Bill proposes partisan school board races

A new bill would put school board elections on partisan ballots, forcing board candidates to declare a party affiliation. 

It would also clear the way for political activities including protests on school grounds, as long as they take place outside of school hours. 

The bill, pre-filed on December 1 by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, came a day after conservative candidates descended on Scottsdale’s Coronado High School to lambast a Scottsdale Unified School District board member and denounce what they called Critical Race Theory in public school curriculums. 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

Arizona conservatives are increasingly seeing education issues like parental involvement and controversial curriculum items as potent political opportunities. The bill, SB1010, could provide an early look at how they plan to translate those talking points into legislative action. 

Also on December 1, Gov. Doug Ducey said he expected legislation in the coming session related to school districts and “parents’ rights.”  

“I expect there’s going to be accountability at the school board level,” Ducey said, though he declined to give more details, adding that he would say more in his State of the State Address, set for next month. 

Ugenti-Rita told the Arizona Capitol Times that rather than promoting partisanship, the bill is actually intended to promote transparency.  

“We should stop vilifying politics, because it’s embedded in our system,” she said. “We should be encouraging that kind of forthcomingness and transparency.”  

Ugenti-Rita said the proposal to loosen restrictions on political use of school property wasn’t related to recent events at the Scottsdale district, but she said that critics had been “shut out” of board meetings. 

Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, panned the proposed legislation, while adding that it’s ultimately up to ASBA members to decide whether the bill gets the thumbs up or down from the organization. 

The majority of school board work has to do with poring over budgets and other administrative tasks, he said. 

“If your only motivation for governing board service is because you think kids in your school system are learning the wrong stuff, and you want to make sure they learn the, quote-unquote, right stuff, and you have no interest in the rest of the rest of the job … I think that’s wrong.” 

As for the expanded allowance for political activities on campuses, Kotterman said existing prohibitions exist for a reason – to keep public schools as a neutral space. 

“I just think that turning the school campus, after hours, into essentially an unlimited public forum, is going to lead to problems.” he said. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, chairs the Senate Education Committee and said in an emailed statement that he wasn’t ready to take a position on the bill yet. Boyer has said he won’t seek re-election and hasn’t been shy about breaking ranks with party leadership in the past. 

Ducey spokesman C.J Karamargin also declined to comment specifically on SB1010. 

While political tensions around school districts have ratcheted up across the country in the wake of the Covid pandemic, they seem to have boiled over in Arizona recently with the fallout from a scandal at the Scottsdale district. 

Last month, news broke that the father of board member Jann-Michael Greenburg had compiled information on parents who’d voiced concerns to the district. Conservative politicians quickly jumped into the fray and linked the controversy to other explosive topics, like criticism of so-called Critical Race Theory. 

On November 30, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon and state Rep. Joseph Chaplik of Scottsdale, all Republicans, planned a rally to take place at Coronado High School, where the district governing board was set to meet. 

Promotional materials for the event said it would take place at the high school, but didn’t specify exactly where. On November 29, a school district attorney warned Lake, Lamon and a parent involved in the event that state law prohibits political activity on school property, though they could use the sidewalk on the edge of campus.  

That’s where the rally was eventually held, drawing about 100 people to hear Lake, Lamon and Chaplik speak from the back of a pickup truck. Down the street, about 40 counter protestors gathered in support of the district. 

At the board meeting, with no political candidates present, the atmosphere was tense, but largely composed. Some parents said politicians were taking advantage of the situation for political gain, while others called for Greenburg to leave the board. 

Pat Norton, a former teacher in Mesa who was at Coronado High School on November 30 to collect signatures for a petition to push Greenburg off the board, said she was dismayed by the state of affairs at the district, mentioning books that were part of the curriculum and parent input about facemask use, as well as Greenburg’s conduct. 

Denny Brown, a former board member who attended the counter protest in support of the district, said folks criticizing Greenburg and the district were the same ones responsible for declining performance at the district in areas like special education, though he said Greenburg made a mistake. “Some mistakes were made and the way of the world, oh my God, people are jumping on that like this is crazy,” Brown said. 

Camryn Sanchez contributed reporting. 


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.  

Education alliance sues to end mask mandate prohibition, other new laws


A coalition of school board members, educators, child welfare advocates and others is asking a judge to void a host of changes in state law approved in the waning days of the legislative session.

Attorney Roopali Desai is not alleging that any of these new laws, individually, is illegal. They range from whether schools and even universities can impose mask mandates and changes to election laws to banning the teaching of what legislators and Gov. Doug Ducey have incorrectly labeled “critical race theory.”

The legal problem, she said, is that these were combined with other unrelated provisions into what lawmakers call “budget reconciliation bills,” essentially a grab-bag of issues.

That, said Desai, violates constitutional provisions which clearly state that each piece of legislation “shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” And that same provision requires each element to be laid out in the title.

What that means, she is telling Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, is that each of the challenged provisions was illegally enacted — and cannot be enforced.

If Desai wins the case, the implications go beyond nullifying the challenged provisions and, most immediately, ending the legal risk that now exists for schools, colleges and universities which are requiring staff and students to wear masks while on campus. It also would force a major change in the long-standing practice of lawmakers doing what she called “horse-trading,” piling unrelated issues — many which had previously failed on their own — into a single package designed to corral the necessary votes.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she could not comment until she reviews the lawsuit with attorneys. There was a similar response from Ducey who has opposed mask mandates and signed all the measures into law.

All this comes as the Department of Health Services, whose director Dr. Cara Christ has said she backs the decision by the governor and lawmakers to bar mandated mask use in schools, reported more than 3,000 new cases, a level that hasn’t been seen in six months.

