2019: Moments of bipartisanship mixed with rough politics

Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, in this screenshot testifies February 20 before the House Judiciary Committee about her bill to repeal an abortion law. The committee’s chairman, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, refused her request to hold the bill and made a political example of it.
Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, in this screenshot testifies February 20 before the House Judiciary Committee about her bill to repeal an abortion law. The committee’s chairman, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, refused her request to hold the bill and made a political example of it.

The highs and lows of the 2019 legislative session can be measured by how well legislators worked together with the smallest of margins.

Republicans in both chambers could have accomplished everything that needed a simple majority vote without the help of a single Democrat – save for a few holdouts as seen during budget negotiations – but that’s not how the session went.

At the highest, the Legislature voted unanimously 108 times in the House (when all members voted) and 178 times in the Senate. At the lowest, the House voted 64 times down party lines; the Senate 22 times. But there were also lows where bills did not make it past a committee hearing.

On February 20, Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, was used by the Republicans as an example of what can happen when ideas aren’t fully fleshed out.

The Phoenix Democrat introduced legislation that would repeal a law that requires a doctor to ensure all available means and medical skills are deployed to promote, preserve and maintain the fetus’ life if the baby is delivered alive during an abortion.

Terán asked the House Judiciary Committee chair, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, to hold the bill because she knew it would not have enough votes. Allen denied her request and heard the bill anyway.

Terán introduced the bill for a personal reason – her sister had a miscarriage – and said that Republicans were not looking at this to have a conversation.

“It’s totally political,” she said.

Allen didn’t relent.

“The idea that you drop a bill and never want it to be heard is not lawmaking. It’s politics,” he said.  Nobody voted for it.

The 134-day session was not all ugly, as legislators were able to unanimously vote on a bill regarding empowerment scholarship accounts – one of the most divisive issues.

Several Republicans support an ESA-expansion, while Democrats don’t. Voters overwhelmingly rejected an expansion in 2018, but that didn’t stop Republicans from introducing legislation this year.

No ESA expansion bill came to fruition during the session, but one bill through ups and downs was able to make its way to the governor’s desk.

In the eleventh hour, controversy started brewing as a direct result of an Arizona Department of Education audit into ESAs. The ADE found several families in Window Rock on the Navajo Reservation who were using their approved-ESA vouchers for private schools across the state border in New Mexico, though the school was still on the reservation and only minutes away from the border itself.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona''s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Holmes display legislation Ducey signed for Arizona”s Drought Contingency Plan. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

This was mistakenly approved by the previous administration, a spokesman for ADE said at the time, and the ESA director sent letters to the families demanding repayment of the amount used or they would lose voucher access.

Once the Legislature found out, both majority leaders sponsored mirror bills to fix the issue. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman did not work with Rep. Warren Petersen or Sen. Rick Gray directly, but had discussed potential solutions with other legislators – including the three who represent the Navajo Nation in Legislative District 7.

Once a solution was reached, one that did not involve a voucher expansion, both the House and Senate approved the measure unanimously, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it at the deadline, vowing to make it part of his agenda next session to allow Native American students to spend public monies outside the state’s borders.

The ESA bill was one of the final decisions Ducey made during the session, which means the session began and ended with immense bipartisan supported bills.

The first piece of legislation Ducey signed this session was the Drought Contingency Plan. There were a few bumps in the road, even post-signing, but the state was able to make its first DCP deadline with all but three legislators voting “aye.” The three Democratic senators voted against it because they thought the drought plan didn’t adequately address the issues of water scarcity and conservation.

The Legislature completed its two bills in time to meet federal standards, except it wasn’t good enough.

On January 31, the day Ducey signed the measures, he was with Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and members of the Legislature and boasted about the historic moment.

“We did it by bringing everyone to the table, putting party labels aside and placing Arizona first,” he said. “The Drought Contingency Plan is a historic, bipartisan achievement.”

Other instances of highs and lows involved a religious mocking and a heartwarming moment in the final minutes before sine die.

Rep. Athena Salman, a known atheist, was in charge of delivering the opening prayer and chose to do so about nature. Rep. John Kavanagh, the following day, decided to introduce his “guest” in the gallery – it was God, and that led to a protest from Salman.

The final moments of the session did involve an uplifting situation in which Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix was physically lifted, in her wheelchair, onto the speaker dais. All other 59 representatives were able to sit in the chair all year, but not Longdon who has pushed for accessibility even before she was elected.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers then pulled out a measuring tape and vowed to fix this problem for next session.

“We can do this,” he said.

2024 spending spread from schools to a rodeo and more

A cowboy competes in the saddle bronc competition during the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, Wednesday, July 3, 2013, in Prescott. The rodeo is earmarked to receive $15 million from the fiscal year 2024 state budget. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The budget crafted by Gov. Katie Hobbs and state lawmakers includes a tax rebate, big-ticket spending packages and – in a break from tradition – funding for scores of small, local projects.

The budget deal moved through the Legislature this week as a 16-bill package and will supply state funding for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1, 2023.

The $17.8 billion budget is balanced, meaning estimated revenues match planned spending under the plan, according to a Joint Legislative Budget Committee analysis published on May 10. But the deal includes plans to spend the state’s more than $2 billion budget surplus now rather than preserving the surplus going forward. It does not, however, touch the rainy-day fund.

The full budget comprises 16 different bills that, combined, run more than 200 pages. Below are some highlights of the deal.


In her State of the State Address earlier this year, Hobbs indicated that education was her top priority for this session, specifically saying she wanted to increase funding for public schools and to pay teachers more, so that more educators keep working in Arizona classrooms. The final budget includes substantial new funding for public education, but it also allows the state’s universal school voucher program to continue growing unabated – something that has angered Democrats and that Hobbs herself described as a compromise.

The K-12 education budget maintains a 0.9% increase in the base level funding and includes a one-time $300 million injection into the state aid formula by way of the Arizona Department of Education.

Districts also saw a $20 million increase in additional assistance, and $183 million was put toward school building renovation. Individual schools and districts can apply for a slice of that $183 million through the School Facilities Board. Other K-12 spending includes $15 million to dual enrollment programs, $10 million to increase administrative funding and $3 million for professional development for teachers and other personnel.

In higher education, there is a $20 million earmark for the Promise Scholarship program and $15 million for the Arizona Teachers Academy. There isn’t money to expand the Promise program to undocumented students – something Hobbs asked for in her executive budget proposal.

Both chambers passed resolutions to waive the aggregate expenditure limit for the next fiscal year, allowing schools to spend the new monies put toward the education budget this session.

And though Democrats did not get the cap on enrollment in the Empowerment Scholarship Account program that they wanted, the budget includes some additional reporting requirements for the program and House leadership agreed to convene an oversight committee to issue a report on administration of the program.

Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein said of the study committee, “It will have to do … This, in combination with accountability measures, might lead to a better solution in the coming months.”

The city of Phoenix begins cleanup in ‘The Zone’, a downtown Phoenix homeless encampment in Phoenix. A judge ordered the city to clean up the city’s largest homeless encampment, citing it being a ‘public nuisance.” The state’s fiscal year 2024 budget puts $40 million to shelters and services and $150 million toward the Housing Trust Fund. PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA BUXBAUM/SIPA USA


Housing and homelessness also saw significant investments. The budget puts $40 million to shelters and services and $150 million toward the Housing Trust Fund.
The Housing Trust Fund, administered by the Department of Housing, invests in programs like a tax homeless credit for affordable housing developers, assists in improving access to federal housing funds and supplements state housing assistance programs like homeless shelters and eviction prevention.

The Mobile Home Relocation Fund also saw a $5 million deposit. Payouts available through the fund were increased when Hobbs signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, earlier this year.

Putting further funding toward housing comes as a court ordered the city of Phoenix to clear out “the Zone,” the state’s largest homeless encampment located just a few blocks from the Capitol. The city started clearing the area on May 10 and has made it clear in legal filings that they lack shelter space to accommodate every person pushed out of the area.

