanking voters for their continued support, but also looking ahead to the general election.

“Now we must come together again to ensure we build on the significant gains of the last three years to secure Arizona’s future,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to the campaign ahead in the weeks and months to come.

Ducey will face Democrat David Garcia in the general election

In what was either a testament to the non competitive nature of Ducey’s primary challenge or the strength of Ducey as a candidate, Vice President Mike Pence congratulated the governor on his primary win Tuesday — before any election results were released. He later deleted his tweet, likely upon realizing his congratulations were premature.

Bennett called Ducey to concede shortly after the race was called, said Christine Bauserman, Bennett’s campaign manager.

He, like Ducey, said it was time to present a united Republican front going into the general election, Bauserman said.

“Now is the time to come together to keep the state Republican,” she said.

Bennett angered establishment Republicans when he jumped into the race this spring, fresh off the heels of the “Red for Ed” teachers’ strike. Bennett repeatedly criticized Ducey for “caving” to the teachers and denounced the governor’s proposed school safety plan to prevent gun violence in schools.

But Ducey kept Bennett at arm’s length by refusing to debate him and often glossing over his primary opponent in interviews and at campaign events. 

Bennett failed to qualify for Clean Elections funding before the primary, which would have given him the resources to speak to a broader swath of Republican voters ahead of the primary.

However, Bennett did get one small victory on Tuesday as he turned in his $5 Clean Elections contributions to the secretary of state’s office. He turned in his Clean Elections contributions after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge compelled the secretary of state’s office to reopen the online contribution portal after Bennett was shorted about four hours of contribution time.

Bennett invoked the ire of Ducey and many high-ranking Arizona Republicans in June when he vowed not to appoint Cindy McCain to her husband’s U.S. Senate seat, implying months before John McCain died, that Ducey would appoint Cindy McCain to the seat.

In his gubernatorial bid, Bennett cast himself as an anti-establishment Republican in the mold of President Donald Trump — an odd choice for a longtime politician who served in the state Senate before being elected secretary of state.

He unsuccessfully sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2014. He came in fourth in the six-way primary race that Ducey won.

Ducey clinched Trump’s endorsement Monday.

Now, all that stands between Ducey and a second term is the winner of a three-way Democratic primary for governor. But in the wake of McCain’s death, Ducey has temporarily put off campaigning as the state and the nation honors Arizona’s senior senator.

The Democratic Governors Association came out swinging against Ducey after he clinched the GOP nomination.

Ducey spent his first term undermining Arizona’s future by poorly allocating K-12 education funding, supporting plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and cozying up to special interest groups that pour millions into his campaign, said DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson.

The Republican Governors Association is planning to spend at least $9.2 million to propel Ducey to a second term. The RGA is trying to bail Ducey out, Pearson said.

“Doug Ducey is in electoral trouble — and he knows it,” she said in a statement.

Republican Gubernatorial Primary

By The Numbers

Votes cast: 510,322

Doug Ducey: 70.5 percent

Ken Bennett: 29.5 percent

Doug Ducey’s Donald Trump dilemma

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with governors in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018, to discuss border security and restoring safe communities. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with governors in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018, to discuss border security and restoring safe communities. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump has put Gov. Doug Ducey in a bind.

With reports swirling that Trump will headline an upcoming rally in Phoenix, his likely visit has put Ducey – who is fighting for his political life vying for a second term – in an awkward position as the governor toes the line in embracing the Republican Party’s most bombastic figure.

Ducey has not said if he will appear on stage with Trump at a rally that will be focused on uniting the GOP following a contentious Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake. Details for the rally have not been solidified.

The governor, a calculating and typically scripted politician, could be the parallel opposite of Trump, who tends to shoot from the hip.

Ducey said this week he looks forward to welcoming Trump to Arizona, but would not say if he will participate in a campaign rally with the president.

“I’ve been with the president plenty of times. I’ve had dinner with the president at the White House so we’re going to see what the details are and we’re going to work with him to make it a productive trip,” he said.

The governor’s staff has been in contact with the White House on coordinating Trump’s visit.

Ducey will appear with Trump because he knows he doesn’t have a choice, said Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.

“He can’t afford to ‘dis’ Trump,” he said.

More specifically, Ducey can’t risk losing support from die-hard Trump supporters in November, which could happen if he snubs the president when he comes to Arizona, Smith said.

But Ducey also has to appeal to a broader swath of voters this fall. He needs to pick up a chunk of independent voters in order to lock down a second term, Smith said.

Ducey will be walking on a tightrope, Smith said. He will have to show respect for the president, but he could hurt his standing with moderate voters if he’s overly effusive, he said.

“I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but watch, Ducey will find some way to be there, but not be there,” Smith said. “He’s not going to be cheerleading or anything like that.”

Ducey has visited the White House in recent months. In August, he attended an event honoring U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He and several other Republican governors discussed border security with the president when they dined with him in May at the White House.

Trump endorsed Ducey just before the primary election, inciting liberal outrage across Arizona. While Ducey said he was grateful for the president’s endorsement, his campaign did not broadcast Trump’s tweet because it happened during a campaign hiatus immediately following Sen. John McCain’s death.

In the midst of a contentious re-election bid, Ducey has kept Trump at arm’s length.

Ducey spoke at a local Trump rally in 2016 just after the state’s primary election. But Ducey did not appear at a 2017 Trump rally in Phoenix, although he did welcome the president on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport beforehand.

Republicans across the country are struggling with how to handle the Trump factor in a year where Democrats are determined to send a message to the commander-in-chief and members of his political party.

But GOP pollster George Khalaf, president of Data Orbital, said Trump’s visit is unlikely to affect Ducey’s re-election campaign.

A Data Orbital poll from September 10 found Trump underwater with his favorable rating at 49 percent and unfavorable at 42 percent. But Trump’s favorability rating in Arizona has remained relatively consistent over time, according to previous polls from Data Orbital.

The same poll found Ducey with an 8-point lead over Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Garcia, with a mere 7.9 percent of those surveyed undecided.

The Trump factor is largely played out this close to the general election, Khalaf said.

Voters were already associating Ducey with Trump or they weren’t, he said.

“Whether Trump comes or doesn’t, whether the governor shows up on stage or doesn’t, Trump endorsed Governor Ducey and so I think if it’s going to sway someone’s mind, that would be enough,” Khalaf said.

Some voters could also already be lumping Ducey in with Trump simply because they’re both Republicans and anti-Trump voters are already so turned off by the Republican Party right now, he said.

But digging deeper into the Data Orbital poll shows that some Democrats do see the difference between Ducey and Trump because the governor is picking up some support from Democrats who view Trump as unfavorable.

Ducey and Republican Rep. Martha McSally, who is facing Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, in the U.S. Senate race, have treated Trump differently this election cycle. McSally eagerly vied for Trump’s endorsement and often sought to connect herself to the president throughout the primary.

Weeks before Trump’s endorsement of Ducey, the governor would not say if he wanted the president’s endorsement, in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.

Federal candidates have more interaction with the president than politicians at the state level, Khalaf said. McSally recognizes that if she’s going to get the negative effects of running at the same time that Trump is in the White House, she may as well get the positive effects like having the president do a rally for her, he said.

“She may as well go all in,” he said.

Arizona Democrats are incensed at most everything Trump says and does. As Democrats lobby hard to take the Governor’s Office, they have tried to tie Ducey to the president whenever possible.

A spokeswoman for Garcia’s campaign said it doesn’t matter if Ducey appears with Trump when the president comes to Arizona, because they obviously share a common agenda.

Garcia spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said Ducey and Trump agree on tax cuts for the wealthy, attacks on working people, clean energy, civil rights and women’s reproductive rights.

“He’s clearly lockstep with Trump,” she said.

Smith, the NAU professor, said the Trump rally will likely be a wash in the end. Anti-Trump sentiment among Democrats and some independents is already strong and a local Trump appearance isn’t going to inflame that anger, he said.

“At the end of the day, the people who hate Trump will still hate him and the people who love Trump are still going to love him,” he said.

Ducey leads field in campaign funds raised, spent

 In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Friday, May 11 that lawyers representing Ducey's re-election campaign threatened to sue a firm collecting signatures to qualify Bennett for the Republican primary ballot. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey continues to accumulate campaign funds in his bid for another four years in office.

New finance report show Ducey’s contributions total $4.16 million. That includes another nearly $791,000 he raised in the most recent three months.

The governor has plenty left to spend, listing total expenses of less than $912,000.

That isn’t all that Ducey has raised.

Aside from the Ducey For Governor Committee, the same staffers also are operating the Ducey Victory Fund.

Any donations to that fund of up to $5,100 from individuals — the maximum one person can give to a candidate — are transferred to the governor’s reelection campaign. Amounts larger than that are given to the Arizona Republican Party which can use those funds to help Ducey and other party members with their races.

So far those transfers to the party have exceeded $1.5 million.

All that has left Ken Bennett, the other Republican in the race, in the dust.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett certifies the 2014 primary election canvass on Sept. 8, 2014. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Ken Bennett (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Bennett’s contribution list totaled $44,320, including $30,500 out of his own pocket, as he hopes to eventually get enough $5 donations to qualify for public funding. That would give him $839,704 to spend between now and the Aug. 28 primary.

Among the three Democrats hoping to take on whoever survives the GOP primary, state Sen. Steve Farley has collected the most at more than $1.1 million against $628,193 in expenses.

David Garcia said his has raised $846,104 to date, though his expenses are approaching $600,000.

Kelly Fryer is far back at $161,383 in contributions and expenses of $120,498.

What’s reported is unlikely to be all that is spent convincing Arizonans how to vote.

Four years ago the governor was the beneficiary of close to $8 million spent on his behalf by outside groups on commercials extolling him or attacking Democrat Fred DuVal.

To date, no outside groups have filed formal spending reports. But there is spending going on, at least indirectly, that could help Ducey.

Earlier this year, as Ducey was insisting the state could afford only a 1 percent increase in teacher pay, a business coalition spent about $1 million on TV commercials to say that education funding in Arizona is not as bad as critics complained. The money for the Arizona Education Project came from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and others.

Spokesman Matthew Benson said the spending did not fit the definition of what is required by law to be reported as a campaign expense or require full disclosure of donors.

Then when Ducey promised teachers a 19 percent pay hike by 2020, the Republican Governors Association put up its own TV commercial, complete with video from Ducey’s press conference announcing the pay plan. It praised Ducey for “strengthening our public schools without raising taxes.”

RGA spokesman Jon Thompson declined to say how much his organization is spending other than calling the media buy “significant.”

That spending, too, is likely to remain off the radar, as it did not explicitly call for Arizonans to vote for Ducey.

But the RGA already has indicated it is preparing to spend directly to influence races here and elsewhere. In a press release Tuesday, RGA Executive Director Paul Bennecke boasted of having $87.5 million in the bank.

“The RGA’s record-breaking cash on hand gives us the ability to make a significant impact in 2018’s gubernatorial elections,” he said in a prepared statement.

And Bennecke said he doubts the Democratic Governors Association will be able to do the same for their candidates, saying it reported just $18 million cash on hand.

Slightly further down the ticket, Republican Steve Gaynor reports he has more than $1 million in his bid to oust incumbent Michele Reagan as secretary of state, though virtually all of that is his own cash.

Reagan has been buffeted by a series of problems with how some elections have been conducted, notably the failure of her office to get pamphlets explaining the issues in a 2016 special election into voters hands before they got their early ballots.

By contrast, Reagan, seeking another four-year term, listed donations of $649,684. That includes $85,000 she loaned her own campaign, though she repaid $15,000 of that earlier this year.

Democrat Katie Hobbs is running unopposed for the Democrat nomination for the office.

In the five-way GOP primary for superintendent of public instruction, incumbent Diane Douglas has raised less than anyone else at just $17,896. And she already has spent nearly $14,000 of that.

At the other extreme, challenger Jonathan Gelbart reports donations of $98,839, though that also includes $25,000 of his own money.

Frank Riggs was slightly farther behind at $85,098. But more than half was in loans to his campaign.

Bob Branch listed $24,679 in donations, with Tracy Livingston at $18,668.

On the Democrat side, both David Schapira and Kathy Hoffman qualified for $108,779 in public funds.

There is no primary for the attorney general’s race. So far Republican incumbent Mark Brnovich has raised $705,662 versus $472,579 for Democrat January Contreras.

In a two-way GOP primary for treasurer, Kimberly Yee has raised $632,056 compared with $7,830 for Jo Ann Sabbagh who hopes to qualify for $108,779 in public funding.

Democrat Mark Manoil also is pursing $5 donations for public funding.

Ducey talks Trump, education ahead of primary

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

Gov. Doug Ducey is running for a second term amidst a political environment unlike any that Arizona has seen before.

As part of his re-election bid, Ducey sat down with the Arizona Capitol Times to discuss numerous issues, including education, Arizona’s economy, his re-election bid and the challenges he faces along the way to a second term. Here are the highlights.


When talking about education, Ducey touts his 20-percent teacher pay raise plan, passage of Proposition 123 and the extension of Proposition 301 as his major first-term achievements, and promises he’s not done investing in K-12 education.

But Ducey also points to a longstanding rift between state government and K-12 educators, and asks that he only be judged for his actions during his first term.

“I can’t be accountable for what’s happened the last 30 years,” he said.

One of Ducey’s accomplishments, which was touted shortly after its passage in TV commercials by the Republican Governors Association, was his proposal to grant teachers 20-percent pay raises spread out over three years. His initial budget proposal included a 1-percent pay bump for teachers this year.

Since Ducey signed the raises into law, he said lots of teachers have been grateful for the pay hikes that start this school year. His main focus now is making sure those dollars get to the classrooms, he said. He also said that with another term he wants to put more money into K-12 education, over and above inflation, but he would not specify how much.

But “Red for Ed” supporters opposed Ducey’s teacher pay proposal and representatives for the movement say teachers have an inherent distrust of Ducey and his administration because he has made empty promises before.

Ducey argues that distrust stems from before his time in office.

“I think there’s been a long history of conflict between state government and K-12 education,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard over the last three-plus years to not play divide and conquer, to not pick one section of our education system over another, but to say that these are all of our kids here.”

But K-12 education advocates have also criticized Ducey for his support of charter schools and an expansion of Arizona’s school-voucher program that he signed into law last year.

Ducey signed legislation to make all public school students eligible for state money to attend private and parochial schools.

Some parents and teachers say the expansion of school vouchers to any public school students, as opposed to just those who are disabled or attend failing schools, will starve public schools, causing public school students to receive a subpar education.

The voucher expansion also pushed Democrat David Garcia over the edge and into the governor’s race.

But Ducey attributes teachers’ opposition to charters and ESAs to misinformation from the Arizona Education Association — the teachers’ union that Ducey declined to meet with during the “Red for Ed” strike.

“That’s because people in the union are misinforming those teachers,” he said. “Our policies have put public districts and public charters on equal value in terms of the opportunities for improvement.”

President Trump

Citing a growing economy and President Trump’s push to appoint conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ducey praised the president’s leadership.

Ducey pointed to growth in Arizona and across the country, which many conservatives attribute to Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as a sign that Trump is working to build an economy of the future.

He also cited the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as proof the president is doing a good job.

But Ducey does not agree with Trump on everything. A supporter of free trade, he has spoken out against new tariffs imposed by Trump’s administration.

He also expressed some opposition to Trump’s zero tolerance, saying “no one wants to see families separated,” but he didn’t go as far as some governors who reacted by withdrawing National Guard forces from the border.

Ducey also wouldn’t say that he wants Trump’s endorsement this fall. When asked if he’ll seek the president’s endorsement in his re-election bid, Ducey sidestepped the question. Personality-wise, Ducey couldn’t be more different than the bombastic president.

It’s hard to know whether Trump’s endorsement would hurt or help Ducey. Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake have eagerly vied for Trump’s endorsement in an attempt to prove their conservative bona fides. But in an election year where anti-Trump sentiment is growing, a presidential endorsement could hurt more than it helps.

Election challenges

Ducey brushed off the perception that he’s vulnerable this election cycle, and seemed unfazed by his primary challenger, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

As talk grows of a “blue wave” hitting Arizona this election cycle, Ducey does not plan to sit back and rest on his laurels during the campaign.

“I think in any business, you want to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that’s why we have that challenger’s mentality,” he said.

Elections are competitive and Ducey said he’s not taking his incumbent status for granted. Similar to his bid for state treasurer eight years ago and his first gubernatorial bid, Ducey plans to campaign across the state and tout his record.

But Ducey dismissed polls showing his favorability rating dropping. He also dismissed the perception that he’s vulnerable this election cycle because of anti-Trump sentiment and the continued opposition he faces from “Red for Ed” supporters.

“I think the media loves a horse race, so they would love to see a horse race,” he said.

As for his primary challenger, Ducey doesn’t see Bennett’s candidacy as a failing of his governorship.

“It’s a free country. The water’s warm. People are going to jump in and make their case,” he said. “The voters will decide on August 28.”

Ducey has refused to debate Bennett leading up to the primary, claiming his challenger’s comments about Sen. John McCain disqualified Bennett from public office. Ducey did not address the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the interview.


After entering office in a post-recession era wherein the state was still strapped for cash, Ducey takes credit for helping grow Arizona’s economy and lower the state’s unemployment.

He brought his business background to governing. Ducey, who slashed state regulations and cut taxes every year that he’s been in office, thinks the best move for government is to stay out of the way as Arizona sees unprecedented revenue and population growth.

The governor attributes the growth to Arizona’s tax and regulatory environment and the state’s infrastructure, education system and reliable water supply, among other things.

“We have a momentum that’s really building on itself,” he said. “It’s time to pour the gas on.”

Holding true to a campaign pledge from his first gubernatorial bid, Ducey still aims to reduce the state’s income tax to as close to zero as possible.

Ducey’s plan to lower the state’s income tax includes working with legislative leaders to revamp Arizona’s tax code around tax conformity and a recent Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for states to collect sales taxes from online purchases.

In essence, Ducey envisions a 21st-century tax code.

“It’s not one issue that you can look at in a vacuum, he said. “I mean, the idea of reforming or improving a tax code is ideally so that you’re bringing in more revenue because you have a state that’s growing.”

Early voting an auspicious sign for Democrats, but …

Democrats have consistently led Republicans in returning early ballots this year, raising hopes for some that Arizona will finally shift from red or purple to blue.

But as Democrats lead in turning out new and infrequent voters – for example, those who haven’t voted in the last four elections – Republicans are poised to see an influx of loyal frequent voters on Election Day who could sway the election back in favor of the GOP. 

As of October 28, more than 2 million people have already voted throughout Arizona, according to data compiled by Democratic strategist Sam Almy. Of those, about 841,553 are Democrats, compared to 784,595 Republicans. Democrats have a 8.4 percentage point lead in turnout, and an almost 57,000-ballot lead in early returns. The trend is an inversion of previous elections, in which Republicans generally surge in early voting and see their margins diminish nearing Election Day.

Democrats have already exceeded their 2016 turnout of 47.4% by around 12 percentage points, while Republicans are floating just around their 2016 turnout of 49.3%.

Republican turnout remains healthy, said Paul Bentz, a GOP pollster with HighGround Public Affairs Consultants,  but it’s been dwarfed by intense Democratic turnout. 

Paul Bentz (Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
Paul Bentz (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

“Usually what happens in these races is that Republicans turn out early, and then the Democrats and others catch up,” he said. “This is sort of the opposite effect, where Democrats got to an early lead and now Republicans are starting to try to catch up.”

As a result of that inversion, Democratic margins are likely to diminish, a point that the party’s own strategists concede — as of Thursday, Republicans had already inched ahead in Maricopa County, though Democrats still led statewide.

But if they can hold their lead, strong returns could be evidence of significant Democratic turnout that – in conjunction with a perfect storm of other factors – tips the scales in the Legislature and reaches far out into GOP territory. 

Almy, who formerly managed voter data for the Arizona Democratic Party, said he has never seen returns so favorable to Democrats. “Clearly, Democrats are voting like crazy right now, they’re way up,” he said.

One obvious reason, he said, is President Trump, naturally the biggest driver of turnout for both parties in a presidential election year. 

“But in addition to that, Democrats are also up in these newly registered voters that I think are changing the electorate,” Almy added.

Youth turnout far exceeds 2016 numbers: voters aged 18 to 29 have already cast more than 137,000 ballots, compared to a total of slightly less than 89,000 in the 2016 election. But many young voters are still holding on to their ballots, at higher rates than older voters.

Almy’s data shows that roughly 25% of voters aged 18-24 and 28% of voters aged 25 to 34 who requested early ballots have returned them. By contrast, more than 68% of voters older than 65 and more than 53% of voters between 55 and 64 have returned their ballots.

Older voters tend to skew more conservative, meaning disappointing youth turnout could hurt Democratic chances. Liberal-leaning groups like NextGen America, which has spent the election cycle registering young voters and reminding them to vote, are pulling out all the stops to see that the roughly 900,000 young voters who have yet to cast their ballots get to the polls. 

Kristi Johnston
Kristi Johnston

“We’re not taking a victory lap anytime soon,” NextGen Arizona spokeswoman Kristi Johnston said.

NextGen’s efforts highlight one reason why Democrats are doing well thus far – success among low-propensity voters.

Among newly registered voters, 42% of those who have already cast ballots are Democrats, while just 28% are Republicans. As of last week, of voters who have not cast a ballot in any of the last four general elections, 37% of those who have already voted are Democrats, while just 25% are Republicans. (Notably, independents in that category are slightly outpacing even Democratic returns.) 

Of those who have voted in only one of the last four general elections, 43% of those who have already voted are Democrats, while just 28% are Republicans. 

Almy noted that these may not all actually be new voters, as a person’s voter history begins when they register in a new state – so some could have previously voted in another state. 

Either way, Democrats are leading Republicans among these voters, and whether they’re truly first-timers or transplants from California, they’re a big reason for the demographic shifts that appear to be propelling Democrats forward, Almy said. 

“This has an effect down-ballot,” he added – even in districts that look solidly Republican on paper.

“You look at the returns for District 23 and District 11, it mirrors a lot of the state where Democrats are returning at a much faster rate than Republicans,” he added. 

Supporters of President Donald Trump wait in line to attend a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump wait in line to attend a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As of this week, Democrats have an almost 17 percentage point turnout advantage in Legislative District 11, and almost 15 percentage points in Legislative District 23. Four years ago, at this point in the election, Republicans handily led in returns in both districts. Democrats now lead at this early stage in LD11, and have significantly closed the gap in LD23. 

By October 27 in 2016, Democrats had returned 18,554 ballots in the Scottsdale/Fountain Hills district. By the same date this year, they had returned almost double that amount – 33,587. 

The tried-and-true Democratic strategy in Arizona is to run to the middle. And while the party is clearly still employing this tactic, the cumulative effect of years of organizing plus new interest from national groups – not to mention ungodly amounts of outside money – has helped unlock new voters.

“Each group has their target voter universe, and we’re seeing all of those efforts come together really nicely,” said Charlie Fisher, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. 

While his organization has largely targeted moderate or independent voters, he noted that others have been working specifically to turn out low-propensity voters who might lean more progressive. 

“It’s encouraging to see those zero-four voters turn out at higher rates,” he said, referring to those who haven’t voted in any of the past four general  elections. 

Iconic singer Cher speaks near a polling station as she campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Iconic singer Cher speaks near a polling station as she campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

However, this is a bit of a double-edged sword.

Democrats have a huge advantage among “4X4” voters who’ve voted in the past four elections, noted Republican pollster George Khalaf – about 69% of Democratic 4X4 voters who requested a mail-in ballot have already voted, while only half of all Republicans 4X4 voters who requested a ballot have mailed it in or dropped it off. 

But because those people will almost certainly cast a ballot, what that shows is that Republicans are waiting to vote on Election Day, and could do so in significant numbers. This also seems to show that Trump’s anti-mail ballot message had some effect on his supporters. 

Of course, that strategy has pitfalls – as many things can happen to prevent voters from showing up on Election Day. But Khalaf said he expects just about everyone to do everything in their power to get to the polls.

“I think people will walk through glass to vote this year,” he said.