At the same time, hospitals reported 1,590 in-patient beds — 18% of capacity — occupied by Covid patients. And 22% of intensive-care beds were being used by Covid patients.

Roopali Desai
Roopali Desai

The question of whether the Legislature violated the requirement limiting each measure to a single subject and having the title properly reflect what is in the bill starts with HB 2898, which has the language banning not just school districts but also counties, cities and towns from requiring the use of face coverings or proof of vaccination against Covid to participate in in-person instruction.

What’s also in the 231-page bill is a provision prohibiting teaching curriculum “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.” That includes concepts like saying a student “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex” and even authorizes the state Board of Education to suspend or revoke an offending teacher’s certificate.

Only thing is, Desai said, HB 2898 is titled “appropriating monies, relating to kindergarten through grade twelve budget reconciliation.” The reality, she said, is the bill includes “substantive policies that have nothing to do with the budget.”

“It’s bad enough that the titles don’t describe what’s actually happening in these bills,” Desai told Capitol Media Services. “But the legislature went out of its way to mislead people about what’s in the bills.”

For example, SB1824, dubbed as “appropriating monies; relating to health budget reconciliation,” says students cannot be required to be immunized to attend school using any vaccination that has only been given “emergency use authorization” by the Food and Drug Administration. That, for the moment, is the status of all Covid vaccines.

And another section bars local governments from establishing a “vaccine passport” or requiring proof of vaccination to enter a business.

Then there’s SB1819 which, according to its title, deals with “budget procedures.” But that bill includes “fraud countermeasures” for paper ballots and strips power from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to defend election law challenges. What’s also in that bill is setting up a special committee to review the findings of the audit of the 2020 election, changes to the governor’s emergency powers, investigating the practices of social media platforms and even language about condominiums.

“None of these subjects have any logical connection to each other,” Desai said.

She argued this is more than just an academic discussion.

Desai said one purpose of the single-subject rule is to prevent “logrolling,” trying to pull together the support for a series of measures that would fail on their own by adding items designed to convince foes of any particular provision to agree to support the whole package because it also contains something they want.

For example, she cited statements by Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, that he would not support HB2898 unless it also included a ban on mask mandates for students.

Desai also pointed out the measure about the teaching certain concepts about race, ethnicity and gender actually failed to get the necessary votes when offered as a separate bill. But it then was then tucked into that same K-12 education reconciliation bill to get the votes of those who had previously opposed it.

“Never before has the legislature so ignored the normal process and procedure for enacting laws as they did for this session,” Desai wrote. She said if the courts do not enforce the single-subject rule it would be “rendered wholly meaningless.”

In her filing, Desai said these are not simply academic and legal concepts.

She said if the provisions in the K-12 measure are not voided “public schools could be left powerless to protect their students and staff.” And she said that teachers who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit could find themselves disciplined for violating a “vague prohibition” on what can be taught about race and gender.

No date has been set for a hearing on the new lawsuit.

House ends session with flurry of bills

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, left, talks with Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, during a vote on the Arizona budget June 24, 2021. Bolding said on June 30, 2021, the Legislature had “A shameful end to a shameful session." (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, left, talks with Arizona House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, during a vote on the Arizona budget June 24, 2021. Bolding said on June 30, 2021, the Legislature had “A shameful end to a shameful session.” (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The House wrapped up this year’s legislative session by, among other things, voting to give rural lawmakers more money. 

The Senate voted June 29 to pass HB2053, which increases the daily stipend for living expenses for lawmakers outside of Maricopa County during the session. The House followed suit June 30. It is currently set at $60 a day for the first 120 days of the session, dropping to $20 after that. The bill will increase it to $207  the average of the six highest months of the federal employee per diem for Maricopa County  for the first 120 days of the session, and cut it in half after that. 

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said the current stipend doesn’t come close to covering the costs of food or a hotel and that he spends thousands of dollars out-of-pocket to represent his district, effectively meaning only people with money can serve. 

“This is the kind of thing that needs to be done to help rural representation at the Capitol,” Cook said. 

A bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers voted against it, citing a mix of objections. Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said instead lawmakers should ask voters whether to increase their salaries. 

“If the pay is the issue, let’s address the pay, not the per diem,” Blackman said. 

It remains to be seen if Gov. Doug Ducey will sign off. He vetoed a similar increase in 2019. While this bill addresses one of his past objections by not raising payments for Maricopa County lawmakers, it also applies to the current Legislature, which was another of his problems with it. This version does let lawmakers who don’t want to accept the payments to opt out. 

Supporters of efforts to ameliorate prison conditions in Arizona and loosen the state’s tough sentencing laws got one big win and one big loss in the last days of the session. Ducey signed SB1849 on June 30, which requires prisons to provide incarcerated women with a free and sufficient supply of feminine hygiene products, sets standards regulating the treatment of pregnant women in prison and allows imprisoned parents to receive visits from their children. Advocates for the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” have been pushing the issue since 2018. 

“This is basically a basic human rights and respect bill,” said Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix. 

However, SB1064, which would have expanded earned release credits for prisoners, never got a vote in the Senate after passing overwhelmingly in the House. Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said a majority of Republican senators opposed it. 

“Defunding the police, lack of probation officers and the list of horrible offenses that allowed criminals back on the street was a bridge too far,” she said. 

Blackman, the main Republican advocate for revamping the criminal justice system in the House, said he would keep fighting. He blamed lobbyists outside of the Legislature for “killing that bill with lies” and predicted the Senate’s refusal to take it up could lead to a ballot initiative that would be even more unpalatable to conservatives than his proposal. 

“The data is there,” Blackman said. “Truth in sentencing, mandatory sentencing do not reduce the return rate to prison.” 

