$200M for water shortages likely to pass

A low-level irrigation ditch is fed fresh water from the Colorado River, August 27, 2019, in Casa Blanca, Ariz.(AP PhotoMatt York)
A low-level irrigation ditch is fed fresh water from the Colorado River, August 27, 2019, in Casa Blanca, Ariz.(AP PhotoMatt York)

The Legislature is set to pass a $200 million proposal to fund areas without a proper water supply.   

The money would help meet long-term demands and financially assist in the creation of water supply and conservation projects.   

The proposal, which is part of the FY2022 budget, passed the Senate June 22 on a party-line 16-14 vote and the House still had not considered it as of press time.  

It narrowly passed the Appropriations committees in the Senate and House on May 25 as Democrats and Republicans on those panels agreed something needs to be done about the state’s nearly 21-year drought, but Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill because they said that it may do little to properly address the drought, and in some cases may be used to speed up the depletion of resources already in short supply, such as groundwater. 

As a desert region with an already limited water supply further drained by climate change, Arizona has been working to resolve the lack of water. In 2019, the state enacted the Drought Contingency Plan, which outlines how Arizona and other Colorado River basin states will divide the limited water that’s now available.   

The plan conserves water in reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell and funds various groups for leaving water within them.   

The Associated Press recently reported, however, that Lake Mead has hit a record low water level since its creation in the 1930s, a decline expected to continue until November.   

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has said it’s expected to issue the first-ever shortage declaration that prompts water reductions in Arizona and Nevada, creating a further need for legislation.   

The Legislature’s answer to meet Arizona’s long-term water demand is legislation to establish the Drought Mitigation Board and the $200 million Drought Mitigation Revolving Fund.   

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said in the May 25 House Appropriations Committee hearing he was curious as to whether there was a way to monitor the board that would receive the funds. Friese said that the board could “spend money as they see fit without review.”   

The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said that while there was no established review for the fund, she would be open to a review of recommended expenses for the board in the future.  

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said that while the fund was a step in the right direction, it did not directly solve the underlying problem.   

Lieberman then directly took note of issues he had both with the bill and the water treatment, citing issues such as water pumping that the bill did not adequately address.   

“Unfortunately this bill isn’t doing anything to bring some accountability along with the significant investment,” Lieberman said.  

Cobb said people “can always say it’s not enough and vote no, but it’s something so I vote yes.”   

The bill was narrowly passed by the House Appropriations Committee 7-6, with Republican Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, joining five Democrats in opposition.   

Senate Democrats also questioned the bill’s credibility in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it passed on a partisan line of 6-4.   

Sandy Bahr, director for the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, spoke in opposition of the measure.  

“While it is true many parts of the state do not have sustainable water supplies based on current or projected uses as the bill indicates, the fund does nothing to address the underlying issues contributing to that,” Bahr said.  

Bahr similarly cited unfettered groundwater pumping and connections between ground and service water as points of concern. Bahr also said she believed that the proposal should have been a stand-alone bill so it could be debated and evaluated on its own merits.  

Arizona Legislature sends transportation tax proposal to voters

The longest legislative session in state history came to an end Monday after 204 days as lawmakers in both chambers succeeded in adjourning sine die shortly after 5 p.m., finally addressing a transportation tax extension they’d wrestled with for months. 

Both the House and Senate passed a bipartisan proposal asking Maricopa County voters to extend Proposition 400, a half-cent transportation sales tax that’s funded highways, roads and major transportation projects in the county for nearly 40 years.  

House members voted 43-14 to approve the measure, which Republican legislative leaders had been negotiating with Gov. Katie Hobbs for weeks since she vetoed a partisan Prop 400 attempt on July 6.  

During that time, the legislature hadn’t convened as a whole. 

Toma, House, Senate, per diem, Senate Democrats, longest session, sine die
House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria

“Elections have consequences to state the obvious. We have a split government situation. Anything that we do has to be negotiated between both parties and that’s what you saw here,” said Speaker of the House, Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “It was very similar to the budget.” 

Similar to the previous attempt, the measure prohibits Prop 400 tax revenue from being used for light rail expansion. But now the proposal keeps the question posed to voters for funding highways, roads and public transportation as one question instead of two questions – which Democrats and Hobbs opposed.  

Under the proposal, 40.5% of revenue will be allocated to freeways and state highways, 22.5% will go to arterials and streets and 37% is directed to public transportation.  

The final vote in the Senate was 19-7 with four members not present. Senators T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, and Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, were gone and did not vote. 

All House Democrats voted to pass the bill. Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez, D-Phoenix, said the legislature had a responsibility to continue some form of the tax that lawmakers first passed in 1984 due to the projected population growth of Maricopa County in the coming years. The tax is set to expire in 2025. The tax extension will last 20 years if voters approve.  

“It is imperative that we as a Legislature, as a governing body, respond to the infrastructure that is going to be needed,” Quinonez said.  

Maricopa Association of Governments Chair Kate Gallego said in a statement from MAG that the bill is a “win” for voters. Prior to the vote, several business leaders also signed a letter voicing their support of the plan.  

“While Maricopa County is the only county that requires legislative approval to take an initiative to the ballot, we were resolute in ensuring that we put forward a plan that had the unanimous support of 32 cities, towns, counties, and Native nations,” Gallego said in a statement provided by MAG. “Though the current bill does not provide us with the flexibility we originally sought, it allows us to wholly implement our planned multimodal projects, setting the foundation for a stronger, more accessible region.” 

The Republicans who voted against the proposal were mainly members of the Freedom Caucus. Many of them said during floor speeches they weren’t happy with the process that Republican leaders took to get the bill read Monday, nor were they happy for the funds directed to public transit.  

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said she was informed by leadership as of July 25 that the House wouldn’t be voting on Prop 400 when lawmakers convened on Monday. Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, also said members received a draft copy of the bill on Saturday and the bill was still being amended through Monday.  

“We allow public transit to send our roads hostage when we send it to the voters,” Heap said of keeping Prop 400 posed as one question for voters. 

Freedom Caucus Chair Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, commended Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, on negotiating a conservative bill, even though he couldn’t get behind it.  

Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek

“It’s yet another rolling of Katie Hobbs, it simply wasn’t conservative enough. I believe that voters deserve the opportunity to choose between whether they want to support transit as a standalone item or whether they don’t and whether they want to support freeways and roads or whether they don’t,” Hoffman said.  

Other Republicans said they supported the bill because of the guardrails that were negotiated to fund highways and roads. The bill prohibits tax funds from being used to reduce existing highway and street lane miles. 

“This plan will ultimately require voter approval and taxpayers will have the final say. In my view, this bill moves Legislative District 4 ahead,” said Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix.  

Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, said she voted to pass the bill because she didn’t want legislative districts like hers having to compete with Maricopa County for federal transportation tax dollars if the bill failed to pass.  

“Let’s get over ourselves, let’s get out of the way and let’s let Maricopa County voters decide for themselves what’s best for Maricopa County.”

Another piece of the bill is prohibiting any light rail project from being built around the Capitol in Phoenix from 17th Avenue one the east, Adams Street on the north, 18th Avenue on the west and Jefferson Street on the South.  

Toma acknowledged cities may get creative with expanding light rail by freeing up bus funding with Prop 400 revenue, and going forward with light rail projects as they choose. But no projects will be around the Capitol. 

In exchange for passing Prop 400, some Republicans anticipate Hobbs will sign a bill they sent to her earlier in the session that would repeal cities from implementing a rental tax for apartments. This was one of the major policy goals GOP leaders outlined before the session started and Toma said Hobbs signing the bill was part of his agreement with her.  

“We highly encouraged her to sign it if we sent her Prop 400, and she said she will,” Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said of the rental tax. 

Republican Senators Hoffman, Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, voted ‘no.’ Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, also voted ‘no.’ Gonzales expressed concern that light rail can’t be expanded under the bill and that there wasn’t enough dialogue.  

Mesnard said he was only a “not yet.” “I needed a little more time,” Mesnard said. “To the extent there’s any correlation between a signature on a rental tax bill and this, I obviously am glad about that if that happens.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said her caucus is glad to have a plan and that they’d been in communication with MAG about the proposal this past weekend. However, over the past several weeks, legislative Democrats were left out of meeting between the governor, House speaker and Senate president. 

“On the one hand the Maricopa Association of Governments is a very important and a key stakeholder in this, and a lot of the goals that MAG wanted to accomplish are the things Democrats wanted to accomplish. Would we like to have been in the room and involved more? Always,” Epstein said. 

Petersen argued that there have been years of dialogue on the bill and time for members to consider late changes. “I’m proud that we could accomplish this together in a bipartisan way,” Petersen said during the vote. He outlined the Republican friendly changes made to the bill including more legislative appointments to MAG and keeping light rail expansion from the Capitol. “This is a good product,” Petersen said. 


Budget proposal killed in House committee

Two Republicans joined Democrats Wednesday to kill a scaled-down state budget proposal.  

Reps. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, and Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, joined all five Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee to kill 12 “continuation budget” bills on a series of 7-6 votes. 

The proposal, which was an extension of this year’s spending adjusted for inflation and growth, would have raised total spending from $12.36 billion to $12.98 billion. The idea, House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said on Monday, was to get something in place, then work out issues such as expanding empowerment scholarship accounts, spending more on water projects and an “accelerate and repeal” of last year’s income tax cuts. 

House Appropriations Chairwoman Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, acknowledged at Wednesday’s meeting that a continuation budget was no one’s first choice, but said it at least provided a path forward. 

“This is a protection for what our base is, and this is a protection of our budget that we’ve had in the past and our departments and agencies and everything that has services,” she said. 

Cobb blamed the egos of other lawmakers for its failure and said if they are still in session at the end of June without a deal, they could be voting on another continuation budget. 

“I feel like this is not helpful and this is where we started out, and I could see people digging in already,” she said. “And I had talks with several of you ahead of time about this … but because you didn’t get what you wanted you voted this way. That’s ego, and I felt that’s what kept us from moving this forward in this fashion.” 

However, Democrats and the handful of progressive lobbyists who testified said a continuation budget would do nothing to address issues such as homelessness, education funding and climate change. Instead, they said, lawmakers should put the $5.3 billion surplus to use. 

“We feel that this money could be used to make a real difference for our students and this budget as introduced does not take that opportunity,” said Brendan Foland, with the Arizona Education Association. 

Udall also said lawmakers should address the state’s problems, while Hoffman called for spending and tax cuts instead of a continuation budget that would likely be followed by additional spending bills. 

“Government is spending like crazy,” Hoffman said. “We have a $5.3 billion surplus. That doesn’t mean we’re doing a great job, that means we’re overtaxing the people we represent; we’re taking too much of their money. … I would love to have an actual skinny budget.” 

The way House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, sees it, passing a continuation budget was the best opportunity to keep spending down. 

“Let’s just say that there are some who wanted to cut spending and they had their chance today,” Bowers said after Wednesday’s vote. 

For now, it’s back to the drawing board. The House had been scheduled to meet Thursday morning, but with no budget to vote on, both the House and Senate adjourned for the week after their floor sessions Wednesday. However, even if the budget had made it out of committee, it was likely doomed, with some Republicans in both the House and Senate voicing opposition and Gov. Doug Ducey also against it. 

Democrats called on Republicans to work with them on a compromise instead of passing a budget with only Republican votes. 

“It’s time to get to work on a true bipartisan budget that addresses our state’s most pressing needs while we have the resources to act, and which includes the voices of all Arizona communities,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. 

Bowers said Wednesday’s vote, and the dissension in his own caucus, raises the chances of that. But is it possible to craft something that could get some Democrats while keeping enough Republicans to pass? 

“Hey, I’m not a magician,” Bowers said. “I’m just going to go to work.” 

Bowers also said he hopes Ducey calls a special session soon, a tool that could be used to deal with some issues individually. Some Republicans floated the idea a month ago of calling one on either taxes or water. 

“I hope they pull us in quick,” Bowers said. “I’d like to do something on the border as soon as possible.” 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said after the vote that she has been dealing with similar divides in her caucus to what she saw in the House. She also raised the possibility of a bipartisan budget and said she has reached out to Democratic leadership for a list of their priorities. 

“Anything can happen,” Fann said. “You know it’s just one of those deals, we’re just trying to get a budget put together, and some of us would like it to be a nice bipartisan budget if we can get there. Right now, we’re sitting in the same position that we were last year, and it took us 171 days. And the position is, we have one member that is trying to dictate the whole thing.” 