While recent developments including the Senate confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett may solidify support from Trump’s Republican base, Bentz said that isn’t as relevant as Trump’s frequent visits to Arizona. October 28 marked his seventh visit to the state this year, and Trump family members, Cabinet officials and other surrogates have made multiple public appearances in Arizona each week leading up to the election. 

“It’s apparent to me that they know they have a challenge here in Arizona, because otherwise he wouldn’t be here so often,” Bentz said.

But while the battle in Arizona is usually over suburban Republican women who could be swayed to vote for Democrats, the Trump campaign appears to have left that demographic behind, Bentz said. Instead, the president’s campaign appears focused on running up the margins in heavily Republican areas like Bullhead City and the far West Valley – where GOP enthusiasm could push Trump over the top but not help down-ballot Republicans.

Trump is also hoping to win the rural areas by a larger margin to counteract a potential loss in Maricopa County, which makes up roughly 60% of the state’s entire electorate. Diane Douglas, the Republican former-Superintendent of Public Instruction, is believed to be the only person to win a statewide race in Arizona who lost in Maricopa County in 2014. She maximized her efforts in rural areas, where Republicans tend to do well. 

“What could happen is we could see the president eke out a victory, but leave not very long coattails,” Bentz said. “Republicans in some of these swing districts could still lose.” 

At the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking turnout trends in Arizona and several swing states, Chief Strategy Officer Seth Levi said it’s important not to read too much into voting trends. 

 “I think there’s something to be said for enthusiasm, seeing that Democratic voters appear to be returning them faster, but at the end of the day, 100% of Republican voters may end up returning their ballots,” he said. “There’s just no way for us to know that today.”

Election Day starts weeks of political theater in AZ

Arizona’s 2018 election cycle didn’t end on Election Day.

Republican leads in close races on November 6 vanished as county recorders counted ballots in the days after, and Republicans turned to attacking Arizona’s electoral process, making unfounded claims of vote rigging.

Anybody who thought talk of the elections would simmer down after the polls closed on November 6 was quickly proven wrong as Democratic victories in federal, statewide and legislative races became apparent, shaking up an already contentious election cycle.

From left, Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and attorney Kory Langhofer addressed reporters ahead of their 2 p.m. hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court for less than three minutes. Though they had called the press conference, they took just two questions regarding claims that "Democrats are stealing this election." (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
From left, Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and attorney Kory Langhofer addressed reporters ahead of their 2 p.m. hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court for less than three minutes. Though they had called the press conference, they took just two questions regarding claims that “Democrats are stealing this election.” (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

GOP cries foul

As Democrats turned the tide, enough to take the lead in key statewide and legislative races, along came calls of voter fraud and election-snafus from some Arizona Republicans and national GOP figures. Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the state Republican Party, said at a press conference November 9 that “the Democrats are stealing this election, and we’re not going to allow it.”

His comments followed a lawsuit filed by some county Republican parties against all 15 county recorders, arguing that every county must treat late-early ballots – mail-in ballots that are dropped off after the October 31 deadline to return them by mail – equally. That resulted in all counties agreeing to “cure” those late-early ballots up until 5 p.m. on November 14.

Prior to that settlement, only four counties proactively sought to verify signatures on late-early ballot envelopes past 7 p.m. on election night. While claiming that the settlement ensured rural voters ballots would be counted, Arizona GOP officials failed to address the fact that counties that weren’t curing ballots were operated by Republican county recorders, not Democrats.

On November 15, state GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines announced he hired a local attorney to conduct an “audit” of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, though the announcement doesn’t mention the fact that there’s nothing requiring the Recorder’s Office to comply. Republican Party officials will also launch a website to field complaints about the voting process as part of their outside investigation.

Trump tweets

President Donald Trump added to local claims of impropriety shaping Arizona’s elections, though he, too, did not provide any evidence of wrongdoing.

“Just out–in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON’T MATCH,” he tweeted on the same day Langhofer made his claims. “Electoral corruption–Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!”

He made similar unfounded accusations against election officials in Florida, tweeting on November 10, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

There is some irony in Trump’s displeasure with the outcome of Arizona’s elections, in particular the U.S. Senate race.

Sen. Jeff Flake opened the door to that contest when he opted not to run for re-election. The president celebrated the decision, mocking Flake with whom he often clashed. Trump tweeted on the day Flake announced his decision that he had “zero chance of being elected” anyway, and has continued denigrating him on social media as weak and unelectable.

But Trump may now get more out of his public feud with Flake than he ever bargained for.

The president’s preferred successor for Flake’s seat, Republican Martha McSally, lost the election to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. And while Sinema has said she’s willing to buck her party and work with Republicans, she’s not likely to win over Trump any more than Flake did.

Early ballots surge

A dour election night for Democrats turned joyful during the following weekend, as key statewide races flipped and commanding GOP leads were narrowed by a surge of mail-in ballots that took Maricopa County election officials a long time to count. Traditionally, mail-in ballots are all accounted for by election night. The first batch of results, released an hour after the polls close at 7 p.m., are not actually votes cast on Election Day, but all the early votes that were properly mailed in.

This year’s mail-in deadline fell on the Halloween holiday, perhaps providing an easy-to-remember date for voters to put their ballots in the mail. Numerous Democratic groups like the MiAZ Coalition spent the days before that Halloween deadline canvassing and encouraging voters to mail in their ballots in a timely fashion.

Those efforts perhaps contributed to the overwhelmingly positive results from ballots in Maricopa County that were mailed at the last possible moment. According to Garret Archer, the secretary of state’s data guru, those ballots split nearly 58 percent to 42 percent in favor of Sinema, helping the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate overtake her rival in the polls in a surge of votes reported on November 9.

In any case, high turnout swamped the staff at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Sophia Solis, a spokeswoman for the recorder, noted that Arizona law only allows mail-in ballots to be counted in the seven days before the election.

“We had really high participation, so it took more time to process those early ballots,” Solis wrote in an email.

AP misses the mark

Adding to the confusion on election night were multiple preemptive calls by The Associated Press. AP jumped the gun to call the races for secretary of state and two open Arizona Corporation Commission seats.

Republican Steve Gaynor was first declared the state’s next secretary of state on election night. News of his alleged win electrified him, and he took the stage at the Republican celebration to proclaim his victory.

“The AP is rarely wrong,” he said.

But Democrat Katie Hobbs would not concede as Gaynor’s lead dwindled in the hours and days that followed his victory lap. By November 11, she had taken a slim lead, and the AP deemed the race too close to call.

AP also projected wins for Republicans Justin Olson, the incumbent, and Rodney Glassman in the Corporation Commission race on election night. But less than 1 percentage point separated Olson in first place from former Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, a Democrat, who was in third.

Kennedy has since taken the lead in the race, knocking Glassman to third and leading AP to rescind its initial call on November 10. Glassman conceded the race on Nov. 14.

The news outlet learned a swift lesson, though. After the Corporation Commission retraction, AP reported it would not issue a new call until the election results were certified by state officials.

U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles after her victory over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., smiles after her victory over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Sinema wins

After trailing in early vote totals on Election Day, Sinema came back to win the open U.S. Senate seat – becoming the first female U.S. senator from Arizona.

Her historic win was propelled by a Democratic surge that has landed at least two other Democrats into statewide elected office. Democrats previously held no statewide office since Janet Napolitano resigned as governor in 2009. Sinema is Arizona’s first Democratic U.S. senator since 1994.

Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Felecia Rotellini called this election the tipping point for Democrats.

This election was a culmination of an unprecedented Democratic field program – 4,000 volunteers knocked on 1 million doors – the excitement of possibly electing a Democratic senator and a wealth of unique Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, she said.

“We saw early on that everything, the polling, the fact that Hillary [Clinton] only lost by 4 percent in 2016, all eyes were on Arizona with respect to really elect Democrats up and down the ballot,” Rotellini said.

With Arizona U.S. Senate contests looming in 2020, 2022 and 2024, Democrats are invigorated.

Flake’s vulnerability feeds GOP Senate concerns

In this July 19, 2017 photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions between the establishment, a furious base, and angry donors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
In this July 19, 2017 photo, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. walks to his seat as he attends a luncheon with other GOP Senators and President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington. Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions between the establishment, a furious base, and angry donors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s re-election race is becoming a case study in the GOP’s convulsions among the establishment, a furious base and angry donors.

After bucking Donald Trump in a state the president won, Flake is bottoming out in polls. Yet Republicans look like they may be stuck with a hard-core conservative challenger who some fear could win the primary but lose in the general election.

A White House search for a candidate to replace former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the primary appears to have hit a wall. And now conservatives want to turn Arizona into the latest example of a Trump Train outsider taking down a member of the GOP establishment.

“People are fooling themselves if they think Jeff Flake is anything but a walking dead member of the United State Senate,” said Andy Surabian, whose Great America Alliance is backing Ward.

“I don’t see how he survives a primary. I don’t see how he survives a general. The numbers just don’t add up,” added Surabian, who worked at the White House as an adviser to Steve Bannon, then the president’s top strategist.

Despite discontent among some Republicans over Ward, Bannon met with her last week at a conservative conference in Colorado Springs to encourage her campaign, according to a Republican official who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose the previously unreported private meeting.

Ward unsuccessfully challenged Arizona’s senior senator, John McCain, in last year’s election, losing in the primary by a wide margin. But in Flake, she would face a more vulnerable candidate at a moment when the GOP establishment is on the defensive, facing a simmering anti-incumbent mood heightened by Republicans’ failure to make good on seven years of promises to scrap Barack Obama’s health care law.

Flake is in danger of becoming the latest victim of this voter wrath. Yet, rather than making an effort to soothe pro-Trump GOP voters, he’s all but dared them to take him down by kicking off his campaign with an anti-Trump manifesto, “Conscience of a Conservative,” a book in which he bemoaned his party’s failure to stand up to Trump in last year’s presidential race.

“We pretended that the emperor wasn’t naked,” Flake wrote.

Trump, in turn, has lashed out at Flake on Twitter, calling him “toxic,” and praised Ward. White House officials say there’s little chance Trump will have a change of heart over supporting Flake. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose private deliberations, said Trump is irritated not only by Flake’s public criticism, but by what Trump sees as the senator’s attempts to use his critiques of the president to gain attention.

Nevertheless, Flake, 54, insists he won’t be getting out of the race. The primary is Aug. 29.

“We always knew we would have a tough primary. We always knew we would have a tough general,” Flake said in a brief interview at the Capitol. Asked about Trump’s opposition, Flake smiled and said, “There’s a long time between now and next August.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has protected vulnerable GOP senators in the past, but his ability to do so in the future was thrown into question last month by Sen. Luther Strange’s loss to rabble-rousing Roy Moore in a runoff in Alabama. A McConnell-aligned super PAC had spent around $9 million to help Strange.

Trump was encouraged by McConnell and others to back Strange, a decision which he reportedly now regrets and which only added to the frictions between the president and the Senate leader. Flake’s candidacy could provide occasion for yet more conflict between the two, given the possibility that they will be on opposite sides in the primary.

Adding to Flake’s problems, donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm, have dried up after the GOP failed to deliver on repealing and replacing the Obama health law. Some donors say they intend to withhold money from incumbent senators like Flake until they start delivering on Trump’s agenda, a strategy encouraged privately by some top White House officials.

“Donors are going to start cutting off funding for all senators until they get Trump’s initiatives passed,” said Roy Bailey, a Trump supporter and fundraiser in Texas. “I think there’s a real kind of movement going around that is catching momentum.”

Flake’s campaign points to strong fundraising numbers and upcoming events including a fundraising visit Monday by Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. But Flake can’t even count on support from fellow members of his Arizona delegation. GOP Rep. Trent Franks demurred when asked if he would be supporting Flake for re-election

“I’m probably not going to, for a lot of reasons, not going to address that,” Franks said. “Obviously, Sen. Flake knows how profoundly bewildered and disappointed I was with his actions that, in the general election last year, if everyone had followed that line of reasoning, would have resulted in Hillary Clinton’s election.”

Franks’ name is one of several that have circulated as potential primary challengers to Flake, along with Rep. Paul Gosar, state university board member Jay Heiler and former state GOP Chairman Robert Graham. Several Republicans said the White House has been searching for some alternative to Ward.

Yet Ward shows no sign of stepping aside, and another consideration, usually unspoken, is McCain’s brain cancer, which will likely mean another vacant Senate seat at some point in the future.

Ward’s erratic history, which causes mainline Republicans to view her as damaged goods, is underscored by comments she made after McCain’s July cancer diagnosis, where she urged him to step down and suggested she should be considered to replace him.

“Look, you see what her numbers were in the McCain race – I don’t know what would make us think different now,” said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz. Whichever Republican emerges from the primary will likely face Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, seen as a strong candidate.

It’s all adding to a season of trouble for GOP senators such as Flake and Dean Heller of Nevada, who also faces a primary challenge from the right. The good news for Senate Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority, is that they have an extremely favorable map next year that has them defending only two genuinely endangered incumbents, Flake and Heller, while Democrats are on defense in 10 states Trump won.

Werner reported from Washington.

Goose and gander: Firm charges lawmakers hourly rate to gather signatures

A handful of incumbent Arizona legislators aren’t happy that the most prolific signature gathering firm in the state is treating them the way they treat citizens who propose or challenge laws via the ballot.

Andrew Chavez, the owner of Petition Partners, said he’s holding accountable GOP lawmakers who voted for HB 2404, a measure approved in April that ended the practice of paying circulators per signature for statewide ballot initiatives and referendums. The law, approved on party line votes by Republicans who claimed it would stamp out signature-gathering fraud, does not apply to lawmakers, some of whom pay to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot every two years.

That didn’t sit well with Chavez, who’s now using his prerogative as a business owner to deny legislators the option to pay per signature.

Andrew Chavez
Andrew Chavez

“I watched hours and hours of testimony and hours and hours of committee on the original HB 2404 and its spawns,” Chavez said. “I heard a lot of false narratives about fraud… If folks are going to use the rhetoric, they need to follow up.”

Seven incumbent Republicans have approached his firm asking for a quote for his services, Chavez tweeted Wednesday. And all seven were “upset” to learn that Chavez will only let them pay to have signatures collected at an hourly rate, the new business model used by ballot initiatives. For example, SOS Arizona paid some circulators by the hour this summer to help gather enough signatures to challenge a school voucher expansion law.

Chavez would not tell the Arizona Capitol Times which lawmakers approached him.

Some of the lawmakers who voted for HB 2404 have bought signatures to qualify for the ballot in the past. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Vince Leach of Tucson, paid at least $680 for signatures during the 2016 election.

Vince Leach
Vince Leach

Leach, who previously stated HB 2404 “restores some badly needed integrity” to the initiative process, claimed in House debates that a pay-per-signature ban need not apply to lawmakers because they can be un-elected, and that voter initiatives can’t be recalled. Those arguments ignore that fact that voters always have the option of repealing a voter-approved measure, while lawmakers can also send a referral to the ballot to repeal any voter-approved measure.

Chavez’s refusal to offer lawmakers per-signature quotes isn’t meant to be vindictive, but to hold legislators who voted for HB 2404 accountable for their statements and actions, he said.

“I never agreed with their argument, but if you’re going to make your argument, you need to stand by your argument,” he said.

Chavez is in a unique position to make sure legislators do just that. In his tweet, he repeated an old proverb heard often at the Capitol from those who opposed HB 2404: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

“I just wanted to point out the irony. I truly believe that folks at the beginning of the year didn’t understand how this was going to impact the market,” Chavez said. “We have a lot of leverage in the market, and I think the rules have changed.”

It’s now standing policy at Petition Partners to give all lawmakers quotes based on an hourly rate — Chavez noted it might be illegal to give Democratic lawmakers different rates that he denies to Republicans who voted for HB 2404. He’s also not sure if anyone will take him up on his offers to collect signatures with payment by the hour — of the seven who’ve approached him, none have accepted his quote, at least yet.

“I’m positive a few will have to,” he said. “I’m not waiting by the phone though.”

GOP county chairs urge Ducey to call special session

Maricopa County elections officials count ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections officials count ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Top officials of the 15 Republican county committees want a special session — and soon — to order an audit of the machinery used to count ballots.

But only in Maricopa County.

Michael Burke, who heads the Pinal GOP, delivered a letter to the governor Tuesday asking that he call lawmakers back to the Capitol to approve a special one-time law requiring an examination of the software used in machines made by Dominion Voting Systems. Burke said he and his colleagues — the letter was signed on behalf of 14 county chairs and one vice-chair — do not believe that Democrat Joe Biden could have picked up so many more new votes in 2020 in the state’s largest county than Hillary Clinton got four years ago absent a software problem.

But the letter does not call for the same kind of examination of the tabulating machines in other counties where the results for the president were much more favorable. This, Burke said, needs to be focused on Maricopa County.

And Donna Tanzi, who chairs the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said things ran smoothly in her county. It is only in Maricopa, which gave Biden about 45,100 more votes than Trump out of nearly 2.1 million cast, that the GOP officials say there needs to be a closer look.

Those Maricopa votes are crucial: Biden won Arizona by fewer than 11,000 votes.

Burke said he hand delivered the letter Tuesday afternoon to the governor’s office. An aide to the governor said the letter has not yet been reviewed.

Maricopa County elections officials count ballots behind boxes of counted ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections officials count ballots behind boxes of counted ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Senate President Karen Fann said she has her own questions about election procedures. And, going forward, she is looking at examining state election laws and procedures to ensure there are sufficient safeguards and that voters have “100% confidence” in the system.

But Fann told Capitol Media Services there is virtually no chance that what the party officials want will happen, even if the governor agrees to go along. She said there simply isn’t the time to enact a special law, have it take effect and examine the software before the votes cast this year need to be formally canvassed, something that has to occur no later than Dec. 3.

“I realize this is a Hail Mary,” Burke said. But he said he remains convinced that the legislature is constitutionally empowered to do what it wants on presidential elections.

What the request comes down to, the party chairs told Capitol Media Services, is that they’ve heard things.

“We’re hearing stories about Dominion software changing votes, doing all kinds of unfortunate things,” Burke said.

“I don’t know if that’s true or not,”  he conceded. “But let’s find out.”

Tanzi said her particular concern is the Dominion software, “or any software for that matter, and how is that being handled.”

There already are auditing procedures that were established and approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. These involve taking random samples from precincts chosen by officials of the two major parties and doing a hand count, comparing what humans find with what the machine tallied.

If the results fall within the margin of error, that’s the end of it.

But if not, the size of the sample continues to increase until the numbers correspond, potentially getting to a point — which has never happened — where all the ballots are reviewed by hand and that becomes the official count.

In fact, if that were to occur, there already is a requirement in the law for the secretary of state to furnish the “source code” used in the machines to a superior court judge. And the judge then is required to appoint a special master to review the software.

The GOP county chairs, however, want the legislature to short-circuit all of those existing laws and order a special audit this year of the Dominion software.

“We just want to have somebody who is an expert at IT security take a look at that software and make sure it’s fine,” said Burke who put the letter together.

Tanzi, for her part, said she’s not convinced the hand count already authorized in law will answer all the questions.

Maricopa County elections officials count ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections officials count ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

“That should catch a lot of things,” she said. But Tanzi said pulling out a sample “could mean there’s a whole section that is missed.”

For his part, Russ Jones who chairs the Yuma GOP, said he has yet to see any hard evidence that the Dominion software, which is not used in his county, has caused problems. But Jones said he supported the call for the special audit “so we can satisfy, once and for all in Arizona, that the issues that apparently exist or may exist elsewhere did not occur in Arizona.”

“It’s a matter of voter confidence in our systems,” he said.

And Elizabeth Speck, the former chair and now secretary of the Greenlee GOP, had her own concerns.

“I’ve always been very skeptical of electronic voting machines,” she said. Speck said she worries about software and hardware that essentially sits unnoticed in equipment until activated.

“The legislature has the ability to interview witnesses, review complaints, and most importantly, engage the services of an independent professional IT security firm, who have the expertise to conduct a forensic audit of the suspect software, determine if irregularities exist and provide piece (sic) of mind to the voters of this state,” the letter to Ducey reads “We must begin this process immediately before the election is certified.”

What the county chairs want goes beyond what even is being sought by the Arizona Republican Party.

It’s lawsuit, playing out in Maricopa County Superior Court, is demanding that hand-count review be done on a precinct-by-precinct basis even though state law specifically allows counties to set up vote centers rather than force people to cast a ballot at a specific neighborhood location. A judge will hear arguments on that Wednesday.

Ducey, who has remained silent on the entire election and the results, is a critical player in all of this because he can bring lawmakers to the Capitol on any issue he wants. It would take a two-thirds vote for legislators to call themselves into special session, something that would require Democrat support.

But Fann said even if the Republicans who control the House and Senate did marshal the votes for the audit, they lack the two-thirds vote to have it take effect immediately. And the Arizona Constitution says laws cannot take effect until at least 90 days after the end of the session.

That means not just blowing by the canvass schedule but also the Dec. 14 date for the state’s 11 electors to cast their votes — and even the Jan. 20 date for the presidential inauguration.


Editor’s note: A previous version of this story reported that David Eppihimer, chair of the Pima County Republican committee said he never signed the letter, but he later retracted the statement. 



GOP files lawsuits against Maricopa County over elections

Leach, lawsuit, primary

The Republican Party of Arizona and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit on October 4, alleging Maricopa County elections officials violated the Arizona Public Records Act for failure to share information on political party makeup of election staff.

The lawsuit – one of two filed recently – marks a continued trend of mistrust, scrutiny and demand for transparency from elections officials stemming from the 2020 election.

The filings name Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, as well as Directors of Elections Rey Valenzuela and Scott Jarett and members of the Board of Supervisors Bill Gates, chairman; Clint Hickman, vice chairman; and Jack Sellers, Thomas Galvin and Steve Gallardo.

In a press conference on October 4, Jarett addressed the then-potential litigation and said it would be, “unsuccessful.” And in a joint statement, Jarett and Richer called the lawsuit, “a political stunt.”

The key complaint in the first lawsuit stems from a letter sent by attorney Eric Spencer on behalf of the RNC to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on September 9.

Spencer requested an explanation as to why there were more Democratic than Republican poll workers hired in the primary election and proof of efforts to recruit Republican poll workers to 11 polling stations where none were present.

On September 29, Kory Langhofer on behalf of RNC, wrote an additional letter with further records requests pertaining to recruitment. He set a deadline of October 3.

Tom Liddy, chief of the CivilDivision of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, responded the next day, agreeing to fulfill the request but noted the timeframe given was too short for any complaint to be held up by law.

Richer also spoke to Spencer’s letter and Republican involvement in the election and said he believed they had “more Republicans participate as temporary workers than ever before.”

The RNC and AZ GOP filed a second lawsuit on October 5. The second lawsuit retreads the same issues with party disparities across polling locations and four of the five election boards. It specifically complains about hour requirements and “inhospitable” working conditions, which the plaintiffs point to as the cause for lack of Republican participation.

Maricopa County has staffed 61% of elections personnel for the general election as of October 3, according to elections officials.

The lawsuits from the GOP continue to put the communications side of elections under scrutiny. The 2020 election upended communications across the Maricopa County Elections Department, the Records Office and the Board of Supervisors, prompting major reorganization among communications personnel in the aftermath.

“This is an incident much like the pandemic was an incident,” Fields Mosely, communications director for Maricopa County, said.

The department shifted from having a single full-time communications person in 2019 to a total of seven full-time communications personnel by 2022, according to Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Elections department.

Heightened public demand for information also prompted new campaigns and programs to make the 2022 general election “the most transparent” yet, according to Richer.

One of the many is the creation of the Election Command Center, a group of six election officials and additional communications staff, to address misinformation ahead of the general election.

The Election Command Center held its first press conference of this election season on October 4 to a small group of vetted journalists to address misinformation as key election dates loom on the horizon. It is the first of many, according to officials.

GOP in jeopardy of losing Arizona Senate seat, poll shows

In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, Kelli Ward concedes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in their contest. Ward, who is running to unseat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said July 17, 2017, she has met with White House officials about the campaign. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)
In this Aug. 30, 2016, file photo, Kelli Ward concedes to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in their contest. Ward, who is running to unseat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said July 17, 2017, she has met with White House officials about the campaign. (David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Donald Trump remains more popular in Arizona than the nation as a whole.