The House managed to wrap up its business and adjourn sine die at 4:54 p.m. June 30, despite major votes, such as having to re-pass a controversial education budget, and hitches including a brief evacuation of the building around noon, which turned out to be a false alarm triggered by plumbing work in a downstairs bathroom.  

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, waxed philosophical as the session drew to a close, reminiscing about his daughter Kacey Rae Bowers, who died in January. He said that, while being a lawmaker can make you feel powerful, he remembered a time when she was injured on her way back to the hospital and called him, asking him to come to her. He also lamented the lack of in-person contact during the last months of her life due to Covid-related visitation restrictions. 

“And that lack of contact, I think accelerated and aggravated conditions of everyone,” Bowers said. “But in our lack of knowledge, I understand it, and I don’t even know why I’m talking to you about it frankly, except that it’s been instructional for me, this third year, to know that a speaker is not all-powerful. And that is a humbling, humbling position.” 

Republicans pushed back against Democrats’ contentions that the state isn’t putting enough money toward education. Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, said the problem is not inadequate money but “a spending problem within the departments.” And Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the state is spending more than $12 billion on K-12 schools this year  although much of that is one-time federal Covid relief funds. 

“That is the record amount of money that we are putting into education this year,” Kavanagh said. “That amount is an additional $5 billion over last year.” 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, panned the session as a missed opportunity, criticizing Republicans for pushing a budget with a $1.9 billion tax cut on party lines and legislation that, he said, “severely eroded the voting and reproductive rights of Arizona citizens.” 

“The big winners this session were election conspiracy theorists and a few thousand well-to-do Arizonans who needed our help the least,” he said. “A shameful end to a shameful session.” 


House poised for new faces, new leaders

An old watchtower bell was mounted on the sidewalk in front of the state Capitol in Phoenix in 2021.  (File photo)

The next Arizona House of Representatives will look much different than it did in 2022 with many members losing their primary election races or moving to a different area of government. 

What likely won’t change is Republicans will hold onto majority control in the House and a speaker of the House seat up for grabs. Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, is said to be a candidate for the seat although he hasn’t publicly confirmed he’s running. Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, announced he was running for the seat in a Turning Point Action rally in August.  

Toma, ESAs, vouchers, Save Our Schools Arizona, private schools, tuition, charter schools, public schools, AEA
Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria

Chaplik was critical of Speaker Russell Bowers, R-Mesa, at the rally, saying Bowers “refused to listen to the conservatives” and other Republican members of the Legislature to help pass a Democratic budget. 

“Arizona is aiming to make Florida jealous of our Legislature and how impactful we will be supporting Kari Lake,” Chaplik said. “We will rival Florida for the top spot in America, mark my words.” 

The Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, reported that activist groups campaigning for Chaplik and Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, for Senate pro tempore have made leadership races unusual this year. Groups including EZAZ and FreedomWorks have become more open about campaigning for their desired candidates after becoming frustrated with current leadership, Yellow Sheet reported. 

House leadership positions in both the majority and minority caucus are determined by a secret ballot among each party’s elected legislators after the general election.  

Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, confirmed he was making a bid for majority leader, along with Reps. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City; Gail Griffin, R-Hereford; and Steve Montenegro, a former representative and senator running in Legislative District 29. 

Joseph Chaplik

“It’s important for us to work together as a caucus,” Dunn said. “I’m usually pulling people together and I’m willing to offer my skills to help do that and give up my committee assignment. If the caucus wants me, then I’ll offer my services,” Dunn said.  

Overall, 15 of the 31 Republicans in the House are up for re-election for House seats this November, including two of the party’s three leaders. Bowers lost his primary race for Senate in Legislative District 10.  

Democrats will have even higher turnover with 11 of its 29 current representatives up for re-election. Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, lost his primary election bid for secretary of state and party Whip Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, didn’t file for re-election.  

That leaves Assistant Minority Leader Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, with a potential opening for Bolding’s seat, although she hasn’t publicly said anything on the matter. Rep. Andres Cano, D-Tucson, wrote in a text that several of his colleagues have asked him to consider running for minority leader but it’s not something he’s currently focusing on.  

“I am humbled to have their early vote of confidence, but right now, my focus is on protecting and expanding our seats in the State House this November,” Cano wrote. “Together, we’ll continue to connect with voters from all walks of life in (the) final stretch of the campaign and demonstrate our ability to turn the page at our State Capitol for the better.”  

Cano also wrote that “all” Democratic nominees are ready to lead in the next legislative session. 

Largest school district defies mask mandate prohibition

The Phoenix Union High School District plans to require students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors when school starts on Aug. 2. 

The district’s decision is perhaps the highest-profile example so far of a school district in a Democratic-leaning area pushing back against state policies that largely bar them from imposing Covid-related restrictions, in defiance of the wishes of Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature’s Republican majority. And the mask policy is possibly in violation of state law banning such mandates. 

This year’s education budgets ban K-12 schools and public universities and community colleges from requiring masks. Although budget reconciliation bills generally don’t take effect until the 91st  day after sine die, which would be Sept. 29 this year, the education budget contains a retroactivity clause banning mask mandates as of June 30. 

Phoenix Union Superintendent Chad Gestson didn’t answer during a press conference Friday whether what he is doing is legal and said the district’s lawyers were looking into it. 

He defended the decision anyway, saying it is necessary to protect students and staff due to the high transmission rates of the delta variant in Maricopa County, as well as touting the district’s efforts to encourage vaccination. 

“My job, and our job at this point in time, is to focus on health and safety,” he said. “If a legal battle ensues, we’ll be fully prepared to handle that.” 

School district officials said in a written statement that the delta variant is spreading quickly in Maricopa County and that, while the board had aligned the district’s masking practices with the state’s prohibition on mask mandates, they had gotten feedback from staff, students and families who support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking recommendations. The board will discuss Covid mitigation measures, including masking policies, further at its Aug. 5 meeting. 