Fann mentioned Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who has been calling for more tax and spending cuts, and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who has a strained relationship with Fann and who has called for a grand bargain both raising education spending and expanding ESAs. Boyer has been working with Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix. 

“Those two have been working together the whole time,” Fann said. “You have a Republican and a Democrat working together against their caucuses too … they have their own third caucus.” 

Capitol Times Reporter Camryn Sanchez contributed. 

Constituents press lawmakers to ban CRT

Rep. Jake Hoffman on the floor of the state House. Hoffman successfully sponsored legislation to ban government entities from conducting certain types of diversity trainings. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. Jake Hoffman on the floor of the state House. Hoffman successfully sponsored legislation to ban government entities from conducting certain types of diversity trainings. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

More than 100 constituents pressured Republican lawmakers for months to crack down on “critical race theory” in schools, calling it Marxist or urging them not to negotiate with Democrats on the budget, according to emails. 

“We are not a racist state or country for that matter,” a constituent of Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, wrote. “However, ideas like CRT perpetuates the myth that we are. No one should be made to feel ashamed of their race, that is racist. CRT is racist. Please keep it out of Arizona.” 

Meanwhile, educators and others contacted lawmakers to say they should support teachers instead of threatening them. 

“Our state is facing a teacher shortage and this bill would drive more teachers out of the classroom,” said the most common form email opposing the bill, an email campaign from Arizona Education Association. “You should focus on restoring funding to our public schools and not legislation that attacks teachers.” 

Hoffman, who successfully sponsored legislation to ban government entities from conducting certain types of diversity trainings, received 96 emails from people supporting the ban of “critical race theory” in schools or elsewhere, compared to 38 from opponents of Senate Bill 1532, which would have required teachers to present both sides of controversial issues and restricted how some race-related issues can be taught. 

While SB1532 didn’t pass, an amendment to the bill provided the template for language that passed in this year’s budget. The legislation prohibits teachers from teaching that one race, ethnic group or sex is inherently moral or superior or that one group is inherently sexist, racist or oppressive, as well as other limitations related to race and sex.  

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines history, society and law through the lens of racism. The term has also been used as a catch-all for topics discussing the intricacies of racial discrimination in the United States, including the history of slavery and segregation.   

If found in violation, teachers can face disciplinary action up to losing their license, and school districts can be slapped with up to $5,000 in penalties. The legislation does not use the words critical race theory, though supporters and Gov. Doug Ducey have framed it that way. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“I am not going to waste public dollars on lessons that imply the superiority of any race and hinder free speech,” Ducey said last month in a press release entitled “Governor Ducey, Legislature Take Strong Action to Stop Critical Race Theory.” 

Email campaigns target CRT 

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who sponsored the SB1532 amendment, got 89 emails from members of the public that mentioned either opposing “critical race theory” or supporting SB1532, compared to 32 from opponents of SB1532. A handful called for the defunding of public schools. 

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that the public schools are not giving our children an education,” said a pro-school defunding form email. “Instead, they are indoctrinating our kids to accept and support far-left and Marxist ideals. This is seen in the schools’ promotion of critical race theory, radical LGBT curriculum, and hostility toward traditional Christian and Americanist values.” 

Form emails urging Republican lawmakers to pass this year’s party-line budget emphasized getting rid of “critical race theory.” At least 35 people wrote to House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and other members of House GOP leadership in late May, urging them to forgo bipartisan negotiations and pass a budget that reflected conservative priorities, such as banning “critical race theory.” The conservative group EZAZ organized the push. In June, at least 40 Mesa residents sent similar form emails to Udall and 16 wrote to Bowers. 

Many of SB1532’s supporters appear to have only reached out to Republican lawmakers. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, got emails from 20 opponents of SB1532 and 24 supporters. Most of those SB1532 supporters were people who emailed the entire Legislature. 

Teachers oppose law 

Opponents said it would infringe on teachers’ First Amendment rights and lead to endless litigation. 

“The new standards require teachers to cover material that can make parents and students uncomfortable when dealing with human rights and how it affects minority groups, like Native Americans, LGBT, Mexican American(s) and Japanese American(s),” Mesa teacher Ann Marie Geair wrote. “I am not sure how you want us to teach. I sometimes feel that the state legislature has it out for teachers and that often these bills are just a way to punish us.” 

History teacher Megan Dover, who opposed SB1532, said she watched the bill and budget language closely. Dover, who teaches in Gilbert Public Schools, said she plans to stick to teaching according to state standards and to continue to allow her students to be “little historians of their own.” 

“Truly, critical race theory is not taught in K-12; it never has been,” Dover said. “We’ve always taught all parts of history; we always teach multiple perspectives of a story and history for students to be able to take that information and investigate it and make decisions for themselves about what happened in any event.” 

Though unclear about how the new law might be implemented, Dover said she could see it possibly coming into play in teaching American history. 

“When you talk about history, like Black history or Native American history or Chicano history, what is going to seem controversial? Where’s that line going to be for the amount of content?” she asked. 

Dover said there are a lot of unknowns and unanswered questions since there’s no case law yet. 

“We’re taking it one day at a time to see how things are going to play out, what this actually means,” Dover said. “It’s certainly challenging, and I’m hopeful that teachers can teach the whole picture of history. I hope that they don’t get pigeonholed into teaching one particular side of history.” 

Not all teachers 

While most educators who reached out to Udall and other lawmakers opposed SB1532, a couple supported it.  

One teacher at Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff shared her concerns about a 21-day diversity, equity and inclusion challenge which she described as “an intense indoctrination of critical race theory.”  

The teacher, Tammy Kelly, said participants were told they had to accept the Anti-Defamation League’s definition of racism as “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people,” and that administrators mostly dismissed her concerns about this and other aspects of the training. 

“I am very concerned about these theories and how they will infiltrate in our schools and cause even more divisiveness,” she wrote. 

National debate 

Republican-controlled state legislatures throughout the country have been taking aim this year at “critical race theory,” seeking to restrict instruction that talks about concepts such as white privilege or systemic racism. States including Texas, Idaho, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Iowa have passed laws similar to Arizona’s.  

The issue sprang onto the national stage late September when, following appearances by anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo on Fox News, then-President Donald Trump ordered a halt to diversity trainings across the federal government.  

Much of the language in states’ anti-critical race theory laws, including Arizona’s, is lifted from Trump’s executive order. President Joe Biden rescinded the order upon taking office. Rufo’s staff emailed Udall a couple of times after the initial House vote on her bill, offering to help her get it passed. 

Dem groups start effort to take new election laws to voters

Voters arrive to vote at their polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Voters arrive to vote at their polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Democratic organizers who succeeded in sending a 2017 voucher expansion to the ballot and defeating it are setting their sights on three new election laws. 

Arizona Deserves Better, a group led by Navajo County Democratic Party chairman Eric Kramer, already filed referendum applications for two new laws that would stop some voters from automatically receiving ballots by mail and bar election officials from receiving private grants to run elections. The group is working on a third, to give voters the final say on a far-reaching budget bill with provisions for watermarked ballots and social media investigations.  

If the group succeeds in gathering 118,823 signatures for each referendum by Sept. 29, 90 days after the end of the legislative session and the date the new laws would take effect, those laws would be put on hold at least until after the November 2022 election.  

Kramer said he’s confident all three can reach the signature threshold and make it to the ballot. He’s working closely with organizers behind Save Our Schools, which successfully referred a 2017 law expanding school vouchers to the ballot.  

“We’ve been at it for a couple of weeks,” he said. “We have hundreds of volunteers in the field, and they’re getting the job done.”  

GOP infighting at the end of legislative session prevented some major election legislation from passing, but voting rights advocates still had plenty to dislike. Most notably, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, finally succeeded in passing a measure years in the making to take the “permanent” out of the state’s Permanent Early Voting List.  

Ugenti-Rita, now a candidate for Secretary of State, framed her bill as a way to ensure people don’t receive ballots not meant for them. Beginning in 2026, it would remove people who haven’t voted by mail in at least one election over the past two election cycles from the Permanent Early Voting List.  

“To me this is just cleaning up our list and is good housekeeping,” she said in a January hearing on an earlier version of the bill.  

Democratic critics argued that the bill would have significant consequences for voters who are poor, young, people of color or registered without a political party, arguing that those voters might be more likely to miss elections because they’re too busy or uninspired by candidates. The existence of the Permanent Early Voting List means that those voters will still get ballots in the mail whenever they’re ready to vote again, supporters of the list contend.  

“The people of Arizona have really themselves created PEVL, by many volunteers going out and getting people signed up for it so that over 80% of the people in Arizona vote using PEVL,” Kramer said. “So, why the Legislature would want to mess that up, I have no idea.” 

The second referendum, for what Kramer dubbed the “defunding elections law,” would give voters the final say on legislation to prevent county recorders and the Secretary of State from using private funds to help pay for elections. 

In June 2020, a legislative panel acting on a request from Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich nixed Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ plans to use federal election money for a campaign to combat disinformation about the election. Gov. Doug Ducey stepped in with funding from a separate pot of federal Covid relief money that he controlled, but Hobbs also sought outside funding. 

Arizona received just under $4.8 million from a grant through the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonprofit organization that took in about $50 million in donations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. Hobbs’ office used that money for election outreach. 

Nine counties also received funds through a separate nonprofit and used that money for expenses such as adding another ballot drop box in Yuma County to reduce the distance residents in the southern part of the county had to drive.  

But, in large part because Zuckerberg gave money, legislative Republicans saw the grants as nefarious.  

“Simply put, elections are a public necessity,” sponsor Rep. Jake Hoffman told the House Republican caucus. “It is imperative that we avoid all outside and undue influence in the process, and having the ability for billionaires who live in California and New York to come in and fund our county recorders’ offices to do things we may or may not approve of is simply bad policy.”  

Hoffman, who was banned by both Facebook and Twitter after running a troll farm, also served as inspiration for part of the third bill the Democratic organizers plan to challenge. Last-minute amendments to one budget bill created provisions for ballots printed on security paper, established a task force to investigate social media sites that ban or suspend political accounts, let the Legislature appoint someone to review voter rolls and gave the attorney general supreme power over election litigation through the end of Brnovich’s and Hobbs’ terms. 

Kramer has not yet filed the third referendum, but said he plans to do so soon.  

Ducey signs bill to prohibit changes to election deadlines

A school crossing guard stops cars for voters entering a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A school crossing guard stops cars for voters entering a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Gov. Doug Ducey on May 24 signed into law a measure that prevents government officials from changing election deadlines established by statutes.  

HB2794, sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, was created to address changes in voter registration deadlines that occurred during the November 2020 general election.  

“This is something that we saw in an unprecedented election,” Hoffman said. “We saw all across the country, including here in Arizona, the attempt to change statutorily prescribed deadlines. This is a bill that says that in Arizona, the legislature as granted by the Constitution of the United States, has the authority for the management and administration of elections; that those deadlines should not be changed, and that if they are there is a penalty for doing so.” 

Hoffman’s bill, which passed both the House and Senate by narrow margins of two and three votes respectively, received unanimous support from Republicans but was largely shunned by Democrats, who claimed that it violates separation of powers and gratuitously punishes election officials. Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, was the only member of her party who did not vote against the bill, instead opting to refrain from voting altogether. 

A U.S. District Court judge in 2020 extended Arizona’s statutory deadline to register to vote by 2½ weeks. The judge accepted arguments by Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change that the Covid pandemic and restrictions on travel, businesses and public gatherings imposed in March 2020 by Ducey made it difficult to sign up voters.  

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voided the ruling but allowed those who registered after the deadline to still vote. Republicans registered more voters than Democrats during the short extension. 

“We’re adding a criminal component because we disagree with what the court did last year,” Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said. “We’re seeing a trend to now throw our election officials in jail when they do something we disagree with. It’s very concerning.” 

 While Democrats in the state legislature made their disdain for the bill very clear, they were not alone. Alex Gulotta, director of the Arizona chapter of All Voting Is Local, said the bill would create more problems than it would solve and that it could limit the ability of judges to resolve election cases.  

“If that’s what we think this does, I think the bill may have constitutional problems,” Gulotta said. “If you bring your nominating petition to the recorder’s office five minutes before the deadline and they don’t want to take it, they refuse to take it because of your party, this [bill] says ‘a deadline’s a deadline, you don’t have a remedy.’ It’s bad policy.” 