The Arizona Housing Coalition said the budget would deliver a “historic” investment to deal with housing and homelessness issues. The coalition is one of the state’s leading organizations working on housing and the current Department of Housing director, Joan Serviss, is a former director of the nonprofit organization.

Although they’re pouring money into the Housing Trust Fund, lawmakers haven’t been able to reach a compromise on other legislation seeking to address housing. A major bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, stalled earlier this year after facing opposition from cities and towns.


The major tax package in the proposal is a tax rebate that will send money back to some parents of dependent children. The rebate will be calculated based on dependents: taxpayers can get $250 back for each child under 17 and $100 for dependents 17 and up. Rebates can only be issued for up to three dependents per taxpayer – meaning the maximum rebate per taxpayer will be $750 – and the rebate will be calculated based on tax year 2021 returns.

There’s one other detail: rebates can only be issued to taxpayers with at least $1 of tax liability in 2021, 2020 or 2019. In other words, the lowest-income Arizonans, who have no tax liability at all, won’t get money under the program.

JLBC calculated that the one-time rebate will cost $259.8 million.

The plan looks similar to a child tax rebate proposal that Hobbs floated at the beginning of the year. But Hobbs’ proposal was different in key respects: the governor’s plan was to distribute $100 per child to low-income parents. That means Hobbs’ plan likely would have given money to low-earning parents who won’t qualify for benefits under the enacted budget, but it would have cut out higher earners who will be able to get a rebate under the enacted deal.

Ultimately, the tax rebate that made it into the budget was pushed by Republicans – something that GOP lawmakers were keen on clarifying.

“I’m proud of the fact that we have a number – quite a bit – of conservative Republicans who put money into this fund so that we could get a tax rebate to help Arizona families,” said Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.

Republicans also passed an amendment to prohibit the Governor’s Officer from sending letters about the tax rebate.


It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to insert some smaller projects among the big-ticket items in the state budget. Adding a modest project to help out a particular lawmaker’s district can be a way to secure a vote from a legislator who is uncertain about supporting a bill.

But this year’s budget process went further than throwing a few pet projects into the final deal: Republican lawmakers divided up surplus cash and offered a “share” to individual legislators to fund their own projects, or to combine their shares to pay for larger projects.

Republicans in the House were allocated $20 million and, in the Senate, $30 million. Democrats as a whole were allocated approximately $700 million, but the caucus’ leadership opted not to divide that up among individual members. One of the Democrats’ spending items was the $300 million transfer to the Department of Education.
The result is that the fiscal year 2024 budget is chock-full of small-dollar, hyperlocal spending projects.

Without a full accounting from lawmakers, it’s hard to determine how many projects were requested as part of individual slice-of-the-pie budgeting process – and who asked for what. But it’s clear that dozens of projects made it into the final package through individual requests.

The JLBC analysis shows more than 20 “local distribution” projects that will be paid out by the treasurer, like $15 million for the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo and $850,000 for a transportation study in Sun City. And there are almost 100 items listed under capital spending, many of which look like targeted, local projects.

A large number of capital projects fall under ADOT, indicating that they’ll fund various kinds of road work. There’s $1.5 million for a roundabout in Payson; $8.6 million for an Interstate 19 interchange near Nogales; $10.5 million to repave part of US 60 from Morristown to Wickenburg; $250,000 for a construction study for Cave Creek Road.

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, told KJZZ that he used half of his share of the money for a deep well for the city of Peoria, and the other half as a contribution to a joint project for road work on State Route 30.

Livingston said the individual allocations “played a big role” in getting the budget done and argued that it’s an efficient way of divvying up state money.


More than $51 million is slated to go toward prison health care and an additional $100 million will cover prison building repair and capital projects as the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry faces a decades long lawsuit.

In April, a federal judge ordered the department to make sweeping improvements to state prison conditions and health care system, citing an “unconstitutional substantial risk of serious harm.”

Judge Roslyn Silver said the department had three months to make major improvements across record keeping, staffing and inmate mental and physical health care. Silver also required prisons to be free of garbage, mold, mildew, filth, vermin, insects and rust.

“As a matter of common decency, an Order should not be required to prompt Defendants to repair leaking pipes, repair inoperative toilets, or collect trash,” Silver wrote.

The budget also puts $2 million toward a grant to provide transitional housing and services for formerly incarcerated people.

And in juvenile corrections, the budget provides a $250,000 backfill for courts to cover juvenile monetary sanctions. A bill to repeal juvenile monetary sanctions is making headway in the Legislature, but the only opposition comes from the courts which feared the pitfall it would create in the budget.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent instructs a group of undocumented immigrants where to line up near a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Yuma. Although the governor and lawmakers haven’t highlighted border-related spending in the fiscal year 2024 budget the package does make some significant modifications to funds that have already been designated for border projects. PHOTO BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN VIA AP


The governor and lawmakers haven’t highlighted border-related spending in this year’s budget, but the package does make some significant modifications to funds that have already been designated for border projects.

The $335 million that was earmarked last year for border projects will no longer be restricted to being used for physical barriers. Former Gov. Doug Ducey already spent more than half of the cash on a short-lived container barrier that was torn down late last year following legal action from the federal government. Cost estimates for building and disassembling the container wall are generally in the realm of $200 million, meaning there’s still a significant sum of money left over.

The budget also effectively renames Ducey’s Border Strike Task Force the Local Border Support fund. Hobbs has said she would eliminate the controversial strike force, but the JLBC budget analysis indicates the change basically amounts to renaming the project, which is funded through the Department of Public Safety and gets about $12 million per year. The budget includes minor changes to funding rules for the Local Border Support fund.


On top of the small-scale infrastructure projects chosen by individual lawmakers, the budget includes significant carve-outs for major highway projects. There’s $89 million to widen the I-10 from Phoenix to Casa Grande and $76 million to expand 1-17 from Anthem to Sunset Point. The interstate funding in this year’s budget comes after the state applied last year for federal money to support the I-10 widening project, but had the proposal rejected. The entire project is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, meaning this year’s appropriation won’t be enough to complete the work.

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said on Twitter that he had pushed for the for I-10 funding and that the state will need about $120 million in matching funding from the federal government to finish the project.


9th Circuit Court halts voter registration

Brazil Vote Concept

Arizonans who want to vote this election now have only through Thursday to get signed up.

In an order issued late Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan, an appointee of President Obama, acted illegally when he extended the state’s voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 until Oct. 23.

“The district court’s order was an obvious abuse of discretion,” wrote the judges.

But two of the judges said it makes no sense to compound the problem by immediately halting all new registrations. Instead, they left the door open for two more days.

Potentially more significant, the order contains another provision that spells out that anyone who registered after Oct. 5 — as Logan allowed — will get to keep their right to vote on Nov. 3 despite missing the original deadline. The only requirement is that their registration forms must “reach county election offices by that Thursday night deadline.

So far, according to data compiled Tuesday by Hobbs’ office, there were 26,652 new names added to the registration list since Oct. 5. That includes 8,317 Republicans, 6,237 Democrats, 393 Libertarians and 11,705 not affiliated with any recognized political party.

On top of that, another 74,035 people used the window of opportunity to update their registrations. That can include changing parties and updating addresses.

Only Judge Jay Bybee, an appointee of President George W. Bush, dissented, saying that those who registered after the Oct. 5 deadline — what is in state law — should not be allowed to cast a ballot for the general election. But the majority said that an immediate and retroactive halt would only further complicate matters, forcing election officials to undo the registrations that already have come in the door.

The order came over the objection of Attorney General Mark Brnovich. He was willing to allow those who already registered to vote but sought an immediate cutoff of new signups.

Attorney Kory Langhofer, representing the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, filed his own objection.