“We serve nearly 30,000 beautiful young men and women and over 4,000 employees and must take every precaution necessary to protect the lives of those entrusted to us,” the statement says. 

Democratic Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo put out a statement backing the district’s decision. 

“The delta variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Maricopa County, and it is more contagious than others we’ve seen,” he said. “Kids under 12 still can’t get vaccinated. School leaders must trust the experts like those at the CDC saying all K-12 students and staff should mask up on campus. I support Phoenix Union High School District and other Arizona school districts planning to require masks on the first day of school.” 

Ducey’s office said in a written statement he thinks Phoenix Union’s mandate is illegal and unenforceable and that health professionals have made it clear children are safe in the classroom. 

“Arizona is not anti-mask, we’re anti-mask mandate,” Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said in an email. “As the governor has often said, mask usage is up to parents. If a parent wants their child to wear a mask at school, they are free to do so. This is not a state decision. Ultimately, this is about personal responsibility and parental choice — something Arizona has long-supported. School administrators should be doing everything they can to encourage eligible students and staff to get vaccinated, not break state law.” 

Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, a freshman who has become one of the House’s leading opponents of Covid restrictions, on Thursday criticized school districts that are looking for ways around the state’s mask mandate ban. 

“The reality is this stuff was passed,” he said on The Morning Ritual with Garret Lewis. “These policies were passed. This is what we did in our legislative session, and it seems like the left is coming unhinged because they’re losing power and they want to control the narrative and they want to (keep) the power they have.” 

Chaplik said he made it clear he wouldn’t vote for the budget without a ban on school mask mandates. 

Officials at Arizona State University, whose announcement in June that students would be required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo Covid checks led to immediate resistance from Republicans and an executive order from Ducey blocking the move, put out a statement Thursday “strongly recommending” that students get vaccinated and wear face coverings within university buildings. 

“We previously communicated that face covers would be required in certain health care centers and on-campus shuttles,” said executive vice presidents Nancy Gonzales and Morgan Olsen. “Those requirements may extend further to select buildings and at events that may pose a higher risk of transmission. Notification will be provided in advance of events and/or at building entrances if face covers are required. Consistent with the Governor’s executive order and the CDC guidelines, we are not making distinctions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.” 

Lawmakers’ focus veers from Covid relief in 1st weeks of session

Covid 19 stock

After nearly four full weeks of session, none of the bills lawmakers sent to the governor’s desk deals with the Covid pandemic, a shift in emphasis that’s especially noticeable given lawmakers’ insistence to help residents and businesses survive the crisis.

Instead, the bulk of pandemic-related measures to clear committees so far seek to limit or overturn Gov. Doug Ducey’s emergency authorities.

Absent from the debate, for example, is the priority by Republican lawmakers to ensure businesses don’t face frivolous lawsuits. Also left to be tackled is House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ priority to accelerate the delivery of vaccines in the state. 

Indeed, the first measure the governor signed, plus the four others awaiting his signature, tackle non-Covid issues. 

The governor earlier outlined an agenda to confront the visus, which he hoped the Legislature would pass. 

In his state address. Ducey focused on Covid liability protections for businesses and expanding access to broadband internet, as well as offering laptops and wi-fi to students, a problem Covid magnified.

CJ Karamargin, Ducey’s communications director said, the governor’s office is “not going to legislate ourselves out of this pandemic,” a play on Ducey’s recent comments that the state can “vaccinate our way out” of the pandemic. 

“The legislative session is just getting underway. We’re confident they’re gonna deal with the governor’s agenda,” he said. 

To date, the virus has claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 Arizonans and infected more than 750,000. 

The only pandemic legislation to have gained any headway in the Legislature seek to chip away at the governor’s emergency authorities, which Ducey has deployed to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

Republicans and Democrats alike say they want to help Arizonans. 

Democrats want to raise the unemployment assistance cap of $240 and help Arizonans avoid evictions. Arizona’s unemployment benefits are the second-lowest in the country, and it was a hot topic throughout the summer months when federal assistance first expired and Ducey made no inclination to raise the state’s cap. He instead punted to Congress to act. 

Republicans, on the other hand, seek to protect businesses from lawsuits arising out of claims that an individual contracted the virus at a company’s premises, a priority for the majority party and an idea Ducey supports but which didn’t make it through last year.

Some, like Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, want to exempt businesses from following mask mandates. A measure from Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, would prevent businesses from requiring employees to get the Covid vaccine as a condition to return to work. And Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, wants to expand the definition of essential businesses to include those that sell firearms. 

Ducey said in an interview in early January that there’s a reason he never called the Legislature into a special session last year.  

“In a national emergency or a state emergency, action is required. And that is really not what the legislative process is famous for,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times

Absent legislation, Duecy’s administration is focusing on accelerating the delivery of the Covid vaccines. 

The state now operates two statewide vaccination sites. The second site, which opened on Feb. 1, already added 21,000 new appointments that were scooped up in a little under an hour.

The first legislation Ducey signed this session comes from Chandler Republicans Rep. Jeff Weninger and Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who introduced mirror measures at the behest of Attorney General Mark Brnovich to crack down on workplaces discriminating against pregnant women. Mesnard and Weninger also introduced the bill last year, but it died due to the pandemic. 

The other bills on the governor’s desk received bipartisan support, but none deals with the pandemic.

Among the bills lawmaker fast-tracked to Ducey’s desk is a proposal by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Scottsdale, to close a “loophole” when disciplining non-certified teachers accused of misconduct. Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale introduced the same legislation last year, but it did not make headway before the pandemic shut down the session. 

The state previously had no way to track or discipline non-certified teachers accused of sexual misconduct, allowing them to remain in schools. 