But pollster Mike Noble said it doesn’t look like that will help the Republican Party hang on to the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake.

The automated survey of 600 people likely to vote in the 2018 primary election found 45 percent of those asked rate Trump’s first year in office as a success. Another 49 percent disagreed and the balance was unsure.

That compares with a new Quinnipiac University national poll showing the president’s approval rating at just 33 percent and a Gallup survey with his positives at 38 percent.

Noble said that’s not necessarily a surprise.

“I think he’s holding the line a little bit better because illegal immigration, especially with Republicans, is still a top issue,” he said. Noble said that has been reinforced by Trump’s promises, made to Arizona audiences during the campaign and since election, to build a border wall, a project that has support among certain segments of the population.

But Noble pointed out that the 45-49 popularity rating comes in a state where Republicans have a 12-point voter registration advantage over Democrats.

More to the point, he said that while the president remains strong among those who describe themselves as conservative, moderates find Trump’s first-year performance disappointing by a margin of 2-1. And with independents making up more than a third of registered voters, that, in turn, is not good news for Republicans in the 2018 Senate race.

At this point, Noble said it looks like former state Sen. Kelli Ward has a strong edge over Congresswoman Martha McSally to be the GOP nominee. Ward leads 42-34 percent, though 24 percent are undecided.

McSally has not made a formal declaration of candidacy. But Noble said she already has 60 percent name ID, compared to 79 percent for Ward.

If Ward wins the Republican primary and Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is the Democrat nominee, Noble said the current numbers give Sinema a three-point edge. That’s hardly a mandate, what with that being within 4 point margin of error.

Sinema fares a little less well in a head-to-head against McSally, with just a single point lead.

Noble said neither potential GOP nominee should take comfort from these numbers given that 12-point edge Republicans have in voter registration. He said much of this can be linked to the effect that Trump has had on politics at all levels.

“Look at the Virginia election,” he said.

It starts with a “surge” in Democrat turnout, much larger than the increase among Republicans. And Noble said the independents in that state skewed this election away from GOP contenders at all levels up and down the ticket.

“Having an ‘R’ next to your name is like having a giant bullseye on you politically,” he said, pointing out that the poll numbers for both McSally and Ward are nearly identical to the president’s approval rating in Arizona.

While McSally polls slightly better than Ward against Sinema, Noble said the numbers at this point suggest Republicans will nominate Ward, who has publicly aligned herself with the president. She is up by eight points in a head-to-head question.

All that, he said, is not good news for the GOP.

He said that Sinema, with a lot of cash in the bank and no strong primary contender, probably has no need to move to the left to win her party’s nomination. That means she doesn’t need to suddenly make a sharp pivot after the August primary — and it’s just weeks after that when early voting starts for the general election — to maintain her self-proclaimed label as a moderate to appeal to GOP and independent voters.

And there’s something else.

Noble said while Ward has higher name ID than McSally, she also has something else: higher negatives than positives, with 42 percent having an unfavorable view, versus 37 percent positive. McSally, by contrast, had a positive-to-negative ratio of 33 to 27.

That, however, did not come close to Sinema who the survey found 44 percent had a favorable view against 28 percent unfavorable.

State GOP spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair dismissed all the results, questioning the methodology.

She pointed out — and Noble acknowledged — that the survey is skewed to catch more voters 55 and older because he is calling only landlines and not cell phones. But Sinclair denied that should actually make the results more favorable to Trump and Republicans in general.

Nor was she swayed by the fact that Noble’s poll actually found Trump’s favorable numbers higher in Arizona than national surveys.

“I think he’s more popular” than the survey suggests, Sinclair said of the president. Sinclair conceded, though, she has no actual surveys to back up that contention, instead relying on what she said are other indicators.

“The Arizona Republican Party has seen an increase in voter registration and activism since President Trump’s election,” Sinclair said.

GOP infighting in LD28 gives Democrats hope of trifecta

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas

The Arizona Republican Party would have you think there’s nothing wrong in Legislative District 28.

In an email blast sent on June 4, state GOP officials touted a slate of candidates — Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas — as “three strong conservative women” who would sweep the three seats available in the district.

Even the candidates themselves know nothing could be further from the truth.

Republicans are already worried that a wave of Democratic enthusiasm in a post-presidential election could sweep Democrats into office. And Brophy McGee was already expected to face a difficult race against Christine Marsh, a Democrat who was the state’s 2016 “Teacher of the Year.”

Mark Syms
Mark Syms

Her path to re-election is made trickier by the emergence of Mark Syms as an independent candidate. The husband of Rep. Maria Syms, Mark is viewed by many to be running as political payback.

Some Republicans believe Petsas is more likely to take out Maria Syms than Democratic Rep. Kelli Butler.

And some Republicans worry Mark Syms’ appearance on the ballot could split valuable votes for Brophy McGee and throw the race to Marsh.

Republicans hold a strong voter registration advantage in LD28, but the district has a moderate streak. For more than a decade, its two representatives have hailed from opposite political parties. That could make it difficult for both Maria Syms and Petsas to get elected to the House, especially as Petsas bills herself as a moderate while Syms has struck a much more conservative tone.

Even before the GOP kerfuffle, Democrats were already ramping up their efforts in LD28. For the first time in years, they’re abandoning their “single-shot” strategy in the House.

Instead of running two candidates for both possible House seats, a single candidate — a single-shot — in a district where the conditions are right can result in one win where two candidates might have produced two losses. The goal for a single-shot candidate is to get core supporters to cast only one vote in the race and persuade others to split their votes between the candidate and an opponent. That maximizes the candidate’s own numbers and dilutes the opponents’ numbers.

Butler, a Paradise Valley Democrat, ran single-shot as a Democrat in 2016. This fall, she’ll be joined on the ballot by Aaron Lieberman, who’s touting his born-and-raised ties to LD28 and his education background. Butler said she’s excited about the possibility of Democrats taking another House seat, which she said could “really change our state.”

“We could have a lot more opportunities at the Legislature to really advance the causes that we believe in,” she said. “I think a lot of people in my district are very excited to start knocking on doors and talk about how transformative having another candidate can be for LD28.”

Former LD28 Rep. Eric Meyer, who used the single-shot strategy to win in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, said the dynamic in his old district has changed.

“Our district has slowly gone from strongly leaning Republican to just barely leaning Republican now,” he said. “All of this will help our candidate.”

Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, has declined to address the intraparty schism in LD28, and has publicly insisted that all is well. He recently told the Arizona Capitol Times that he “absolutely” thinks the three Republican candidates can go three for three in the district.

“We intend to win all three seats and we’ll do whatever it takes in the Senate to ensure that Kate Brophy McGee is re-elected,” Lines said on June 4.

That may be possible if the candidates worked together and supported one another, Petsas said. But that would mean that Maria Syms would have to throw her support behind her fellow Republican candidates in LD28, including Brophy McGee, and not her husband running as an independent.

Maria Syms initially demurred when asked if she would endorse her husband, and claimed that any issues between her, Brophy McGee and Petsas are all in the past. Maria Syms noted that she signed Petsas’ nominating petition to qualify for the ballot.

“I am glad we can put all this third party gossip behind us. I look forward to a robust general election campaign,” she wrote in an email.

Petsas said it’s telling that Maria Syms would not say whether she would support her fellow Republican candidates because it indicates that they haven’t gotten past whatever issues existed. And Petsas hasn’t held back in blasting Maria Syms for throwing her support behind her husband, Mark.

Their actions are not in line with Republican values, Petsas said.

“Maria Syms’ husband has filed for the Senate to run against Kate Brophy McGee and Maria Syms is a Republican? I don’t think so,” she said. “People who are experienced and people who are wise realize this is not the time to play games.”

Maria Syms later confirmed she can’t support the all-Republican slate, given that her husband is in the race and running as an independent.

“It’s silly to expect me to endorse someone over my husband,” she wrote in a text message on June 5.

Brophy McGee said she’s unclear about Mark Syms’ motivations for running against her. And Mark Syms has yet to speak for himself on the matter.

He was briefly approached by the Capitol Times when he filed his nominating petitions to run for the LD28 Senate seat on May 30, but his wife cut off the interview after one question. He’s also declined multiple requests for comment.

Brophy McGee noted that she’s won every race she’s run in LD28, going back to her school board days, and that she’s confident she’ll prevail again, even with an independent and a Democrat running against her in the general.

“It’s not something I had anticipated. I would not be human if I did not say I was disappointed. But I’m running, and I plan to win,” Brophy McGee said. “I do not understand. But anyone is free to run in any race, and this is certainly no different.”

Brophy McGee also said it was a “complete shock” to her that the Arizona Republican Party would tout her among a slate of GOP women running in the district. As to how that works with Mark Syms in the mix, Brophy McGee said she’ll leave that up to Maria Syms.

“It is a very, very tough campaign regardless of how this whole situation works out … and that is consuming every bit of time that I have,” she said. “I think focusing on [the intraparty fighting] at the moment when there’s so much that hasn’t been sorted out is a total waste of my time.”

GOP lawmakers support governor’s teacher pay raise

Legislative Republicans support Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to give teachers a raise this fall, and further raises for the following two years. But they won’t so easily relinquish their own budget priorities to finance the governor’s proposal.

Ducey’s budget staff scoured the state to scrape together $426 million in available dollars, relying primarily on rosy revenue projections. To fully fund Ducey’s plan for a 20 percent teacher pay bump over the next three years, the governor is also asking legislative Republicans to give up on $48 million in new spending.

At the same time, the governor also wants $74 million to fund his own legislative priorities, on top of the $240 million needed to give teachers a 9-percent raise this fall.

Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)
Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake)

That doesn’t sit well with some Republicans, who noticed that the governor keeps more than he is asking legislators to relinquish. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said senators are angling for a greater share of the $74 million Ducey saved for himself.

The good news for Ducey is that lawmakers like Allen are also fully behind his proposed teacher pay raise.

Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she was initially wary of “how strong [Ducey] came out on how fast we’re doing the raise… But since he’s made the proposal, we’re going to do whatever we can to design the budget to follow through with that proposal.”

Senate President Steve Yarbrough briefed Senate Republicans on the details of Ducey’s plan.

“There was a little bit of angst, to be fair,” Yarbrough said.

But the Chandler Republican said his caucus is “highly supportive and relentless” in its push for greater teacher pay, now the top budget priority.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler)

His only concern, one shared by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is if there’s enough dollars in the state budget to pay for it.

Mesnard said while most, if not all, House Republicans support the teacher pay increase, questions remain about how best to fund it. The Governor’s Office has its own funding ideas, but representatives may explore other funding mechanisms, he said. Mesnard did not expand on what other funding ideas his chamber is considering.

“If we have the revenue, my caucus will be supportive of 20 percent by 2020, which I think we can do relatively easily,” he said.

Both Yarbrough and Mesnard said everything in the budget is now up for negotiation again, given that Ducey essentially introduced a new budget “in the form of a priority,” Mesnard said.

“This is a new and big element in the middle of April. That presents its own challenge,” the speaker said. “As we refocus the budget, all revenue options are back on the table.”

Gowan seeks political comeback in LD14 Senate GOP primary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gowan did not immediately return requests for comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gubernatorial candidate files suit to keep campaign alive


Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Bennett is asking a judge to give him one last chance to qualify for public funding for his campaign.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that the Secretary of State’s Office shut down the online portal for people to make $5 donations that would entitle him to $839,704 in his bid to be the Republican nominee at 5 p.m. Tuesday. But he said Arizona law set the deadline for donations at midnight that night.

Bennett said he already has 3,995 donations. And he contends that he would have had the minimum 4,000 — and more — if the web site had not gone dark.

Representing himself, Bennett wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes to direct the site to be reopened for at least four hours. He told Capitol Media Services that will give campaign volunteers a chance to contact people who had said they would have given but for problems with the portal.

And he wants Contes to order the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which administers the public funding to accept these late donations even though they come after the deadline.

A hearing is set for Monday morning.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said he does not know whether she will oppose what Bennett, himself a former secretary of state, is demanding.

“The lawyers will decide that over the weekend,” he said.

But Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said the extra time Bennett wants is contrary to the law.

Bennett acknowledged that by the time he gets a final ruling — especially if there is an appeal of whatever Contes decides — Tuesday’s primary election will be over. That means even if he gets his $5 donations and qualifies for the money it is too late for him to spend it in his bid for the nomination.

But Bennett said there still are reasons to pursue the case.

First, if Bennett defeats incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey, qualifying for public funding would entitle him to another $1.2 million for the general election campaign. And even if he loses, Bennett said the money could be used to repay him the $43,000 he loaned his campaign.

Bennett said he will produce at least one witness who will tell Contes of his inability to make a donation after 5 p.m. on Tuesday even though the site should have remained online until midnight.

Roberts acknowledged the portal did go dark at 5 p.m. but said that was the result of programming done under the administration of the prior secretary of state — meaning Bennett.

Bennett said that may very well be true, saying he was the one who first made online donations for public funding available. But he said it was up to Reagan and her staff to keep pace with changes in technology.

Roberts also said the site was reopened several hours later after Bennett complained.

Hobbs asks U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Libertarian law change

This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko, File)
This April 23, 2018, file photo shows the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jessica Gresko, File)

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to swat down a last-ditch effort by the Arizona Libertarian Party to make it easier to put its candidates on the general election ballot.

In new legal filings, attorneys for Hobbs acknowledge that prior to 2015 a Libertarian contender for governor or statewide office could qualify for the ballot with as few as 133 signatures on nomination papers. Now contenders have to get about 3,000 supporters.

But Assistant Attorney General Kara Karlson said that’s not unfair, even though it represents close to 10 percent of all registered Libertarians.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

She said those seeking to run under the Libertarian banner are entitled to seek signatures not just from members of their own party but the more than 1.2 million Arizonans who are registered as independents. And Karlson said the fact that Libertarians want to gather support from only among their own tiny party is a “self-inflicted harm” and not because of anything done to them by the state.

The filing, however, does not address the fact that the Republicans who control the state Legislature — and who pushed through the change in 2015 — conceded there was at least a partial political motivation behind the move: They wanted to keep Libertarians off the ballot amid fears that the party’s candidates were siphoning off votes that otherwise would go to GOP contenders.

Prior to 2015, each party could put a candidate on the ballot based on a percentage of those registered with that party. That’s what led to the low threshold for Libertarians.

Under the 2015 law, the test was altered to be based on the number of people who could sign a candidate’s nominating papers. And that includes independents.

When lower courts refused to disturb the law, attorney Oliver Hall from the Center for Competitive Democracy, representing the Libertarian Party, sought intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court.

He charges that the state cannot force Libertarians to depend on political independents to get their names on the ballot, particularly as they cannot actually vote in the primary.

The bottom line, he said, is that a Libertarian contender, seeking support from like-minded people who are affiliated with the party, have a much higher burden. So he wants the 2015 law voided, returning the statutes to the way they were before.

Karlson told the justices the party was asking for special treatment. She pointed out while they want the lower signature requirement — the one based solely on party registration — they never challenged the part of the law allowing them to also get signatures from independents.

“In other words, they want to continue to have the ability to gather signatures from over one million voters, but submit only 133 signatures to qualify a statewide candidate who could, ultimately, represent 7.28 million people,” she wrote. Karlson said the Libertarians are “attempting to use their internal political party choices to manipulate Arizona law to obtain preferential ballot access with truly miniscule support.”

The justices have given no indication when they will consider the issue.

In pushing for the change, several Republicans made no secret of their belief that Libertarian candidates were costing them elections.

During one debate they cited the 2012 congressional race.

In Congressional District 1, which runs from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation to the edge of Tucson, Republican Jonathan Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes — votes that then-Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, contended likely would have gone to Paton.

Similarly, in the newly created Congressional District 9 which encompasses parts of Tempe and Phoenix, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema beat Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

House, Senate remain under Republican control — again

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs “vote” signs outside a polling station prior to it’s opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona’s Legislature will have only a tinge of more blue.

For all the talk that 2018 would finally be the year Democrats would either split or gain majority in the Senate, the chamber will remain under GOP control, likely with a 17-13 split.

At least three Republican incumbents did fall to Democrats in the House, and depending on the outcome of one race, that chamber’s split could narrow to 31-29 from 35-25.

Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik as of November 8 in Legislative District 17, which includes Sun Lakes and parts of Chandler and Gilbert. Pawlik, a Chandler teacher attempting to ride the fervor around education to victory, was ahead by just about 400 votes.

House Republicans are preparing for the worst. When the GOP Caucus voted for House leadership on November 7, 31 current and presumed members voted.

Missing from those ranks were the three Republicans whose defeats were certain. Republican Reps. Todd Clodfelter of Tucson, Jill Norgaard of Phoenix and Maria Syms of Paradise Valley all were ousted incumbents, but the circumstances of their defeats don’t quite match the narrative of a Democratic resurgence and rejection of the status quo in the GOP.

Clodfelter has lost before in Legislative District 10, which was represented by two Democrats in 2012 and 2014 before he was elected in 2016. He fell behind incumbent Rep. Kirsten Engel and Democratic newcomer Domingo DeGrazia.

Norgaard’s district swung in favor of Democrats back in 2016, when two of Legislative District 18’s three seats at the Capitol were won by the minority party.

Newcomer Jennifer Jermaine continued that trend. The Chandler Democrat and Rep. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe defeated Norgaard by a comfortable margin.

Syms likely sealed her own fate in Legislative District 28 when she stirred up tension in her own party.

She was accused by fellow Republicans of sowing conflict when her husband, Mark Syms, sought to run against Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee as an independent. And she clashed with fellow Republican Kathy Pappas Petsas in a four-way campaign where the top two vote-getters are elected to the House.

Syms landed in third behind Democrats Rep. Kelli Butler and Aaron Lieberman.

Former Arizona teacher of the year Christine Marsh could give the Democrat’s some consolation with a victory in the LD28 Senate race.

But that would mean closing a sizeable gap between her and the incumbent, Brophy McGee.

The Phoenix Republican has always been a strong candidate in the competitive district, and could hold her lead, if not watch it grow thanks to a strong showing among day-of GOP voters in Maricopa County, where votes were still being counted as of November 8.

Elsewhere, Democrats will look back at opportunities lost.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, once again won re-election in northern Arizona’s LD6, where Democrat Wade Carlisle trailed by more than 1,000 votes.

And Democrat Steve Weichert failed to ride the anticipated blue wave in LD17, where House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, handily won a race to succeed as the Republican senator from the East Valley.

The 54th Arizona Legislature will be a mix of old and new faces. The composition will include current lawmakers who cross the lawn at the Capitol to join the other chamber, 20 true freshman who won election to the Legislature for the first time, and former members who left office and will return.


Crossing over from House

Sally Ann Gonzales (D)

Vince Leach (R)

Eddie Farnsworth (R)

Heather Carter (R)

J.D. Mesnard (R)

Paul Boyer (R)

David Livingston (R)

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R)

Lela Alston (D)

Rebecca Rios (D)

Tony Navarrete (D)



Victoria Steele (D)

David Gowan (R)


True Freshman

Tyler Pace (R)


Crossing over from Senate

Warren Petersen (R)

Gail Griffin (R)

Nancy Barto (R)

John Kavanagh (R)

Robert Meza (D)



John Fillmore (R)


True Freshmen

Andres Cano (D)

Alma Hernandez (D)

Leo Biasiucci (R)

Walter Blackman (R)

Arlando Teller (D)

Myron Tsosie (D)

Domingo DeGrazia (D)

Bret Roberts (R)

Joanne Osborne (R)

Jennifer Pawlik (D)

Jennifer Jermaine (D)

Lorenzo Sierra (D)

Shawnna Bolick (R)

Frank Carroll (R)

Jennifer Longdon (D)

Amish Shah (D)

Diego Rodriguez (D)

Aaron Lieberman (D)

Raquel Teran (D)

It’s Maricopa vs. Yuma in LD13 GOP House primary

Rep. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

If Republicans in Maricopa County have their way, nobody from Yuma County will represent Legislative District 13 in the state House of Representatives.

Of the four candidates in the LD13 House GOP primary, Rep. Tim Dunn is the only one from Yuma County. The sprawling district includes parts of that rural area.

And though Dunn has raised the most money of the four candidates in the race, and he boasts the support of the business and farming communities, the Yuma Republican, who was appointed to fill expelled Yuma lawmaker Don Shooter’s House seat in LD13, faces a math problem.

In LD13, the total number of registered Republicans in Maricopa County outnumber the registered Republicans in Yuma County by almost 18,000. Yuma County’s GOP voters represent just one-third of LD13’s registered Republicans, and a third of all registered voters in the district.

Shooter, who is attempting a political comeback, also faces a tough primary contest against incumbent Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, in the Senate, primarily because of the scandal that resulted in his expulsion from the House this year.

If both Dunn and Shooter lose their races, the interests of one of Arizona’s biggest farming communities would have zero representation at the state Legislature.

Already, Dunn’s seatmate and primary opponent, Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Goodyear, is working to expose Dunn as a “campaign conservative,” just another RINO in the party, as he himself fights to get re-elected and jockeys for the speakership.

Political newcomer Trey Terry, who is running on a ticket with Mitchell, and Joanne Osborne, former vice mayor of Goodyear, are also seeking the GOP nomination in the House.

Capitol insiders say the four-way race is one to watch.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin said while it’s hard to knock out an incumbent in a primary, Dunn finds himself in a tough spot because he was appointed to the seat, not elected, and he took over the role halfway through the legislative session.

His late appointment meant that he was unable to sponsor any bills himself, and like most freshmen lawmakers, he spent most of the session learning the ropes.

Still, Coughlin said Dunn used his time at the Legislature wisely, taking an active role in water policy discussions, a top issue affecting the district.

Coughlin said Dunn is well respected by the agriculture community, and as a lifelong resident of Yuma, is well-liked by voters there.

He also has a “great name.”

“Tim Dunn — it’s not a hard name to remember. And it’s simple things like that that will probably aid him in the end,” he said.

Like Dunn, Coughlin said Osborne also has a memorable name. She’s part of one of Arizona’s “first families” — her family owns a jewelry store called Osborne Jewelers, and she has been a political figure in the West Valley for more than a decade.

Coughlin said though Mitchell has served in the Legislature for six years, there is a fairly aggressive opposition campaign being run against him because of his interest in the speakership. And it’s not unprecedented for a candidate who is running for leadership to lose their bid for re-election, he said.

Of the four candidates, Coughlin said Terry appears to be “on the outside looking in.” Though he is running with Mitchell, he has raised relatively little money compared to Dunn, has never held political office and doesn’t have an established voting record like the three other candidates.

Political consultant Chris Baker, who is representing Mitchell and Terry, said neither of his clients are worried about the competition.

He said despite the large war chest and support, Dunn will struggle to return to the Capitol. Osborne, he said, is too moderate for such a red district, an allegation Osborne refuted.

Baker said Dunn’s biggest mistake is that he has billed himself as the “Yuma candidate,” and has largely ignored constituents in Maricopa County.

“Dunn has run ads saying he is the ‘Yuma candidate’ or that he’s ‘fighting for Yuma.’” Baker said. “I don’t know if he doesn’t realize we can see it all, but he has taken a lot of steps to try to establish himself as the Yuma candidate and I’m not sure the voters in Maricopa County are necessarily going to be enthusiastic about electing the Yuma candidate.”

Dunn knows he faces an uphill battle, but he took issue with Baker’s assessment that his campaign efforts have been focused on Yuma.

He said in a four-way primary, candidates can’t expect to coast to an easy win, they need to earn the support of their constituents, so he has spent the summer campaigning throughout the district.

“We’ve worked hard to understand the district, not just the Yuma County portion, but all of the district,” Dunn said. “I’m not just someone from Yuma. I’m not an outsider. I have businesses that are in the Maricopa County portion of the district, and a lot of the issues we face in Yuma are the same issues voters face in Maricopa County. And my job is to make sure during this primary that I let people know that.”

Judge gives Bennett four hours to qualify for campaign funds

Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)
Ken Bennett (Photo by Gary Grado)

Ken Bennett got four more hours to gather more donations to qualify for public funding for his gubernatorial campaign.