Langhofer wanted the court to rule that anyone who signed up after Oct. 5 was ineligible to vote, even if they already had registered since that date. He said no decision has been made whether to seek review by the full 9th Circuit.

Logan issued his ruling earlier this month following a complaint by Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change that the COVID-19 outbreak and the resultant travel and gathering restrictions imposed in March by Gov. Doug Ducey curtailed their ability to sign up new voters. He agreed to add an extra 2 1/2 weeks to help compensate.

At a hearing Monday, two of the appellate judges expressed doubts about the legality of Snow’s ruling. But rather than decide the issue, they directed the attorneys to work out something themselves.


9th Circuit hears plea to extend voting deadline for Navajo residents

A sign points to a local polling station for the Arizona Democratic presidential preference election Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A sign points to a local polling station for the Arizona Democratic presidential preference election Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

An attorney representing several Navajo Nation residents asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to give reservation dwellers more time to submit their ballots and have them counted.

Steven Sandven argued that Judge Murray Snow got it wrong last month when he concluded that the burdens on reservation residents in meeting the 7 p.m. Election Day deadline is no greater than that faced by residents of other rural areas of the state. As such, Snow concluded, the deadline does not violate the federal Voter Protection Act.

But Sandven told the appellate judges the test is whether Native Americans, as a “protected class” under federal law, have the same opportunity to vote as all other non-Indians in the state, regardless of where they live. The record, he said, shows that is not the case.

He said this is more than just the fact that mail to and from rural areas takes longer, leaving reservation residents less time to consider the issues than non-Indian voters before they have to send their ballots back.

For example, Sandven said, in Scottsdale there is one Election Day polling place for every 13.4 square miles versus one location on the Navajo Reservation for 306 miles.

On top of that, he said, there is no home delivery for most of the reservation, the distance to the post office “and the fact that many Navajo Nation members have insufficient funds to travel to a post office.”

All that, Sandven said, is that tribal members have less opportunity to exercise their right to vote than other voters.

“We don’t need to show that they have no opportunity to vote,” he said.

“There’s no dispute as to the nature of those conditions and the effect that those conditions have in terms of making it more difficult for these voters to access the ballot.”

But members of the three-judge panel hearing the case were not sure they can provide the relief he wants: requiring ballots from Navajo Nation addresses to be counted if they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Judge Margaret McKeown said there’s no evidence that ballot envelopes actually get a postmark, despite an order to the U.S. Postal Service in a separate case out of New York to do so this year.

Even if they do, there’s the sorting question.

Assuming county recorders could figure out which ballots came from on-reservation addresses, there are, in fact, people who are not Native American who live there and who are entitled, based on their “protected status,” to more time to turn in their ballots.

Roopali Desai, who represents Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, told the appellate judges there are even more basic questions. It starts with the fact that the lawsuit filed on behalf of six members of the Navajo Nation names only Hobbs as the defendant.

But Desai said her client has nothing to do with receiving or counting ballots — or even can tell the county recorders what to do. She said anyone seeking to change the deadline must also sue the recorders.

Desai also questioned whether the six plaintiffs even have legal standing to sue in the first place because they never claimed any actual injury from the deadline.

“There are no allegations in the complaint, nor did any of the plaintiffs testify at the injunction hearing about the fact that they intend to participate in the 2020 election, that they are planning to use themselves a vote-by-mail ballot,” she said. “And there is no evidence in the record that they have ever previously submitted a ballot that was rejected because they suffered from some sort of mail delay or the fact that their ballot was too late to be counted.”

Desai told the judge that Hobbs acknowledges the hardships that are faced by members of the Navajo Nation including poverty, isolation, problems with traveling on the reservation and unreliable mail service.

“But those harms are not traceable to the secretary or, more importantly, to the receipt deadline,” she said.

And there’s one more thing.

Desai pointed out that the lawsuit specifically seeks the extra time solely for those living on the Navajo Reservation. She told the appellate judges if they were to grant that request it likely would result in confusion.

“What is somebody who is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribal nation in southern Arizona thought that the order … intended to allow all Native Americans in Arizona to postmark their ballot as opposed to having it returned on the Election Day receipt deadline?” she asked the appellate judges. “Would it apply to one Native American voter versus another?”

The appellate judges gave no indication when they will rule — and whether that will come in time for this year’s election.


Abortion bill requires more reporting from doctors, hospitals, clinics

Doctors who provide abortions would have to ask a woman why she wants the procedure under a legislative proposal to boost reporting requirements.

Hospitals, abortion clinics and the Arizona Department of Health Services would also have to expand on the amount and nature of information they report monthly and annually regarding the procedure.

Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix)

“This is pretty straightforward — it strengthens our abortion reporting,” said Republican Sen. Nancy Barto, the bill’s prime sponsor. “For a lot of reasons it’s important to have information and so we’re looking at how other states are gathering information and basing most of our bill on how other states have expanded the information that they get so their policymaking is based on facts.”

Under current Arizona law enacted in 2010, hospitals and physicians are only required to report to ADHS whether an abortion performed was elective or if it was done for the health and safety of the mother or fetus.

Barto’s SB1394 would require that details such as whether anesthesia was administered to the mother or fetus be included in a hospital or clinic’s report to ADHS. The report would also have to include the specific reason and circumstance leading to the abortion, and whether any complications arose in the procedure.

In terms of the clinics and physicians that perform abortions, the bill would require that the specialty of the physician who performed the procedure and the total number of abortions done be reported, and that a newly created informed consent form be completed. With this form, health professionals would have to sign and submit a monthly report to ADHS detailing the number of women who did or did not receive information and ultrasound services at least 24 hours before the abortion was performed.

The annual statistical report made by ADHS about abortions would also have to include a complete breakdown of any and all abortions paid for with state monies in any capacity. It would also have to release a monthly report with the number of abortions performed or prescribed throughout the state, and the reasoning behind those abortions.

Cathi Herrod
Cathi Herrod

With such an extensive amount of information being requested, Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which assisted in writing the legislation, said the bill will help more than complicate things for women seeking abortions.

“Better data means better services for women,” Herrod said.

Herrod said the bill was inspired by legislation that was passed in Oklahoma and Minnesota, which implement similar requirements for reporting on abortions. She said she believes that passing SB1394 would improve upon Arizona’s existing laws on the issue.

“This bill enhances our current abortion reporting laws… It will help policymakers better understand the reasoning behind abortions so they can better fulfill the needs of women,” Herrod added.

There are many, however, who say the changes proposed are unnecessary and could potentially violate the privacy of the patients involved. Barto and Herrod have said that the bill still ensures protection for the identities of the patients, but opponents of the legislation fear that requiring women to explain their reasoning in getting an abortion could shame them, and requiring even more reports and paperwork could deter physicians from wanting to provide abortions.

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

“This is a legal medical procedure that should be between a woman and her doctor. There’s no need to increase reporting requirements,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

Though this proposed legislation is considered the tamest of some of the abortion bills that have been proposed in the past, Herrod says SB1394 is the only bill CAP and other anti-abortion groups will pursue this year. A hearing for it was originally set for February 8, but was canceled when a hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee ran long.

Abortion questionnaire bill signed into law

(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)
(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)

Women who want to terminate a pregnancy are going to be asked some questions first.

But they don’t have to answer.

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed a measure into law that spells out a new list of things that doctors and clinics are required to ask. The law takes effect 91 days after the Legislature ends its session.

Existing law contains an open-ended question that health care providers are supposed to ask about the reason for the abortion. That includes whether the procedure is elective or due to some issue of maternal or fetal health.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said that doesn’t provide sufficient information, at least not in a form where it can be classified into categories and published in annual reports by the Department of Health Services.

As originally crafted by Cathi Herrod of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, the list of choices women would have been given when asked about why they want an abortion would have included economic reasons, a decision not to have children at this time, the pregnancy was due to rape or incest, or whether there were “relationship issues, including abuse, separation, divorce and extramarital affairs.”