The three other bills from Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, Rep. Timothy Dunn, R-Yuma and Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, are also awaiting the governor’s signature.


Lawsuit filed over alleged libel, slander in LD23 race


A Republican House candidate in Legislative District 23 is suing the incumbent he defeated and a local party official for slander and libel on the campaign trail.

Joseph Chaplik, who runs a Scottsdale real estate investment firm, edged out Rep. Jay Lawrence in the August primary by less than 1,000 votes, concluding an ugly campaign. But victory and a solid shot at a seat in the district didn’t stop Chaplik from filing a lawsuit against Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, along with a separate suit against Joe Romack, a former precinct-level official in the district now making a House bid as a write-in candidate.

In a complaint filed August 5 – just one day after the primary election, a point at which the results of the primary were still murky – Chaplik alleges Lawrence repeatedly slandered him by referring to him as a “tax deadbeat, tax cheat and criminal” on signage, mailers and on social media. Chaplik also claims that Lawrence deliberately and with malice misstated his NRA rating and falsely accused him of being the subject of a civil rights lawsuit.

Chaplik’s lawsuit against Romack – whom he believes acted on Lawrence’s behalf – goes even further. Not only does he say Romack falsely accused him of being a tax cheat, he claims that Romack “hides behind fake social media accounts” to make these statements, according to a complaint filed August 3.

Tax deadbeat or not, the questions about his tax status didn’t come out of nowhere. In June, Lawrence and his seatmate, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, presented evidence at a Fountain Hills Republican Club meeting that Chaplik “has a history of not paying his taxes.” Indeed, records show Chaplik owed more than $50,000 in federal taxes in 2016 and had a lien against him two years later. He paid what he owed shortly before entering the LD23 race.

Joseph Chaplik
Joseph Chaplik

And in a Facebook post in June, Chaplik admitted to having minor run-ins with the law as a college student, admitted to the tax liens and also admitted that the management company that operated apartment buildings he owned was named as a defendant in a discrimination suit — all claims that his political opponents had made on the campaign trail.

The timing isn’t ideal. While Republicans have a significant registration advantage in the district, Eric Kurland, a Democratic former school teacher who fell only three points short of Lawrence in the 2018 LD23 general election, is back. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling that the Kurland campaign paid for found that he’s the top choice of 37% of the district’s voters, and the first or second choice of 39% of voters, two points ahead of the newcomer Chaplik. The poll’s universe contained 627 voters in the district, the plurality of which – 45% — are Republicans.

“Well, lawsuits never look good,” said Kavanagh, who is now in the position of running alongside Chaplik after criticizing him in the primary. Kavanagh is not named in either lawsuit, despite making some of the same claims as Lawrence, and said he wouldn’t know why. “I hope they can resolve it.”

He declined to discuss his past comments on Chaplik, or say whether he misrepresented the facts.

Kurland said he hopes the lawsuit would draw Chaplik into public – he and the district’s other Republicans dodged a Citizens Clean Elections Commission debate last week.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, speaks at the 2015 Teenage Republicans Banquet at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley. His opponent in the Legislative District 23 GOP primary, Joseph Chaplik, has sued Lawrence over statements made during the campaign. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, speaks at the 2015 Teenage Republicans Banquet at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley. His opponent in the Legislative District 23 GOP primary, Joseph Chaplik, has sued Lawrence over statements made during the campaign. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Romack, a former precinct committeeman in LD23, filed paperwork to run as a write-in on August 5. Lawrence described him as a “friend whom I have known for a long time,” but both men deny that he is running on the outgoing lawmaker’s behalf.

“Back in 2014, I was going to run. But Jay Lawrence was running too, and I told him I wouldn’t run against him ever,” Romack said. “I want voters to have options.”

Lawrence, who said he’d likely support Romack, brushed off the idea that his write-in candidacy could peel away votes from Chaplik and open up a lane for Kurland. Romack, meanwhile, was apathetic.

“That’s not my concern,” he said. “It’s each man for himself.”

Chaplik alleges that Romack used two Twitter accounts (@JChapstick69 and @JosephChapstick) to defame Chaplik with the hope that he would lose the primary – which, again, he did not.

“Defendant knew or should have known that such acts of defamation are particularly designed to damage the reputation of Plaintiff and benefit Defendant and Jay Lawrence,” the complaint says.

The complaint says Romack (under the humorously named Twitter accounts) tweeted statements such as: “You know what they teach in school? How to pay your taxes. You could have used a course like that, since ya know, you didn’t pay your taxes” and “uh oh joe, looks like a criminal will always be a criminal.”

Chaplik directed inquiries to his lawyer, Mark Goldman, Joe Arpaio’s longtime lawyer who recently represented Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scotttsdale, when she threatened to sue challenger Alex Kolodin for discussing sexual harassment allegations against her.

“Neither I nor my client is going to litigate the lawsuits in the media,” Goldman said in a written response.  “To do otherwise we consider inappropriate.  Needless public comments are what caused these lawsuits in the first place.”

In separate responses, Lawrence and Romack deny all of Chaplik’s allegations. Romack went further, filing a counterclaim alleging that Chaplik’s lawsuits amount to an abuse of the legal system.

The lawsuit attempts to “obtain a cooling effect on any negative public opinion that might impact his general election chances through the threat of litigation, prevent the dissemination of publicly available information that might be a detriment to his general election chances, and further a political narrative that he is the victim of unjustified attacks,” Romack said in the his counterclaim.