Ruling from the bench, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes said Monday it clearly came as a surprise to everyone — including the state elections director — that the web site which allow for online donations shut down automatically at 5 p.m. this past Tuesday. She said the expectation was that the GOP gubernatorial hopeful would have until midnight.

“I think it’s clear that everyone as surprised by what appears to be to be a programming oversight,” the judge said.

The result, said Bennett, is that supporters who he was counting on to get him the 4,000 $5 donations he needs found themselves locked out. And by the time state Elections Director Eric Spencer had the site brought back, Bennett told the judge, it was too late to start calling people and getting them out of bed.

That left Bennett about 50 short of the minimum which were due last week.

So Contes directed Secretary of State Michele Reagan to reopen the online portal at 5 p.m. on Monday for four hours — the amount of time the portal was closed last week. That gave time for Bennett to notify supporters that if they didn’t get to give last week they have one more chance to get online and make the donation.

At one point Spencer sought to blame Bennett for the problem.

He said that it was during Bennett’s tenure as secretary of state — he served from 2009 through 2014 — that the programming on the web site was changed to have it go dark at 5 p.m. the day of the deadline.

Bennett said he was unaware that was part of the programming but said he would have fixed it had anyone brought it to his attention. And he said it was up to Reagan, as his successor, to reprogram the site ahead of every election.

Contes brushed aside the finger-pointing.

“Those things happen,” she said. “I’m not finding anything malicious about it.”

That, however, still left Bennett short of signatures.

“It seems that a correction is appropriate to remedy the shorting of a period of time that may affect only this candidate,” Contes said.

None of this will affect the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Even if Bennett can reach the 4,000 mark, the donations still need to be verified before he gets a check for $839,704. And that could take a week, meaning there is no way he will have the money in his bid to defeat incumbent Doug Ducey in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

But Bennett told the judge that, if nothing else, he could use some of that money to repay the $43,000 he loan his campaign.

And if Bennett actually defeats Ducey in the GOP primary, he would get another $1.2 million to run against whoever the Democrats choose in their primary, plus any Libertarian or Green party candidates who are running as write-ins if they get enough votes.

Contes acknowledged that Bennett, who represented himself in court, did not follow all the legal procedures for serving a copy of the complaint on both Reagan’s office and the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

But she said Bennett appeared to be following directions he was given by the bailiff of another judge.

And Contes said that the failures did not hamper the ability of the defendants to mount their claim.

Reagan chose not to appeal.

Ken Bennett needs 900 contributions to earn Clean Elections funding

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

With just three weeks to go before the primary election, Ken Bennett still needs 900 contributions to qualify for funding from the Clean Elections Commission.

In a letter to Clean Elections Executive Director Tom Collins on Monday, the Republican challenger to Gov. Doug Ducey said his campaign has 3,100 qualifying contributions on hand.

Gubernatorial candidates must collect 4,000 of the $5 qualifying contributions to qualify for $839,704 in primary funding, and can also collect up to $58,810 worth of seed money in $160 increments.

Bennett’s campaign manager, Christine Bauserman, said the campaign is disappointed that it’s behind on its goal, but she’s convinced Bennett will still qualify for public funding. She could not provide a date for when the campaign is likely to turn in its contributions.

Bauserman previously said that the campaign’s plan was to qualify for public financing by July 26 so they could get Bennett’s name out there before early ballots went out on Aug. 1.

Lots of Bennett’s Clean Elections forms are still out there, now it’s just a matter of hustling to get them back and turn them in, Bauserman said.

We’re working hard at it,” she said.

Clean Elections candidates can collect $5 contributions through August 21, and can submit them to qualify for funding through the day of the August 28 primary.

Should Bennett qualify for Clean Elections funding, his campaign plans to spend the money on mailers and radio advertisements.

But even without the public financing to help get Bennett’s name out there, a lot of people already know who he is and like what he’s pitching, Bauserman said.

When somebody’s unfavorables are as high as Ducey’s and his favorables as low, a lot of people see Ken Bennett. Ken has name ID. Everybody knows who Ken is,” she said.

Ducey’s campaign declined to comment. Ducey had $3.5 million on hand at the end of the last campaign finance reporting period. Bennett reported collecting 1,130 of the $5 contributions by the end of June, according to his latest campaign finance report.

Ducey’s campaign is already looking past Bennett to the general election.

“I think the record that I have as a governor, as a Republican who won that primary four years ago is one we can be proud of,” Ducey said last week. “With that, people will make a decision on the 28th, but we’re looking forward to Nov. 6.”

LD17 – thin victory margins and a tie

The interactive map above shows precinct-level results of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.

Out in the Southeast Valley, the Loop 202 freeway is often seen as a political compass. To the north of it is dense with Democratic voters; to the south, suburbs that start with a kiss of GOP pink but soon deepen to a solid red.

Political eyes were on the area this election to see whether Democrats had the chance to flip Arizona’s Legislative District 17 blue. In the end, with all votes tallied and certified, the district narrowly chose Democrat Joe Biden for president by 3.7%, or 5,000 votes, but no seats shifted in the state Legislature.

In the aftermath, candidates and community members wait to see what this year’s results, a precinct patchwork of red and blue, spell for the future.

Paula Feely
Paula Feely

Paula Feely is a Democratic precinct committeeperson in Chandler. It was President Donald Trump’s win in 2016 that pushed her, out of frustration, to become more involved with campaign efforts in her community. She represents Germann Precinct, part of a widening stretch of blue bleeding south of the Loop 202.

“I’ve become more aware of the Democrats around here,” Feely said. “They’re less shy now.”

Biden won a handful of precincts around Feely’s turf this year that previously went for Trump, including Lantana Canyon, Laredo and Dobson Park with margins ranging from .6% to 2%, or 10 to 110 votes. Voters in Germann Precinct supported Biden, too, after giving Hillary Clinton a 1% lead in 2016.

Since becoming a committeeperson, Feely has written hundreds of letters, dropped party literature on doorsteps and made phone calls to people throughout LD17. And she has become more comfortable talking about politics with non-Democrats, she said, although “close to the election, I did have to cut myself off from some people.”

Her counterpart in Germann Precinct might be Anne Kirkham, a longtime Chandler resident who is precinct committeeperson for the Republican Party. With new housing going up in the district and people moving in from out-of-state, Kirkham said she sees the ground shifting in the city.

For her, maintaining Republican leadership will depend on finding the right messaging.

“There’s been a lot of outreach to what are called ‘soft Democrats’ and all the independents,” she said. “It all comes down to policies and platforms.”

Despite partisan tensions in Arizona, and the ongoing, if largely dismissed, concerns about the election’s integrity — concerns that Kirkham shares — she refrains from villainizing Democrats. Many of them are her neighbors in this battleground district.

“I have dear friends who look at things differently than I do politically, and I don’t let that get in the way of our friendship,” she said.

To the east of Kirkham and Feely’s precinct is Layton Lakes, a precinct that neither Biden nor Trump could claim. At 253 votes each, they were tied.

Raghu Srinivasan
Raghu Srinivasan

The triangular stretch of land near Queen Creek and Lindsay roads became a precinct in 2017, and is home to 576 registered voters. Raghu Srinivasan, vice chair for District 17 Democrats and an engineer with a penchant for analyzing election data, said Layton Lakes was carved out of Appleby Precinct as a result of new housing in the area.

It wasn’t long ago that the area was mostly farms, empty land and single family homes, he said. But as neighborhoods grow and newcomers arrive, “they’re probably bringing their outlook with them,” Srinivasan said.

Layton Lakes is one of three precincts in the county where Biden and Trump faced a draw. Steven Slugocki, chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, said the ties illustrate the closeness of elections here, and how much of the county is “up for grabs.”

One of the most closely watched races in LD17 was for the state Senate seat held by J.D. Mesnard, a Republican.

Democratic challenger A.J. Kurdoglu lost the race, but said he had no doubts that the district is changing. Still, it will take work to decide the political future of the East Valley, he said – liberal and conservative leaders can’t simply wait for the demographics to change.

“I always believe it is our job as candidates or as a party to reach out to your neighbors, your constituency and explain what you stand for,” Kurdoglu said.

Mesnard comfortably won his Senate seat, but doesn’t deny the potential of the region turning blue in years to come. He lost his own precinct to Kurdoglu by 5.3% of the vote, or 277 votes. Biden carried it by a wider margin of 15%, or 827 votes.

The senator said he has no plans to change his policies in response to a constituency that is becoming more liberal.

“I ran for office in the first place under a certain set of principles. I maintain those principles,” Mesnard said. “And if there’s an avalanche of people that come in with different principles, it’ll probably just mean that I’ll lose, eventually.”

He said he hopes to convince newcomers that his policies – and the Republican platform more broadly – have helped make Arizona an attractive place to live.

Even as pundits make predictions for the next election, the competitive status of LD17 could soon recede into history when officials begin redrawing legislative districts next year.

Feely, the Democratic precinct committeeperson, said she thinks the liberal tilt in her neighborhood is a credit to people engaging with the issues more than any sea change in political beliefs.

As a retired school district employee, she said she thinks candidates who are focused on education will find supporters in the East Valley, just as Democrat Jennifer Pawlik did when she ran for the state House two years ago and won. Pawlik was re-elected last month.

“It’s not just a red and blue thing,” Feely said of the political map. “It’s what people think you can do to improve our community.”

Leach sics AG on Tempe over allegation of illegal tax breaks

A Tucson Republican has followed through on a threat to ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether Tempe broke the law in signing two lease agreements with developers he alleges received illegal tax breaks.

Rep. Vince Leach (R-Tucson)
Rep. Vince Leach (R-Tucson)

Rep. Vince Leach filed his complaint with the attorney general on January 2 despite a scheduled January 11 meeting to discuss his concerns with Tempe staff.

Leach put the city on notice in a November 30 letter that he intended to file the complaint and asked for a response to his claims by December 21, and a House GOP spokesman said Leach chose to bring his concerns to the city first “for a more collaborative effort” in finding a solution.

In a January 2 written statement, Tempe said Leach’s complaint was misguided based on a misunderstanding of Government Property Lease Excise Taxes, or GPLETs, a tax incentive that allows municipal governments to lease publicly-owned properties to developers at a lower tax rate.

The statement, sent by city spokeswoman Nikki Ripley, said Leach filed the complaint “before getting the facts.”

“It is unfortunate that a member of the Arizona Legislature has decided to use misunderstandings about GPLET and misinformation about Tempe’s use of state statutes to employ a tactic to threaten the city revenue distribution that keeps cities and towns afloat and able to provide critical services to residents such as police and fire protection,” the statement said.

House GOP Spokesman Matt Specht said Leach “had an obligation” to file the complaint with the AG’s Office after the city failed to take “corrective action” in response to the November 30 letter.

The complaint, filed under SB1487, a 2016 law that allows legislators to ask the attorney general to investigate whether local governments are flouting state laws, calls into question the city’s use of GPLETs.

SB1487 allows the state to withhold a city’s portion of state-shared revenue, which funds vital local government services, if the AG finds the complaint to be valid. The Attorney General’s Office has 30 days to investigate the complaint and if it determines the city’s ordinances violate state law, the office will work with the city to ensure the leases come into compliance.

In his complaint, Leach argued that the GPLET agreements offered to the developers of the Graduate Hotel and the new Bank of the West branch in Tempe used rates that were eliminated in 2010 by state statute. Cities are exempt from using the new tax incentive rates for projects that were grandfathered in under the old law, but Leach argued that the grandfather clause didn’t apply to either project because neither had been approved by the Tempe City Council before 2010.

Leach also argued that the city backdated its agreement with Graduate Tempe Owner, LLC to 1970, the year the hotel was built, rather than when it became government property in early 2017.

Under the previous law, GPLET rates decreased over the duration of the lease until year 50 when the rate became zero. Because the city is claiming that the hotel project was grandfathered in under the old rates, Leach said, the developer would receive a larger tax break.

Leach also said the agreements were not vetted by the Department of Revenue, a stipulation included in HB2213, a 2017 law he sponsored aimed at closing loopholes related to GPLET agreements.

Tempe’s January 2 press release said the city’s agreement with the developer of the Bank of the West does not waive property taxes for the duration of the GPLET, and that the agreement was vetted by the Department of Revenue.

As for the Graduate Hotel development, the city said it passed a resolution in 2010 that allowed the property to fall under the grandfather clause for future use of GPLETs. The resolution was passed before changes were made to how GPLETs can be used under state statute, the city added.

The lease agreement with the developer has not been finalized, but will be submitted to the Revenue Department for review when it is, the city said.

“The city of Tempe has responsibly, selectively and legally made use of the limited development incentive tools that are allowed by Arizona state law,” the city’s written statement said.

This is the eighth SB1487 complaint that the AG’s office has investigated since the law was enacted in 2016. Leach recently filed another SB1487 complaint with the agency, asking Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate whether the town of Patagonia’s new ordinance limiting the number of times heavy trucks can drive on town roads violates the Arizona Constitution, the Nogales International reported.

Lesko, Montenegro take spending lead in CD8 GOP primary

Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro, both former state senators, are the frontrunners in the special election for Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro, both former state senators, are the front runners in the special election for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.

While a dozen Republicans are on the ballot for the special election primary in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, campaign spending shows the field of viable candidates is far less crowded.

Former state Sens. Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro have essentially ignored the other candidates, exchanging fire only with each other and dominating the spending game.

And with the February 27 special election less than two weeks away, Republican consultant Matthew Benson said he hasn’t seen an indication that someone will upset what is now a two-person race.

According to records filed with the Federal Election Commission as of February 15, about $50,000 has been pumped into independent expenditures in Lesko’s favor.

More than four times that amount was spent in support of Montenegro. Ads supporting his candidacy have surpassed $230,000. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Jobs, Freedom and Security PAC alone has contributed $150,000 of that total with ads touting Montenegro as “the son of immigrants who came here legally” and a conservative U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want in Congress.

Lesko campaign spokesman Barrett Marson said Cruz’s support is cause for concern, “but it’ll take a lot more messaging to overcome (Montenegro’s) deficiencies.”

More than $80,000 has also been spent in opposition to Montenegro, three times more than was spent on negative IEs aimed at Lesko.

The pro-Lesko Defend US PAC has funded that front, attacking Montenegro for his support of a national popular vote and for supporting a pardon for a pastor in the country illegally.

“If how well you’re doing is measured by how many bullets they’re shooting atcha… then I guess he’s doing all right,” said Montenegro’s spokesman Constantin Querard.

And he’s not convinced ads questioning Montenegro’s stance on border security and immigration will convince anyone.

“Voters are a lot smarter than some consultants think they are. At least, that’s my hope,” Querard said.

Both candidates have also pulled ahead of the pack in terms of their own spending.

According to records filed with the Federal Communications Commission as of February 15, Lesko has spent nearly $70,000 on cable ads, with Montenegro trailing at about $30,000.

Auto-dial polls have put them within shouting distance of each other, but consultant Lisa James said the polling doesn’t matter in this election. Having operated under a short time frame, the candidates should focus instead on just getting their voters to show up, she said.

James has her money on Lesko, who she said will be rewarded for being bold at the state Legislature. She also predicted this would be “the year of the woman.”

Lesko is the only woman running in the CD8 race, and though James said that alone won’t win it for her, it’s not “a detriment to her by any stretch of the imagination.”

Consultant Chris Baker, who’s working with pro-Montenegro group National Horizon, said that’s a simplistic view of voters.

“To come to that conclusion, you have to assume that those voters are single-issue voters that are not swayed by anything,” he said. “There’s no indication that’s really a thing with voters.”

He, of course, said Montenegro stands a good chance of winning, and the negative ads coming out of the Lesko campaign are his proof.

“Two weeks out, that’s probably a good indication that something has to change in the race,” he said. “If she was leading the race running positive, my guess is she would stay positive.”

The underdogs

Former Rep. Phil Lovas and former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump were counted among the early front runners but have since fallen behind.

According to FEC records as of February 15, no independent expenditures have been reported in support of or opposition to either of them.

Bob Stump
Bob Stump

Stump this week was under no illusions about his chances of pulling off a win, and acknowledged that the odds are better for Lesko and Montenegro.

“I’m a realist,” he said repeatedly. “They’re both better financially endowed, I suspect, than other candidates in the race. And if you follow the feeds on Twitter, most of the vitriol from other candidates and between candidates is focused upon the two of them.”

He said he knew he was at a disadvantage from the start, having been out of office for a year and absent from ballots since 2012.

“As the son of a therapist, I try not to be in denial,” he said. “The polls are what they are.”

Stump said he’ll keep up the campaign until the end, taking the opportunity to talk to voters about issues that are important to him, most notably his gospel on the country’s need to protect the electrical grid.

But Lovas’ campaign still wants more than the chance to just talk to voters.

Campaign consultant Brian Seitchik said he thinks Lovas still has a shot at representing them.

Despite what the numbers might say, Seitchik said it’s not accurate to call this a race between Lesko and Montenegro alone.

“The conventional wisdom said that Hillary Clinton was going to get elected president, and the experts were pretty clear about that,” he said. “Thankfully, we see how they were all wrong.”

He said that the roughly 34,000 ballots that have been cast so far suggest a much higher turnout “than so-called experts have predicted,” and he expects that will bode well for Lovas.

He predicted that voters who were previously “dormant” in the political process but inspired by President Trump would turn out in Lovas’ favor.

Rep. Phil Lovas (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Phil Lovas (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lovas was the first state legislator to endorse Trump for the presidency and served as his statewide campaign chairman. He left his seat at the House in April to join the Trump administration in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

Now, Seitchik said he’s “making it clear that he’s going to be working hand-in-hand with the Trump administration” for CD8, “and he’s the only one with the credibility to do that.”

If Seitchik is right about higher than expected turnout in the primary, Benson, the GOP consultant, said that could introduce “a brand new ballgame” in Lovas’ favor. But he also wondered if Seitchik offered any evidence demonstrating that advantage.

“Ordinarily, in a campaign like this where there’s a conventional wisdom that it’s between two candidates, if you’re not one of those two but you’ve got polling suggesting that you’re more competitive than people think you are, you want to get that out,” Benson said. “I’d be shouting from the rooftops… and we haven’t seen that.”

Libertarians want U.S. Supreme Court to quash law designed to keep them off ballot

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

The Arizona Libertarian Party is making a last-ditch effort to quash a state statute, which was designed  and succeeded at keeping its candidates off the ballot.

In filings with the U.S. Supreme Court, attorney Oliver Hall from the Center for Competitive Democracy said the law pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015 sharply increased – sometimes by a factor of 30 – the number of signatures needed for Libertarian candidates to qualify for the ballot.

That wasn’t by accident. In fact the record shows that J.D. Mesnard, then a GOP representative from Chandler and now a state senator, told colleagues that Republicans would have been elected to two congressional seats had it not been for what he said were Libertarian candidates in the same race siphoning off votes he said otherwise would have gone to the GOP contenders.

“I can’t believe we wouldn’t see the benefit of this,” Mesnard said during a floor speech.

Hall told the justices the law had its desired effect: Only one Libertarian qualified for the ballot in 2016  and none at all in 2018.

“Arizona has relegated the Arizona Libertarian Party to a state of electoral purgatory,” Hall wrote. “The party is ballot-qualified under Arizona law, but it cannot place its candidates on the ballot.”

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

All that, he said, is unconstitutional.

Republican Control

Hall acknowledged that the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to regulate the times, places and manner of holding elections. But he said that was “not as a source of power to dictate electoral outcomes, to favor or disfavor a class of candidates, or to evade important constitutional restraints.”

So far, Hall’s arguments have failed to sway federal judges. They concluded that the wording of that 2015 law, strictly speaking, treats all parties equally in how they get their candidates qualified for the ballot.

But it’s the way the system actually works that is behind the litigation.

Prior to 2015, candidates for recognized minor parties could get on the ballot simply by submitting petitions with the signatures of one-half of one percent of those registered with the party. In 2018 for the Libertarians, a statewide candidate would have had to collect around 160 names.

That year the Republicans who control the Legislature lowered the requirement for all parties to one-quarter of one percent. But they engineered it so that the figure was based not on party registration but on all who could sign a candidate’s petition.

That added political independents to the base, who actually outnumber Democrats and run a close second to Republicans.

So in 2018 the minimum signature requirement for a Libertarian running statewide was 3,153, about 10 percent of all those actually registered as Libertarians.

Meanwhile the numbers for Republican and Democrat nominations remained close to what it always had been: 6,223 signatures for GOP candidates and 5,801 for Democrats, both a small fraction of each party’s voter registration.

Hall charges that the state cannot force Libertarians to depend on political independents to get their names on the ballot, particularly as they cannot actually vote in the primary. The bottom line, he said, is that a Libertarian contender, seeking support from like-minded people who are affiliated with the party, have a much higher burden.

Margaret McKeown
Margaret McKeown

Take that 2018 primary.

There were about 1.26 million registered Republicans. So a GOP contender, seeking signatures of just Republicans, needed just signatures from 0.4 percent of party faithful.

But for a Libertarian, getting 3,153 signatures from only Libertarians amounted to more than 10 percent of total registered Libertarians.

Libertarians, Not Legislature

Judge Margaret McKeown of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that, for some offices, the party’s desire to have petitions signed only by party faithful could amount to 30 percent of registered Libertarians.

But in writing a ruling earlier this year upholding the law, she said that Libertarians, just like Republicans and Democrats, are free to seek the signatures of just 1 percent of those who are eligible to sign petitions. That means not just Libertarians but more than a million Arizonans who are registered to vote as independents.

McKeown said it is the decision of the Libertarian Party and not the Legislature to allow only party members to participate in the primary.

Put simply, McKeown said the problem is of the party’s own making because of its exclusionary policy. And she said that voiding the 2015 law — and going back to the prior law — would “incentivize parties to have fewer registered members and therefore artificially reduce the signature requirements.”

Hall, however, said forcing Libertarian contenders to rely on the support of independents is unconstitutional, saying it amounts to “a form of compelled association.”

“Arizona has no legitimate interest in requiring that Libertarian candidates demonstrate support from independent voters who are not eligible to vote for them, and who have no reason or incentive to support the candidates’ effort to obtain (the party’s) nomination.

He also told the justices that what the state wants is unusual.

“Arizona stands alone in requiring that candidates demonstrate support from voters who are not eligible to vote for them,” Hall wrote.

Hall told Capitol Media Services that, legally speaking, the motives behind the move by Republicans to change the law is legally irrelevant to what he said is its unconstitutionality. But the legislative record makes it clear that the GOP lawmakers who pushed the change made it clear they hoped to improve the odds for Republican lawmakers who might otherwise lose votes to a Libertarian.

As proof, during debate they cited the 2012 congressional race.

In CD 1, which runs from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation to the edge of Tucson, Republican Jonathan Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick. But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes that Mesnard contended likely would have gone to Paton.

Similarly, in the newly created CD 9 which encompasses parts of Tempe and Phoenix, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema beat Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

McCain used his influence on big things for the little guy


In this Oct. 17, 2015, photo, John McCain meets with veterans. (Photo by Timon Harper/Timon Harper Photography)
In this Oct. 17, 2015, photo, John McCain meets with veterans. (Photo by Timon Harper/Timon Harper Photography)

Sen. John McCain was a lot of things to a lot of people.

Hero. Statesman. Husband. Veteran. Politician. Friend. American. Maverick.

But McCain was also a man of the people.

Proof of that is no more evident than the thousands of people who waited outside the Capitol in the summer heat August 29 to pay their respects. Or from the outpouring of support for McCain and his family that erupted on social media.

It’s also obvious from the sheer number of people, many holding American flags and McCain campaign signs, who lined the path the motorcade carrying the senator’s body took to a memorial service at North Phoenix Baptist Church on August 30.

McCain died August 25 after battling brain cancer for more than a year. He was 81.

Many Arizonans have a McCain story, as do a slew of others across the country.

He was Arizona’s senior senator and one of the top-ranking officials on Capitol Hill, but he was never too big or too busy to help the little guy.

No one knows that better than Gibson McKay who, while serving as a legislative aide to McCain in the 1990s, was frequently on hot dog duty.