That gained Senate approval over the objections of Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

“If I get an abortion, it is no one’s business,” she told colleagues.

“It is not this Legislature’s business, it is not the governor’s business or anyone in state government,” Hobbs continued. “The Catholic Church does not need to know why I am getting an abortion, and not the Center for Arizona Policy.”

But when several House Republicans balked at the list, Herrod was forced to pare down the list.

As signed by Ducey, women will be asked whether the abortion is elective or whether it was due to one of a list of medical conditions.

Other questions include whether the procedure is being sought because the pregnancy is due to rape or incest. And women also will be questioned whether they are being coerced into the abortion, whether they are the victim of sex trafficking and whether they are the victim of domestic violence.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, defended in particular the questions on sex trafficking and coercion. He said it gives women, who will be taken into a separate room, a chance to seek help.

Nothing in the measure requires a woman to answer in order to have her pregnancy terminated.

House approval came after Republicans rejected a bid by Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, to also ask women if they were seeking an abortion because they lacked access to affordable family planning. Farnsworth said that question is irrelevant.

Ducey, in a prepared statement, said the bill simply updates existing reporting requirements by requesting information, which women need not provide, on whether a crime has occurred and provides information on services to women on how to report that crime. The governor did not address the other questions women will be asked which are not related to crimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After criticism from left, budget passes with bipartisan support

Deposit Photo

A $17.8 billion budget package cleared the Arizona Senate early Wednesday morning as lawmakers fast-track a fiscal year 2024 plan that would pour money into housing and education, while providing a one-time tax rebate and letting the state’s universal school voucher program continue to expand. 

And after Democrats spent the morning complaining about the content of the deal and the negotiating process behind it, more than half of the Democratic members of the Senate supported the deal in a series of middle-of-the-night votes. 

The vote on the principal spending bill came at about 4:30 a.m. and passed 25-5, with all Republicans and nine Democrats voting ‘Yes.’ 

“There’s a lot of good stuff in here,” said Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tucson, the Senate minority leader, who voted for the full budget package. But like others in her caucus, Epstein supported the deal grudgingly, criticizing both Republican lawmakers and Democrat Gov. Katie Hobbs for how they handled the budget process. Epstein also called the overall spending plan “irresponsible.” 

Warren Petersen

Republicans were less vocal but sounded more satisfied by the outcome. Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, praised the process and the product of the budget deal. 

“25 ‘ayes,’ five ‘nays.’ Bipartisan. Got our priorities in. That sounds like a success to me,” he said. 

The package delivers major spending on issues important to Hobbs and Democrats, like $150 million for the state’s Housing Trust Fund and more than half a billion dollars for education and schools. It also includes provisions requested by GOP lawmakers, like a $260 million one-time tax rebate and a slew of smaller projects hand-picked by individual legislators. 

On Wednesday morning lawmakers approved some minor amendments to the deal including adding about 13 jobs in the Attorney General’s office, but they didn’t dramatically alter the deal that was made public on Monday. 

The vote came amid a whirlwind week at the capitol. Lawmakers introduced the budget package late Monday afternoon and used rule changes to speed up the approval process and limit public debate about the deal, which had been hammered out in advance behind closed doors. 

The House was set to return to session at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, meaning the budget could be sent to the governor’s office for approval later the same day. 

Hobbs, Ducey, wildfires
 Gov. Katie Hobbs

The bipartisan support for the budget on Wednesday morning came hours after Democrats in House and Senate appropriations committees opposed the proposals almost unanimously on Tuesday morning. They cited a negotiation process that didn’t give them a place at the table and concerns about the ballooning costs of the state’s universal school voucher program. 

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, initially criticized the proposal for failing to place a cap on voucher program costs, but ultimately voted yes on some of the measures in the budget package, including the education bill. 

“I wanted a cap” on ESA spending, Marsh said on Wednesday. “But the reality is, there still was a lot of other good stuff in there and ultimately it came down to my deep-seated belief that the alternative was going to be worse – blowing up this budget was going to be worse.” 

The budget package was split into 16 separate bills. Republicans were united in backing the full package, but some Democrats voted ‘Yes’ for some bills and ‘No’ on others. 

Sens. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, and Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, opposed all the budget bills. 

“This was not a budget built for all of Arizona,” Mendez said. 

The budget deal was a surprise on a few fronts. For one, it came earlier than expected. Since the beginning of the year, state capitol observers have speculated that budget negotiations would drag into late June, given the publicly contentious relationship between Hobbs and Republicans in the legislature. 

“What were all the pundits saying? ‘Oh, it’ll get done on June 30,’” Petersen said at one point. “They were wrong.” 

It also represented an unusual kind of bipartisan compromise. Republican lawmakers hashed out the deal with Hobbs and Democratic lawmakers seemed to be blindsided by the proposal this week. 

As Democrats vented their frustration with Hobbs’ budget on Tuesday, the governor took the day to leave the capitol and head to Tucson for a news conference on immigration policy. 

On Tuesday morning, Christian Slater, a spokesman for Hobbs, didn’t directly say if the governor was willing to sign a budget that didn’t get any votes from Democrats, but he made it clear that the governor was happy with the package as it was introduced. 

Then, early on Wednesday morning, Slater indicated the Hobbs had helped flip some of her fellow Democrats. 

“The gov herself got those votes,” he said in a text message, as lawmakers voted on the first of the bills in the budget package. 







After political and legal wrangling, SOS begins E-Qual updating process

After months of misfires and threats that spilled into the courts, the Secretary of State’s online signature-gathering system removed some functionality to begin updates on Thursday night, a minute before midnight.  

On Friday, voters who hoped to sign a nominating petition for a congressional or legislative candidate through the E-Qual online portal were instead greeted with a message: “Your 2022 congressional and legislative districts will not be reflected in E-Qual until all counties finish implementing the updates into the statewide voter registration database. Until the counties complete this work, E-Qual will be unavailable for voters to sign petitions or contribute $5 Qualifying Contributions for congressional and legislative candidates.”  

Katie Hobbs

Though Attorney General Mark Brnovich previously threatened Secretary of State Katie Hobbs with prosecution if she went through with plans to update the system with newly-approved electoral districts, the AG’s office wouldn’t comment on its plans on Friday. “It would be inappropriate to speculate on any potential action(s) by our office,” spokeswoman Katie Conner wrote in an email.  

The partial E-Qual outage marks the start of a process, months in the making, to implement the congressional and legislative maps approved earlier this year by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. It comes after the threat from Brnovich, who claimed that taking away access to E-Qual during the candidate filing period would be illegal; and after Hobbs sought a preliminary injunction from a Maricopa County judge that would have effectively given her the legal go-ahead to proceed with the update. 

In January, after the commission approved new electoral districts, it became clear that the E-Qual system didn’t accommodate signatures from voters in the new districts – and it wasn’t going to be able to quickly. Republicans accused Hobbs of failing to prepare for the predictable impacts of redistricting; the SOS argued that inconvenient system maintenance was unavoidable. 

Attorney General Mark Brnovich  (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

With no injunction and absent a definitive legal ruling, the Secretary of State proceeded to start the updates on March 18. Still, the move came later than initially planned – the Secretary of State’s office previously said it would begin on March 11. 

The candidate filing period runs from March 5 to April 4, so the delay had the effect of leaving the system in place for congressional and legislative candidates for almost half of that time. 

Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said the office held two webinars for candidates and sent almost a dozen emails about signature-gathering and the planned E-Qual updates. She added that the length of time the system won’t work for congressional and legislative candidates will be determined by how fast the counties upload new district information, but the SOS has told candidates to be prepared to not have access to the system throughout the rest of the filing period. 

A webpage showing the status of individual county updates labeled three of the state’s 15 counties as complete: Greenlee, Yavapai and Yuma. The other 12 were listed as “in progress.” 