Gulotta also raised questions about the harsh penalty that comes with violating the law. Anyone who does so risks a class 6 felony conviction, which carries a maximum sentence of 5.75 years in prison. 

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “It puts [election officials] in a position where to follow the court order, they have to put themselves at risk of a felony. That seems to be how it’s designed.” 

The Republican legislators who sponsored the bill disagreed with Gulotta’s assertion that it undermined the role of the courts in determining how elections are held, arguing instead that the bill prevents individual election officials from influencing how the elections are run.  

“The courts make a ruling on law,” House Government and Elections Committee chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said. “That’s how the courts have a say. When a single elections official cuts a deal [with a judge], that’s a lot different than a court saying ‘as a matter of law, you are wrong. You must do this.’” 

Hoffman reiterated chairman Kavanagh’s arguments, stating that the courts and Legislature each play a part in determining the law, and that the bill simply clarifies the courts’ responsibility. 

“[The bill] is simply further defining and providing clarity in the law,” he said. “The settlements that are reached in those courts or in those negotiations must comply with [this bill]. The legislature sets these deadlines for an intentional reason, and they should not be changed on a whim.”  


Ducey signs controversial bills

Gov. Doug Ducey explains Thursday how any decision he makes on signing bills to impose new voting restrictions will be based on what he considers "good policy" and not based on opposition from the business leaders -- or the sports community. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey signed two controversial bills late Friday — one that exempts businesses from following mask mandates and another that bans private funds for election administration. 

The first bill is HB2770 from freshman Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, who argued in favor of the legislation on the House floor that masks were unnecessary because they weren’t needed for viruses in the past like the HIV/AIDS crisis. That virus, however, did not spread through respiratory droplets like Covid, but through bodily fluids, typically sexually transmitted. 

It passed the Senate April 1 also along party lines. The bill does not become law until the state’s general effective date at the end of August. 

Ducey wrote a note to the bill along with his signature saying that he will work with Chaplik on another bill this year to fix what he called “an error in drafting.”  

“The state needs to be able to enforce long-standing workplace safety and infection control standards, unrelated to COVID-19,” he wrote, while also seizing every opportunity to take a shot at Democratic mayors Kate Gallego, of Phoenix, and Regina Romero, of Tucson.  

“Our largest cities opted not to enforce their mandates, leaving the responsibility up to local businesses,” he said, after reminding everyone that Arizona never had a statewide mandate, but local mandates existed across about 90% of the state.   

Most of the bill’s language was moot by the time it reached the governor’s desk due to the fact he had already lifted the executive order allowing local governments to enact their own mask ordinances, but Chaplik’s bill makes the rule permanent.  

Mask wearing at the Capitol, let alone in general, has been a heated topic as most Republican lawmakers feel it is a breach of their individual freedoms while most Democrats say it’s common decency and a minor inconvenience to wear a mask to protect others — especially the vulnerable and elderly.  

Still Republican lawmakers refused to wear masks on the House floor (or wore them improperly exposing their noses), and the senators who refused could participate via Zoom in their offices. Once the chambers revoked their mask requirements nearly every Republican in both chambers emphatically removed their own masks.  

There has also been some confusion over Ducey lifting the mask order, despite Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tempe, Tucson and Pima County opting to keep theirs in place.  

At a Trader Joe’s in Central Phoenix, a maskless man claimed Ducey’s order allowed him to walk freely throughout the store without a face covering. He was captured arguing with employees and patrons saying he was allowed to cough on anybody because “it’s a free country.”  

Ducey was asked about the incident on KTAR after the video had already circulated for more than a day and said people should listen to businesses. 

“When private businesses are asking people to wear a mask, let’s respect the private business and wear a mask. They’re a good idea. Arizonans have been among the leading states in the nation in mask participation and compliance. Let’s keep that up as we move through this,” he said. 

Ducey also signed HB2569, a controversial election bill from Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, and is viewed as an anti-Mark Zuckerberg bill.  

But the bill would also block counties from applying for private grants to make up for shortfalls in what they say they need to properly run elections.  

Ducey also wrote a note while signing this bill. 

“I was proud to partner with you on the AZ Vote Safe Program allocating more than $9 million in discretionary federal relief dollars to state and county agencies in support of the 2020 primary and general election to prioritize the safety of poll workers and voters,” he wrote to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. “When private monies were offered, our election officials used these dollars with integrity for which they’ve become known. This may not have been the first time election officials relied upon private monies to conduct elections, but it should be the last.” 

Hobbs opposed the bill.  

“Lies, conspiracy theories, and disinformation pose a real threat to our democracy,” she tweeted after the bill passed the Senate 16-14. “Until the legislature is willing to commit to funding robust public education efforts around our elections, open and transparent partnerships like this will continue to be vital.” 

During debate in the Senate, GOP lawmakers said that the more than $6 million in grants that nine counties got from Center for Tech and Civic Life in 2020 was really just a thinly disguised effort by Zuckerberg to turn out more Democrats. The center gave out about $400 million to about 2,500 jurisdictions nationally, with reports by the organization showing the lion’s share came from Facebook founder Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. 

While the bill went through the tense House Government and Elections Committee, Democrats Athena Salman and Kelli Butler said the bill would diminish efforts to combat the spreading of misinformation.  

They said that it benefits Hoffman, the bill’s sponsor, who spread misinformation through his “troll farm” Rally Forge that resulted in his permanent suspension from Facebook and Twitter.  

Rep. John Kavanagh, the chairman of House Government and Elections Committee, while arguing in favor of the bill said, “One person’s disinformation is another person’s truth.” 

It was characterized as a “troll farm” because teenagers would write posts on social media on behalf of Turning Point Action, a conservative group working to elect Republicans. 

Ducey also wrote, “If third party groups want to engage in advocacy and encourage people to vote that’s great, but the mechanics of all elections cannot be in question and therefore, all third-party money must be excluded going forward to avoid any possible allegations of wrongdoing.” 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.  

Ducey signs iffy voter ID requirement

In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, voters deliver their ballot to a polling station in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation to tighten up voter registration requirements in a way that may not be legal. 

HB2492 requires anyone who wants to vote for president to first submit proof of citizenship. The measure, crafted by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is aimed at individuals who have registered to vote using a form prepared by the federal Election Assistance Commission. 

That form requires only that people avow they are citizens. But they are permitted to vote only in federal elections, meaning the presidential and congressional races. 

Hoffman contends the state can impose the new requirement despite a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down efforts by the state to impose similar requirements. 

“Election integrity means counting every lawful vote and prohibiting any attempt to illegally cast a vote,” the governor said in a letter to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in sending the measure to her. “HB2492 is a balanced approach that honors Arizona’s history of making voting accessible without sacrificing security in our elections.” 

Ducey said the measure is aimed at people who have used the federal form and not provided evidence of citizenship. He said more than 11,600 people who used that registration voted in the 2020 election. 

The governor brushed aside concerns that the new requirement could also affect nearly 200,000 Arizonans who may now have to come up with new proof of citizenship. These are people who have not updated their Arizona driver’s licenses since 1996, the year when proof of citizenship became a requirement to get a license. 

Ducey insisted that the new law does not disturb the “safe harbor” granted to individuals who had those pre-1996 licenses when voters first imposed a citizenship requirement to register to vote in 2004. 


Ducey to decide on first 2022 election bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Governor’s budget ‘tantrum’ miffs lawmakers

budget Arizona

In starting Memorial Day weekend by vetoing every bill on his desk, Gov. Doug Ducey aimed to prod reluctant lawmakers to end their vacation and return to pass his tax cut and budget. 

Instead, as the clock ticks down to the end of the fiscal year and the ultimate deadline to pass a budget, lawmakers remain on recess, no closer to passing a budget than they were last week. But now, many of them are furious at the governor as well. 

“I would say it’s fair to say that people are frustrated, and I’m not sure that making them frustrated is going to be more helpful to getting the budget done,” said House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria. “By definition, a budget requires the cooperation of 31.” 

Both the House and Senate are adjourned until June 10 after failing last week to reach a compromise that would guarantee every Republican would vote for the $12.8 billion spending plan crafted by Ducey and legislative leaders. Democrats universally oppose the budget because of a switch to a single income tax rate that would cost $3 billion over the next three years and $1.9 billion annually after that, and GOP leaders can’t afford to lose a single Republican in the House or Senate. 

In response, Ducey vetoed 22 bills in an attempt to force lawmakers to agree on a budget and announced he won’t sign any more bills until they do. His actions were widely panned by lawmakers from both parties, with some mourning bills they supported that may never become law now and others worrying that the vetoes will prolong the budget impasse. 

Toma said “all options are on the table,” including possibly trying to override some of Ducey’s vetoes or revive vetoed bills in another way, and he isn’t sure if Ducey’s actions will force lawmakers to reach a deal sooner. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

It’s possible the House will reconvene Monday, he said, but that’s made difficult because the House has to coordinate with the Senate and because multiple lawmakers are traveling. While legislators can vote via Zoom, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to take part if they were, for example, on an airplane during a vote. 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, worried the vetoes could lead Republicans to embrace a compromise budget that is even worse from their point of view than the current proposal. 

“These (Republican) members are looking to push even more extreme policies than (are in) the current budget,” Bolding said. “Democrats have always been ready and willing to work, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.” 

Reps. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, and Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, both of whom have called for a leaner budget than the current proposal, singled out Ducey’s vetoes of bills banning certain types of diversity training for government employees and barring mailing ballots to voters who don’t request them.  

During an interview on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Finchem hinted he might support an ongoing effort by some conservatives to recall Ducey, who he called a “petty dictator.”  

“This is like a man-child temper tantrum,” Finchem said. “…He vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the teaching of critical race theory to government employees. That is absolutely outrageous. Then we go on to a budget that’s got so much pork in it you’d think we’re going to a barbecue.” 

Finchem found an ally in former President Trump, who put out a statement making the same points. 

President Trump (AP photo)
President Trump (AP photo)

“Incredible to see that RINO Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona just vetoed a bill that would have outlawed Critical Race Theory training for State employees, and another that would have banned the mailing of ballots to citizens who never requested them,” Trump said. “He did this under the guise of passing a budget. For those of you who think Doug Ducey is good for Arizona, you are wrong.” 

Meanwhile, Democrats were particularly unhappy with Ducey’s veto of SB1526, which would have established new regulations mandating gentler treatment of pregnant women in prison and required the state to provide incarcerated women with ample feminine hygiene products. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona called it “shameful,” while Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, called it an “unjust decision.” 

Bill sponsor Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said the veto shows Ducey is focused on appeasing his base and rich pals, not addressing ongoing failures in the state’s correctional system. And he speculated that Ducey will only have a harder time passing a budget.  

“He’s doing more of a performance than he is governing, and his temper tantrum will only continue to divide his Republican colleagues,” Navarrete said.  

Also among the casualties of Ducey’s veto pen were two bills sponsored by Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, and passed with broad bipartisan support to regulate the new recreational marijuana industry. Friese said he was disappointed by Ducey’s vetoes and hoped the bills could be revived somehow before the end of the session. 

“It’s very important for us to regulate the new adult use industry, and of course we have that higher hurdle to regulate, but I think we achieved that,” Friese said. “The industry would be benefitted by these. The Arizona adult user would be benefitted by these bills. … There are certainly ways to get them back to the governor’s desk. I hope we can accomplish that.” 

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the Senate appropriations chairman assured her one of her outstanding bills would be added to a budget bill. To buy Townsend’s vote on the budget, House and Senate leaders agreed to amend versions of many of her election bills into a single bill that passed the House last week, but Ducey’s announced moratorium puts the fate of her bill and others in question.   

Instead of trying to add language from vetoed bills to budget legislation, lawmakers should get the rules committee to authorize late introductions and run the bills again, said Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge. It’s the cleanest and least confrontational way to revive the bills, he said, and it’s what lawmakers did when Ducey and former Gov. Jan Brewer imposed bill moratoriums in previous years. 

Shope said he’s not offended by the governor’s vetoes and doesn’t think others should be. It’s just a negotiating tool, he said.  

 “Anybody who’s piping mad about it just really needs to take a deep breath and realize that it has happened before,” Shope said. “Maybe it hasn’t happened to them, or one of their bills, but it has happened and that’s the nature of the beast down there.” 