McCain was a big fan of the pure Vienna beef hot dogs at the Great Dane Dog House, a staple on Seventh Street in Phoenix.

“Hot dogs and coffee,” McKay said. “That guy survived on those two things alone.”

The shop was often their first stop when McCain arrived home from Washington, D.C.

McCain’s favorite dog? The Maxwell Street, a Polish sausage served with grilled onions, mustard, pickles, tomato and hot pepper.

The senator developed a rapport with the shop’s owner, Tony “Dane” Rigoli, a looming Italian American who steamed or grilled dogs on Seventh Street for three decades. The friendship was a testament to the type of person McCain was, a powerful senator who enjoyed connecting with everyday people.

“He loved bellying up to the hot dog bar or talking sports with the most common among us, whether you knew who he was or not,” McKay said.

One day McCain learned that Rigoli’s son was stationed in Germany while serving in the Army. The son’s wife was ill and needed treatment best offered stateside. McCain wrote a letter to the Army general in Germany urging him to reassign Rigoli’s son to a station in the United States and placed phone calls to high ranking Army officials to move the reassignment along.

“He made a call, wrote a letter, a couple of things like that, and that was it,” McKay said. “John McCain calls the general of the Army, they listen.”

McCain never told Rigoli what he had done. But the next time McKay went into the Great Dane for a dog, Rigoli was ecstatic to have his son and daughter-in-law back home.

“It was just his hot dog joint guy. The best lobbyist in the world is sometimes a hot dog joint guy,” McKay said.

When he was back in Arizona, McCain acted no differently than any other Arizonan. He went to sporting events and shopped for groceries at his local supermarket. He was Arizona’s favorite adopted son.

McCain wasn’t born in Arizona, but he quickly grew to love this state, saying often he was privileged to serve this state.

McCain, a Vietnam veteran, had a reputation for helping veterans, but he didn’t limit his services to just Arizonans.

In 2009, Jame Koopman of Aurora, Colo. was desperate to get his uncle’s Air Force records to show that he served during the time of the Vietnam War.

Koopman’s uncle, Fred Rivera Jr., had dementia and was desperately trying to get his benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The problem was, he didn’t have any of his military paperwork.

Koopman reached out to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to no avail. That’s when he contacted McCain’s office. After several letters back and forth with the senator’s office, he ended up getting his uncle’s records on microfilm.

He saved printed copies of the letters, and he has studied them so closely that he can tell McCain’s signature is a tad different on each letter. Because of that, Koopman is convinced McCain personally signed the letters.

“I just thought it was pretty cool because I’m nobody anyways,” Koopman said. “He didn’t have to answer back. He could have sent a letter saying, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you,’ but he helped out.”

Former McCain staffer Jim Waring said helping veterans was a point of pride in the late senator’s office.

Veterans from across the country would call the office because they either didn’t know how to get help elsewhere or they didn’t feel comfortable requesting help from their elected officials.

McCain staffers repeatedly heard veterans say, “I believe that he will help,” said Waring, who is the vice mayor of Phoenix.

“Veterans were convinced he was on their side,” he said.

Katherine Benton-Cohen, an Arizona native, can’t help but remember getting a tour of the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress from McCain.

Her mother, Jenice Benton, was tasked with decorating McCain’s office when he moved into the Russell Senate Building after first getting elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. Benton-Cohen’s parents were Democrats, but they were also early supporters of McCain’s Senate bid.

On the tour, the young girl from Tempe was amazed by the Library of Congress and all its beauty and intricacies. But McCain was also in awe of the building, Benton-Cohen said.

“I just remember his enthusiasm, his exuberance and his respect for this beautiful place,” she said.

Now, as an associate professor of history at Georgetown University, she takes her students to the Library of Congress often.

McCain was “painfully deprived of his freedom,” but his suffering only made him more resolute in his mission to protect democracy for others, said Bettina Nava, the senator’s state director.

During her time working for McCain, one Sunday stands out.

Nava spoke to a grieving father first, but as soon as she told his story to McCain, the senator was on the phone ready to intervene.

The man’s daughter died while doing humanitarian work for a nonprofit abroad and the family couldn’t get her body back to the United States.

McCain intervened immediately, working on an international level to bring the young woman home to rest.

More than anything about that day, Nava recalls listening to McCain speak to the father.

“That’s one that I can hardly talk about it to this day,” she said.

He was reverent and respectful. She remembers him trying to maintain his composure and taking a deep breath as he got off the phone.

He felt those moments, which Nava estimated numbered well into the thousands, reminded him of why he had to persist.

“He knew how fragile democracy was, and he felt honored that he was entrusted to serve and ensure democracy’s safety,” Nava said.

McCain was devoted to helping people. His office acted as an agency in and of itself, intervening on behalf of citizens seeking assistance with everything from getting Social Security checks they relied on to seeking military honors for fellow veterans.

He touched too many lives to count exactly, she said.

“It’s beautiful for me to be looking on Facebook and Instagram and … everybody has a John McCain story. Everybody has a John McCain photo,” Nava said. “He was that accessible. He was just a man of the people.”

Staff writers Katie Campbell and Ben Giles contributed to this report.

Rash of GOP bills seek to empower lawmakers, disempower voters


Arizona Republican legislators have a habit of pushing ideas that make their own lives easier, but harder for voters to have their voices heard.

Critics say the GOP-led efforts are a consolidation of legislative authority, designed to fend off an increasingly independent and incensed electorate in a state that’s becoming slightly more competitive every two years.

Some examples include legislation like SB1023, which would allow legislative candidates to identify fewer of those individuals who make financial contributions to their campaigns, leaving voters in the dark about who’s influencing elections.

And Republicans are also leading an effort to quash a movement in Tempe to reveal the sources of “dark money” in local elections. It’s a GOP bid to keep campaign dollars spent by groups that don’t disclose the source of their money a secret.

And there are more.

Arizona is no stranger to bills that are criticized as a power struggle between lawmakers and voters, but Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University, said this year’s wave of legislation is unprecedented.

“In 30 years of watching the Arizona Legislature, I’ve never seen such blatant attempts to empower the Legislature and disempower the voters, and that’s taking all of these things into consideration,” Smith said.

Republican lawmakers say there’s no concerted effort to undermine voters, and make the case for bills on an individual basis as good for Arizona and good for their constituents. But on some issues, their policy positions contradict popular public opinion.

Rivko Knox, a volunteer lobbyist with the League of Women Voters, recalled one legislative hearing this year on a bill with dozens of speakers signed in to oppose, and minimal support, but still, a lawmaker claimed the measure was widely backed.

The “request to speak” system is by no means a definitive arbiter of public opinion. Still, in the face of overwhelming opposition at the hearing, “the legislator said, ‘That’s not what I hear in my district,’” Knox said.

If that’s the case, she said, “to what extent you’re really representing your district, I don’t know.”

Power retention

In some ways, Knox sees Republican efforts to consolidate power in the Legislature as instinctual, albeit a tactic that shies away from transparency and shows a disrespect for the public, she said.

“To some extent it’s almost a natural reaction, in the sense that one body wants to retain power,” she said.

Joel Edman
Joel Edman

Those bodies, the Republican-dominated Arizona Senate and House of Representatives, are frustrating lobbyists like Knox and Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.

“Instead of having huge debates on how we can get more money into classrooms, and how we can take care of the families that don’t have reliable access to health care, that we’re trying to figure out, can we raise the salaries of legislators, can we make it so we don’t have to run for re-election so often, can we make it so we can hide some of our campaign contributions?” Edman said. “It’s a really sort of twisted view of the priorities.”

There is in fact an effort to dramatically increase legislative salaries, though such a pay hike would require a vote of the people, and Arizonans haven’t been keen on rewarding lawmakers with a raise for years.

Arizonans may also be asked whether they want senators and representatives to serve four-year terms, rather than two years. The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Drew John, R-Safford, would halve the number of elections in which legislators must campaign, a boon for institutional knowledge, some argue. Even Edman and Knox see the benefits of such a proposal.

And yet, HCR2006 finds a way to make legislators’ lives even more easy because legislative elections would only be held every four years during midterm elections, when voter turnout is at its lowest and campaigns are dominated by the most passionate, and arguably far-right and -left, of each party, Edman said.

“That means that some segment of voters who show up just for presidential years aren’t going to have their voices heard at all – they’re basically irrelevant as far as the state Capitol is concerned. And so that’s a whole segment of voters that are taken out of the process,” he said.

Should they vote every year? Sure, Edman said. But as long as they don’t, fewer elections should at least be held at a time when more voters are likely to cast ballots, he said.


Edman and Knox speculate that avoiding voters might be the underlying goal. For example, it has become routine for Republicans to sponsor bills that chip away at the initiative process, by which voters can bypass the Legislature and pass laws on their own, or even block laws the Legislature approved.

Proposition 206, a citizens initiative to raise the minimum wage that voters approved in 2016, seems to have accelerated those efforts, Edman said.

“Certainly it brought on all these attacks on the initiative process, but I think folks down here, and I think in particular a couple of powerful interests groups like the (Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry) who were used to getting their way saw they can’t always get their way with the electorate,” he said. “So let’s see if they can again find a way to make the electorate less important in how the state runs things.”

That feeling is also reflected in efforts like HCR2022. Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, the resolution would ask voters to give up their right to elect partisan candidates in primary elections for the U.S. Senate. Instead, legislators from the Republican and Democratic parties would select two nominees each whose names would appear on the General Election ballot.

When the resolution was approved by a House committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, Republican representatives said the measure will better serve the state by ensuring U.S. senators are acting in the best interest of the state.

“That to me is such a blatant way of saying, ‘We ought to control what’s going on. We want senators that are dependent on us,’ as if the legislators are the people of the state, and they’re not,” Knox said.

Some don’t pan out

Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff)
Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff)

The sponsors of resolutions like HCR 2022 are often criticized for not having their finger on the pulse of the electorate. Rep. Bob Thorpe, the Flagstaff Republican who has sponsored several bills to draw the fire of progressive and nonpartisan interest groups alike, said he knows exactly what he’s doing – it’s what his voters want.

Not all constituents may like it, but Thorpe said he’s doing right by his Legislative District 6.

Sometimes that means pitching bills that don’t pan out. Thorpe said he sponsored HCR2014, the resolution to block independents from voting in partisan primaries, because a voter in his district asked him to. But he backed off the idea after consulting with state Republican leaders, who weren’t in favor of the idea.

Thorpe said most bills come from ideas from constituents. There’s nothing nefarious going on, as if Republican lawmakers are plotting with one another about ways to undermine the will of the voters.

“We are all free agents down here, and it’s very rare that as we’re crafting bill ideas that we’re having conversations with members. … I think what you might be suggesting and other people might be suggesting is there’s a collaborative effort to push the agenda in a certain direction,” Thorpe said. “We don’t even have right now a majority plan in place, where the majority has decided we’re going to be pushing A, B and C.”

For Thorpe, the best way to represent the voters of his district is to push for what he philosophically believes is in the best interest of the state of Arizona.

Take the minimum wage issue as an example.

Thorpe argued that such a high minimum wage – Arizona’s now stands at $10.50 per hour, but will increase to $12 by 2020 – is bad for businesses and ultimately hurts the residents it’s trying to help. So he supports efforts to freeze the minimum wage at its current rate and undo paid-leave protections for employees that were approved by voters less than 18 months ago.

Initiatives like Prop. 206 that increased the minimum wage get in the way of Thorpe’s view of a representative form of government.

“People elect us to come down here and the Legislature to write laws,” he said. “So when you have a bill, whether it’s well intentioned or not, a referendum, it basically steps on our toes as the Legislature.”

Stepping on toes or not, Prop. 206 passed with little opposition. Roughly 58 percent of voters approved the minimum wage hike across the state, and in Thorpe’s LD6, the proposition passed with more than 57 percent of the vote, according to an analysis prepared for Arizona Wins, a progressive advocacy group.

So how does Thorpe reconcile supporting a measure to undo something that voters in his district supported?

“I look at my constituents. When I go before the people in northern Arizona, I’m thanked for the job I’m doing,” he said.

And if he keeps getting elected, that must mean there’s at least some voters in LD6 who approve of what he’s doing, like undermining the minimum wage initiative.

“Any election, (voters) have the opportunity to get rid of me and to elect someone else. I’m coming up for re-election now, and they have that opportunity to do so,” Thorpe said. “So if I’m not doing what they want me to do, they’ll replace me.”

Ignoring the popular vote

Smith, the NAU professor, said there are many factors that create an environment where a lawmaker like Thorpe can ignore the popular vote in his district. Lawmakers are listening to some, but not all, of their constituents, he said.

As far as having their finger on the pulse of the electorate, it’s a valid criticism, Smith said, “but see, they don’t have to, because they only have to have 51 percent of the people that vote in the Republican primary in their district, and most of those guys know it.”

Smith said that Republicans in charge of the state right now are “enriched and empowered by forces that weren’t in play in the past” – particularly anonymous campaign expenditures like the ones Tempe wants to shine a light on, but Republican legislators want to keep in the, well, dark.

The financial influence of anonymous political spending stretches from the highest office in the state – Gov. Doug Ducey was the beneficiary of $8.2 million in dark money during the 2014 election — to some legislative races.

On the bright side, Smith noted that many of these legislative efforts are dead or dying.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is killing SB1023, which would shield some campaign contributor s from exposure, in the face of opposition, including some from his own party. A Thorpe bill to exempt communications on personal devices from the public record never passed a committee hearing.

But bills like the dark money ban pre-emption and an effort to overhaul Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission are alive and will likely be approved along party-line votes. Progressives like Edman are hopeful that the changing demographics of the state will alter that reality.

Some see a not-too-distant future where that might be the case.

Sen. Robert Meza (D-Phoenix) (Cronkite News photo by Griselda Nevarez)
Sen. Robert Meza (D-Phoenix) (Cronkite News photo by Griselda Nevarez)

In a committee hearing on the resolution to undermine the voter-approved minimum wage hike, Sen. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, warned his GOP colleagues that a wave is coming in the form of a young, educated, and arguably angry voter fed up with legislators who don’t listen to the people.
Smith isn’t so sure.

“You know if you’re a Republican sitting in a safe district, you can do just about anything,” he said. “Is there gonna be a backlash? Yeah, I think some of these things are going to be a bit too far. Is the backlash gonna extend to throwing people out of office? No.”

Legislation voters likely won’t love

Critics say that Republican lawmakers are pushing ideas to make legislators’ lives easier at the expense of voters, who would be cut off from vital knowledge about their elected officials and in some cases denied opportunities to vote. Here are a few examples of those bills they oppose – many have failed, but others are still making their way through the process.

SB 1023
Sponsored by Sen. John Kavanagh, the bill would have hidden the identities of most individuals who donate to political campaigns and legislative candidates in elections. Roughly three out of every four donors would not have their identities disclosed. Kavanagh won’t pursue the bill after facing some criticism from his GOP colleagues.

HB 2153
Sponsored by Rep. Vince Leach, the bill would bar Arizona municipalities from requiring politically active, tax-exempt organizations from revealing their donors. No city, county or town currently does this, but Tempe is considering the idea. The bill already passed the House, but must now be voted on in the Senate.

HB 2256
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Thorpe, the bill would undermine a recent ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that found records stored on public official’s personal media devices are subject to public records laws. The bill would exempt those records, even if a public official was using a personal device to conduct official business. The bill never received a hearing.

SCR 1034
Sponsored by Senate President Steve Yarbrough, the resolution would increase the members serving on the Independent Redistricting Commission, the body responsible for redrawing Arizona’s congressional and legislative district boundaries. The bill has faced criticisms that it re-politicizes a process that voters explicitly don’t want legislators to be involved in. It awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

SCR 1002
Sponsored by Sen. David Farnsworth, the resolution sought to require voters to re-consider statewide initiatives or referendums every 10 years, essentially putting laws up for a revote each decade, something not required of laws approved by the Legislature. The resolution never received a hearing.

SCR 1016 and HCR 2026
Sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, the resolutions second-guess the voters, who in 2016 approved an initiative to hike the minimum wage and give protections for employees who need paid sick leave. Mesnard’s resolution would weaken those protections, while Allen’s goes further and seeks to freeze the minimum wage at its current rate of $10.50 per hour, rather than let it climb to $12 as voters approved. Both measures are working their way through the Capitol.

HCR 2022
Sponsored by Rep. Travis Grantham, the resolution would eliminate primaries when it comes to electing U.S. senators to represent Arizona in Congress. Legislators, not voters, would get to decide which partisan candidates run in the general election. It was approved in a House committee, but awaits a vote by the full chamber.

Reagan vs Gaynor: Secretary of state’s GOP race heats up

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Arizona’s secretary of state contest could be the sleeper race of 2018.

The Republican primary contest has gained little attention, but has developed into one of the state’s more contentious races as millionaire businessman Steve Gaynor challenges Secretary of State Michele Reagan.

The race comes chock full of finger-pointing – Gaynor points to his opponent’s mistakes in her first term and Reagan points to her opponent’s self-funding and relative obscurity.

Gaynor, the owner of a printing plant, has poured $1 million into his bid to be the state’s chief elections officer and first in the line of succession for governor.

Reagan, a former state senator who was first elected secretary of state in 2014, has spent much of the lead-up to the August 28 primary defending missteps from her first term.

State Sen. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, will face the winner.

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Gaynor said he was recruited to run for secretary of state because Republicans were worried Reagan couldn’t beat a Democrat in the general election.

But he won’t say who recruited him.

Reagan said she doesn’t know where Gaynor got the idea that she couldn’t win in the general. She said her campaign has internal polling that shows her easily winning against a Democrat.

Before hitting the campaign trail, Gaynor was relatively unknown in state politics. He was more involved on the national level and has donated to numerous federal candidates — mostly Republicans, but also a few Democrats due to their support for Israel.

Gaynor has mostly self-funded his campaign, pouring $1 million of his own money into the race. Fundraising is often time consuming and Gaynor said he didn’t have the name recognition to bring in adequate contributions.

Reagan called it opportunistic and peculiar for Gaynor to spend $1 million of his own money to run for secretary of state.

“That is absolutely insane,” she said.

Gaynor said he expects donors to come out in force should he win the primary election.

Reagan pledged to support Gaynor if he wins the primary,

“I’m a Republican first,” she said.


Polling from Data Orbital last month showed Gaynor leading the race with a 44-22 percent lead over Reagan.

A previous July poll showed Reagan and Gaynor neck-and-neck.

Reagan said she isn’t surprised Gaynor is gaining traction in the polls, citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars his campaign has spent on negative TV ads.

Gaynor’s last campaign finance report, posted in mid-July, shows him paying $222,631 to a political consulting firm that specializes in TV advertising and media buying.

In the ads, Gaynor tries to tie Regan to a series of election-related mistakes. In campaign ads, Gaynor has also touted his support for President Donald Trump, his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association and his pro-life views — issues that don’t pertain to the Secretary of State’s Office, but could win over Republican voters.

Reagan has struggled to combat Gaynor’s negative attacks. She has adopted an aggressive targeted digital strategy instead of buying TV airtime. Gaynor’s ability to self-fund means he has more campaign cash than his opponent.

“His negative messaging may work,” she said. “And there’s nothing I can do about that.”


On the campaign trail, Gaynor is calling out Reagan for previous elections mistakes.

In 2016, Reagan failed to comply with state law when she failed to mail out 200,000 ballot pamphlets explaining election issues before voters received their early ballots.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich looked into the matter, calling it a “complete fiasco.”

Reagan has owned up to the mistake that occurred ahead of the first statewide race run by her office.

“Am I excusing that? Absolutely not,” she said. “We were held accountable. We have new people and new systems. And we’ve had four elections since then where things went off without a hitch.”

But Gaynor has alleged that Reagan’s office tried to cover up the mistake by not publicizing it as soon as they knew there was an error with the pamphlets.

People make mistakes, but she was not transparent about what went wrong and did not rush to fix the problem, Gaynor said.

“The good news is, from a Republican standpoint, I don’t have the baggage of four years of problems, and frankly, that was one of the primary reasons I got in the race,” Gaynor said.

One of Gaynor’s ads also ties Reagan to the long lines Maricopa County voters had to wait in during the 2016 Presidential Preference Election.

The snafu happened when Maricopa County drastically reduced the number of polling places, which had people waiting in line for hours to vote.

Reagan has tried to distance herself from the incident, saying it is up to county recorders to pick the number of polling places and their locations, and then the recorders get approval from their local board of supervisors.

“There isn’t a whole heck of a lot we could have done,” she said.

But Gaynor has said, as the state’s chief elections officer, Reagan is owed some of the blame.

Consent decree

One of the wonkiest issues of the secretary of state’s race is turning into one of the biggest topics on the campaign trail.

Gaynor criticized Reagan’s decision to settle a lawsuit, clearing a series of hurdles for those seeking to register to vote. He said the consent decree published by Reagan this summer is unconstitutional and allows undocumented immigrants to vote.

Reagan, who stands by the settlement, argues that Gaynor is twisting the consent decree and scaring people in order to drum up support.

At issue in the lawsuit was the required documentation to vote in Arizona, which differs under state and federal law.

State law requires voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote, but federal law stipulates people must be allowed to register to vote, even if they can’t show proof of citizenship.

Previously, if someone without proof of citizenship filled out the state form to register to vote, their form would be set aside and they wouldn’t be allowed to vote in any elections. They would have to fill out the federal voting form to be able to vote in federal elections.

Now, those who submit either the state or federal form will be registered to vote in federal elections, even without proof of citizenship.

That means, under the consent decree, if you’re an undocumented immigrant and you register to vote with the state form, you can vote in federal elections, which didn’t used to be the case, Gaynor said.

In theory, if the consent decree is allowed to stand, Arizona will have more federal-only voters than before, he said.

“Her actions in this case are outrageous,” Gaynor said.

Reagan, who dismissed claims that the settlement was unconstitutional, said she wouldn’t go back and change a thing because the settlement does the right thing by treating voters equally.

She also called Gaynor’s attacks insulting to others who signed onto the consent decree.

“Is he saying that Mark Brnovich and Bill Montgomery signed something to let illegals vote? It’s absolutely ludicrous,” she said.

See the money

Gaynor has also taken aim at Reagan’s campaign finance-tracking website SeeTheMoney.com, the full launch of which has been delayed.

The website, which was one of Reagan’s campaign promises from 2014, is up and running in beta as a way to track campaign donations and spending in Arizona elections.

Reagan hoped to complete the website in 2016, but now calls that naivety on her part because of the number of statewide elections that year kept her and her staff preoccupied.

Now, Reagan doesn’t have a date for when the final product will launch. Instead, she characterizes the site as something that will continually be updated and said it could take years to integrate campaign finance data from all of Arizona’s counties, cities and towns.

Nonetheless, Reagan heralds the website as the ultimate transparency tool.

Gaynor has criticized Reagan’s SeeTheMoney project as a sign of incompetence and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“The See the Money website saga, in my opinion, is emblematic of the way the Secretary of State’s Office has been run since January of 2015,” Gaynor said. “Problems, more problems, more problems.”

He would not say whether he will finish the SeeTheMoney website should he be elected secretary of state. Gaynor said he would first evaluate the status of the product before moving forward.

Correction: This story has been corrected to say Steve Gaynor holds pro-life views. A previous version incorrectly stated he held pro-choice views.  

Republicans balk at Douglas in primary, teachers split

Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent's son at the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas chats with a constituent’s son at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on Aug. 1. Douglas is seeking re-election this year, but she faces four Republican challengers in the August primary. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Republican leaders are abandoning state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas in her re-election bid, favoring a former teacher they consider their best shot at keeping the office red.

But some in the Red for Ed camp that took over the Capitol this spring say Douglas is their pick for the GOP nomination – just not for the reasons she hopes voters will turn out for her.

Arizona Republican stalwarts like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate President Steve Yarbrough snubbed Douglas and instead endorsed Tracy Livingston, a Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board member with more than a decade of public school teaching experience.

They’re hoping she’ll be an antidote to current perceptions of the office and its holder. With the August 28 primary election fast approaching, they’ll soon find out whether voters agree.

Ditching Douglas


Livingston’s war chest may be lacking — according to her most recent campaign finance report, she has less than $3,000 cash on hand – but she has had no trouble attracting the endorsements of better-known conservatives.