Before Friday, candidates for congress and the state legislature could gather electronic signatures from voters who live in the old electoral districts, but not the new districts they’re running to represent in 2022. When the updates are complete, those candidates will be able collect signatures from voters in their new districts, but not the old ones. 

Thanks to the “safe harbor” provision passed by lawmakers last year, candidates are free to submit nominating signatures from voters in their old or new districts. And the issues with E-Qual don’t stop them from doing that the old-fashioned way, with paper petition forms. 

Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Committee, said that after all the confusion, he was hopeful that the updates ultimately won’t have a big impact on this year’s election cycle. “My hope would be, and I think it’s possible, that this could be … not a big deal,” he said. 

E-Qual plays a significant role in signature-gathering, but in 2020, the majority of nominating signatures submitted to the Secretary of State didn’t come through the online system. Of the 388,159 signatures submitted in 2020, about 65,690 – or 17% – came through E-Qual, according to Hebert. Kari Lake, the leading GOP gubernatorial candidate, turned in 15,861 nominating signatures to the SOS last week, with 14,804 of those recorded through E-Qual. 

Candidates like Lake running for statewide or federal office aren’t impacted by the updating system, since congressional and legislative district maps aren’t applicable to them. But the issues surrounding E-Qual have drawn partisan criticism since they were first publicized in January. 

In a text message, Hebert pointed to a tweet posted on Wednesday by Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who’s running for Secretary of State with Trump’s endorsement. In the post, Finchem appeared to imply that he would be impacted by the updating process: “I need 800 more signatures ASAP before Katie Hobbs shuts down my link again.” Hebert said that Finchem’s tweet was “just wrong.” 

AG Brnovich escapes Bar sanctions, enters ‘diversion agreement’

Katie Hobbs, left, and Mark Brnovich.

The State Bar of Arizona will not punish Attorney General Mark Brnovich over claims that he acted unethically in his representation of two state agencies. 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he did nothing wrong in his dealings with Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Board of Regents. 

On Friday, Brnovich’s press aide said he had “reached an agreement … to resolve the Bar complaints.” 

In each case, Katie Conner said, both complaints will be dismissed “with no sanctions or findings of professional conduct.” 

What Conner did not say, however, is that Brnovich and his attorneys have entered into a “diversion agreement.” 

In a letter, James Lee, senior counsel for the Bar, said the terms of that agreement are confidential. 

But the Bar’s own documents show that this outcome is not a finding that the lawyer did nothing wrong. 

“Diversion is intended as an alternative to disciplinary sanction,” according to the Bar. More to the point, it says the primary purpose is to identify lawyers who have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct “and whose cases involve minor misconduct.” 

Hobbs said she believes that this will prove critical to preventing the kind of problems she was having with Brnovich that caused her to file the complaint in the first place. 

“Diversion is designed to remedy the lawyer’s problem and prevent recurrence,” she said in a prepared statement. 

“Although the terms of this diversion agreement are confidential, the State Bar is helping to prevent these ethical lapses from occurring again,” Hobbs said. “And that is justice.” 

There was no immediate response from the Board of Regents. 

Both cases stem from complaints that Brnovich violated those ethical rules by acting on one hand as the attorney for the two agencies while also taking action contrary to their interests.
Hobbs said that the Attorney General’s office, in its role representing her agency, had received confidential attorney-client communications and provided advice. The problem, she said, is that the AG’s office then withdrew from representing her and the Secretary of State — and then took a legal position “materially adverse to the secretary of state.” 

Brnovich clearly was not pleased with the finding. 

Conner said her boss will now seek a change in those ethical rules — the ones that Hobbs and the Board of Regents accused him of violating — to say that his duties as a constitutionally elected state official and the chief attorney for the state are different than a private lawyer hired by a client. 

And Conner took a swat at how Hobbs is describing the diversion agreement. 

“The secretary of state is once again trying to spin a story,” she said. “We entered an agreement with the State Bar today that soon will result in the dismissal of each complaint with no finding of professional misconduct,” Conner continued, saying that “cooperation is always the best approach for resolving difficult issues.” 

But Lyndel Manson, chairman of the Board of Regents, made it clear he sees the resolution as does Hobbs. 

“The State Bar of Arizona recognized that the attorney general’s professional conduct required corrective action by entering into a diversion agreement with the Attorney General,” she said in her own prepared statement. “Contrary to the Attorney General’s assertion, the Bar’s decision is not a vindication of the attorney general’s conduct.”

“Contrary to the Attorney General’s assertion, the Bar’s decision is not a vindication of the attorney general’s conduct.”

Lyndel Manson, chairman of the Board of Regents

In the other case, the main issue in the complaint was that Brnovich actually filed suit against the regents over a deal made by Arizona State University for a hotel and conference center on university property. That lawsuit, which is still pending, involves claims that the deal amounted to an illegal gift of public funds. 

But there’s more, including Brnovich publicly blasting the board over what he contends are overly high — and potentially illegal — tuition increases. 

Brnovich has argued all along that he is different than any other attorney by virtue of his constitutional duties and powers. 

While Brnovich did not address the diversion, he declared the outcome to be in his favor — and a slap at Hobbs and the regents. 

“This is a victory for the rule of law and a rebuke for anyone attempting to weaponize the system for regulating lawyers for their own political purposes,” he said in his prepared statement. “No one working for our office should have been subjected to these Bar complaints, which put their reputations and livelihoods in jeopardy merely for doing their jobs as public servants.” 

The finding comes just days after Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, introduced legislation that would financially penalize anyone who files a Bar complaint that is not borne out, making that person liable not only for the attorney’s legal fees but also any damage to reputation.

On Twitter: AzCap Media (@AzCapMedia) | Twitter

 This article was updated Feb 7, 2022 at 1:40 p.m. for clarity.

AG convinced no problems with Sharpies, steps away from lawsuit

"Sharpie" permanent marker pen isolated against white background

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is apparently satisfied that no one is being cheated out of a vote by the use of Sharpies to mark ballots.

Michael Catlett, who handles election issues for Brnovich, said an extensive explanation of the use of the felt-tipped pen by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office now convinces him there is no basis to believe that ballots have been left uncounted based on a “bleed-through” of ink. So as far as he is concerned, the matter is closed.

But Catlett expressed no remorse for demanding answers to a list of questions about the process and requiring county officials to respond in less than 24 hours. He said his office had received “hundreds” of complaints from concerned voters.

“While some have attempted to characterize those complaints as the product of a ‘conspiracy theory,’ it was necessary and appropriate for the Attorney General’s Office to conduct some investigation, rather than simply brushing hundred of Arizona voters off, and to obtain information from the elected officials actually tasked with tabulating votes,” he wrote in a letter to Tom Liddy who heads the civil division of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

And Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said a review continues of the more than 1,000 complaints to separate out those whose votes may actually have been affected versus those who wrote in saying they had heard all about what has been dubbed #SharpieGate.

That decision by the Attorney General’s Office to declare there’s nothing to see here led

While Brnovich is walking away, that’s not the case for some Republican interests who are pushing ahead with litigation asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Margaret Mahoney to intercede.

Attorney Alexander Kolodin wants a ruling that ballots that were not accepted at polling places because of bleed-through or related problems must be identified and “cured.” And he wants a full-blown hearing to explore the legality of the process to mark and review ballots.

But Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, in her own legal filing Thursday, said there just isn’t the time for the judge to give Kolodin what he wants.

She pointed out that Arizona law requires the county to approve the formal “canvass” of the votes no later than Nov. 23. And that deadline, in turn, affects the ability of her office to finalize all election results for the state a week later.

So Hobbs told Mahoney if she’s going to set a hearing it needs to be no later than Monday, forcing Kolodin to present whatever evidence he has at that time. But the secretary also made it clear to the judge that, as she sees it, there’s nothing to the case, calling the claims of disenfranchisement due to the use of Sharpies “patently false.”

And Hobbs told Mahoney if she wants proof of that, all she needs to do is refer to the conclusion by the Attorney General’s Office that no one was cheated.