LD23 awash in curious campaign conflicts

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, smiles as he addresses the legislature in the Arizona House of Representatives at the Arizona Capitol Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Phoenix. The Republican lawmaker wants the state constitution amended to allow cuts to public employee pensions and increases in employee contributions if the systems are badly underfunded. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, smiles as he addresses the legislature in the Arizona House of Representatives at the Arizona Capitol Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The progression of the election season seems to have only encouraged candidates for the House in Legislative District 23 to continue accusing each other of criminal misdeeds.

Last week, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, called the state Attorney General’s Office to complain about a robocall paid for by the campaign of Eric Kurland, a Democrat aiming to take the district’s open seat.

Kavanagh contends that the call, in which Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona President Bryan Jeffries announces his endorsement of both Kavanagh and Kurland, constitutes a potential violation of law banning coordination between candidates and political action committees – a felony, as he pointed out in the Republican Briefs on October 27.

“Kurland and Kavanagh will work together to protect Arizona, the same way we all work together to fight fires,” Jeffries said in the robocall

Kavanagh was so struck by his belief in the illegality of this message – one that appears to be without merit, as those laws typically govern expenditures made by a PAC to support a candidate, not the other way around – that he “immediately” phoned the AG’s office to flag the call, he wrote in Briefs.

Eric Kurland
Eric Kurland

Charles Siler, Kurland’s communications director, called the accusation a “desperate attempt by Republicans to hold onto their waning power” and denied the claims of illegality.

Kavanagh said that because Kurland’s campaign paid for the call, which features Jeffries urging voters to support both men due to their endorsement by his organization, he must have coordinated with a political action committee. But this is a stretch, given that coordination laws cover independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate, not campaign expenditures announcing an endorsement from a labor organization that also operates a political action committee.

“You really only get into felony territory if the resources of the union are being used to support the campaign,” said elections attorney Eric Spencer. “I think it’s a rather attenuated connection.”

“I’m not a lawyer,” Kavanagh said. “I said it ‘could be’ illegal, but I don’t know.”

This isn’t the first time this year that a candidate in LD23 has accused an opponent of violating the law, or even the second. It began in the GOP primary, when Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, and Kavanagh drew attention to minor arrests on House hopeful Joseph Chaplik’s record and past debts he had failed to pay, branding him a tax cheat.

That spiraled into a lawsuit from Chaplik accusing Lawrence of defamation and a separate suit levying the same charge against Joe Lee Romack, a write-in Republican, which in turn prompted Lawrence to accuse Chaplik and his attorney of seeking to extort him by offering to drop the lawsuit if he handed over his email list and endorsed Chaplik – all of which occurred after Chaplik had already defeated Lawrence.

Kavanagh said the Attorney General’s Office told him that election complaints must go through the Secretary of State’s Office. He forwarded his complaint to Chaplik, the other Republican running for a House seat in the district and the pcandidate who Kavanagh said he believes was most directly aggrieved.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that Kavanagh reached out and was directed to file a complaint with the secretary of state.

Chaplik could not be reached for comment on whether he pursued the complaint. However, he jumped on the faux scandal online, tagging members of the press corps October 27, in a tweet asking: “Do we want a candidate who is willing to break the law to win? How will this radical leftist lead if he’s willing to break the law now?”

In his Republican Briefs post, Kavanagh attempted to distance himself from Kurland, despite their mutual endorsement from firefighters.

“While it is true that the firefighters have endorsed me, as have three police groups, I had nothing to do with the robocall and would never have allowed it, if asked,” Kavanagh wrote. During the primary, the association endorsed both Kavanagh and Lawrence, and only decided to back the Democrat after Chaplik toppledLawrence, the incumbent.

The debacle highlights the strategy of the single-shot Democratic candidate in the surprisingly close race. Kurland, seeing an opportunity in a still-heavily Republican district, wants to highlight his willingness to work and be friendly with the GOP – he’s started filming sit-down chats with Romack, the write-in GOP candidate who lost in the primary, while Kavanagh is trying to create distance.

Polling paid for by the Kurland campaign has shown Kavanagh in first with Kurland leading Chaplik for the second seat.

“Obviously the Democrat strategy is to steer voters away from Chaplik by dishonestly associating Kurland with me,” Kavanagh wrote in Briefs. “Now more than ever we need to close ranks and vote Republican from the top of the ticket down to the bottom.”

The more votes Kurland can direct from Chaplik to Kavanagh, the more he benefits, Kavanagh added. “It’s a smart strategy, but it’s also misleading,” he said.

Siler, Kurland’s communications director, said the candidate is trying to show that he’s willing to be pragmatic.

“Obviously, it’s not a slate, it’s just a recognition that Eric, if he’s elected, is ready to work with people from across the spectrum of political ideology,” he said. “What we’re doing was never dependent on Kavanagh.”



Passing bills means wise choices, gaining support


Gov. Doug Ducey signed and vetoed more bills than ever before, and almost one-third of the Legislature went home batting .000 for passing bills. 

Only two lawmakers – freshman Reps. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, and Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, ended the session batting 1.000, and they accomplished that rare feat by taking few risks. Nguyen introduced only one bill; Chaplik had four. 

Among other lawmakers, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, led the pack. Five of his seven bills are now law, and four of those succeeded with broad bipartisan support.  

Grantham said he’s judicious about what he chooses to introduce, and he tries to make sure his legislation addresses issues that affect Arizonans. This year, that included bills to protect people charged with crimes from losing property unconnected to the alleged criminal offense to civil asset forfeiture, and requiring district and charter schools to provide annual notices to every employee listing all pay and benefits.  

“I’m not picking subjects laced with politics,” Grantham said. “I’m picking subjects that are important to people and that affect people, regardless of what their voter ID card says, and that’s why I’m always able to get that type of bipartisan support.” 

Because of the narrow Republican majority, Grantham said he opted not to introduce one bill he tried to run in previous years and still feels strongly about: banning photo radar. The majority of Republicans support that measure, but Democrats do not.  