In addition to Mesnard and Yarbough, her campaign website boasts the blessings of House Education Committee Chair Rep. Paul Boyer, Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Sylvia Allen and former Superintendents of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan and Jaime Molera.

“I don’t even want the title. I want the ability to change,” she said, adding that she is the state’s “one chance for a teacher to lead, an actual, real, non-frustrated teacher.”

But the support behind Livingston hasn’t fazed Douglas.

“Endorsements are nothing but favor factories,” Douglas said. “The only endorsement I care about is the endorsement of the citizens of Arizona.”

In her eyes, endorsements are just promises from one politician to another. Specifically, she said both Graham Keegan and Molera are involved in the school choice movement, and their endorsements may signal that they see something “advantageous” in Livingston.

But that may be exactly the kind of language that drove Douglas’ predecessors and others away from her.

Molera did not support Douglas in 2014 either. Instead, he chose to stand behind the Democrat in the general election, his former associate superintendent, David Garcia.

“There was a concern that Diane would become the superintendent that she has become,” Molera said.

He said she hasn’t provided a strong conservative voice within the office, and outside of the Arizona Department of Education, he said she’s been divisive even with other Republicans.

Because Douglas has lived up to those expectations he said he believes the incumbent is vulnerable.

And that’s exactly what some voters on the left are counting on.

Red for Ed  

While Republicans shy away from their own incumbent, educators are crowdsourcing political insight on platforms like Facebook and devising their own strategies for the race.

Two schools of thought frequently emerge among backers of Arizona Educators United, a coalition of teachers and education support professionals: that Douglas is the best Republican candidate in the primary because educators know what to expect from her if she wins the general election, or that she is the best Republican candidate because she is the most likely to lose to a Democrat.

Those who subscribe to the former say Douglas has the name recognition to pull off a win in November – a result not favored by many participating in candidate forums – but that she poses the least threat to their movement.

“Diane Douglas basically gives us the best opportunity to mitigate the damage that could be done by someone else,” said Ryan Reid, a fifth grade teacher in the Washington Elementary School District. “We kind of know who she is. … So I think from the Republican field, she’s the lesser of two evils.”

From left, David Schapira, lobbyist Cheyenne Walsh, and Tracy Livingston discuss the 2018 elections at the Arizona Capitol Times' Meet the Candidates event on August 1. Schapira, a Democrat, and Livingston, a Republican, are running for superintendent of public instruction. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
From left, David Schapira, lobbyist Cheyenne Walsh, and Tracy Livingston discuss the 2018 elections at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Meet the Candidates event on August 1. Schapira, a Democrat, and Livingston, a Republican, are running for superintendent of public instruction. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Reid is an independent voter who said he will vote for Douglas in the primary, but he intends to vote for the Democrat in November – he favors David Schapira in the Democratic primary. Reid said he could live with Douglas being re-elected, but he doesn’t trust Livingston. He believes her husband, Republican Rep. David Livingston, has not supported public schools, and he expects the same of Tracy Livingston despite her classroom experience.

Tiffany Huisman, a ninth grade teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, is skeptical of Livingston, too, and the other Republican candidates: Frank Riggs, who served in Congress representing California in the 1990s; Jonathan Gelbart, the former director of development for BASIS Charter Schools; and Bob Branch, a teacher of teachers at two Christian universities.

Huisman said Republican voters have no easy choice, but she’s encouraging votes for Douglas, who she believes will be unable to hold her own against either Schapira or his primary challenger, Kathy Hoffman.

As for Huisman, she’ll be voting in the Democratic primary, though she’s not yet sure for whom.

“A lot of people like to vote with their heart,” she said. “At this point in my career and my life, I want to vote for the person who is going to beat the GOP candidate.”

But while voters like Huisman believe Douglas will make the seat easy pickings for a Democrat, the candidate herself said she is confident she can thwart their plan.

Douglas said she knows she’s the only Republican candidate who can defeat a Democrat in the general election because she already has. She pulled off a win against Garcia in 2014, albeit by a single percentage point.

And she intends to win again by appealing to more than just teachers.

“I wasn’t elected to be the president of the teachers’ union,” she said. “I was elected to be the superintendent of public instruction, to represent the citizens of Arizona as citizens of Arizona.”

The man who was elected to be the president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, Joe Thomas of the Arizona Education Association, said he’s not surprised that some in the Red for Ed movement are being strategic about their votes.

Nor was he surprised that Douglas has not been cast in a flattering light among teachers.

Douglas did not support the six-day strike that began in late April and eventually forced the governor and the Legislature to pass a 20 percent teacher pay raise plan. Douglas later went on to suggest there could be consequences for the thousands of teachers who participated.

More importantly, though, he said she has failed to show she has a “master plan” for public education even after four years in office.

And without that vision for the state, he cannot say Douglas has done her job well.

“You want an advocate out there. You want someone who can work with the Legislature and the governor to paint a vision of a quality public education for all of Arizona,” Thomas said. “And we don’t have one.”

Bigger fish

No matter who ultimately claims the Republican nomination, the down-ballot race will struggle to attract the attention and dollars afforded to other contests.

And that’s nothing new.

Consultant Chris Baker said the same trend has been consistent through past election cycles. The office is simply a difficult one to raise money for without an established donor base.

“And if you have an established donor base, you probably ain’t running for superintendent of public instruction,” he said.

You’re running for another office, one that ultimately holds more sway over education policy, like the governor.

As a donor, choosing whether to pump money into the governor’s race versus the superintendent’s race is a no-brainer. One gets you one vote on the Arizona State Board of Education because the superintendent sits on the board, and the other gets you the power to appoint the ten other voting members, Baker said.

“Superintendent of public instruction and mine inspector are in some ways anachronistic offices in the sense that they probably should be appointed,” he said. “But they’re locked into our Constitution, so we’re stuck with them.”

The superintendent’s office is not where the action is on education policy, Baker said. It’s intended to be more of a bully pulpit from which to advocate when necessary and implement the policies in place.

Billions of dollars

The Arizona Department of Education, over which the superintendent presides, is also responsible for distributing billions of dollars in local, state and federal funding.

In the grand scheme of the elections, Baker said the primary reason Republicans have an interest in holding the seat is to deny the Democrats a statewide post.

But that mentality may prove fatal to the Republican Party come November.

While Livingston has been the recipient of her fellow conservatives’ support thus far, she said the party has failed to capitalize on the energy behind education and control the narrative.

Livingston said she understands that higher offices are the main priority. But she fears victories like Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to increase teachers’ salaries and the extension of Proposition 301 may be lost in the perception that the party doesn’t care about public education.

“Now is the time for our party to absolutely lead in the discussion of education and moving our classrooms forward,” Livingston said, “and I would have to say that conversation is probably not the focus.”

Riggs wins SPI Republican nomination with slim margin of victory

Frank Riggs
Frank Riggs

More than a week after the primary election, the Republican party finally has a nominee for superintendent of public instruction: Frank Riggs.

The former California congressman secured the nomination with just 359 votes more than the runner up, Bob Branch, after a final vote count was announced Tuesday evening.

Though slim, that margin is not slim enough to automatically trigger a recount. That would have required a margin of less than 200 votes between Riggs and Branch. In all, nearly 571,000 votes were cast.

Incumbent Diane Douglas finished third, 3,498 votes behind Riggs.

Riggs goes on to face Democrat Kathy Hoffman in the November 6 General Election.

While the Republican vote was divided in the race, Hoffman won handily with nearly 22,000 votes more than her challenger, David Schapira.

But Riggs said he’s not worried about his chances against her in the general.

Despite the fractured primary vote, he said he can unite the GOP behind him now and believes he’ll even attract independents and some of the moderate Democrats to his camp.

He said that will be his focus over the next few months – pivoting his message to appeal to crossover voters.

Still, he acknowledged voters will face a stark contrast between him and Hoffman. But to Riggs, the contest is between a “neophyte with no leadership experience” against a former legislator who can ably advocate for the K-12 community’s interests precisely because of that experience. Riggs also pointed to his time as a school board member and to having served as president of an online charter school.

A key point in Hoffman’s campaign is to distinguish herself from career politicians. She had billed the race against Schapira as educator versus politician – and she won that contest – and she’s likely to frame her general election contest against Riggs with the same lens.


Senate calls it quits, leaves House to decide what’s next

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point May 8 during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

The Senate notified the House early Friday afternoon that it had ended its legislative work, ending the session and killing hundreds of bills. The lower chamber has yet to accede to the request, leaving senators in an indefinite recess.

Senators sat in an unusually empty chamber, surrounded by a smaller-than-usual crew of mask-wearing staff and a larger-than-usual group of reporters. There were no lobbyists, no traditional ice cream in the members’ lounge, no mad dashes between buildings to rush last-minute bills, just an ultimately vain attempt by a small cadre of Republicans to forestall the inevitable motion to recess.

And instead of leaving in triumph, the 24 senators who voted for adjourning sine die walked into a parking lot full of protesters, who jeered and shouted into the senators’ car windows as they slowly pulled out. 

But it also isn’t really the end. Because the state constitution and legislative rules don’t permit either chamber to adjourn for more than three days without the other, the Senate now stands at recess. Lawmakers will have to come back once more to adjourn, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“We’re sending a message to the House,” Fann said. “We can’t keep going round and round and round.”

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks during May 7 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks May 8 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)

Fann said the lawmakers in the lower chamber need more time to learn how government works and come to a consensus. When the House does, she said, the Senate will be there ready to accept a sine die motion or pass two or three COVID-19-related bills. 

“They need more time over there to be able to come to a consensus, which we have tried to do for the last four or five weeks,” she said. “This is our way of saying, ‘We still want to work with you, but we are putting the ball in your court.’”

House leadership, for the most, support ending the session, but not if it means working with Democrats. Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, promised earlier this week to bring the chamber back into session Friday at 1 p.m. But late Thursday,  after a bruising Zoom call with his colleagues, Bowers went back on the plan, explaining in a statement that members “of the House Republican Caucus believe that there is important work for us to do on behalf of the people of Arizona. “

On that call, many members expressed frustration with both executive and legislative leadership, insisting that a return to work was the only path forward — in part to keep a check on the Governor, who some in the caucus want to override through a concurrent resolution that would terminate the statewide declaration of emergency. 

On one hand, they say that the stay-at-home order has devastated their local economies. On the other, their pushback is personal.

“What’s happened is, by and large, the Legislature feels that the governor has ignored us and never really paid any attention to us, and probably doesn’t respect us very much,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “All of a sudden, our leadership wanted to sine die. The members feel that if we were to sine die, it would make us look like we’re impotent.”

In the Senate, six verbose Republican holdouts caused Friday’s floor session — which Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said he expected would take only a few minutes — to drag on for three hours. 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican who pushed hard to leave the Legislature at recess to maintain the ability to come back to the floor as needed, said adjourning sends a bad message to the people of Arizona.

He pointed out that lawmakers took heat two years ago, during the Red for Ed movement, when they adjourned normally on a Thursday to come back on a Monday as they normally do, because teachers thought their representatives were skipping town. This is much worse, he said. 

“We shouldn’t shut down our work before the people of Arizona can get back to work,” Mesnard said. 

Sen. Dave Farnsworth, R-Mesa, took it a step further, saying it would be selfish to adjourn sine die and equated  ending the session to deserting the military. 

“How could we even consider walking away?” he asked. “If we were on the battlefield and we walked away, we could be shot for desertion.” 

Farnsworth, and fellow Republican Sen. David Livingston, insisted that the most important thing for Arizona now is to get everyone back to work. The more important thing is staying alive, retorted Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.

Alston, 77, is the Senate’s oldest member. She addressed most of her comments to fellow older Arizonans who she described as being in the “special class” of individuals most susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19. 

“Please, let’s sine die, let’s stay home, stay healthy,” she said. “We’ve done a good job of social distancing. Let’s keep it up a little longer until we have data we need to make sound decisions that are good for our small businesses, people and economy.”

While every Democratic senator and all Senate employees kept masks on for the entire session, only two Republicans with health backgrounds did: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who heads the health and human services committee, and Sen. Tyler Pace, a Mesa Republican who serves on the committee and owns a medical supply business. Mesnard had a mask on intermittently, Buckeye Republican Sine Kerr had one around her neck, and Sen. Heather Carter, who began practicing physical distancing a week before the rest of the chamber, watched from her office.

If Republican lawmakers can’t even agree to wear masks to the Senate floor for sine die, they definitely can’t resume the session, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. Quezada, who has Type 1 Diabetes, tore into his colleagues and the protesters outside, speaking so animatedly that his own mask repeatedly slipped below his nose.

Republicans talked a lot about personal responsibility, he said, but they weren’t demonstrating it. 

“You could have been exposed, and now you’re impacting me,” he said. “That’s exactly why we need a heavy hand of government, because that lack of personal responsibility is affecting people like me.”

While a bipartisan coalition of senators elected to end the session, Senate GOP leaders insist their work is far from done. Fann plans to begin work Monday on plans for a special session to address COVID-19 issues, and she plans to form task forces after the August primary.

And come October, Fann said, she plans to ask legislative council to redraft bills that stalled during the 2020 session. If she’s still Senate President, she’ll ask committee chairs to hear those bills and finish them during the first two weeks of session. 

And for now, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said, constituents need lawmakers to be helping with unemployment issues and connecting them with government services, not on the floor passing bills.

“We don’t have to be really on the floor to help solve those constituents’ problems. We can be recessed, we can be adjourned, and we still continue to work to protect and help anyone in our district. As far as I’m concerned, the workload that we have since we’ve been recessed has been tremendous.”


  • Staff writer Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report

Senate votes to keep secretary of state from overseeing elections they’re in

elections, Ducey, Hobbs, Lake, Finchem, Mayes, Hamadeh, ballots, hand counts, election deniers
(Photo by Pexels)

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Tuesday to require that the state’s top election official not participate in overseeing elections in which he or she is on the ballot – leaving the proposal one vote away in the House from heading to Democratic governor and former secretary of state Katie Hobbs’ desk.

The proposal by Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, has its roots in unfounded complaints by some losing Republican candidates in the 2022 election that Hobbs put her thumb on the scale for Democratic candidates while serving as secretary of state. Those who accused Hobbs of having a conflict of interest include losing governor’s candidate Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, who lost his bid to replace Hobbs as Arizona’s top election official to Democrat Adrian Fontes.

All Democrats in the Senate voted against the measure on Tuesday, as did all House Democrats when House Bill 2308 passed out of that chamber in February, saying the proposal was prompted by baseless conspiracy theories.

Republican supporters, however, said it was needed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest by the secretary of state.

But secretaries of state have had the same election duties for decades. And the issue only arose after a Democrat held the office.

Bennett, elections, residency
Ken Bennett (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

An amendment tacked on before debate on Monday by Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, watered down the House-passed bill slightly.

It now would allow secretaries to continue performing their constitutional duty to certify election results. But it still would require that they not participate in certifying election machines and other responsibilities of the office.

“One of the most important things we do as elected officials is avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” Bennett said Tuesday. “And we have rules that require us to admit conflicts of interest when they do exist.”

Bennett is himself a former secretary of state who engaged in partisan politics while in office.

He never faced conflict concerns or complaints while performing his election oversight duties in a race where his own name was on the ballot. But he did draw some scrutiny in 2012 when, after agreeing not to endorse political candidates, he agreed to co-chair the presidential bid of Republican Mitt Romney.

Bennett noted that his amendment means any secretary can still preside over the required election results canvass, the formal counting of votes.

“It simply says that the other aspects of the election, which the Secretary of State’s office performs, should be performed by other people in the office, not personally by the secretary whose name is on the ballot,” Bennett said.

The Senate amendment means the House will have to vote on the bill again before it heads to Hobbs for a signature – or a veto.

Democrats said the measure was another example of GOP lawmakers embracing conspiracy theories rather than pushing back against unfounded allegations that undermine public trust in the state’s elections.
The secretary does write the rules that counties use to run elections, though that is something that requires the consent of the attorney general and governor. The secretary also certifies and runs accuracy tests on election equipment.

Mendez, Kaiser, zoning, bill, Senate
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe

But it is each of the state’s 15 counties that do the bulk of the election administration in Arizona.

“If we were really concerned with faith in our elections, we would take up our responsibility to explain how elections really work, instead of entertaining conspiracy theories that this proposal is built on,” said Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe.

Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said removing the secretary’s ability to do the job they are elected to do because his or her name is on the ballot that election “begs the question of what their job is.”

“But more fundamentally, this bill is stemming from conspiracy theories,” Sundareshan said. “These theories are unfounded, there (has) been no evidence to support the necessity for this bill. And more to the point, there are plenty of statewide elected officers who also have played roles in the elections that are not contained here.”

Finchem leveled multiple accusations against Hobbs in a lawsuit he filed after he lost to Fontes by more than 120,000 votes in November’s election.

Among his allegations was that Hobbs should have stepped away entirely from her duties as secretary of state.

He cited her actions in 2021 to have Twitter flag some of his tweets as misinformation. That, Finchem said, led to the suspension of his Twitter account and unfairly influenced the election.

He also alleged that Hobbs failed to ensure the proper federal official signed a certificate that qualified a laboratory that certifies election equipment.

The suit was dismissed in December. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Julian last month sanctioned Finchem for filing the suit, saying it “was groundless and not brought in good faith.”

Finchem has since filed an appeal.

On Tuesday, Mendez pointed out that the proposal from Jones and the arguments for HB 2308 were very similar to those raised in Finchem’s lawsuit – the ones that the judge said were not brought in good faith.

“By extension (that) would mean that this proposal is groundless and not brought in front of us with good faith,” Mendez said.

But Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he agreed with Bennett about the appearance of a conflict.

“This removes the conflict of interest and the theory of a conspiracy,” Borrelli said.

Slow vote count spurs talk of changes in election laws

A worker carries ballots to be verified at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. There are several races too close to call in Arizona, especially the Senate race between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican candidate Martha McSally. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A worker carries ballots to be verified at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona’s prolonged vote count has borne a batch of proposed law changes designed to speed up the process and instill more confidence in the system.

It took a week in Arizona for a victor to be declared in the U.S. Senate race, which garnered national attention both for its competitiveness and the ensuing frustration of being unable to determine a winner for nearly seven days. And Arizona’s final legislative race wasn’t declared for a full 13 days after the election.

That slow count is at the core of voters’ frustration with Arizona elections, since the lengthy process naturally invites skepticism about results, Republican lawmakers say. But GOP concerns extend to questions about the use of emergency voting centers and ballot curing, a process by which voters can assure their mail-in ballots count toward the final tally.

Democrats have accused their colleagues across the aisle of playing a key role in fanning suspicion in the election process – chiefly by accusing Democrats of “stealing the election,” in the words of top officials with the state Republican Party.

Dual Systems

Where there is common ground to be found, it’s at an understanding that election results should be ready sooner than later.

In Arizona, later is a period of time that grows longer by the election cycle.

Election officials attribute that in part to historic turnout, but also to the system itself. Arizona essentially operates two elections in one, according to Eric Spencer, state elections director. There’s a mail-in voting system that more than 70 percent of Arizona voters utilize, but there’s also a robust day-of voting system that’s launched on Election Day.

“In Arizona, we want both,” Spencer said. “And so that is a strain on resources and you almost have to stop … early voting ballot tabulations and signature verification, and instead just pause all of that and go run a polling place election.”

And given that Maricopa County is the fourth most populous county in the country, that is an incredible logistical challenge to pull off successfully, Spencer said.

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

Blaming resources isn’t good enough for GOP Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who are both considering bills they say could provide some incentive for voters who choose to vote by mail to actually do so. Both will be in the Senate next year.

So-called “late-earlies,” ballots mailed to voters that don’t get turned in until Election Day, are the primary cause of the nearly-two week vote counting operation in Maricopa County. Signatures on the sealed, prepaid envelopes voters use to turn in those ballots must be verified.

Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Mesnard, R-Chandler, propose to deal with “procrastinators” by requiring those voters to provide ID to poll workers when dropping off late-early ballots and feeding those ballots into voting machines on site.

“Take it to the poll and put it in the machine – because otherwise we’re counting these things forever,” Mesnard said. “And I think we’ve gone beyond what most people think is reasonable or tolerable.”


That may be one of the few areas where Republicans and Democrats can find some agreement. Sen Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said he would support the idea if county elections officials back it.

But even then, progressive groups are wary of anything that’s perceived as making it harder to vote.

Joel Edman, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network, said he understands the frustration about slow election result. But he said the idea of feeding early ballots dropped off on Election Day directly in the machine would just burden citizens by requiring them to wait in line and go to their own polling place, rather than one on their way to work, for example.

Other GOP proposals could err toward solutions that Democrats argue restrict access to voting.

Some Republicans are livid that Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes opened five emergency early voting sites the weekend before the election. Fontes has said the voting centers were made available to those with any “unforeseen circumstance,” per state law, that would prevent them from voting on Election Day. Fontes also clearly stated that he’s not in the business of judging what constitutes an emergency.

Fontes, a Democrat, was the first Maricopa County recorder to utilize emergency early voting centers – a staple of Pima County elections.

Ugenti-Rita commented: “Why? The fourth largest county in the country has never experienced an emergency with its voters until now? That’s odd. That doesn’t sit well with me.”

Ugenti-Rita said she wants to clarify in state law what constitutes an emergency, while top Democrats like newly-elected Secretary of State Katie Hobbs have another solution: Ensure all counties have in-person early voting centers.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes talks about the progress of the ballot count at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. There are several races too close to call in Arizona, especially the Senate race between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican candidate Martha McSally. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Early Voting Centers

State law allows for early voting centers beginning 27 days before the election through the Friday before Election Day. Hobbs said she wants to extend the deadline to the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. That’s the same period of time that Fontes chose to open emergency voting centers.

Hobbs stressed the need for consistency among counties when it comes to operating early voting centers and elections, an argument that was hashed out in court on a related issue thanks to a GOP legal challenge over ballot curing.

Arizona’s elections operation manual, which hasn’t been updated since 2014, states that “the County Recorder, if time permits, may attempt to contact the voter to ascertain whether the voter actually voted the early ballot and any reason why the signature may not match.”  Spencer said that until the most recent election, most counties interpreted “if time permits” to mean ballots won’t be proactively cured after 7 p.m. election night.

For years, Pima County was the only place in Arizona where election officials reached out to voters for verification after that deadline. However, it’s a move in which Maricopa and a few other counties mirrored their neighbors to the south this election cycle.


Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines initially threatened to sue to stop counties from curing ballots after the election, though the party then switched legal strategies and reached a settlement that required all counties to allow voters to rectify their ballots until November 14.

Requiring voters who drop off mail-in ballots at the polls to feed those ballots into voting machines would negate some of the concerns with ballot curing, Mesnard said, though there would likely still be some ballots that were mailed in that need attention, even after election night. Maricopa County officials only got around to counting some 78,000 mailed-in ballots in the days after the election, a delay they attributed to high turnout.

Mesnard said he would err on the side of curing ballots up to 7 p.m. on Election Day, but not after the polls close.

Edman said there are simpler ways to cut down on the wait time for results, and that lawmakers should look to the experts for guidance. He noted that former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell suggested changing laws that prohibit recorders from county early ballots until one week before the election, a move that could scale back the sheer volume of ballots still being counted following Election Day.

“She obviously knows what she’s talking about, having done this process for like 20 years,” Edman said. “And I guess that is the broader point, before legislators start coming up with these half-baked ideas that might not solve the problem or would create other problems … they should be asking professionals who run these elections.”

Sen. Karen Fann, a Prescott Republican who will serve as Senate president in 2019, said she’s planning to meet with officials from the Secretary of State’s Office and county elections officials prior to the next legislative session for feedback.

Some Republicans fear Rogers primary victory will bring defeat

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins hangs "vote" signs outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Northern Arizona’s sprawling Legislative District 6 has long been considered one of the most crucial districts as Republicans fight to maintain control of the state Senate. 

But Republicans in the district and in Phoenix fear that the general election could be decided as early as August 4. They view a primary victory by Sen. Sylvia Allen as their only shot at keeping the seat — and potentially the Senate majority. 