Liddy, in his own arguments, said there are no ballots cast at polling places that have been set aside that can be run through counting equipment.

He said if a ballot has extra or stray marks or marked more votes than allowed, then it is spit out by the tabulating machine. At that point, Liddy said, voters can “spoil” their ballot and get a new one from poll workers.

“For various reasons, some voters choose not to spoil their ballots, which is their right,” he said.

Kolodin, for his part, remains unconvinced.

“That’s what they say,” he told Capitol Media Services.

Kolodin also said there is evidence that people were denied new ballots or that the ballots with problems, rather than being counted by machines, were set aside and sent to county offices where individuals sought to “adjudicate” what is the voter’s intent. But that, however, runs afoul of the right of voters who show up at polling places to feed their ballots into the machines and verify that they are being tallied.

He also wants Mahoney to order that outsiders, including people who say their Sharpie-marked ballots may have been misread, to go to county offices and watch as these ballots are fed back through machines.

Liddy said there are no such boxes of ballots waiting to be rerun and tabulated. But here, too, Kolodin questions that assertion.

“That’s why we have courts to determine what are the facts,” he said.

And Kolodin sniffed at assertions that random outsiders are unnecessary and inappropriate at central tallying locations to monitor the process to be sure that no one’s ballots are being disregarded.

“You’ve got a lot of confidence in these party officials,” he said, saying they have “the party’s interest at heart” and not necessarily that of any individual voter.

Liddy is arguing that the maligned Sharpies actually are the device recommended by the manufacturer of the scanning equipment. That’s because they have quick-drying ink.

By contrast, he said, the ink in some ball-point pens stays wet as the ballot is being fed through the scanner. And that, in turn, “can cause smudges in the machine and foul them, while Sharpie markers do not.”

What Liddy also told Catlett as well as the judge is that even if there is a bleed-through, it doesn’t matter. That’s because the ovals on the back side of the ballot are offset from those on the front. So even ink that goes through to the other side would not affect any votes.

AG to appeal ruling on 2017 campaign finance overhaul

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announces a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents on Sept. 8. The suit alleges ABOR is not adhering to a constitutional requirement that tuition for residents attending state universities be “nearly as free as possible.” (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich will appeal a ruling that parts of a campaign finance overhaul violated the Voter Protection Act by altering the state’s clean elections process.

Brnovich’s decision came as other defendants in the lawsuit, filed by the Arizona Advocacy Network and some legislative Democrats in 2017, opted against defending the law any further in court. Among those defendants: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who was in the unique position of having once been a plaintiff in the same case.

Hobbs was a Democratic state senator when the case by AZAN was filed in 2017. In November 2018, she was elected secretary of state, replacing the former secretary, Republican Michele Reagan, as a defendant in the case.

After first removing herself as a plaintiff, Hobbs decided earlier this month not to seek an appeal of the Maricopa County Superior Court ruling, which struck down several parts of the controversial election law passed under Reagan’s watch.

Specifically, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David J. Palmer agreed that amending certain definitions in campaign finance laws fundamentally altered the Clean Elections Act, even though the law, passed as SB1516, didn’t actually amend the specific statutes put into effect when voters approved the Clean Elections Act.

Those new definitions largely gutted key provisions that are essential to Clean Elections being able to achieve the goals voters supported when they voted for it in 1998, AZAN argued, and Palmer agreed.

“The Commission and the Plaintiffs are correct,” Palmer wrote in his ruling. “SB 1516 almost completely changed requirements on amounts that could be donated or received, on disclosure requirements regarding where donations came from, on what constituted donations, on how such contributions could be used, and many other terms that significantly change the provisions of the [Clean Elections] Act.”

With Hobbs not actively pursuing an appeal, and the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council taking themselves out of the picture as well – their attorney, Timothy La Sota, said GRRC had no interest in participating in an appeal – the decision fell to Brnovich.

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the attorney general, said that the Attorney General’s Office decided it was prudent to appeal a Maricopa Superior Court ruling.

“Our office made a decision to defend the law on behalf of the state,” Anderson said. “I can’t speak to the position of the Secretary of State’s Office, but we have independent authority to defend the statute on behalf of the state.”

Brnovich will continue to retain Timothy Berg, a private attorney who represented the state of Arizona and former secretary Reagan in superior court.

With an appeal on the horizon, legislative Republicans have also hired their own attorney to help defend the law, and a familiar face at that: Eric Spencer. As elections director under Reagan, Spencer was vital to crafting the controversial election-law changes.

The Legislature did not intervene in the case when Maricopa County Superior Court heard the case, but Spencer is now tasked with filing an amicus brief during the impending appeal of that Superior Court ruling before the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Spencer confirmed the Legislature hired him, but declined to comment as an attorney in the case.

All mail election debate gets new life, spurred by virus

In this March 10, 2020, file photo, a King County Election worker collects ballots from a drop box in Seattle for the primary election in Washington State, where elections are all mail. In Arizona, where voters can ask for a mail-in ballot, Democrats and some Republican election officials are calling for an all mail election, at least for this year as the coronavirus causes anxiety for face-to-face contact at the least and sickness and death at the worst. PHOTO BY JOHN FROSCHAUER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this March 10, 2020, file photo, a King County Election worker collects ballots from a drop box in Seattle for the primary election in Washington State, where elections are all mail. In Arizona, where voters can ask for a mail-in ballot, Democrats and some Republican election officials are calling for an all mail election, at least for this year as the coronavirus causes anxiety for face-to-face contact at the least and sickness and death at the worst. PHOTO BY JOHN FROSCHAUER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A fight is brewing in Arizona over whether to switch to an all-mail ballot for the primary and general election in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

A handful of states already operate their elections using a vote-by-mail process. While Arizona Democrats have long pushed to join those states, local election officials and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are now seeking a temporary change during the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes off like a partisan issue, but there are some Republican election officials who agree that the current crisis is not normal and all-mail ballots are necessary, even if Republican lawmakers don’t feel the same way.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Hobbs, a Democrat, announced one day after the March 17 Democratic Presidential Preference Election that she would seek help from the GOP-controlled Legislature to make the temporary switch.

“We are in unprecedented territory,” Hobbs said. “We don’t know where things are going to be in August and November.”

The Legislature did not respond to Hobbs’ request before recessing on March 23, and it won’t take up the issue when it does return, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“My Republican caucus members are not in favor of that,” the Prescott Republican said. “This is more of a partisan issue.”

Conversations leading up to the March election were difficult and stressful, Hobbs said, adding that she does not want election officials, poll workers or voters to put their own health at risk to cast a vote.

“Arizona has a proven track record at being good with mail-in elections,” she said. In Arizona, voters can join the Permanent Early Voting List, or PEVL.

The state already has roughly 80% of its ballots cast by mail, with the 2018 election having the highest turnout yet for a midterm election at 2.4 million voters (roughly 1.92 million by mail). That election is what got Hobbs into her current position and brought more Democrats into office locally and nationally.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, had a similar solution just days before the March 17 election. He tried to send all registered voters their ballots by mail, until Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich obtained a court order stopping him.

But now the state has more time to prepare, while watching COVID-19 get worse. On March 17, Arizona had 20 diagnosed cases and no deaths, and the Legislature was still in session.

As of April 9 there are more than 3,000 known cases with 89 deaths and those numbers are ever growing. There’s no telling what the numbers will look like come August or even November.

Hobbs said switching to an all-mail election is not an easy solution, but it is the right one and it’s common sense.

“I think it is absolutely irresponsible to not look at this as a feasible solution in the middle of this health crisis, and I for the life of me cannot understand why anyone would be opposed to it,” she said.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita
Michelle Ugenti-Rita

Opposition to all-mail elections should be easy enough to understand, said Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican who leads her caucus on election policy. Changing the law is simply unnecessary because anyone who wants to vote by mail already can by signing up for the Permanent Early Voting List, Ugenti-Rita

“It empowers voters because they’re the ones still in charge,” she said. “We should default to making sure the voter is in control instead of trying to shove an agenda down their throats.”