“That’s always a Democrat versus Republican issue,” Grantham said. “I’m not going to fight that fight necessarily going into it knowing I am going to lose, so I just try to pick my battles wisely based on the lay of the land.” 

His Senate seatmate, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, had the highest batting average in the chamber with a respectable .650. Petersen said his trick to getting 14 of his 20 bills signed into law wasn’t anything glamorous – he just tried to make sure they would have support before he introduced them. 

“You don’t want to spend time on something that has zero chance passing, unless you’re trying to just make a statement,” Petersen said. “Sometimes you do that if there’s something you have to say.”  

Before the session started and he introduced all of his bills, Petersen took time to analyze the two chambers and committee chairmen, and talked to chairmen to get a feel for their opinions on issues he wanted to address with legislation. 

From there, he said, it’s important to get outside supporters who can testify in committees, lobby and make the case for why a bill is necessary.  

“It’s not a perfect science, but I think everybody’s kind of doing that to some extent, to try to make sure they can be as efficient as they can and get as many of their bills passed as they can,” he said. 

Both Grantham and Petersen said they limited their bill introductions so they had enough bandwidth to focus on the measures. Most lawmakers follow a version of this strategy – the median number of bills introduced this year was 17. 

Others, including Nguyen, placed a singular focus on just one or two bills. That strategy helped Nguyen pass his bill requiring clergy be allowed hospital visitation, and it gave fellow freshman Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, a .500 batting average by passing a single bill to exempt collectible cars from pre-sale emissions inspections.  

The two most prolific bill authors, Democratic Sens. Martín Quezada and Juan Mendez, failed to get any of their measures signed into law, though Quezada did succeed in getting a hearing on one of his bills. 

Most of the 28 lawmakers who failed to pass a single bill are Democrats, who historically have a hard time getting legislation passed in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. But House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, also failed to pass any bills. 

For Bowers, it was a matter of bad luck. Ducey vetoed one of the few bills he introduced as part of a late May veto spree meant to spur the Legislature to send him a budget. While a new version of the bill ultimately passed, it wasn’t in Bowers’ name.  

 None of Barton’s nine bills – four placeholders for future strike-everything amendments, three related to elections, one to pay student workers a lower minimum wage and one to let rural counties impose new transient lodging taxes – received hearings.   

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, led in the total number of bills signed into law, with 39 of her 62 bills receiving a signature. 

Of the Republicans who succeeded in passing legislation, Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, had the hardest time. Some of the social issues they sought to address, including banning trans girls from girls’ sports, prohibiting any state documents from recognizing nonbinary people, naming a highway after Donald Trump and banning abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, proved too controversial for committee chairs to even grant a hearing. 

Stahl-Hamilton wants complaint against her dropped

Bibles, Stahl Hamilton, House, members' lounge
This shows a Bible that Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, put in a refrigerator that House members and staff use. The lawmaker apologized to her colleagues on April 26 for removing and hiding Bibles in the members’ lounge, saying it was her way of protesting a lack of separation of church and state. She did not “steal” them. She “hid” them as a prank. They never left the lounge. (Photo courtesy of Arizona House of Representatives)

A Democratic Representative is asking for an ethics complaint filed against her for hiding Capitol Bibles to be dismissed.  

Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, submitted a response signed by two attorneys to the complaint on Monday. The response was filed as a letter with House Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, and the attorneys argued the complaint should be dismissed because it failed to comply with notarization requirements of Ethics Committee rules procedures.  

House, Bibles
Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson

Stahl-Hamilton’s attorneys are two former Democrat state lawmakers, Domingo DeGrazia and Diego Rodriguez. They also wrote in the letter that Stahl-Hamilton’s actions were a “peaceful protest regarding the separation of church and state, and in response to the weaponizing of religion in politics.” 

Reps. Lupe Diaz, R-Benson, David Marshall, R-Snowflake, and Justin Heap, R-Mesa, filed the complaint against Stahl-Hamilton on May 1 and allege she engaged in disorderly behavior, committed theft and created a hostile work environment.  

House security caught Stahl-Hamiliton taking Bibles from the members’ lounge with a hidden video camera that was placed in the lounge due to reports of Bibles missing. After the video was broadcast by news outlets, the representative admitted to hiding the Bibles and apologized for her actions on the House floor and said it was “impulsive.”  

“Representative Stahl Hamiltion’s actions are not only disorderly; they display a profound lack of judgment and a flagrant disrespect for the beliefs of her fellow members and the Arizona population at large, making her conduct unethical and unacceptable.” 

Her formal response references her apology and reiterates her statement that she didn’t intend to disrespect or desecrate the Bibles. 

“Rep. Stahl Hamilton is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has deep respect for the Bible and for the sacred texts of other faiths,” the letter states.  

Furthermore, her attorneys argue that hiding the Bibles doesn’t constitute theft as defined by Arizona law, as she has a legal right to use items in the members’ lounge. Stahl-Hamilton admitted to hiding the Bibles under couch cushions in the lounge and a community refrigerator, but she never removed them from the building.  

The Republicans argue the Bibles are the government’s property and Stahl-Hamilton obtained control over them to deprive other members from using them. They also said in their complaint that she created a hostile work environment by committing religious harassment in the workplace. 

Since Stahl-Hamilton isn’t in a leadership position, her attorneys also argue it is “legally impossible” for her to create a hostile work environment as she is neither an employer nor supervisor of legislators.  

“Thus, only House leadership and committee chairpersons can create a hostile work environment,” the attorneys wrote.  

Disorderly behavior was the same offense that the Ethics Committee determined expelled Rep. Liz Harris committed earlier in the session, and 46 House members voted to expel her on April 13 after the committee also determined that Harris lied during her Ethics hearing.  