Allen faces a tough primary race against frequent candidate Wendy Rogers, who has run and lost congressional campaigns in Tempe and northern Arizona in the past decade. Rogers has a formidable campaign war chest bolstered by years on the federal stage, and she has spent more than $450,000 on this primary race — far more than any other legislative candidate. 

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

It remains to be seen whether money or history in the district — Allen’s family arrived in the White Mountain area in 1876 and she is so entrenched in district politics that county supervisors appointed her to replace two separate state senators who both died in horse accidents — will prevail. And whoever wins will face Democrat Felicia French, who came within 600 votes of winning a seat in the state House in 2018. 

Retiring Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Flagstaff Republican who toyed with a primary challenge to Allen before deciding to run for a spot on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, said he fears a Rogers primary victory would result in French becoming LD6’s next senator.

“I’ve heard people say that if you lose a campaign twice you’re finished,” Thorpe said. “She’s been doing it now for a decade. This will be the sixth time she’s running for office. In most cases, she loses the primary, but even when she wins the primary she’s never been able to win the general.”

In an appearance on 12 News’ “Sunday Squareoff” this week, former House Speaker Kirk Adams said it was entirely possible that Rogers wins the primary. She has a name ID in the district from multiple attempts at running for Congress, and she has spent enough money that Republican voters can’t avoid seeing her signs or broadcast ads. 

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

“Could she win the general election, or hand that seat to the Democrats in the state Senate and maybe flip the Senate from Republican to Democrat? I think that’s the question that Republicans are beginning to ask themselves,” Adams said. 

Fervent Allen supporter Dwight Kadar, who moved to rural Arizona in 2011 after living in Houston and working on Sen. Ted Cruz’s first campaign for office, said he thinks a Rogers victory would result in a Democratic win. And even if Allen pulls off a primary victory, she’ll head into the general election weaker because of having to fight off Rogers, Kadar said. 

“We’ve watched with horror what has happened in what should be a Republican district, whether it’s LD6, the state district, or CD1, the Congressional District,” Kadar said. “She destroyed two other good Republican candidates, one in ‘16, and one in ‘18 for the congressional seat, only to lose to Tom O’Halloran in the general election. And now the same thing is happening all over again.”  

In an emailed statement, Rogers said Allen’s supporters were smearing her. 

“The swamp and the Democrats are terrified that I am going to win because I will stand up to them for you (which is why they are smearing me with lies and slander),” she said. “I don’t care about them, I care about you and the hard-working people of our district and ask for your vote. Together we can take back this state and help President Trump win in November.”




Specter of split chamber looms over Senate president race

Karen Fann and J,D. Mesnard
Karen Fann and J,D. Mesnard

Either Karen Fann or J.D. Mesnard will lead the Senate in 2019, assuming Republicans maintain control of the legislative chamber.

The two lawmakers are the only ones vying for the top post in the Senate, a position left vacant by the coming departure of Senate President Steve Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican who reached his term limit. In fact, the Senate’s entire Republican leadership team is leaving at the end of 2018.

Fann, an incumbent senator from Prescott, said she’s not taking GOP control of the Senate for granted, and that her first focus is to ensure enough of her fellow Republicans get elected to maintain a majority of the chamber’s seats. Republican outnumber Democrats in the Senate, 17-13.

“Our number one goal is that Republicans keep the majority in the House, the Senate and the Ninth Floor,” Fann said. “The leadership race is secondary, obviously.”

Mesnard, a Chandler representative who currently serves as speaker of the House, said his focus is on “raising a boatload of money for the House and Senate Victory PAC” to avoid a split Senate, or worse for Republicans, losing control of the chamber.

If the status quo remains – Republicans have controlled the Senate since 2002 – it’s unclear who will emerge the winner of what they described as a cordial race to be Senate president.

Both candidates claimed to have the upper hand when it comes to succeeding Yarbrough.

Fann’s pitch to colleagues is focused on the future. That means thinking about assembling a good leadership team for the next two years, but also for years to come.

“We need to start thinking ahead and not just tomorrow. I want to make sure that we as a team, that we start looking at where do we want to be, where does the state want to be five years, 10 years, 20 years from now,” Fann said, adding that those discussions should incorporate leadership from the House, a frequent pipeline of Republicans to the Senate, and the Ninth Floor.

Mesnard may seem like a wildcard in the leadership race, given that he’s running for president while also running to serve his first term in the Senate. If elected by voters and his colleagues, Mesnard could potentially serve as Senate president for eight consecutive years.

Mesnard said he doesn’t think it’s much of a concern, given that if Fann won, she’d potentially serve for six years. Besides, Mesnard said there’s no guarantee he’d be re-elected Senate president in three consecutive elections.

“To be honest, it’s a little hard for me to envision that, for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “It’s really just a decision that every two years the body needs to make, and it’s not hard to replace a president.”

The outcome of the race to be president will be decided in part by the November ballot, something Fann said she’s planning for.

If Republicans lose control of the chamber, Democrats will get to choose from amongst themselves. But if the chamber splits along party lines, 15-15, Fann said she’s prepared to work across the aisle to help run the chamber.

That might mean keeping a close watch on polling in swing districts to determine the likelihood of a split. If that’s what the polls indicate, Fann said it would be beneficial to start having discussions with Democrats about how to proceed.

Fann added that she’d rely on former lawmakers, lobbyists and staff who were around in 2001 and 2002, the last time the chamber was evenly divided, to figure out what worked and what didn’t about the power-sharing agreement.

“Why don’t we find out what was the best system for handling this sort of thing?” Fann said.

Mesnard, who served as a Senate staffer at the time, said he’d look to the past for what not to do in the event of an evenly-split chamber.  Back then a few Republicans joined up with the Democrats and put Republican Randall Gnant as president.

“It’s hard for me to see any side rally behind the other,” Mesnard said. Mesnard floated the idea of splitting the term up and allowing a Republican to serve as Senate president one year, and a Democrat the other year. However, Mesnard said he’s not focused on a contingency plan just yet.

“We’ll have plenty of time post-election to make it work,” he said.

The down-ballot leadership races among Republicans aren’t competitive at all: Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, is running unopposed to serve as majority leader, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, is running alone to serve as majority whip.

Steve Gaynor defeats incumbent Michele Reagan for Secretary of State nomination

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Political newcomer and wealthy businessman Steve Gaynor defeated incumbent Michele Reagan in the secretary of state’s race Tuesday.

Gaynor’s win showed Reagan, Arizona’s sitting secretary of state, struggled to distance herself from a series of elections-related blunders that occurred during her first term.

A relative unknown on the state’s political scene, Gaynor poured $1.5 million of his own money into the race, using that to blanket the airwaves with negative commercials tying Reagan to a slew of elections mistakes that occurred in the past four years.

After his win Tuesday, Gaynor tweeted a thank you to his friends and supporters. “You have entrusted me with the task of fixing the #AZSOS office and I will not let you down,” he tweeted. “On to November 6th!”

Reagan called Gaynor to concede the race, said Reagan consultant Kyle Moyer.

“She wishes Gaynor well,” he said.

Despite the negativity that came out ahead of the primary election, Reagan has vowed to support Gaynor in the general election.

But the evening’s results didn’t weigh on Reagan as she was in good spirits even after the race was called for Gaynor, Moyer said.

“She’s really looking forward to going back into the private sector and to the next stage of her life,” he said.

Reagan was on defense in the lead up to the primary, but doing so with significantly less cash than her self-funded opponent.

Gaynor repeatedly criticized Reagan for her 2016 failure to send out 200,000 ballot pamphlets before voters received their early ballots. Reagan owned up to the error, but the snafu came up time and again as Reagan was locked in a heated primary challenge.

One of Gaynor’s ads also tied Reagan to the long lines Maricopa County voters had to wait in during the 2016 Presidential Preference Election. Reagan tried to distance herself from the incident because choices about polling places are up to county recorders, but Gaynor said Reagan deserved some of the blame as the state’s chief elections officer.

Gaynor, who owns a printing plant, said he was recruited to run by Republicans who felt Reagan was a weak candidate who would lose to a Democrat in the fall. Now that he seems to have secured the Party’s nomination, Gaynor thinks Republican donors will come out in force to support his campaign.

On the campaign trail, Gaynor fashioned himself as an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump and touted his National Rifle Association membership and his pro-life views — issues that don’t pertain to the Secretary of State’s office.

Gaynor will face state Sen. Katie Hobbs in the general election. The winner will become secretary of state and second-in-command to the governor.

Secretary of State

By The Numbers

Votes cast: 486,506


Michele Reagan: 33 percent

Steve Gaynor: 67 percent

Tainted GOP candidates dot campaign trail to Legislature

A handful of would-be Republican lawmakers stand out from a crowded field of legislative candidates this election cycle for their tarnished reputations, but some may still land in office.

These Republicans are seeking redemption by election, but their baggage has some in the GOP shying away. Meanwhile, Democrats are salivating at the chance to flip the legislative seats those candidates seek.

The Arizona Democratic Party is putting up a statewide fight by running candidates in every legislative race. Democrats fronting longshot challenges in reliably red districts could have easier election bids if flawed GOP candidates advance to the general election.

Ousted Yuma Rep. Don Shooter is running for the state Senate months after he was expelled from the Legislature when an investigation concluded he sexually harassed multiple women while in office.

Rep. Paul Mosley is running for re-election after he invoked “legislative immunity” to dodge a citation when he was caught speeding 40 miles per hour over the limit.

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Rep. David Stringer is running for re-election after he told a GOP gathering in June that there are “not enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s public schools, a comment widely condemned as racist, but one Stringer insists was misconstrued.

Former House Speaker David Gowan is running for the state Senate after a hiatus from the Capitol, which he left in 2016 under the cloud of an investigation of his misuse of state vehicles and mileage reimbursement while campaigning for Congress.

And the former head of the state’s welfare agency, Tim Jeffries, is running for the state Senate after he was forced out by the governor amid reports that he illegitimately fired hundreds of state workers.

With the exception of Mosley, who quickly apologized for his lead foot, the majority of these candidates are unapologetic for their actions, while some have peppered their apologies with deflection and denial.

And the list goes on.

There’s also Charles Loftus, one of the top deputies under Jeffries, who was also fired and is now suing the state and running for a state Senate seat. Former Sheriff and current U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for disobeying a court order to stop his immigration patrols. President Trump has since pardoned him. And there is Bobby Wilson, a Republican candidate in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, who shot his mother in what is a very complicated story.

Democrats aren’t without their own issues: Yahya Yuksel, who’s running for the U.S. House in 2nd Congressional District, has denied an allegation that he raped an intoxicated teenage girl when he was in high school.

Candidates with baggage 

Arizona is no stranger to legislative candidates with baggage, but this election cycle stands out for the number of legislative candidates that have recently been thrust into the public eye for negative reasons.

Despite their flaws, some of these legislative candidates still have good chances of winning this election cycle.

It’s entirely possible that Shooter, Stringer and Mosley all get re-elected because their opposition may not be strong enough to cancel out their name recognition, lobbyist Barry Dill said.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are disassociating themselves from damaged candidates within the party.


Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, during a traffic stop in La Paz County March 27, in which he allegedly was clocked driving at 97 MPH in a 55 mph zone. The text is a transcription of the audio from the body cam video of the deputy.
Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, during a traffic stop in La Paz County March 27, in which he allegedly was clocked driving at 97 MPH in a 55 mph zone. The text is a transcription of the audio from the body cam video of the deputy.

The Mohave County Republican Committee voted to censure Mosley for unbecoming conduct after his chronic speeding became public knowledge. Beyond that, the local party committee is not supporting Mosley in the primary and likely would not support him in the general election should he win in the primary, said Committee Chairman Laurence Schiff.

Schiff said local Republicans were concerned that Mosley’s behavior could give the party a bad reputation.

“That’s why the GOP did a motion to divorce themselves from him,” he said. Elected officials are held to a higher standard than everyone else, and Mosley’s actions were inexcusable, Schiff said.

Mosley did not respond to a request for comment, but he previously apologized for his behavior during the March 27 traffic stop, saying his rush to see his family “does not justify how fast I was speeding nor my reference to legislative immunity when being pulled over.” Mosley has been pulled over for speeding on several occasions since February 2017, but he has never received a citation.

But LD5, Mosley’s district, is extremely rural and a Republican stronghold. Schiff doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“The chances of him losing to a Democrat, I don’t think that’s really great,” he said. “The beneficiaries are the people running against him in the primary.”

The Lake Havasu Republican is facing off against seatmate Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, political newcomer Leo Biasiucci and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, who previously sought the seat. Mosley’s opponents are talking about the incumbent’s highly publicized faux pas on the campaign trail.

Mosley is also a freshman lawmaker, making him more vulnerable in his re-election bid.

Gov. Doug Ducey essentially publicly shamed Mosley by vowing to repeal legislative immunity next legislative session. Ducey also chided Mosley for driving so quickly, but he did not go so far as to call for Mosley’s resignation.

But Ducey and Arizona GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines took stronger action when it came to Stringer and Shooter. They called for Stringer to resign, which did not occur.

The Prescott Republican did not apologize and maintained that his comments were misconstrued or misunderstood. Stringer said his comment that “there aren’t enough white kids to go around” in Arizona’s minority-laden public schools was an attempt at an honest discussion on race, and just a small snippet of a 17-minute speech that added context.

Now, just months later and out on the campaign trail, Stringer said his constituents are either unaware of what he said, have forgotten about the comments or don’t think that anything he said was outlandish or over-the-top. Stringer said his campaign has knocked on doors at more than 2,500 homes in the district and he hasn’t received any negative feedback.

“Pointing out that 60 percent of Arizona school kids are children of color or minorities and only 40 percent are white, a lot of people did not know that, but that’s not a statement that my constituents perceive as being racist,” he said.

Lobbyist and longtime political observer Chuck Coughlin said if anything, Stringer’s comments may help him in the LD1 House Republican primary because of the rural and heavily conservative nature of Yavapai County.

In February, Lines and Ducey praised lawmakers in the House who voted to expel Shooter from the Legislature. Ducey also spoke out against Shooter’s actions in his “State of the State” speech earlier this year.

Nine women publicly accused Shooter of misconduct, ranging from unwanted touching to inappropriate, sexually charged comments.

Shooter apologized for his actions in early January, but deflection and self-defense were included in his apology that started out with a joke about the mandatory harassment training House members were undergoing because of Shooter. Shooter did not respond this week to a request for comment.

Looking back, Shooter’s speech could have foreshadowed his electoral run for redemption.

“I’ve said stupid things, I’ve done stupid things. I stood on the carpet and took it like a man. I apologized. I can’t go back in the past. I can’t change it, but I can change the future, given the opportunity,” Shooter said in February just before his expulsion from the House.

‘Three paragraphs’

Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Local political observers agree that Mosley faces a tough re-election battle because of his newfound notoriety and his relative newness to the Legislature, but Shooter and Stringer might win their primaries because of their continued base of supporters.

As for Shooter, he is flipping the narrative, Coughlin said. Because he was kicked out of the Legislature, he’s billing himself as an outsider, he said. It’s all about message discipline – that’s what Coughlin said he told Shooter when the ex-lawmaker was deciding whether to run for office again.

“I told him it was going to be hard to stay disciplined on his message,” Coughlin said. “Every time you get one paragraph on your message, there’s going to be three paragraphs on the past, on being removed from office.”

Shooter’s past is no easy thing to brush off. Even Coughlin called him an exceptional case because being expelled from the state Legislature is rare and not quickly forgotten.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard hinted at this when in February, he called for a vote to expel Shooter from the House.

“Mr. Shooter, in his time down here, has done good things for the state and his constituents and probably will only be remembered for this,” he said.

In a broader sense, these candidates are seeing campaign contributors and major endorsers steering clear of their campaigns because business groups and certain constituencies want to avoid controversy, Coughlin said.

The Fraternal Order of Police withdrew its endorsement of Mosley after his speeding incident. He was also snubbed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.

In LD13, Republicans are flocking to endorse and raise money for Sine Kerr, one of Shooter’s opponents. The Arizona chamber endorsed Kerr over Shooter.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Kerr to fill the LD13 Senate seat vacated by Steve Montenegro, when he stepped down to seek the Republican nomination in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. Kerr was selected in January and served through the 2018 legislative session.

“The net effect of it all is to dry up fundraising,” Coughlin said.

As for Gowan and Jeffries, their transgressions lie further in the past.

Gowan, the former Arizona House speaker, repaid the state $12,000 that he had wrongfully received as reimbursement for trips he had taken in state vehicles (but reported as taking in his own vehicle) and per diem for days he claimed he worked, but didn’t.

An investigation by Attorney General Mark Brnovich called the Sierra Vista Republican’s spending “troublesome,” but Brnovich did not pursue criminal charges because the violations were not intentional, but rather attributed to negligence.

Now in campaign mode, Gowan has dismissed reports that he misused state resources and disingenuously uses Brnovich’s report to say he was exonerated. Gowan did not respond to a request for comment.

The Public Integrity Alliance — a Republican committee that often targets politicians accused of misconduct — has already attacked Gowan this election cycle. The group put together an ad earlier this year that highlights Gowan’s mileage reimbursement controversy.

Jeffries’ dispute with his old boss — the governor — could bleed into Jeffries’ election bid, Coughlin said.

“The governor’s on the ballot too, so people are going to, particularly in a Republican primary, are going to be voting for Doug Ducey. Are they then going to go down the list and vote for Tim Jeffries? I don’t think so,” Coughlin said.

Suing the state 

In this Oct. 22, 2015, photo, former Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries stands outside his former office, adorned with a "Director J :)" sign. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
In this Oct. 22, 2015, photo, former Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries stands outside his former office, adorned with a “Director J :)” sign. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Jeffries argues his 21 months leading the Arizona Department of Economic Security were the best months in the agency’s history. He says the experience and knowledge he gained from leading a state agency would be an asset in the state Senate.

He’s also suing the state to clear his name after he was forced to resign from DES.

In talking to voters, Jeffries gets questions about his time at DES and his departure from the agency. He’s always open to telling voters about how “extraordinary and transformative” his leadership was.

“I am an interesting Google so people are always curious about this, that and the other thing, but I never hesitate to discuss my record of achievement at DES,” he said.

But Dill said having candidates with baggage seeking elected office isn’t unusual.

Voters and the media are simply paying more attention this election year, he said. President Trump has created this environment where the media and voters are watching everything he does. That same behavior trickles down to Arizona’s legislative races, Dill said.

“I think this is part of the Trump effect,” he said. “I think we’re all so on edge and observant of all the shenanigans that are going on.”

The 24/7 news cycle plays a role too, because it perpetuates this kind of news, he said.

Furthermore, candidates like Stringer, Mosley and Gowan have the benefit of living in more rural areas where locals may not keep such close tabs on their legislators or what’s going on at the Capitol, Dill said.

“We err sometimes in thinking that just because something is written in The Arizona Republic that the whole state sees and knows about it and understands it, and that’s not the case,” he said.

The Breakdown: Ducey and The Donald


In this July 11, 2015 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump finishes up speaking before a crowd of 3,500 in Phoenix. Trump was just a few weeks into his candidacy in 2015 when came to Phoenix for a speech that ended up being a bigger moment in his campaign than most people realized at the time. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this July 11, 2015 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump finishes up speaking before a crowd of 3,500 in Phoenix. Trump was just a few weeks into his candidacy in 2015 when came to Phoenix for a speech that ended up being a bigger moment in his campaign than most people realized at the time. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

If President Donald Trump is the most bombastic figure in the Republican Party right now, Gov. Doug Ducey may be his polar opposite, leaving the governor in an increasingly awkward position this election cycle.

Ducey may have little choice but to show respect to Trump, but in doing so, he could hurt his standing with moderate votes if he takes it a step too far.

And this year more than ever, candidates up and down the ballot will have to be especially aware of how their actions play with the folks at the center of the political spectrum.

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

Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Piano Moment” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: G-oh!-P


State GOP Chairman Kelli Ward seeks to build support for a plan to ask voters to increase state sales taxes for education. But the proposal, backed by Sen. Sylvia Allen, center, and Rep. Michelle Udall currently lacks sufficient support from Republican lawmakers. (Phot by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
State GOP Chairman Kelli Ward seeks to build support for a plan to ask voters to increase state sales taxes for education. But the proposal, backed by Sen. Sylvia Allen, center, and Rep. Michelle Udall currently lacks sufficient support from Republican lawmakers. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Phoenix is heating up and the sky may be falling. The state GOP led by Kelli Ward came out in support of a tax hike this week. But is it too late?

Now seems to be a good time to consider the future of the Republican Party, and one man’s plea to keep it thriving.

And the governor has done it again – last Friday’s news dump ushered in Doug Ducey’s latest pick for the Arizona Supreme Court.

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

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

Toma, Kavanagh, Kern gunning for House majority leader


A trio of Republicans are jostling to lead the GOP House majority next year – should a GOP House majority still exist, that is. 

With Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Mesa, the position’s current occupant, moving to the Senate, the majority leader job is wide open, and Representatives Anthony Kern, John Kavanagh and Ben Toma all want a shot.  

Getting the job will require victories in their general election races, victory for the House GOP and a vote from fellow members of the Republican caucus. But success means an opportunity to mold the party’s ideology and broker agreements between warring factions within the party and across the aisle. 

If Republicans maintain their tenuous 31-29 majority, slim margins make the position especially important, said Kavanagh. He touted his relationships with other lawmakers, his oratory and his organizational capabilities – skills he’s honed in a 14-year tenure. 

“I’ve been in every possible legislative situation – other than being in the minority,” Kavanagh said. “Republicans need to put their best image forward, a lot of outreach to the media, at events, newspaper columns.” 

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

Kern, a Glendale Republican who serves as chair of the House Rules Committee, has twice failed at earning a spot in House GOP leadership – he’s hoping “the third time’s the charm.” 

“I just keep losing by one vote, I don’t know why,” he said, referencing his 2016 bid as a freshman to become whip and his 2018 run for majority leader. 

Kern said he sent letters to fellow Republicans asking for their vote, and has started giving likely incoming freshmen his elevator pitch, which includes conservative policy, caucus unity and supporting the agenda of House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. 

“I thought Rusty did a good job,” he said. 

Bowers himself is facing a challenge from Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who’s running to boost the role of the caucus’ most conservative members. 

His candidacy was borne out of frustration by Liberty Caucus-affiliated Republicans in the House who lamented the adjournment of the legislative session, who decried the governor’s stay-at-home order and in general who viewed the party’s establishment-wing as aloof and uncommunicative. 

Anthony Kern
Anthony Kern

None of the three majority leader candidates have announced their support of either pick for speaker – even Kern, despite his stated support of Bowers. Kavanagh described himself as “running independently,” while Toma declined to answer. 

Toma, a Republican from Peoria, said the majority leader job would be especially important if Republicans continue to hold a slim majority in the House. 

“There are times when as a majority leader you have to take a hit for the majority, and that’s something I’m willing to do,” he said. 

Toma, who generally eschews fiery floor speeches in favor of policy work, is a dedicated conservative, but earned goodwill with Democrats for his desire to pass sentencing reform legislation. 

He’s the preferred majority leader of Rep. Regina Cobb, the House Appropriations chair and a Bowers supporter.  

“Toma is the guy I think would be best suited for the position,” said Cobb, of Kingman. “I think that he’s able to work with all kinds of personalities and that’s what the majority leader needs to be. His temperament is even keel. He’s not antagonistic.” 

 If Democrats take the House, this all may be moot. Though the longstanding minority has no shortage of feuding factions with differing ideological visions, the leadership contest is still opaque. Moderate House Democrats have congealed around Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, as a candidate for speaker or minority leader, but neither he nor current House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez are willing to discuss their ambitions publicly. 

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

And the pool of applicants for leader of a loyal Republican opposition under a Democratic majority is shallow.

Toma said he’s “probably not” interested in the leadership job unless Republicans are in charge. Kern, on the other hand, didn’t want to acknowledge that a Democratic majority is even possible.  

“I promise you they’re not gonna win,” he said, before adding that if Republicans want him to lead in the minority, he would consider it. 

Kern, incidentally, holds one of the seats that Democrats covet most dearly. He and Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix, must fend off a challenge from Judy Schwiebert, a teacher who Democrats hope can carry the district. 