Ugenti-Rita vowed to do everything she can to prevent universal mail elections, adding that counties would do better to launch educational campaigns reminding voters that they can sign up for the early voting list, or vote early in person to avoid Election Day crowds.

County election officials are taking advantage of a public health crisis to push a longstanding policy goal that has never been popular at the Legislature, Ugenti-Rita said.

“It’s not necessary to require all mail-in voting since the option already exists for voters,” she said. “This is just people not letting a crisis go to waste.”

The Arizona Association of Counties has pushed since 2012 to give counties the ability to hold elections entirely by mail. Cities and towns already have the ability to hold local elections by mail, but under state law counties lack the authority to change how elections are held.

In previous years, counties have argued that mail elections will save money and that voters like the ability to vote by mail.

“All of those things are still true, but none of those things matter this year,” said Jenn Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties. “What matters this year is it’s a health crisis.”

Counties hire and train poll workers, most of whom fall in the 65 or older age range considered most at risk for severe cases of COVID-19. They expect to have to hire about 16,000 poll workers, but those volunteers are hard to find even in normal years, Marson said.

Counties have been asking for a temporary change to session law, rather than a permanent change to state statute, that will enable election officials to run mail elections for the August primary and November general election, then revert back to the normal way of running elections next year.

Hobbs has pushed for the same thing. In response to an op-ed in the Arizona Republic from Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, Hobbs said it was irresponsible and only makes it harder to protect voters’ safety.

“The opposition would make more sense if we were talking about blanket authorization for all vote-by-mail from now until eternity, but we’re not,” she said. “There’s literally not one true thing in the entire op-ed. It’s just wrong.”

The decision realistically needs to be made by April 15 for the August primary and June 15 for the general election, Hobbs said.

bolickBolick argued that switching to an all-mail ballot is more complicated, riskier and less accurate than voting in-person. She wrote that a ballot cast in-person is counted more accurately and securely than one mailed, the voting by mail lends itself to fraud and confusion in part because the mail isn’t secure, that it’s more expensive, and the counties will need to hire and train more people to switch to a vote-by-mail system.

Bolick, who sits on the House Elections Committee, also argued there’s a link between voter fraud and mail-only elections, which is another false claim.

“I think that is based on misinformation and flat out not knowing how the process works,” Hobbs said to that argument. “Voting by mail is very secure.”

Bolick did not return a request for comment.

A previous claim of voter fraud happened out of the Legislature in 2016 where then-Sen. Don Shooter said people cheat by microwaving already sealed ballots with a bowl of water so the ballots can be opened, altered and then resealed without anybody noticing.

The Arizona Capitol Times investigated this claim and disproved it

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert has also argued on Twitter that voting only by mail can lead to more opportunities for cheating in an election. It’s a narrative that President Donald Trump has pushed at least since the 2018 election in Arizona given the high volume of mail ballots. 

At the time, Trump was disputed by both Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan. The latter had to thoroughly explain Arizona’s ballot counting process and why it takes longer than most states.

Trump then took it a step further saying people cheat with mail-in voting and it would be bad for Republicans. He said if registered voters are given the opportunity to vote by mail or absentee “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump also notably votes by mail.

Grantham said he thinks it’s the right of voters to vote in-person and considers voting during the pandemic as an essential service.

He said people can go to the grocery store during a pandemic, so why not vote in person?

Travis Grantham
Travis Grantham

Grantham has come under criticism for minimizing the pandemic at times, though his controversial Twitter comments have simmered down since saying only a small fraction of Arizonans have been infected with COVID-19 three weeks ago.

Local election officials also took umbrage with Bolick’s op-ed, calling it “inaccurate” and “misleading.”

Republican Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross and Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra, who works for a Board of Supervisors with a Republican majority, said they spoke on behalf of the Arizona Recorders Association and the Election Officials of Arizona in an op-ed arguing it’s “crucial that the Legislature extend our ability to hold ballot-by-mail elections for state and federal elections.”

The duo wrote that it’s safer, cheaper and easier and wouldn’t compromise the integrity of elections, as Bolick claimed, noting that many cities and towns already hold all-mail elections.

“Mailing ballots to voters is less complicated and less expensive compared to the massive logistical undertaking of finding, staffing, equipping, testing, sanitizing and maintaining hundreds of voting locations across the state. Doing so is comparable to opening a new business overnight, and the staffing alone takes the equivalent of a small army,” they wrote.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman, a Republican, agreed with the two saying that because Arizona already has a lot of ballots cast by mail it would be a simple transition.

“We’ve got the system. We’ve got it down. We know how to do it right,” she said. “Voting is a tradition, not how you vote.”

Hoffman noted that one part of the argument that has consistently been forgotten about is even if 100 percent of voters sign up for PEVL or if the all-mail election happens, “you’d still have to open up a polling location in every precinct because that’s the way the law reads.”

Without a law change, that would still happen in the election, Hoffman said.

That law change, or any other in their favor, doesn’t seem likely at this point as the GOP majority Legislature is not inclined to move forward with the temporary change, Ducey has made no inclination to work with Hobbs or county officials on this and Hobbs thinks if it goes to court Brnovich will prevent it from happening.

Neither Ducey or Brnovich’s offices provided comment for this story.

Another argument against the idea comes from Tim La Sota, an attorney, who thinks Hobbs is overreacting to the pandemic.

He said a lot of people already vote by mail in Arizona and they still have that option, but going to all-mail for him is a “nonstarter” and that it’s less convenient for people in rural communities.

“The notion that we need yet another governmental solution, a one size fits all, I think just is the wrong solution,” he said.

His solution would be to send something out reminding voters how they can sign up for a mail-in ballot. Still, La Sota acknowledged that if the pandemic gets worse, his opinion might change.

Hobbs said if things don’t progress to an all-mail solution then what La Sota suggested is a backup plan.

“I would much rather spend that money mailing ballots instead because that makes it more expensive to have to do both,” she said.

All-mail ballots also cost less than the current election model, Hobbs said, though regardless of which option gets settled on, she said the office plans to use the $8 million from the federal CARES act to fund the final solution.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra works for a Republican County Recorder, when in fact, she works for the Board of Supervisors. 

AP calls races for Kelly, Fontes; Hobbs, Mayes pad leads

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs and other Democrats got an unexpected boost from a batch of ballots counted in Maricopa County on Friday, widening their party’s lead in key races on a day that Republicans hoped would turn the tide in their favor. 

The Associated Press and major TV networks including NBC called the U.S. Senate race for Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, whose lead over Republican candidate Blake Masters grew to 124,000 votes, or 5.7 percentage points, after the Friday update. 

The AP and networks also called the Secretary of State race for Democrat Adrian Fontes over Republican candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. Fontes led by 5.6 percentage points and 118,000 votes after the Friday update. 

Arizona Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake speaks as former President Donal Trump listens during a rally, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Hobbs earned 54% of the votes reported by Maricopa County on Friday, increasing her lead over Republican candidate Kari Lake to 31,000 votes, or 1.4 percentage points. And Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes finished the evening with a 19,000-vote, 0.8-percentage point lead over GOP nominee Abe Hamadeh, after taking 53.5% of the Friday vote dump. 

The closest statewide race after the Friday update was for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In that contest, Democrat Kathy Hoffman clung to a 6,700-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne – a margin of less than one half of a percentage point. 

The Friday count from Maricopa County followed a 25,000-vote batch from Pima County that came in around 6:45 p.m. on Friday. Those votes favored statewide Democrats by two-to-one margins in most races, according to reporting by ABC15’s Garrett Archer. Other counties also submitted smaller vote batches throughout the day. 