Hobbs, GOP lawmakers clash over new Prop 400 proposal

Gov. Katie Hobbs claims to have a deal backed by a majority of lawmakers from both parties to let Maricopa County voters decide whether to extend a half-cent sales tax for road and transit issues.

And now she wants the Republican-controlled Legislature to ratify it, saying failure to do so amounts to “holding our economy hostage.”

The only thing is, GOP leaders are planning to unveil their own proposal on Monday, one that divides up the $20 billion that the levy would raise in the next 20 years in a way different than what Hobbs wants. And while the details have yet to be revealed, House Speaker Ben Toma of Peoria told Capitol Media Services the governor’s plan, worked out with the Maricopa Association of Governments, is “inefficient.”

Hobbs, gubernatorial, election, Lake, debate, Clean Elections Commission, PBS, debate, Lake, Ask Me Anything, education, Chandler, election, gubernatorial, PBS, debate, interview, Lake, Mike Broomhead, gubernatorial, candidates, Ducey, border, abortion
Katie Hobbs

And Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, who has taken the lead among Senate Republicans in crafting a plan, said it is Hobbs and MAG, made up of local elected officials, who should accede to what the GOP wants.

“It’s unfortunate that Katie Hobbs isn’t willing to join legislative Republicans to ensure this important highway and funding source continues,” he said. “It’s becoming apparent that Hobbs isn’t interested in solving complex problems or negotiating issues in good faith, but rather just wants to play petulant political games.”

Kenn Weise, the mayor of Avondale who chairs MAG, said the group has made major changes to the plan they submitted last year in response to demands from Republican leaders, with a frustrating lack of success. He said Hobbs started taking the lead in negotiations with the Legislature in recent weeks.

“We have compromised on I don’t know how many different levels here, whether it’s 25-year tax down to 20 years, whether it’s fare box monitoring, whether it is lowering the transit number, whether it is removing flexibility” in how the funds can be moved around, Weise said.

“What she offers is the best and final, he said. “There’s nothing else.”

MAG also has jettisoned any effort to use any of the Proposition 400 extension dollars to extend the light rail system beyond what already is built or funded, which was one of the key bugaboos for some Republicans.

The situation threatens to become a game of political chicken.

Hobbs is signaling to GOP leaders that the only measure she will sign is that deal she made with MAG.

“I’m calling on those legislators to put their partisan politics aside and accept this compromise so that we can keep our economy growing,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

Warren Petersen

But Senate President Warren Petersen said the Republicans who control both the House and Senate have little interest in what Hobbs and MAG have to offer. More to the point, he said that deal won’t get a vote.

“We will put up the plan that is best for the citizens, not the best for bureaucrats,” the Gilbert Republican told Capitol Media Services.

That drew a sharp response from House Minority Leader Andres Cano.

“Clearly President Petersen is paying attention to a slim minority of his caucus that apparently wants to hold our regionally approved transportation plan hostage,” said the Tucson Democrat. He called the Republican leadership “tone deaf” to what political and business leaders have worked out with the governor and say they want.

Weise said the governor is right when she says there are plenty of votes in the Legislature to approve the MAG plan.

“I think Republicans are being disingenuous, the few that are holding this bill hostage, when they say they don’t have the votes,” Weise said. “If they put it to the full vote of the Senate and a full vote of the House, the plan would pass overwhelmingly.”

But it’s not that simple: Even if he is correct – which is an assumption – House rules specifically prohibit any measure from getting a vote without the speaker’s OK.

Toma, budget, transportation, light rail, housing
House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria

Toma said he remains willing to negotiate with Hobbs and MAG. But he said it is the governor and the regional planning agency, not the GOP, that is endangering a deal on the levy to finance the road and transit projects for the state’s largest county for the next two decades to spur economic development.

“Their take-it-or-leave it attitude is decidedly unproductive,” he said.

If neither side blinks, that leaves the future of the sales tax, first approved by voters in 1985 and extended for 20 years twice before, in limbo.

By law, Maricopa County needs legislative permission even to ask voters to extend the levy beyond its 2025 expiration date. No legislative approval means no vote and the tax goes away.

That creates a risk not only to Maricopa County projects but the chance that the state’s largest county, devoid of local tax revenues, would seek a bigger piece of the state and federal dollars that are now relied on heavily by other counties.

The heart of the fight comes down to how to divide up the cash.

What Hobbs insists is the done deal – the plan she worked out with MAG – devotes 40% of the $20 billion that would be raised over the next two decades to freeway construction. Another 22% would be earmarked for regional and arterial roads, with 38% for transit.

Not acceptable, said Toma.

“The governor has chosen to be an uncompromising conduit for an inefficient MAG proposal that does not have sufficient votes to succeed in the House,” he said.

What Republicans consider “efficient” is set to be unveiled Monday.

As recently as a week ago, Petersen was proposing just 33.5% for transit projects. That left 47.5% for freeways and 19% for local roads.

He said that is being changed but provided no details.

What has been a key sticking point is how much of the tax revenues raised from sales in Maricopa County should be devoted not just to buses but also operation of the light rail.

Even with no money to build more miles of track, GOP leaders are not willing to give their blessing to a levy that many believe taxes residents too much for the overall mass transit system, a system that doesn’t come close to paying its own way and that most people do not use.

It’s starts, said Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, with the fact that fares from riders cover just 7.5% of operating costs.

“When I heard that number, I was shocked,” said Farnsworth who chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and Technology. “We just need to get better.”

And there’s something else.

Many Republicans want language that precludes MAG from advancing what are called “road diets.”

These are efforts to encourage people to drive less by installing light rail, lanes reserved for buses and even putting in bicycle lanes. But Farnsworth said that’s not what he would consider merely incentivizing alternatives to cars.

“You make it miserable to drive by taking lanes out,” he said.

“A perfect example of that is downtown Mesa,” Farnsworth said, where the streets were planned to be extra wide, enough to turn a horse- or mule-drawn wagon around. Now, he said, light rail has it down to one lane in either direction.

“And I avoid Main Street like the plague,” he said.

But even if there are no new light rail lines, the issue is not moot.

Scottsdale, for example, is weighing a plan to have “bus rapid transit” on Scottsdale Road from Thunderbird Road all the way to Tempe and Chandler. In essence, it’s like light rail but without the rails: Remove a travel lane and dedicate it just the buses.

Weise said MAG agreed to concessions, spelling out that if cities want to put in bus or bike lanes, they can’t apply to his organization for the funding.

And he said the agreement that MAG and Hobbs is advancing prevents his agency from shifting dollars among the pots of money set aside for freeways, major roads and transit services.

“The concern that the Senate has was they didn’t want to lose road miles, so they didn’t want funds being transferred from freeways to transit.

But he said it leaves in place about $2 billion earmarked for regional programs that could be used for various yet-to-be-defined projects. Weise said, though, there is language that sets some guardrails on how those dollars could be spent.

“There’s nothing untoward, there’s nothing sneaky,” he said, “It’s just a transportation and economic development plan.”





House GOP bill requires lessons on evils of communism

Rep. Quang Nguyen (Capitol Media Services 2021 file photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Quang Nguyen (Capitol Media Services 2021 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Republican lawmakers voted Friday to require that students be exposed to the stories of people who have fled communism as part of a curriculum to prepare them to be “civically responsible and knowledgeable adults.”

The language, inserted by Rep. Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley, into a 232-page bill of changes in laws governing K-12 education, says there needs to be comparative discussion of political ideologies like communism and totalitarianism and how they “conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.” There also is a mandate on the state Department of Education to come up with new civic education standards  including the expectation that citizens will be responsible for preserving and defending “the blessings of liberty.”

But what it also requires the agency to create a list of oral histories “that provide portraits in patriotism based on first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said it’s clear to him what that means.

“The reality is one of the greatest threats facing the globe today is communism and totalitarianism,” he said.

Jake Hoffman
Jake Hoffman

“We have governments like the Communist Chinese government that their stated goal is to be the world’s sole and only superpower, and that they will achieve that goal through any means possible.”

The legislation approved on a 31-25 party-line vote contains a lot more.

For example, there’s a prohibition against teaching that someone’s race, ethnic group or sex determines their moral character or makes them responsible for actions committed by the same group. Violations could lead to a $5,000 fine for the school district and the instructor losing a teaching certificate.

And school boards will not be able to mandate the use of masks by students or staff on school campuses.

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle also used this measure to debate whether the state is doing enough to fund K-12 education, even though that is in a separate budget measure.

But the discussion became most heated over the question of this new mandated civics teaching and what has to be the emphasis of teaching patriotism and that our form of government is better than any other.

“The threat of communism, and honestly, even here within our own borders, the threat of Marxism is on our front porch,” Hoffman said. And he said there are people “within school systems” who are socialists.

His poster child for that is Noah Karvelis who was involved in the successful bid by Kathy Hoffman in 2018 to be state schools chief and the Proposition 208 campaign, calling him “an avowed socialist.”

Karvelis, who no longer lives in Arizona, spoke at the Socialism Conference 2018 in Chicago about the historic teacher strike in Arizona and the Invest in Ed act. But Karvelis said at the time he was there to network with other teacher organizations.

“To teach our children about the evils of communism and totalitarianism is right,” Hoffman said. “It is our duty and our responsibility to do that.”

And that, he said, means having students hear “real testimony from people who escaped those types of governments and now live here and enjoy the blessings of this country.”

But Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said the legislation misses the point.

“You know what’s a bigger threat?” he asked. “White nationalism.”

Hernandez also placed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol into the same category.

“So, yes, let’s talk about communism,” he said. “But let’s talk about making sure we are not letting people get away with the kinds of things that happened on Jan. 6 and teaching our kids it’s OK to try to overthrow a democratically elected government.”

That provoked a response from Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, who was born in Vietnam in 1962 and emigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War.

“White nationalism didn’t drown 250,000 Vietnamese in the South China Sea,” he told colleagues. “The communists did.”

Ditto, he said, of the execution of 86,000 Vietnamese at the fall of Saigon. And Nguyen said it was communism that caused him to be in the United States.

“So don’t take it lightly, don’t mock me, don’t mock what I go through in life,” he said, saying he lost most of his family members due to communism. “If we don’t stand up to teach communism to our children, we’ll lose this country.”

The language added by Burges also requires instruction on “the civic-minded expectations of an upright and desirable citizenry.”

While the bill passed on a 31-25 party line vote, the future of the provisions on the civics teaching may not remain.

That language is not in a parallel bill that Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, already has pushed through the Senate. And Boyer told Capitol Media Services he does not support the provision.

“We shouldn’t be dictating curriculum from on high, even if it’s well-intentioned,” he said. The differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee.

There’s another key difference.

The Senate version contains language that would allow far more parents to use vouchers of public money to send their children to private and parochial schools. But efforts to add that to the House version faltered after Republican Reps. Michelle Udall of Mesa and Joel John of Arlington voted with Democrats to keep that out of the legislation.

That, too, would need to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.



Lawmaker pushes bill to teach evils of communism

A first-term Arizona lawmaker wants to require that students have to study what he says is the “brutality” of communism before they can graduate.

Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, said that many Americans do not understand — and seem not to fear — the idea. 

“We always think that, ‘Well, the United States maybe can do communism better than most people,’ ” he told Capitol Media Services. That, Nguyen contends, is not true. 

Quang Nguyen

“I lived it,” he said. 

“I was shot at as a child,” Nguyen continued. “When you think about it, who would ever shoot a child on?” 

And the result is that communists — and Communists — are not condemned. 

Consider, he said, that the Communist Party USA even felt comfortable putting out a statement after Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty in the Wisconsin shootings, calling the verdict “racist and unjust.” 

“When you see that kind of language reaching into our society, it makes me more motivated to introduce legislation to make sure that we hear the truth of communism playing around quite a bit,” Nguyen said. 

But the measure is likely to face opposition from Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. 

It’s not a question of his feelings about communism or, for that matter, any economic or political system. What it is, Boyer said, is whether state lawmakers should be dabbling in curriculum. 

“We have an entity that is responsible for that, which is the state Board of Education,” he said. In fact, Boyer said the board adopted new social study standards just four years ago. 

“They like for them to be in place for 10 years or so because, as you can imagine, it’s a very lengthy process” to amend them, said Boyer who chairs the Senate Education Committee. 

There is statutory precedent of sorts for warning Arizonans about communism, with statutes on the books condemning the Communist Party of the US and barring the party from state recognition 

(See related story) 

What Nguyen proposes is not as far reaching. 