Kavanagh said he’d likely want to run for assistant minority leader if Democrats took over – especially if he can help orchestrate a reversion to the mean two years later. 

He expects that Republicans will storm back to power in the midterms, buoyed by a favorable district map and a response to Biden from the right. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has made creating the conditions for a map that benefits Republicans a priority, stacking the committee that vets Independent Redistricting Commission members with Republicans and right-leaning independents.

“I think that will make the next two years even more critical that Republicans put their best feet forward,” he said. “I think we would have a good chance of taking back the chamber.”

Treason, Trump, Obamacare at issue in Sinema, McSally debate

Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema face off Oct. 15, 2018, in their only debate for U.S. Senate (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema face off Oct. 15, 2018, in their only debate for U.S. Senate (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Hoping to remind voters of her foe’s history, Republican senatorial contender Martha McSally said Monday that Kyrsten Sinema, her Democratic foe, is guilty of supporting “treason.”

Near the end of the hour-long debate on KAET, McSally brought up a radio interview Sinema did in 2003 during her anti-war days. Asked if it was OK to fight for the Taliban, she said “fine, I don’t care if you want to go do that.”

Much of the campaign against Sinema has been focused on who she was more than a decade ago, including her opposition to war in the Middle East. McSally hopes to convince voters that Sinema, who since being elected to Congress in 2012, is not the moderate that she proclaims.

After the debate, Sinema brushed aside the questions of what she said years ago.

“Martha’s chosen to run a campaign that’s based on smears and attacks and that’s her choice,” she said. And what happened in the past, Sinema said, is history.

“Over time I think it makes sense for individuals who are willing to learn and to grow,” she said.

But Sinema wasn’t the only one on the defensive as the pair, in a virtual dead heat to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Flake, each sought to score points with the perhaps 10 percent of Arizonans who say they are undecided.

Sinema accused McSally of being an “apologist” for anything that the GOP – and Donald Trump in particular – want. And McSally was defensive about questions about her views on President Trump and her open support of him this year, versus her refusal to endorse him two years ago.

“Nothing’s changed,” she said.

McSally, first elected to represent Congressional District 2 in Southern Arizona in 2014, said she was focused on representing her district.

“But he’s in office,” she said. And that, McSally said, means she needs to work with him, as she said she did to preserve the A-10 attack aircraft that the Obama administration had tried to scrap.

She was a little less straightforward when asked if she was proud of Trump.

“I am proud to be working with him to provide more opportunities and to make sure we keep our country safe,” McSally said.

And she made it clear that she backs much of what the president has done.

“He’s a disrupter,” McSally said of Trump. “He went to D.C. to shake things up and he’s doing that.”

It is that attitude, she said, that has led to him make major strides like trying to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and updating old trade policies.

But Sinema said the flip side has been a trade war.

“That is devastating for Arizona’s businesses and for our agricultural community,” she said.

And the effects, Sinema said, trickle down to everyone else. She cited the increase on tariffs on aluminum, something that will make cans more expensive.

“That’s something we all can agree on: Beer should not be more expensive,” she said.

McSally defended her votes to scrap the Affordable Care Act even as she conceded that the law she voted to repeal has made insurance available to some who did not have it before.

“We cannot go back to where we were before,” she said. But McSally said the program, known as Obamacare, just does not work as constructed and is financially unaffordable.

That, however, still leaves the hot-button question of what would happen to those now enrolled.

While the program has proven controversial, there is widespread support for a key provision: a requirement for insurance companies to provide coverage irrespective of preexisting medical conditions. Sinema charged that the GOP efforts to repeal the law would have once again left those people without insurance.

McSally said that while she wanted to scrap the Affordable Care Act she supports such a requirement. The problem, she said, is that “Obamacare was the wrong approach.”

Sinema, however, said the alternatives offered by McSally and Republicans would return the country “to the time when people couldn’t afford health insurance.”

“The solutions Martha has voted for actually make the system worse and hurt Arizonans,” Sinema said.

The issue of abortion underlined one of the stark differences between the candidates.

Sinema said that issue should be strictly between a woman and her doctor. McSally defined herself as “pro-life.”

But McSally sidestepped the question of whether she wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the right of women to terminate a pregnancy.

“I would support appointing justices that are looking independently at the Constitution and the laws that we make,” McSally said.

McSally also gave a full-throated endorsement to the decision of President Trump to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the Senate vote to confirm him.

“He is highly qualified and he has shown I think what we need to be looking at in judges and justices, which is that they’re not going to be activist but they’re actually going to interpret the Constitution and the laws that we make in Congress,” she said.

Sinema was less direct in her answer, calling the confirmation hearings “a circus” in which both political parties participated. And she questioned both his demeanor and whether he lied during the hearings, ultimately saying she would have voted against confirmation.

McSally, whose congressional district includes a large stretch of the international border, said Sinema, whose district covers parts of Phoenix and Tempe, does not understand the issue of security. McSally said this is not just about illegal immigration but also drug and human smuggling.

Sinema said she did support a $1.5 billion border security appropriation which included money for Trump’s border wall

“I’m fine with a physical barrier being part of a total solution she said. But Sinema said it also requires more than “an 18th century solution to a 21st century problem.”

The questions McSally raised about Sinema’s fitness were not limited to her anti-war activities.

She pointed out that Sinema had accepted $53,000 in donations from the owners of Backpage.com, a now-defunct web site that prosecutors say was a front for prostitution. Sinema eventually donated the money to charity.

And McSally also lashed out at Sinema for her days as a legislator when she worked to alter a bill about penalties for men who had sex with underage girls to put in a requirement that the “john” actually knew the girl was not of legal age.

“I’m not making this stuff up,” McSally said.

Trump candidates swept primary – what about November? 

Former President Donald Trump, left, gives Kari Lake, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Arizona, a hug as Trump speaks at a Save America rally Friday, July 22, 2022, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Trump faction of the Republican Party won big in the August 2 primary election, notching victories from the U.S. Senate race down to state legislative districts.

These victories of former President Trump-aligned candidates signal a shift in the state Republican Party and set up a distinct dynamic that could define the general election campaign.

One upshot of the wave of Trump victories, some Democratic strategists say, is a better shot of general election wins for Democrats in November, an election widely expected to favor Republicans.

“Arguably you have the most extreme set of Republican nominees from top to bottom that we’ve ever had in modern state history,” said Chad Campbell, a Democratic consultant. “From a Democratic perspective, there’s a bigger opening there for Democratic candidates,” he added later.

Democratic consultant Tony Cani acknowledged that the Trump-endorsed candidates he views as “wildly out of touch” with voters have platforms that Democrats can highlight to more liberal constituents and possibly help them, but he is wary of celebrating. “I think that the danger for democracy is way too severe.”

At the top of the GOP primary ballot, where U.S. Senate candidates vied for the opportunity to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly in November, tech executive Blake Masters was leading with 39% of the vote, as of late August 3. Masters was endorsed by Trump and his campaign was supported by millions of dollars in funding from Trump-adjacent technologist Peter Thiel.

In the gubernatorial race, former Fox 10 anchor Kari Lake held a lead over developer and former Arizona Regent Karrin Taylor Robson late August 3, though the margin was narrow: Lake was sitting at 46.2% and Taylor Robson at 44.4%. Lake earned Trump’s endorsement last year and made it a central feature of her campaign.

“MAGA had the best night probably since November 8, 2016,” said Republican consultant Barrett Marson.

The victories for Trump endorsees continued down the ballot: Mark Finchem cruised to victory with over 40% of the vote in the GOP secretary of state primary; Abe Hamadeh emerged from a crowded six-candidate field for attorney general nd was leading with 32% of the vote; in Legislative District 10, former Sen. David Farnsworth beat out Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, who took a stand against Trump’s election lies when he testified before Congress’ January 6 committee; in District 9, incumbent Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, fell far behind challenger Robert Scantlebury.

Chuck Coughlin, a Republican consultant, said he saw the results as a big loss for moderates on both sides of the aisle. Besides the wins for Trump-endorsed candidates, he pointed to moderate Democrats in the Legislature like Morgan Abraham, D-Tucson, who also lost primary battles.

“Progressives won on the left, and populists won on the right,” Coughlin said.

Among the Trump-endorsees, Lake and Finchem’s apparent victories were particularly poignant because their opponents had support from Gov. Doug Ducey. The governor gave his endorsement to ad executive Beau Lane in the secretary of state race, calling out Finchem (though not by name) for sowing doubt about the integrity of the primary election. Ducey also backed Taylor Robson, hitting the campaign trail with her and her highest-profile endorser, former Vice President Mike Pence.

The Trump candidates are young and old, political veterans and political neophytes. What unites them all is a focus on claims of alleged fraud in the 2020 election – something that so far hasn’t been backed up by any evidence.

That unity was apparent during the primary campaign. Trump-endorsed candidates from around the country endorsed one another, often appeared together at events, and propped each other up on occasion with campaign donations. The national attention helped bring in cash from groups and individuals outside of Arizona.

“We present a united front; we Trump endorsees,” said Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, on the Flyover Conservatives podcast on June 19. Rogers outraised her opponent Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, ten times over, but most of her contributions did not come from Arizonans.

With the primary election in the rearview mirror, an open question is whether the wider Republican Party will display the same unity that the Trump candidates did in recent months – or whether it needs to do so.

Marson said that he and other Republicans will wait to see how Trump-endorsed candidates shift during the next 90 days before deciding if they’ll vote for their party’s nominees.

At a news conference on August 3, Lake said that she wants to be a unifying candidate. “I want to bring the Republican Party together. … We’re one big, happy, sometimes dysfunctional family, but we can come together,” she said.

Coughlin said he doesn’t think that means making any compromises. What that message from Lake means, he said, is “Get in line!”

“I don’t see her being conciliatory,” he added.

Barry Aarons, a longtime Capitol lobbyist, said that a move back toward the moderate center would be the best strategy for right-wing Republicans who earned the GOP nomination this week.

“Most primary candidates tack. If they’re Republicans to the right, if they’re Democrats to the left. And then if they want to be successful, they tack back to the center” in the general election, Aarons said.

Of the Trump-endorsed candidates, Aarons added, “I think it is advisable for them to aggressively talk about issues that are going to attract the folks who… aren’t necessarily Trump supporters.”

But Coughlin said he thinks many of the candidates in this crop of Trump-endorsed politicians can’t or won’t shift their stances.

“I don’t think the word pivot is in Mark Finchem’s vocabulary,” he said.

Lake in particular should bring herself back to the center, according to Aarons. “If she’s going to be successful in the general, she’s got to carry those votes over and attract votes on issues like the economy, and water, and other kitchen table issues, to pick up the Republicans who voted for Karrin Taylor Robson and to pick up the independents who lean center right.”

Lake seemed to reject that approach in her comments on August 3.

“I’m not going to change,” she said. “Because I won doesn’t mean I’m going to now pivot and try to become a Democrat. Absolutely not. It was conservative ideals that this country was founded upon, and it is conservative policies that will get us out of this mess we’re in.”



Trump in AZ rally urges Republicans to ‘cast second greatest vote ever’ for McSally

President Donald Trump talks to a pilot in the cockpit of an F-35 aircraft during a Defense Capability Tour at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump talks to a pilot in the cockpit of an F-35 aircraft during a Defense Capability Tour at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Arizona GOP enlisted the party’s campaigner-in-chief at a Friday rally in Mesa to boost Republican enthusiasm for U.S. Senate candidate Martha McSally and down-ballot Republicans ahead of the congressional midterm election.

President Donald Trump praised himself for appointing two conservative Supreme Court justices, cutting taxes and pushing for a border wall and insisted that progress would be lost if “radical” Democrats won control of Congress this election cycle.

“If the radical Democrats take control of Congress on Nov. 6, they will try to plunge our country into a nightmare of gridlock, poverty and chaos,” he said.

Trump also touted McSally, who spoke for about five minutes in comparison to the president’s 50 minutes, as someone who fought for her country all her life and would do the same in the Senate. The president also tore down McSally’s opponent, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, as a “far-left extremist,” perpetuating what already has been a cutthroat and personal contest to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.

The president praised McSally, the first female fighter pilot, as a hero for leading airstrikes against Islamic terrorists after 9/11.

“While Martha was bravely fighting the Taliban, Kyrsten said she had no problems with Americans defecting from our country to join the Taliban,” he said, referencing something Sinema said in a radio interview from the 2000s.

Sinema’s campaign has said her comments were clearly just offhand remarks that have been misconstrued.

Unofficial estimates from Mesa law enforcement was that there were about 6,300 Trump supporters inside the rally at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport with an additional 3,000 people outside. Supporters waited in line for hours in the heat to see Trump at his only Arizona rally so far this year.

Trump also criticized Sinema for voting against his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a vote he said she took because House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told her to do so. Sinema voted against the bill, saying it didn’t reflect the values of hard working Americans. But Sinema, a moderate Democrat who paints herself as an independent voice in Congress, is no friend of Pelosi, having voted against keeping her as party leader in 2016.

Both Trump and McSally said Sinema voted in favor of “sanctuary cities.” But Sinema was actually one of a small group of Democrats who voted in favor of legislation to bar “sanctuary cities” from receiving federal law enforcement grants if they fail to cooperate with immigration authorities.

McSally came out swinging against her opponent, tearing Sinema down for calling Arizona “crazy” and a “meth lab of democracy.”

“I just wanted to let you know, we are not crazy here,” she said. “We are not a meth lab of democracy.”

Video recently surfaced of Sinema calling the state both things after the state Legislature passed the widely disavowed immigration bill SB1070. The phrase “meth lab of democracy” did not stem from Sinema, but rather, a late-night TV show host.

McSally drew contrasts between her and her opponent, citing her support and Sinema’s opposition to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. McSally also supported Trump’s tax cuts plan.

McSally also brought back Sinema’s past, telling the crowd Sinema was protesting the Iraq War in a pink tutu while she was wearing a flight suit and flying into combat zones.

Trump promised his supporters that a vote for McSally would be one of the best votes they would ever cast.

“It will be the second greatest vote you’ve ever cast,” he said. “The first greatest vote was for me.”

Trump also gave shoutouts to several Republican congresspeople from Arizona at the rally. He also praised Gov. Doug Ducey, who spoke before him, as a “fantastic governor and friend of mine.”


During his brief remarks, Ducey praised Trump’s steps on immigration and tax reform and applauded him for nominating conservatives Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ducey also twisted his Democratic opponent David Garcia’s immigration stances and criticized him for being proud to stump with Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders next week.

“Can you believe it? These guys are actually proud to stand with Bernie Sanders,” Ducey said. “Would you be proud to stand with Bernie Sanders?”

Garcia and Sanders will rally students at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University on Tuesday. Garcia has tacked to the left in his gubernatorial bid and run on a number of Sanders-style reforms, such as promising free college and calling for a single-payer health system.

Ducey also criticized Garcia’s positions on immigration, though he took liberties with some of his opponent’s stances. The governor riffed off Garcia’s speech at a progressive conference in New Orleans, in which the Democrat said, “imagine no wall in southern Arizona,”

“No wall in southern Arizona, is that the Arizona you want to imagine?” Ducey said. “No more national guard on our southern border, is that the Arizona you want to imagine? Abolish ICE, is that the Arizona you want to imagine?”

Garcia clarified his statement after the conference, saying he is opposed to Trump’s border wall. He has also said he would remove U.S. National Guard troops from the border and would replace the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

As he campaigns for re-election, Ducey has somewhat shied away from Trump as Democrats have tried to link him to the president whenever possible. Ultimately, the contentious national political environment has done little to hurt Ducey’s re-election bid.


The political newcomer and candidate for secretary of state criticized outside groups spending against his campaign and said socialism is this generation’s threat to liberty.

Gaynor, who faces Democrat Katie Hobbs, tied the argument to a history lesson on the Revolutionary War and Americans fighting for their freedom.

“It seems in every generation, a new threat to liberty arises,” he said. “This comes from those who believe socialism is better than free markets.”

Gaynor also criticized a group called iVote, which is spending millions to help get Hobbs elected. The group, which supports Democratic candidates for secretary of state, aims to get rid of voter registration because it leads to voter suppression, Gaynor noted with disdain.

Democratic response

While Trump stumped for McSally, Sinema was kicking off get-out-the-vote efforts with campaign volunteers in Phoenix. Her campaign put out a fundraising plea tied to Trump’s rally shortly after the president walked off stage.

Meanwhile, Garcia’s campaign criticized Ducey for supporting Trump at the rally while the president attacked American values.

“Trump has disgraced himself and the White House, attacked the free press, the rule of law and American values tonight at his rally for Ducey and McSally,” said Garcia spokeswoman Sarah Elliott. “In the face of this reckless and dangerous administration, Ducey has not once stood up for our values and sides with Trump time and again.”

State of the election

Ducey holds a comfortable lead in the polls. A Real Clear Politics average of multiple polls shows him leading Democrat David Garcia by double digits.

The contest between McSally and Sinema is much closer. Polls have consistently showed Sinema leading, but most of the polls have been so close that the results are within the margin of error.

Gaynor and Hobbs are close in the polls, but Gaynor leads his Democratic opponent.

Voters will head to the polls on Nov. 6.

Wrap up with J.D. Mesnard

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (Photo by Katie Campbell/ Arizona Capitol Times)

In his second year at the helm of the House and in his final year in the chamber, Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, navigated uncharted waters when he asked members to expel one of their own. He later helped push through a budget that included the last-minute addition of a 9-percent pay raise for teachers, despite initial opposition from some in his party. For a lawmaker who spent most of last year fixing mistakes from years prior, this year’s events threw a wrench into Mesnard’s plans for smooth sailing. But despite the distractions, Mesnard said the Republican caucus was successful in pushing its agenda through.

Cap Times Q&AHow would you describe your time as speaker?

The first year was mostly focused on transitioning out of the previous speakership. There were some rough spots there trying to re-establish some processes and openness. But it was otherwise pretty mild, I think, and pretty normal. The last year has been a little more challenging. We’ve had a more historic session in terms of expelling members and teachers strikes. I’ve had a number of folks pay me a compliment by saying that they were glad I was the one in the chair for weathering these storms. I don’t know if I felt that way in those moments, but it was an honor to serve, even if there were some real big challenges.

Did you feel prepared to tackle the issue of sexual harassment? And in the end do you think you handled it properly?

I felt I was about as prepared as you can be and I felt like it was handled about as well as a bad situation can be handled. The feedback I got from folks seemed to confirm that. I don’t know how it could have ended differently. It ultimately led to us expelling a member and the public seemed to think that was the right thing. I don’t know how totally informed they were on every aspect of it. And obviously the vast majority of members thought so, too. There was some pushback that this didn’t follow sort of the normal channels, the whole Ethics Committee thing. And that was something I did wrestle over in the beginning. I couldn’t quite figure out, and I still don’t know that I have it all down, how to balance out the privacy of victims versus the Ethics Committee, which is a little more open process. And so we did the outside investigation as meant to be the hybrid. There was some lingering frustrations, some beliefs by folks that there are things that haven’t been released. I find that both maddening and amusing because the only thing that hasn’t been released at this point really is work product.

What would you say was the highlight of this session?

I thought this budget was a huge accomplishment. … It was an unprecedented investment in K-12 education. And if at the end of the day, come 2020, we have swallowed this enormous $1.5 billion infusion into K-12, despite the fact that we reduced corporate income tax rates to attract businesses here, which I think is helping to drive our economy, if at the end of the day we’re able to address both the economy side of the equation and the education side, and of course neither is ever fully done, but these huge accomplishments, boy, that’s something to be proud of.

Teachers have argued that the state’s investment in K-12 education wasn’t enough. Do you think that will hurt Republicans’ re-election chances?

I don’t think so. I think the vast majority of people thought it was a good deal. And I think when the money starts materializing in paychecks, that will give people perspective. … From the very beginning, most of us felt that it would never be enough in the eyes of some. But when I tell people in other states that I interact with that we did a 20 percent raise, their jaw just drops. Nobody has done that in the country.

What advice do you have for your successor?

There’s nothing that compares to sitting in the big chair. This is probably why, with like one exception, nobody in the last 50 years has ever become speaker without first being in leadership in some way. … There’s nothing that beats all of the pressure, all of the spotlight, all of the responsibility that just rests on top of you. When you open your mouth it impacts not only your caucus, and not only this chamber, but the state. I just hope that the next person keeps that in mind. The true weight of the mantle and the responsibility.

Despite political differences, you’ve done a good job of building a relationship between Republicans and Democrats. How important is that?

It’s very important, and one thing that the next speaker will have to keep in mind is that your own members may not appreciate it. … I probably couldn’t think of a higher compliment than the one Ms. (Rebecca) Rios gave me on the last day. I do remember vivi dly the conversation she and I had initially when she said Speaker (Mark) Killian was her favorite and to try to be that way. I actually had sat down with him before to just kind of get his take on things. And so to say that I was her favorite, that was pretty moving, I have to say. I hope the next speaker has a good relationship with the Democratic Party and just knows that sometimes it also means standing up to your own party and saying, “Look, I know it’s frustrating and it’s like nails on a chalkboard sometimes, but you’ve got to. This is the process and it’s bigger than all of us and it’s going to be here long after we have come and gone.”

How likely is it that we’ll see you in the big chair next year over in the Senate?

I’ve had a lot of members ask me to run for president, which I take as a compliment. And I know others, when you run, you’re like, “Yeah I was asked to do this.” Truly, I have been asked by so many that I am seriously considering it. I don’t see how I don’t at this point. … It’s not something I sought out, but it’s something I’m going to seriously consider.

Yee announces candidacy for GOP nomination for treasurer

Sen. Kimberly Yee
Sen. Kimberly Yee (R-Phoenix)

State Sen. Kimberly Yee is running for state treasurer.

The 43-year-old Phoenix Republican has announced her candidacy for the office now held by fellow Republican Jeff DeWit, who is not running for re-election.

Arizona Corporation Commission member Tom Forese also is running for the Republican nomination for treasurer.

Yee has served in the Legislature since 2010, first in the House and now in the Senate, where she currently is Senate majority leader.

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Young voters will save our democracy


Dear Editor:


If the nation’s eyes weren’t already on Arizona for the most expensive and consequential U.S. Senate race in our state’s history, the possibility of Mark Kelly being sworn in to replace Sen. Martha McSally in time to vote on a new Supreme Court nominee has now put us under an inescapable microscope. The despicable but not surprising reality is Senator McSally’s complete inability to even pretend that she’s anything more than Trump’s puppet, as if she could even attempt to muster up whatever dignity she has left to take a stand for our democracy and the people she was appointed to represent.

Instead, typically and in line with her brand, she has once again left Arizona voters behind, leaving all principle and morality in the trash alongside us. She and the rest of the GOP know that voting for a Supreme Court justice now is a stark contradiction to what they did in 2016 when Mitch McConnell said – nine months out – that an election year was no time to fill a spot on the Supreme Court.

Here we are, six weeks until a presidential election, with some parts of the country already voting, and Republicans are attempting to sell out and undermine the power of our democracy for a greasy, malicious political power grab. There’s no question that Republicans are scared of what this country is starting to look like and consequently the result of a government truly based on the people’s choice isn’t something their party can survive right now.

The simple fact is that the GOP has completely lost their way. They elected a racist reality TV star as their leader, installed a cheap loyalist with no backbone in Arizona, and are now further spiraling down a path that is a far cry from John McCain’s party. They are going back on their word, throwing out decency, and hastily speeding up this process because they know it is one of their last chances to hold our country back from progress.

However, the young people of Arizona have a message for them: if Republicans want to play dirty, then they’ll find the fight they’re looking for here. If they think the largest, most diverse, most educated generation in American history will take this lying down, they have another think coming. At NextGen Arizona, the largest youth vote organization in the state, we’re prepping for the biggest battle of our lifetimes. We’re suiting up in droves right now to show the GOP where the real power lies. The future of Arizona and this country belongs to young, Black, Brown, LGBTQ, working-class, multiracial Americans and we cannot wait to stand over Senator McSally and Trump when we prove that in November. Shots fired and it’s on.

Kristi Johnston

Arizona press secretary for NextGen America.