The next steps on whether to proceed with an Ethics hearing against Stahl-Hamilton will be up to Chaplik. The House Ethics Committee, which is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, can dismiss the complaint or determine Stahl-Hamilton violated House rules.  

If they decide the latter, they could recommend disciplinary action; although they didn’t recommend any specific disciplinary action against Harris for inviting conspiracy theories that alleged lawmakers were engaging in criminal activity during a February joint elections hearing.  

Harris’ expulsion vote required two-thirds of the House. Lawmakers have also previously done censure votes against members at the subject of ethics complaints, which require a simple majority. 


‘Any scenario you want to imagine, they could do;’ Harris ethics probe undecided

Liz Harris speaks with attendees at a rally hosted by EZAZ at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix in January 2022. The ethics investigation into Republican Harris of Chandler, who is now a state representative, is still up in the air as she joins a growing list of state lawmakers who have had ethics probes in recent years. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR

The ethics investigation into Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, is still up in the air as the freshman lawmaker joins an expanding list of state lawmakers who have had ethics probes in recent years.
There is yet to be a ruling on the ethics complaint filed against Harris. House Ethics Committee chairman Rep. Joe Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, said after Harris’ testimony to the committee on March 30 that the complaint was going into advisement for ethics members to consult with legal staff and determine a ruling later.
The complaint was filed by Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, and alleges Harris engaged in disorderly conduct for inviting Jacqueline Breger to a Legislative joint elections hearing. Breger proceeded to accuse several elected officials of participating in a bribery deed scheme with the Sinaloa Cartel, including Gov. Katie Hobbs and Speaker of the House Ben Toma, R-Peoria.
The ethics hearing largely focused on a text exchange submitted as evidence between Harris, Breger and suspended attorney John Thaler. Breger was representing Thaler, who had already presented the claims Breger provided to a federal judge. The judge dismissed them as a “delusional and fantastical narrative,” and House and Senate leadership have criticized Harris for inviting Breger.
Ethics members are considering how much of Breger’s testimony Harris knew before Breger presented to the Legislature, and whether it was a predetermined plan by the three to avoid having Breger’s presentation screened by Toma so she could allege wrongdoing of elected officials.
Harris maintains she didn’t know the specific contents of the presentation and only met Breger a few days before the elections hearing. She said she advised Breger to bring a paper copy of her presentation rather than a digital format due to time constraints, not to circumvent Toma.
She also said she was extremely upset to see Toma on a list of elected officials accused of corruption by Breger, but she also knew about the deed scheme prior to the elections hearing.
“I was led to believe (Breger and Thaler) had information on election issues,” Harris said to the Ethics committee on March 30.
It’s not too often when one of Arizona’s Legislative chambers punishes a member after an ethics complaint has been made against them.
“Very rarely, though increasingly frequent in recent years, have we seen these things actually rise to a level where there is consequences for an action,” said Gaelle Esposito, a lobbyist with Creosote Partners.

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, had a complaint filed against her both in 2022 and 2021, but neither resulted in any disciplinary action from the Senate.
The 2022 complaint came after Rogers posted a message on social media about the May 14, 2022 shooting that left 10 black people dead in Buffalo, N.Y., in which she wrote “Fed boy summer has started in Buffalo.” The Senate did censure her on March 1, 2022 after she advocated for building gallows to hang and “make an example” out of traitors and threatened to “destroy” the careers of other Senators.
The Senate Ethics Committee dismissed the 2021 complaint against Rogers, which alleged she mistreated a former assistant. That complaint ended up as a civil lawsuit which alleged assault, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination. The lawsuit was settled for $10,000 in March.
Harris said during the ethics hearing that she didn’t believe her actions met federal and state definitions of disorderly conduct. She said she believed a member would have to do something egregious to meet that definition such as an extreme DUI or a fistfight with another member.
Those instances have happened with legislators. Former Democratic Sen. Tony Navarrete had an ethics complaint filed against him after he was charged with multiple sex crimes against children, but he resigned shortly after he was arrested and the complaint was filed.
In 2018, the House of Representatives voted 56-3 to expel former Republican Rep. Don Shooter, who was facing multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Former Republican Rep. David Stringer also resigned in 2019 before an ethics investigation could proceed after he allegedly made racist comments and sex offense charges from the 1980s resurfaced of Stringer paying a boy with intellectual disabilities for sex.
But not all sex-related complaints have ended in a resignation or expulsion. Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, faced a months-long investigation in 2020 alleging he had an affair with a lobbyist to help her get special favors with officials in Pinal County. While the findings of the investigation were “deeply troubling,” it didn’t amount to disorderly conduct the House could punish. Sexual harassment allegations were also made to former Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita that same year, but a formal ethics complaint was never filed.

Travis Grantham

Former House GOP Communications Director Barrett Marson said Harris’ behavior is not equivalent to previous instances with Shooter and Stringer, but he also said removing Harris’ committee assignments, notably her seat on Municipal Oversight and Elections, could be appropriate.
“Is this a fireable offense, you know probably not. But maybe she loses her perks,” Marson said. “That probably is a pretty appropriate response.”
Marson pointed out the extensive questioning conducted by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, to Harris during the ethics hearing. He said Grantham seemed “frustrated, perplexed, and at times, speechless” to the text exchange between Harris, Breger and Thaler.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a lawmaker more frustrated with a member of his own party than Grantham was,” Marson said.
Stan Barnes, a lobbyist with Copper State Consulting Group and former Republican legislator, said the options the Ethics committee could recommend are wide open, but the entire House would have to vote on that recommendation.
“They could recommend no action. They could never meet again and never talk about it again. Any scenario you want to imagine, they could do,” Barnes said.