He wants to mandate that schools have a “comparative discussion of political ideologies … that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy that are essential to the founding principles of the United States.” 

Strictly speaking, nothing in HB2008 would require that students be taught — or told — that communism or totalitarianism is inherently evil. But Nguyen said that’s what he believes. And the intent of his measure is clear. 

It first would require the state board of education to work with some outside groups to help “prepare students to be civically responsible adults.” And that specifically includes the expectations that an “upright and desirable citizenry” that recognizes and accepts responsibility “for preserving and defending the blessings of liberty.” 

And it requires the creation of a list of oral history resources of first-person accounts “of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies.” 

Nguyen said it’s one thing to have academic discussions of communism or Marxism as an economic concept. 

“We can talk about everyone being equal, there’s no social class whatsoever,” he said. But he said that ignores “the brutality of 100 million people being killed over 100 years.” 

“I’d like to share that,” Nguyen said. “I’d like to share the truth of what communism is all about.” 

He does not dispute that there are other repressive non-communist regimes throughout the world, some with prior and even bloody histories. But Nguyen said that’s not his focus. 

“I did it because I experienced it,” he said. And Nguyen said he wants to dispel any ideas that there is an acceptable or humane form of communism despite what appears to be a relatively stable situation in some places. 

“If you just open your mouth today in Cuba and speak against the government, you just may be disappearing at midnight,” Nguyen said. 

“One of the reasons why you don’t see people killed any more is because people don’t dare speak against the government,” Nguyen said. 

Nguyen said he’s the perfect person to push such a plan. 

“If you look at the legislature, I’m the only guy that actually survived a brutal Vietnam war,” he said, even being shot at while still a child. 

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have attempted to insert warnings about communism into the public school curriculum. House Republicans attached similar language to a K-12 budget bill earlier this year. 

“The threat of communism, and honestly, even here within our own borders, the threat of Marxism is on our front porch,” said Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, saying there are people “within school systems” who are socialists. 

“To teach our children about the evils of communism and totalitarianism is right,” he said. “It is our duty and our responsibility to do that.” 

That provoked a reaction from some House Democrats. 

“You know what’s a bigger threat?” asked Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. “White nationalism.” 

Hernandez also placed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol into the same category. 

“So, yes, let’s talk about communism,” he said. “But let’s talk about making sure we are not letting people get away with the kinds of things that happened on Jan. 6 and teaching our kids it’s OK to try to overthrow a democratically elected government.” 

Nguyen refused to let that pass. 

“White nationalism didn’t drown 250,000 Vietnamese in the South China Sea,” he told colleagues at the time. “The communists did.” 

Ditto, he said, of the execution of 86,000 Vietnamese at the fall of Saigon. And Nguyen said it was communism that caused him to be in the United States. 

“So don’t take it lightly, don’t mock me, don’t mock what I go through in life,” he said, saying he lost most of his family members due to communism. “If we don’t stand up to teach communism to our children, we’ll lose this country.” 



Lawmakers assert power grab over state offices

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

For every headache another branch of government causes a legislator, there’s a simple solution – introduce a bill.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs got around Republican roadblocks and received private funding for election publicity efforts. There’s a bill to stop that.

The Arizona Corporation Commission passed new clean energy standards. There’s a (now-dead) bill to stop that.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. Lawmakers have introduced measures this year to assert control over the Democrat-run office.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. Lawmakers have introduced measures this year to assert control over the Democrat-run office.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Gov. Doug Ducey enacted a year-long state of emergency and significant restrictions on businesses because of Covid. There’s a whole buffet of bills to choose from to overturn the current emergency and restrict future ones.

A host of bills that seek to assert the Legislature’s power over all other governmental entities isn’t new — just ask cities and counties that see a new round of pre-emption legislation every year. But this year, after lawmakers spent months spinning their wheels out of session during the pandemic, a push to make the Legislature the most powerful branch of government is at an all-time high.

“I feel like we’ve been non-feasant all year long,” said Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, one of several lawmakers who introduced bills to limit the governor’s emergency powers. “We’re allowing the executive to rule like a monarch.” 

Lawmakers who introduced these bills say the Legislature is the best place to set all policy – that representatives and senators are uniquely situated to make decisions in the best interests of Arizonans.

But critics, including some lawmakers, contend the Legislature lacks the expertise to handle all the issues they’re trying to take control of, and other government agencies exist for a reason.

“We have 1,000 things we’re looking at at the same time,” said Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson. “We don’t have the sustained attention span.”

State of Emergency

A group of lawmakers, including Townsend and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has pushed for the end of Ducey’s March 11, 2020, state of emergency since shortly after the governor declared it. 

Michelle Ugenti
Michelle Ugenti

Ugenti-Rita’s resolution to immediately end the current state of emergency was among the first pieces of legislation introduced this year, but it has not yet received a vote because at least one of her Republican colleagues is opposed. So are all Democrats, meaning a single Republican defection would kill the measure.

Without support for her resolution, Ugenti-Rita has returned to giving impassioned speeches and posting lengthy screeds on social media. In a March 11 speech on the Senate floor, she implored her colleagues to reflect on the year of restrictions. 

“We should take time to really quantify what’s happened, not only to our personal freedoms but the financial impact,” she said. “I don’t think we could ever experience the kind of restrictive proposals that have been put into place in the name of public safety.”

A Ducey spokesman responded to questions by sending a brief audio clip of the governor in a pre-session Q&A with the Arizona Capitol Times

“If other people want to criticize or make conversation about what they would have done better or different, that’s up to them,” Ducey said. “…It is possible that the authorities and latitude around the emergency order were not anticipated for something like a pandemic that could last 10-plus months, and if there’s reform that’s needed or checks around that, that’s something I’m open minded to.”

Sen. T.J. Shope, the Republican blocking Ugenti-Rita’s resolution from moving forward, said he still supports a Ugenti-Rita bill that would terminate future states of emergency after 90 days without legislative consent. That’s a better vehicle for starting a conversation with the governor, he said. 

A Democratic secretary of state

After Hobbs, a Democrat, took office in 2019, Republican lawmakers who hadn’t paid much attention to the Secretary of State’s Office when Republicans Michele Reagan and Ken Bennett held the seat were newly invested in watching the office. 

Over the summer, Republican lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee abruptly voted to repurpose $500,000 in federal funding Hobbs and counties planned to use for voter outreach, sending the funding to counties directly. Attorney General Mark Brnovich lobbied for the change.

Ducey stepped in to offer funding from the bucket of federal money he had control over thanks to the first Covid relief package, but then he put additional restrictions on Hobbs’ use of the funds under pressure from fellow Republicans. Hobbs and election officials then received a last-minute $4.8 million grant from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to spend the funds on a statewide voter outreach campaign. 

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Freshman Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, followed up by introducing a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections. The bill passed the House on party lines and could have a vote in the Senate as early as next week. 

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, took aim at another division of the Secretary of State’s Office – the Arizona Capitol Museum, which has eight permanent employees, three or four seasonal ones and works closely with the state Library, Archives and Public Records, both of which are also under Hobbs’ control. 

A bill Gowan introduced, which died on the Senate floor, would have given the Legislative Council control of the museum. Hobbs said she could think of two possible reasons.

First, the Legislative Council effectively serves as a landlord for the old Capitol, where the museum is housed. When Hobbs hung two LGBTIQ pride flags over the balcony in summer 2019, the Legislative Council executive director responded to complaints from at least one Republican lawmaker and took them down – and changed the lock on the door to the balcony. 

Hobbs also wondered whether Gowan, who tried unsuccessfully as speaker of the House to build a gym in the basement, is looking for a new space to remodel. 

“I think that Gowan is partly looking to get a playground and wants to take control of the space in the museum to make some fancy offices for legislators and just saw this as a chance to get control of that space,” she said. 

Gowan also sponsored a bill to give the Joint Legislative Audit Committee authority to approve the next election procedures manual, now drafted by Hobbs’ office and approved by the governor and attorney general. His bill died, but a second one from Ugenti-Rita to have the Legislative Council approve the manual is moving forward.  

Hobbs, who was a state senator for six years before she ran for secretary of state, said lawmakers don’t know as much as they might think they do about elections. 

“What I knew about elections could fit in a small document, and now I have binders,” Hobbs said. 

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

The Boyer Factor

In the Senate, several of the bills that would limit other government entities have died because of one Republican – Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale. Boyer said he looked at each bill issue by issue.

He thinks the museum, library and archives should belong to the Secretary of State’s Office, so he voted against Gowan’s bill.

He said he thinks Arizona has reliable, if not necessarily cheap, energy, and he doesn’t want to risk altering that, so he told Sen. Sine Kerr he wouldn’t vote for her measure to give the Legislature the sole authority to set energy policy.

And when other Republican lawmakers threatened to send Maricopa County supervisors to jail for not handing over election materials the supervisors said they legally couldn’t, Boyer said he put himself in their shoes and decided to vote against the contempt measure. 

Boyer, who was a former House Republican spokesman policy adviser before he ran for office, said lawmakers and their small staff don’t have the time or knowledge to fully research all the issues they vote on. That struck him as particularly relevant on the energy policy bill – the Arizona Corporation Commission has roughly 200 employees devoted solely to energy policy. The Legislature has two. 

“Sometimes we don’t always spend as much time as we need to,” Boyer said. 

Lawmakers move to limit emergency powers of governor

Gov. Doug Ducey explains Thursday how any decision he makes on signing bills to impose new voting restrictions will be based on what he considers "good policy" and not based on opposition from the business leaders -- or the sports community. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

With some verbal slaps at how Doug Ducey has handled the current emergency, Republican lawmakers voted Friday to ask Arizona voters to give them the right to quash future declarations.

The 31-25 party-line vote in the House comes even as Ducey’s order, issued in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, still remains in place. That, according to Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, is unacceptable.

Nothing in SCR 1003 can change that.

But Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said that, if ratified by voters, the measure will limit the chances that any future governor can follow suit.

“If this last COVID emergency taught us nothing else, it’s that the people have to be protected from the government, not protected from themselves,” he said. “They have to be protected from the power of force that is the government.”

This isn’t the only effort to restrain gubernatorial powers.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, got language inserted into one of the budget bills that limits future emergency declarations to 120 days unless the legislature agrees to one or more 30-day extensions.

But Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said this measure, which would become part of the Arizona Constitution, ensures that lawmakers have pretty much immediate power to overrule a gubernatorial decision.

It requires them to be called to the Capitol within 10 days if they are not already in session. Potentially more significant, it spells out that any special session does not end until the state of emergency is terminated, whether by the governor or the legislature.

That’s important because the measure, if approved by voters, says lawmakers can do more than simply vacate the emergency declaration.

They also can leave the declaration in place but can terminate, modify or continue any individual executive order. It even would permit the legislature to issue its own executive orders which would have the same force and effect as if handed down by the governor.

Finchem said it restores the balance of power to where it should be: with the folks closest to the people.

“Where there is a tyranny, whether it’s petty or massive, we are the ones that our constituents turn to,” he said.

“I can guarantee you that if you were to pick up the phone and try and call Gov. Ducey you would not reach him,” Finchem told his colleagues. “But if your constituents call you, I’m pretty sure you’ll pick up the phone and speak with them.”

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said she understands the frustration — and why lawmakers are unhappy with the governor.

“People on both side of the aisle didn’t necessarily like what was going on and how Gov. Ducey was conducting the emergency declaration and how all of his emergency orders came out,” she said. And Powers Hannley said both Democrats and Republicans wanted a special session last year when Ducey issued various directives.

In many cases, the reasons were different, with Democrats saying he was not doing enough to protect public health while many Republicans accused him of overreach with stay-at-home orders and business closures.

But Powers Hannley said what’s in SCR 1003 amounts to having the legislature micromanage any emergency.

“I think this is another example of the legislature trying to run different parts of the government,” she said. “We don’t get to run everything.”

Finchem, however, said what’s happened during the past 15 months proves to him there needs to be an option for legislative intervention.

“It is our job to represent the people and stand in the way of an abusive behavior,” he said. “And that’s what this has been.”

And Finchem said the fact the emergency remains in place “is the best reason in the world to pass this bill, this day.”

Hoffman agreed.

“It is time for this emergency order to end. Period. Stop all. End of story. Turn it off,” he said.

The measure does give a governor whose orders are overridden a right of appeal of sorts.

If he or she challenges the action of lawmakers, they have to reaffirm their action — and have to do it with the backing of at least 60% of the House and Senate. Failure to get that margin allows the gubernatorial powers to continue.

But there’s also a provision to keep the governor from playing games.

It spells out that if the legislature terminates the state of emergency, the governor can’t turn around and simply declare another one “arising out of the same conditions for which the terminated state of emergency was proclaimed.”

State senators already have approved the measure, albeit with slightly different wording. They now need to ratify the changes made in the House.





New Republican senator bashes Freedom Caucus

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Sen. Jake Hoffman. 

Returning lawmaker Shawnna Bolick disavowed the Freedom Caucus and its Senate leader and claimed to have moved on from the 2022 and 2020 elections in an interview with Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates. 

Bolick was selected to replace outgoing Sen. Steve Kaiser on Tuesday, and in recordings obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times through a records request, she assured Gates that she is not in line with Freedom Caucus Chair Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek. Gates interviewed her and two other candidates as part of the process to choose Kaiser’s replacement.  

“In 2021, I had many confrontations with Hoffman, so I’m not part of their wing. I might agree with the principles of what their group is supposed to be, but I just don’t support their tactics. I feel like they are gonna’ be the reason why we lose both the House and the Senate,” Bolick said. 

Hoffman suggested Bolick may have trouble passing legislation next year.

Attacking nearly a third of the legislative majority, unprovoked, is neither smart nor effective, and risks putting that member’s entire legislative portfolio on unstable footing,” Hoffman said Friday. “The reality is that attempting to tear your colleagues down doesn’t make you taller. The Arizona Freedom Caucus will continue, undeterred, to fight for opportunity, prosperity, and liberty for all Arizonans.”

Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek

Bolick served from 2019 to 2022 in the House of Representatives. She was known for sponsoring a bill that would have allowed the state Legislature to overturn the results of presidential elections. 

In her interview with Gates, Bolick said that as someone who knows and understands the process she won’t get “rolled” by other members.  

She also went into some of the details of her past interactions with Hoffman and the Freedom Caucus. 

Bolick confirmed that she would have voted for the budget the Legislature passed in May. “I voted for last year’s too, and that’s whenever Hoffman and all of them are like, ‘you’re a RINO,’” Bolick said. “I said, ‘border security. You guys are voting against border security.’ And I said, ‘if we had passed the first budget, we would have been out a month early, but you guys basically bloated it all up.’”   

She blamed Hoffman for trying to kill one of her bills appropriating money to fund use of an app people can use to report bullying, but she said that she got it through when he wasn’t there one day.  

She also criticized a bill Hoffman tried to pass that would have broken Maricopa County into smaller counties. 

“They came to me in – this is a Turning Point idea – they came to me and said, ‘we have this idea about breaking up Maricopa County.’ I said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘So, how many more prisons are we going to have?’ And I said, ‘That’s big government.’ Just Tyler Bowyer, obviously Jake Hoffman is on his payroll.,” Bolick said. Bowyer is chief operating officer of Turning Point Action.  

“I think it got killed in government (committee) and poor (former Rep. John) Kavanagh had to deal with Hoffman,” she said. 

Bill Gates

She speculated that Hoffman wanted to break up the county because he was “looking for a new job” as mayor in his town, which is Queen Creek.  

Bolick didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

She also responded to questions from Gates about her thoughts on election security.  

Bolick said that she wants to move on from the 2020 and 2022 elections but still wants to work on improving future elections.  

Bolick sat on a panel with Republican lawmakers who hosted speakers from True the Vote, a conservative group based in Texas that believes the 2020 election was stolen and that there is significant election fraud in Arizona. Bolick has also said that election was “rigged” several times over the last few years. 

In response to Gates’ questions about True the Vote, Bolick said her opinion of the group has changed and is “lesser than what it was before.” 

On the largest issue the legislature might tackle this year, a Maricopa County’s transportation sales tax extension to fund transportation, Bolick said she supports addressing light rail funding in a separate proposal. The tax, referred to as Proposition 400, has stalled in the Legislature over disputes over how much funding should go to light rail.  

Gates also interviewed the other two potential candidates to replace Kaiser, former congressional candidate Josh Barnett and Legislative District 2 Republican Chair Paul Carver.  

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Clint Hickman said that one of the candidates had issues come up in their background check, but he wouldn’t say who. “The issue might or might not be important to that (legislative district’s precinct committeemen) that sent names to us,” Hickman said in a text on Wednesday. 

Carver addressed the fact that he was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and that he was a member of the Three Percenters far-right group. He said the Three Percenters wasn’t what he wanted it to be and that he “never made it past the parking lot of the Capitol” on Jan. 6. 

Barnett wouldn’t commit to not running against Kaiser’s replacement in the district. He has already filed a statement of interest to run. 

 “I’m way more reasonable than what people think,” Barnett said in his interview.  

When Bolick was selected, Barnett criticized the decision. “I’ve seen a person say we should trust the Maricopa BOS to pick who represents LD 2 and no one should primary against the crooked BOS appointed Bolick? Can anyone tell me why this is remotely logical… to me, it’s the exact opposite,” he tweeted. 

Bolick also mentioned Barnett in her interview with Gates. 

“I can’t stand him. He hates me too,” she said. She also pledged to not try and challenge the appointee in the GOP primary if she wasn’t appointed. 

“This district is the key to Republicans remaining in the majority,” Gates said. 

Bolick will be sworn in Friday.  

Passing $12.8B budget means appeasing several Republicans


GOP leaders in the House and Senate introduced a $12.8 billion spending plan Monday afternoon with high hopes of passing it by Wednesday — but finding the votes to pass it will prove difficult. 

The spending plan, as laid out in twin sets of 11 bills Monday, is nearly identical to a deal that Gov. Doug Ducey and legislative leaders reached early last week, with extra money for roads, universities and technical education added to coax recalcitrant Republicans into voting for the plan. With only 16 Republicans in the Senate, 31 in the House and a $3 billion tax cut guaranteeing no support from Democrats, every single Republican must vote for the budget.  

For now, the House and Senate appropriations committees plan to spend most of the day Tuesday hearing the budget bills, which include sweeping policy changes and revived language from controversial bills that failed to pass earlier in the year.  

The Senate temporarily added Majority Leader Rick Gray to the appropriations committee, buying an additional vote on the committee, which has a 6-4 Republican majority, because Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, opposes the spending plan.  

“Last week I was TOLD what the budget was going 2 look like. B/c I was true 2 my principles I told leadership as a fiscal conservative I couldn’t support it w/ this level of excessive spending. What message is Sen. Prez sending by appointing Sen. Gray to Approps to negate my vote?,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted Monday afternoon.  

As Ugenti-Rita shows, the biggest hurdles Republican leaders face in passing a budget and going home for the year are inside their own caucuses.  

Michelle Ugenti
Michelle Ugenti

On Friday, a group of 10 Republicans led by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, demanded massive spending cuts, including nixing millions of dollars for road repair, state parks and pay increases for state employees. Instead, the group demanded $7.5 million annually in new election-related spending, including $2 million for watermarked ballots and $2 million for forensic audits of future elections.  

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he is on the fence on the budget and agrees to an extent with some of Hoffman’s demands – but he also needed to see additional funding for career and technical education, which wasn’t included in the original deal but was added today, to the tune of $5 million annually.  

“I, like some of my other colleagues, have concerns, and right now I’m reserving judgment,” he said. 

House Appropriations Chairwoman Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she can’t see making the kind of spending cuts Hoffman and crew demanded. The current proposal is the project of negotiations between Ducey’s office and House and Senate leadership, and the demands would upend that. 

“That’s going to start us from Day One again, and it’s probably going to cost us a lot more at the end of the day,” she said. “And that’ll probably defeat the purpose (of) what this is trying to accomplish.” 

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who supports the budget now that it contains $50 million to widen Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Phoenix, said Hoffman’s demands threw everyone for a loop. 

Those demands could end up resulting in a budget with more spending and smaller tax cuts if Republican leaders give up on the right flank of their caucus and start negotiating with Democrats instead.  

“It always amazes me when the supposed conservatives say that they’re off something, when the alternative is to try to get Democrats on the budget,” he said.  

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. Hoffman introduced a bill to prohibit the state or any subdivisions from accepting private money for elections after several counties and the Secretary of State received grants from an election nonprofit funded in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to spend on statewide voter outreach. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is sworn in during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

No Democrats plan to vote for the budget because of its massive tax cut package, which includes a transition to a single 2.5% tax rate by FY24 and a maximum tax rate of 4.5%, enabling wealthy Arizonans to avoid 3.5% surcharge for education that voters approved last year. The state now has four tax brackets, ranging from 2.59% for individuals with a taxable income of $26,500 or less and married couples with a taxable income of $53,000 or less to 4.5% for individuals making more than $159,000 and married couples making more than $318,000.  

Under the spending plan, single people with a taxable income above $250,000 and married couples making more than $500,000 would pay 4.5% of their taxable income in taxes, but only 1% would go to the General Fund. The remaining 3.5% would be claimed by the education surcharge, in a plan that Globe Republican Rep. David Cook said was unacceptable.  

We’re taking everyone’s tax revenue to backfill taxes owed by one group, and I’m not sure how that is appropriate when we still have the needs of the state through the capital improvement list,” he said. 

Cook also opposes the current budget’s increase in unemployment benefits, which are less generous than a plan he pushed earlier this year. Ducey, who vehemently opposed raising benefits, agreed to increase the weekly sum to $320 from $240 by July 2022, but only if the state met certain triggers.  

Efforts to court fellow holdout Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, were in full swing, as Senate Republicans added millions in additional funding for Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University and scheduled a surprise hearing for a last-minute strike-everything amendment to codify a definition of anti-Semitism – something Boyer felt so strongly about that he tried for weeks to amend it to a bill about Holocaust instruction over the wishes of Holocaust survivors and most Jewish groups who supported the language but wanted to keep the issues separate.  

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

Additional funding for universities – ASU is set to receive more than $40 million, and UA and NAU roughly $20 million each, more than half of that ongoing, doesn’t quite meet the demands Boyer and the universities had, but it comes closer. But getting Boyer on board with the flat tax plan will take more work, especially after former Gov. Jan Brewer came out strongly against the plan in an op-ed published in the Arizona Republic last week.  

In her essay and in a subsequent interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, Brewer – a Republican who took office at the height of the Great Recession — said she believes legislative Republicans and Ducey are making a version of the same mistakes her predecessor, Gov. Janet Napolitano, made in the mid-2000s that contributed to Arizona having a harder recession than other states. The state was flush with cash during the Napolitano administration and spending reflected it, but by the time Brewer took office in 2009 the economy was in shambles.  

The current crop of lawmakers, most of whom weren’t in office in 2009 and 2010, might not remember how painful it was when the state sold off its own buildings and worried about making payroll, Brewer said, but she does and she fears Ducey’s successor might have a similar experience if lawmakers make permanent tax cuts based on a one-time influx of federal money.  

“I thought it was incumbent upon me to refresh everybody’s mind that, probably in a few more years, whoever is governor is going to be faced with a terrible situation,” Brewer said.  

Boyer said Monday that he thought Brewer nailed it with her op-ed, and he still won’t vote for the budget in its current form. It doesn’t do enough to pay down debt from the recession or have enough funding for universities and community colleges, and the flat tax will hurt revenue for cities and towns, he said.  

“I just think that we need to be thinking more long-term, which I’m not sure that we’re doing,” Boyer said.  

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who previously vowed to vote against the budget if her stalled election legislation wasn’t passed first, said Monday she was a tentative “yes” because the House plans to vote on her election bill tomorrow. However, Townsend said she still wants to review complaints about the budget from conservatives. and she doesn’t think the Legislature is ready to adjourn for the year, budget or no. 

“We do need to get the budget done,” she said. “Whether or not we go home is another decision.” 

Beyond the $12.8 billion in spending and billions in tax cuts, the set of budget bills released Monday contain several controversial policy provisions, including giving Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, sole authority over election litigation and barring Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from retaining outside counsel, removing the Arizona Capitol Museum from Hobbs’ authority and giving the State Board of Education, not Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, the authority to investigate misconduct by school staff.  

One budget bill would also bar universities from requiring faculty or students to receive Covid vaccinations, coming on the heels of an unsuccessful Senate vote to prevent any government entities or businesses from requiring vaccinations. Another blocks cities or towns that reduce their law enforcement budgets from receiving their portions of state shared revenue – something multiple lawmakers couldn’t accomplish through normal legislation this year.  


Report: Arizona teens paid to file social media posts for campaigns

Facebook and Twitter are investigating the accounts of several Arizona teens after reports that pro-Trump groups may have paid the teens to post specific political messages without identifying the organized effort. PHOTO BY JJCLARK/CREATIVE COMMONS
Facebook and Twitter are investigating the accounts of several Arizona teens after reports that pro-Trump groups may have paid the teens to post specific political messages without identifying the organized effort. PHOTO BY JJCLARK/CREATIVE COMMONS

Facebook and Twitter opened investigations this week into several Arizona teenagers’ social media accounts for allegedly operating fraudulent profiles and spreading misinformation in support of the Trump campaign, reportedly for pay.

The campaign was first reported by The Washington Post, which said September 16 that Phoenix-based Turning Point Action recruited teenagers to take part in a mostly secretive social media campaign.

The posts contain similar language but were hard to detect as a coordinated effort because they were made by the young people to accounts under their names or through a fake account, the newspaper reported. The profiles did not disclose an affiliation with Turning Point Action.

One Arizona political consultant said the thought of using young people for an under-the-table social media campaign is “sickening.”

But Jake Hoffman, president and CEO of Rally Forge, said in an emailed statement September 16 that the posts were nothing more than “real kids, operating their real social media profiles and promoting mainstream American values.”

“What these young Arizona activists are doing is honest and sincere political activism in the 21st century and in the age of COVID-19,” said Hoffman, whose firm was linked by the Post to the Turning Point project. He did not respond to questions about his own involvement.

Jake Hoffman
Jake Hoffman

Hoffman, a Republican, is running for the House in Legislative District 12

Neither Turning Point Action nor the affiliated Turning Point USA responded to requests for comment. Turning Point is a conservative youth outreach organization and its founder, Charlie Kirk, was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention that nominated President Donald Trump last month.

Facebook and Twitter did not immediately identify the accounts or the posts. A Twitter spokesperson said only that it has begun investigations into the profiles and will “take action in line with the Twitter Rules if Tweets are found to be in violation.”

Both social media platforms have removed accounts associated with the activity for violating community guidelines, such as creating fake accounts on Facebook. Twitter has specifically taken action against tweets and profiles for “coordinating with or compensating others to engage in artificial engagement or amplification, even if the people involved use only one account.”

Scott Talan, a professor of communications at American University, said Turning Point likely use teenagers partly because they are so active online and partly because they are amenable to suggestion.

“This is why you have educational systems to teach kids, because they do not yet have the ability or maturity to make the best decisions, especially if they’re offered money,” Talan said.

“You’re using young people, paying them, so that means they don’t really believe in your cause, or they may or may not believe in your cause,” he said. “And then you get these ethical questions about spreading misinformation.”

For Jason Rose, a political consultant with Rose + Moser + Allyn, there is no question.

“Can you imagine someone running a fake commercial on television, and how foreign a concept that would be? But somehow if you do it on social media that’s OK,” said Rose, the consultant who said it was sickening.

Jacob Rubashkin, a reporter and analyst for Inside Elections, said the effort demonstrates the fact that the internet is an increasingly important tool in politics.

“Every election cycle, what happens on the internet is more important than in the last one,” he said. “So it’s not particularly surprising to me that a group affiliated with the president, such as Turning Point USA, would try and use the levers of the internet and social media to try and help their campaign.”

Rubashkin also said he is not surprised “that we’re seeing these kinds of concerted efforts from political groups to influence and perhaps even misinform or deceive people online. We’ve seen that happen from foreign actors and now we see it from domestic actors.”

Rose said he does not take issue with minors working with Turning Point, whose target audience is younger voters, but he objects to the misinformation and fake profiles.

“That’s just wrong to do and it doesn’t matter if it’s for the president or mayoral campaign. There are certain things that are out of bounds,” he said.

Officials with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign declined to comment on the story. Steve Cortes, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said he had not read the Post’s report and declined to comment, but added, “I do love Turning Point.”

Scaled-down budget possible to break impasse


The Arizona House ended the week seemingly no closer to passing a budget than it had been before, after a single Republican joined with the Democrats on June 7 to kill the two tax cut bills that are the centerpiece of the GOP leadership’s budget proposal. 

With no deal, and with Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, calling for a smaller tax cut than the $1.9 billion proposal supported by the rest of his caucus, one possibility being considered is passing a “skinny budget” – similar to what lawmakers passed last year as they rushed to finish the session due to Covid – to continue funding the government and avert a partial shutdown on July 1. 

“That’s something I think is a very real possibility,” House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said June 10. 

This would mean passing something that would keep funding the government but would not include new spending or policy changes or the proposal to phase in a flat income tax rate Toma and other Republican leaders want. It could mean passing a basic budget, then coming back later in the year in special session to try to do something more. 

“At this point, I think everything is on the table as a potential option,” Toma said. 

The matter of the budget got more complicated June 10 when Gov. Doug Ducey announced a special session to address wildfires around the state.  

A handful of the House’s more conservative Republicans, led by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, had said their support for the budget would be contingent on deeper spending cuts and funding for election integrity measures. However, all of them voted for the two tax bills that came up June 7. Hoffman proposed an amendment to get rid of the unemployment insurance increase negotiated between House and Senate leaders and the Governor’s Office, but it was voted down. 

Supporters of the tax cut said it would make Arizona more competitive and help businesses that will see a sizable tax increase under the education funding initiative Proposition 208 that voters approved last year. Part of the proposal would immediately impose a 4.5% state income tax cap, cutting taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals who would pay 8% of their income in taxes under current law once Prop. 208 takes effect. Toma said they are “the ones that make the jobs that create the economic conditions that lead to economic improvement for the entire state.” 

Opponents said it would trim revenues cities and towns use for public safety and other basic services and pointed to Kansas’ failed attempt to eliminate its income tax as a cautionary tale. 

“It is the height of arrogance to believe that this time the flat tax is going to work when it has been shown it never has,” said Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion.  

The House did manage to advance the transportation budget bill out of the Committee of a Whole, with an amendment getting rid of a provision that would have raised impound fees and given people less time to reclaim their vehicles, thus leaving the current rules in place. However, the bill has not come up for a final vote in the House, and after the two tax bills failed none of the eight other budget bills were even brought to the floor. 

The House met for less than a half-hour June 10, doing no real business before adjourning until June 14. Toma said he doesn’t expect the House to do much else until there is a budget to vote on. 

“We have a budget that we’ve presented,” Toma said. “We don’t have all the votes yet, as was obvious on Monday. Until we do, there’s probably no reason to put anything up.” 

Toma said the House won’t be working on any other bills in the meantime before a budget deal is reached, pointing to Ducey’s veto of 22 bills in late May in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to force lawmakers to pass a budget more quickly. 

“Anything we do is just going to get, in theory, vetoed again, so what’s the point of that?” Toma said. 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said Democrats’ preference would be to invest in areas such as education, health care and infrastructure, instead of just continuing this year’s budget. 

“First, we would need to see the actual framework of any budget for us to decide whether we would support or not support a budget right now,” he said. “As a state, we have the ability to make investments. If the majority chooses to leave those investments on the table because they don’t want to work with Democrats, I think that would be a mistake for the state.” 

Toma said he hasn’t been talking to the Democrats about the possibility of passing a bipartisan budget. 

“Quite honestly, I’m not concerned with where they are,” Toma said. “I respect their position philosophically on the tax cuts, but there are members of my caucus who are on this budget only because of the tax cuts.” 

Toma said it would be nice to pass a budget with bipartisan support, but given the “ultra-tribalism” in politics today “I just don’t think that’s reasonable to expect.” 

Bolding said Democrats would be willing to talk, but that there’s no way they could support the current tax cut deal on the table. 

“Right now, Republicans it seems are primarily focused on the flat tax, which is a non-starter for Democrats at the Legislature,” Bolding said. “In the event that the Republicans want to talk about a package that doesn’t include the flat tax and doesn’t disproportionately affect Prop. 208, then we’re willing to have a conversation, but as of this point, we haven’t had official budget negotiations.” 

Cook, the Republican holdout in the House, said he supports a compromise that would still cut taxes – albeit by a lesser amount than leadership’s current plan – while paying down the state’s debt and simplifying the current system without switching to a single flat tax rate. He wants to see the state educate House and Senate members on how much the state owes and work on a long-term plan to address it. 

“I think we can do $1.2 billion in tax cuts and have a two-tiered tax system that has a cap on it,” Cook said. “Probably not the numbers they think. That will alleviate some of the issues they have and alleviate some of the issues I have.” 

Toma doesn’t view this as a solution. He said it won’t address his goal of reducing Arizona’s income tax enough to make the state more competitive with its neighbors and won’t keep taxes down on businesses that will be affected by Proposition 208. 

“That’s just anemic,” he said. “It’s a token cut at best … which to me is completely inadequate.” 

Toma also said he opposes proposals to return some money to taxpayers as a one-time rebate instead of permanent tax cuts. Businesses make decisions about where to locate based on the long-term outlook, he said, not one-time credits. 

“We’re not addressing any of those things by doing a one-time offset,” he said. 


Sen. Eddie Farnsworth to retire

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

Arizona Senate President Pro Tempore Eddie Farnsworth, the influential Republican leader who’s held an iron grip over criminal justice legislation for the better part of two decades, will not seek re-election.

Farnsworth announced at a Thursday night meeting of Legislative District 12 Republicans that he plans to retire, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen said. Petersen plans to run for Senate, while Queen Creek Town Council member Jake Hoffman will seek Petersen’s spot in the House.

Petersen, a former state senator who swapped seats with Farnsworth last year when Farnsworth hit term limits in the House, said Farnsworth told him he wouldn’t run for re-election weeks ago.

“I would not have run in a primary against him,” Petersen said. “Farnsworth is one of the best legislators we have ever had.”

Farnsworth was first elected to the House in 2000 and served for eight years, including a stint as majority leader from 2003 to 2004. He tried to switch to the Senate after hitting his term limits in 2008 but lost the GOP primary.

A bid to return to the House in 2010 was successful, and Farnsworth spent another eight years there before switching to the Senate in the last election. During his 17 years in office, he built a reputation as a conservative firebrand with a penchant for killing bills he deems “bad.”

Jake Hoffman
Jake Hoffman

Hoffman, who resigned his post as the chairman of the LD12 GOP when he filed his nominating paperwork for a state House campaign, told attendees at last night’s meeting that he chose to run to keep LD12 in Republican hands. In audio shared with The Arizona Capitol Times, Hoffman described the slim margin in the House, which has a 31-29 Republican majority, and the Senate, where Republicans have a 17-13 majority. 

“We have Democrats in this state who are trying to legalize post-birth murder,” Hoffman said. “We have Democrats in this state who want to sexualize education for kids, who want to control the information that your kids hear. We have Democrats in this state, with Red for Ed, who are pitting families and neighbors against each other. 2020 is the fight of our lives.”

Hoffman is the president of conservative consulting firm Rally Forge and a contributor to the conservative news site Townhall. He’s served on the Queen Creek Town Council since 2017 and was a board member of the Higley Unified School District from 2013 to 2015.

In 2016, Hoffman founded a political action committee, RallyPAC, that collected $350,000 from a single Texas banker, funnelled the sum through Rally Forge and spent most of it on web ads supporting Donald Trump and attacking Hillary Clinton. A PAC supporting Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward’s unsuccessful 2016 Senate campaign paid Rally Forge $120,000, and the company’s also done work for conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA.

Neither Hoffman nor Farnsworth responded to calls or text messages. Petersen said he and seatmate Travis Grantham, currently deployed in Afghanistan, are considering running on a slate with Hoffman. 

“Jake is a solid conservative and would make a great legislator,” he said. “We are discussing running as a team and plan to decide soon.”

Hank Stephenson contributed to this report. 

Correction: A previous version of this erroneously stated Warren Petersen left the Senate and ran for the House when he hit term limits. Petersen did not hit his term limit in the Senate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the school hasn’t been plagued with troubles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The floor debate got heated.

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

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate panel OKs bills fortifying ‘parental rights’

A Senate panel on Tuesday passed Republican-sponsored bills increasing parents’ power to veto school materials and get access to more information on the lives of their children.  

The bills are part of a string of legislation introduced this year by Republicans who say it increases parental rights. Democrats in both chambers opposed the bills, which passed out of the House last month and out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday on party lines. 

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy supports the bills while education groups such as Save Our Schools Arizona, the Arizona School Board Assocation and the Arizona Education Association oppose them. 

House Bill 2161, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, would ban state entities, including schools, from “interfer(ing) with or usurp(ing)” parental rights. Critical Democrats said the bill is too broad and could penalize well-intentioned teachers, coaches and librarians from making innocuous comments and suggestions such as encouraging children to try out for a sports team or apply to a college.  

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, a teacher, said she believes the bill will scare educators away from voicing these comments to their students for fear of violating the law if a parent is upset with those ideas. 

Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod told Marsh that a lawsuit over those examples would be thrown out by any court as frivolous.  

The committee added an amendment to the legislation striking the requirement educators to report to parents anything having to do with a student’s “emotional or mental” health, which left Republicans, including Herrod, saying the bill was too watered down with amendments, and Democrats still saying the bill was too broad. 

The committee also passed House Bill 2495 from Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, banning public schools from showing students “sexually explicit material.” 

The bill’s original version banned acts of “homosexuality,” but an amendment struck the word and added language to ensure schools can still teach “classical” or “early American” literature that might have explicit content. It does not, however, define “classical” or “early American.” Marsh questioned whether books like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple or The Kite Runner would be banned from classrooms by the bill. 

Democrats were skeptical that the bill is necessary. Marsh said she’s never seen explicit materials like the ones the bill addressed being given to students.  

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said that just because someone doesn’t see something happening, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.  

“Every year we have another school district or another case where a family member has brought material down to us saying somebody is using these materials,” Pace said after voting in favor of the bill.  

Senate passes ban on certain foreign groups owning Arizona land

Senate Republicans voted on Thursday to ban foreign groups from buying Arizona land but would not stop a land lease Saudi Arabia entered that allows the country to use Arizona groundwater for agriculture. 

Democrats voted ‘no’ on Senate Bill 1115 which passed 16-14 after some debate between members and bill sponsor Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. 

Lawmakers and their constituents are unhappy about Arizona’s deal with Saudi Arabia as the southwest navigates a severe drought, and as Arizona starts to take water cuts. Several proposals were introduced this year aimed at mitigating Saudi Arabia’s ability to use Arizona water.  

In the bills’ government committee hearing, Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, noted that her constituents don’t want Saudi Arabian farms using up Arizona resources. However, this bill doesn’t affect land leases like that. 

The bill was amended in the Senate government committee but reverted to its original form before passing out of the chamber to avoid “questionable” legality concerns brought up by Senate rules attorneys. 

The amendment – that was later retracted – would have banned any citizen from a list of foreign countries from buying Arizona property. The bill that passed the Senate limits that the restriction to “a foreign government or a state-controlled enterprise of a foreign government.” 

A state-controlled enterprise of a foreign government is not further defined, so it’s not yet clear what foreign groups would be blocked from buying Arizona land under the bill. 

Democrats said they were confused by the bill which was brought to the floor at the last minute on Thursday. “Not even sure what we’re voting on to be perfectly honest with you,” Sen. Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said. She called the bill’s language “terribly vague” and “not well vetted.” 

Kern said that Saudi Arabia is not targeted by the bill because the land lease Arizona is involved in will end next year around when the bill would first take effect. As it is, he said he was surprised to see it’s so divisive. “It’s a good bill, and it does protect Arizona state lands,” Kern said. 

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, has a similar bill that hasn’t come to a floor vote yet. Senate Bill 1112 originally targeted China, but was expanded in the government committee through an amendment from Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, to ban individuals from a list of countries from buying property in Arizona.  

Rogers’ bill also has constitutional problems. It lists China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela as countries whose citizens can’t buy property in Arizona, regardless of political ideology. Democrats protested that concept on both bills. 

“This proposal purports that everyone is equal but some people are less equal than others and that’s a dangerous game to play that only the worst of our history has ever engaged in,” Sen. Assistant Minority Leader Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said during discussion on SB 1112 in the government committee. 

Hoffman, the chair of the government committee, said he drew the country list from the federal “state-sponsor-of-terror” list. According the U.S. Department of State website, only North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria are on the list. 

Hoffman, Rogers and Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, told Democrats on the panel that the Kern’s bill is about preventing terrorist entities from taking over the state. 

The bill bans any foreign groups associated with non-United States governments from buying Arizona land. It’s not clear what companies or entities that would block since Kern said Saudi Arabia’s Arizona farm isn’t one of them. 

Senate passes critical race theory ban for public employees

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

State senators voted Thursday to preclude the use of taxpayer dollars to train public employees about race, ethnicity and sex discrimination if the training also mentions blame or judgment.

The 16-14 party-line vote in the Republican-controlled chamber came over objections from several lawmakers who said it is necessary for people to understand the history of discrimination in this country in order to overcome it.

“These are uncomfortable conversations,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.

“They aren’t supposed to make you feel good,” he said. “That’s the point of these conversations.”

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she understands the goals of such training.

“That sounds good, it makes a lot of sense and we should be together,” she said.

But Townsend said what SB 1074 is designed to do is preclude training, orientation or therapy “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.”

More to the point, she said that “blame or judgment” is specifically defined to include things like one race, ethnic group or sex is “inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race, ethnic group or sex.” That definition of what could not be used in training also includes that an individual, by virtue of that person’s race, ethnicity or sex, “is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The measure, which already has been approved by the House, now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey.

SB 1074 is designed to address a concept that has been called “critical race theory.” In essence, it suggests that racism is not solely a matter of individual actions but it in some ways built into society through policies like red-lining, which denied homes or loans to minorities and other segregationist policies.

It also has become a political lightning rod for attack by Republicans. That includes Rep. Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek who used a procedural maneuver earlier this month in the House to attach this language to another bill, all without the opportunity for the public to comment.

He said the teaching is based on a premise about institutional racism that he does not believe exists.

“America is not racist,” Hoffman said during the earlier House debate. He said that, going back as far as the Civil War, there is a history of “stomping out racism” wherever it exists.

“This nation is accepting and diverse and loving,” Hoffman continued. “And sadly the trend of teaching this hateful, racist and bigoted revision of the story of America has reached a fever pitch amongst the activist community on the Left that seek to denigrate and demean nearly every American citizen. And it must be addressed.”

Quezada, however, said Thursday the goal of the training is to have the conversations about the history of America — and not just through a single lens — as a first step towards fixing problems that still exist today.

He said the majority needs to understand the differences that minorities face “from the day we are born when the doctor doesn’t look like us, to the time we are going to school and our teacher doesn’t look like us, to the time we go and apply for a job and the person interviewing us doesn’t look like us and doesn’t understand us, to the time we become elected to the Senate and our colleagues don’t all look like us and don’t all understand us.”

This bill, Quezada said, is a step backwards.

Townsend, however, said she cannot accept the idea of using public funds to teach that any individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive based on that person’s race, sex or ethnicity.

“Do we want to teach that a race is inherently bad, oppressive, sexist, racist, because of their skin?” she asked.

But Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said avoiding those conversations ignores the realities that many people face in government, in schools and in employment.

“We cannot get rid of racism in this country unless we first acknowledge it, talk about it and come up with solutions to get rid of it,” she said. And Gonzales said the experiences in this country in the past year, including with police “and people of color getting shot,” underline that the problem remains.

“But this is what we, people of color, have faced,” she said. And for her, that’s personal.

“All my life (I) have been discriminated against, have been called names just because of the color of my skin and how I look, since I went to school, since I started kindergarten,” Gonzales said.

And that, she said, is why state leaders should be working to get rid of racism — even if it involves the use of taxpayer money.

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said there’s nothing wrong with having uncomfortable conversations about history. She pointed out that one thing the legislation seeks to avoid is that anyone should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex.”

“I want to point out how easy it is for an individual of distress,” Marsh said, telling colleagues how her maternal grandfather fought in World War II for the Germans.

“It makes me uncomfortable when we talk about World War II, when we talk about the Holocaust,” she said, saying while her grandfather was not a Nazi he did fight for that cause.

“That, to me, is deeply discomforting,” Marsh said, saying that any legislation to keep people from having such conversations is “really chilling.”




Sine finally die!

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, looks over the printed budget prior to a vote on the Arizona budget at the Arizona Capitol Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, looks over the printed budget prior to a vote on the Arizona budget at the Arizona Capitol Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After 171 days and several false starts and with mere hours to spare before a government shutdown, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget and the Arizona Legislature finally succeeded in adjourning sine die at 4:54 p.m. Wednesday. 

The day was a whirlwind of votes, as lawmakers eager to pass their last-minute pet projects threw bills up for votes without checking if they would pass first. Some, including a ban on certain types of diversity training and a large increase in per diem payments for lawmakers who live outside of Maricopa County, succeeded. Others, including criminal penalties for damaging Confederate monuments and a flood control district bill that failed on an unusually dramatic 7-51 vote, did not.  

Most importantly, the House and Senate finally reached an agreement on the budget bill governing K-12 education. Under an amendment offered by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and accepted by Republicans in both chambers, requirements for a civics curriculum favored by House Republicans are out of the budget, as is Boyer’s massive school voucher expansion. 

Instead, the K-12 bill as amended contains several other provisions from Boyer’s voucher expansion bill, including allowing parents to use their children’s voucher money to pay for educational therapy and reducing the time period a student has to spend in a district school before qualifying for an empowerment scholarship account. 

The bill also makes it easier for low-income students who also attend D- or F-rated schools to receive a voucher, though it doesn’t add to the roughly 200,000 students now eligible for the program.  

“Of all times, this is the year that these kids need the opportunity to find a school that works for them,” Boyer said.  

That was enough for the three House Republicans who joined with the Democrats last week to reject Boyer’s proposed expansion. Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, one of the three, said the amendment was not an ESA expansion and wouldn’t increase the number of students eligible for the program but focused on helping lower-income students. 

“The state and the government have no business making decisions for parents when those parents are making the decisions on where to best educate their child,” said Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake. “No one in this chamber, no one has a right to say to a parent that I have to send my kid to a school that is failing.” 

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said he was disappointed that a civics curriculum mandate requiring instruction in the evils of communism and totalitarianism didn’t survive due to Senate opposition, but that it would come back next year. He also touted the bill’s bans on Covid vaccination and face mask mandates in schools, and a provision banning certain types of instruction related to race, ethnicity and sex that its Republican proponents say is a ban on teaching “critical race theory.” 

Democrats remained steadfastly opposed to the voucher provisions, and the underlying budget bill. 

“I find this bill, everything in this (budget reconciliation bill), wrong.” said Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock. “We’re not doing the right things for the people.” 

And Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said he objected to the premise of the voucher program, that poor children and children of color can only succeed if they’re removed from their community schools. 

“Don’t tell me what Hispanic families need,” he said. “Let me tell you what Hispanic families need.” 

As soon as the House finished passing the last remaining budget bills, Gov. Doug Ducey signed the entire $12.8 billion budget package, praising its $1.9 billion tax cut that will disproportionately benefit the wealthy. Once the tax cuts are fully phased in, Arizonans earning between $50,000 and $75,000 will see a tax cut of $96, compared to a cut of nearly $350,000 for those earning more than $5 million.  

“While we’re giving money back to taxpayers, this budget makes responsible, targeted and substantial investments in the things that matter,” Ducey said in a statement. “Under this budget plan, Arizona is paying off more than $1 billion in debt, we’re helping to protect families with the most sweeping child care package in the nation, and we’re making record investments in K-12 and higher education, infrastructure, public health and public safety.” 

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, panned the budget and the session in general. 

“This has been a really trying session,” she said. “One-hundred seventy days, that is ridiculous. And it has been an attack on our public-school students, our public-school teachers and our working families over and over and over again.” 

As lawmakers gave farewell speeches, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, noted how difficult the razor-thin Republican majorities in each chamber had made passing a budget. 

“With no Republican votes to spare in both chambers, in terms of the budget we actually were a state with 48 governors, all with veto powers … and I’m sure the Democrats had a lot of fun observing the mayhem,” he said. 

Kavanagh also joked about the long “honey do” list he would have when he gets home, to which Fernandez replied she has one too – knocking on doors throughout the state with the rest of the Democrats in the Legislature. 

“We’re going to make sure we get the job done in two years where we’re in the majority,” she said.