Fontes, Finchem, election, Secretary of State, Democrats, Republicans, Trump, election deniers
Adrian Fontes, a Democratic candidate running for Secretary of State for Arizona, poses for a photograph July 29 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Maricopa County Friday batch was widely expected to favor Republicans and it included some critical vote categories. Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates provided a rough breakdown of the ballots expected on Friday night at a news conference earlier in the day. 

The batch contained up to 17,000 ballots dropped into “Box 3” on ballot tabulation machines, he said. Those ballots weren’t tabulated on Election Day due to problems with voting equipment, but they seemed likely to skew Republican since they were cast by voters who voted in person on Nov. 8 – a category that has favored GOP candidates so far. 

Another several thousand (Gates said it was less than 10,000) ballots were early ballots. That’s a category that has favored Democrats so far. 

But the majority of the Friday batch, Gates explained, was made up of early ballots that voters deposited in drop boxes on Election Day. That category, Election Day drop-offs, represents a large share of the remaining votes and will be key to either party winning close races. And it’s a category that has favored different parties in the past. 

Kyrsten Sinema, the moderate Democratic Senator, won the category in her 2018 race. But former Republican President Donald Trump earned the majority of votes in that category in the 2020 presidential race in Arizona. 

Democrat Kris Mayes, candidate Arizona Attorney General, smiles prior to a televised debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Before the Friday update, Maricopa County officials said there were approximately 290,000 Election Day drop-off ballots left to be counted. On Friday afternoon, before the update, the county was reporting about 354,000 ballots left to be counted. That means that more than half of the ballots left to count around the whole state were Election Day drop-offs from Maricopa County. 

Throughout the day on Friday, GOP candidates talked confidently about an impending shift in momentum, saying they expected to earn significant majorities in coming batches including Friday’s drop from Maricopa County. 

“We’re very confident that these counts are going to start going heavily our way and we will win this,” Lake said in an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show earlier on Friday night. Masters, Hamadeh and other GOP candidates also projected optimism leading up to Friday night. 

Paul Bentz, a veteran Arizona pollster, said GOP candidates in tight races, including Lake and Hamadeh, are looking vulnerable after Friday’s update, but their races aren’t over yet. 

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

“The window for Republicans narrowed but it’s not impossible. There is too much variance in where the ballots could be coming from,” he said in a text message. 

At the Friday afternoon news conference, Maricopa County officials said that election workers are currently counting votes from all around the county, but they didn’t provide granular information about whether any specific locations might be over or underrepresented in the Friday night vote batch. 

The Friday update came in the midst of saber-rattling by Republican figures, including Lake, who aren’t happy about the pace of vote-counting in Maricopa County, which is home to about 60% of the state’s population. Lake recently accused the county of “slow walking” its results, allegedly to extend Democrat leads before reaching Republican-friendly batches of ballots. 

The Republican National Committee and the Arizona GOP went further, demanding in a statement on Friday that ballots be counted 24 hours per day in Maricopa. Gates has previously said that county election workers are working 14 to 18-hour days. 

“The RNC and the Republican Party of Arizona demand that around-the-clock shifts of ballot processing be pressed into service until all votes have been counted, accompanied by complete transparency and regular, accurate public updates,” Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for the RNC, said in an emailed statement. “We will not hesitate to take legal action if necessary to protect Arizona voters’ right to have their ballots counted.” 

Gates replied to that in an emailed statement on Friday night, calling the criticism “one more political stunt to try and distract us,” and noting that the county has averaged 12.5 days to post final election results in races since 2006. 

“Changing processes or adding untrained personnel would only slow the counting at this point and we will not deny the voters of Maricopa County an accurate tabulation of their votes,” he added. 


Arizona abortion bill approved by Senate panel

Women who want an abortion would have to tell state health officials exactly why under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a Senate panel.

On a party-line vote, members of the Health and Human Services Committee approved adding a series of new requirements on abortion providers and those who already are required to inform women about the nature of the procedure. These include not only numbers of women served but also data on the specialty of the physician performing the procedure, the type of facility where the abortion was performed and whether anesthesia was administered to the mother or fetus.

Doctors also would be required to detail how many of their patients have asked to hear the fetus’ heartbeat, something they already have to offer to allow under current law.

But the heart of SB 1394 seeks to expand existing law which now requires only that the facility ask an open-ended question of why the woman wants an abortion whether it is elective or for reasons of maternal or fetal health.

Instead, health care providers would have to run through a checklist of possible reasons with the patient, ranging from economic reasons and relationship issues to the woman not wanting children at this time.

Cathi Herrod
Cathi Herrod

Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy who helped craft the legislation, said the measure is designed to help women by having the health department gather more information.

“It’s data that then all sides in the abortion issue would know how to better serve the needs of women,” she told lawmakers.

Herrod said that in Minnesota, which has a similar law, the top reason reported was that the woman did not want children at this time, followed by economic reasons.

“So when you get that kind of data, for example, those who are trying to meet the needs of women would know that, if it’s economic reasons, is there a way of helping that woman economically so that she could carry a child to term,” she said. “If it’s because the woman does not want children at this time, then maybe there’s a way to provide more services about adoption.”

Herrod acknowledged that no reason cited by an individual woman could be used to specifically get her these services. That’s because the law requires that the information be reported to the state without identifying information on a patient.

But she argued that the data might enable the state or a private organization decide what new or expanded services to make available.

Foes of the legislation disputed the claim that the additional requirements were designed to help women.

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

“I don’t really buy the arguments that this is about furthering women’s health care and caring about women,” said Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix. “It’s about shaming them and shaming the health care providers who care for them.

Hobbs said if proponents were interested in helping women — and avoiding abortion — they would do more to ensure that there are adequate family planning services to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place. Instead, she said, the reverse appears to be true.

“The very organizations that do that work are vilified by bills like this and other bills that work to restrict women’s access to health care,” Hobbs said, a reference to the perennial criticism of Planned Parenthood by abortion foes. She also said that no one testifying in support of the additional requirements was a health care professional.

Sen. David Bradley (D-Tucson)
Sen. David Bradley (D-Tucson)

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, was more blunt.

“The reasoning behind this is evident to a fifth grader,” he said.

“It’s an attempt to shame people into changing their mind and to put such a burden on the (abortion) providers that the providers will be reluctant to provide the services,” Bradley explained after the hearing. He said it would be far preferable to make preventing unplanned pregnancies the goal of the state.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who worked with Herrod to draft the bill, said she does not understand why any doctor or abortion provider would oppose the additional requirements.

“I think caring professionals that deal with women in a crisis pregnancy would do all they could to want to get to the bottom of what is this woman going through and why is she here and how can I help,” Barto said.

The 5-2 vote sends the measure to the full Senate.

Arizona county mulls ballot hand-count, but lawyer says no

A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Officials in a southeastern Arizona county were prepared to move ahead with a plan to hand count all ballots in November’s election alongside the normal machine count on Tuesday, but at the last minute the county attorney told the board they had no legal authority to do so.

The advice from Chief Deputy Cochise County Attorney Christine Roberts seemed to stun two members of the county board who are pushing the hand-count, egged on by voters who believe in false claims of fraud in the 2020 election. They had brought the proposal to the three-member board just a day before early voting starts and ballots are mailed to residents across the state for the Nov. 8 election.

“In this case, I don’t get where we would be breaking the law if we chose to train a group of volunteers and put them the driver’s seat for a minute hand-counting,” Republican Supervisor Peggy Judd said. “I don’t know that this is something that we can’t look into. I feel very strongly that we can.”

Judd said she was acting to try to assuage voters who believe there are problems with voting systems in the state, although she praised Cochise County’s elections department and county recorder, who together oversee elections. Republican Supervisor Tom Crosby also proposed the hand-count, while board Chair Ann English, a Democrat, did not take a public position.

County Recorder David Stevens, a Republican, said the proposal came mainly from conservative Republicans who said they had signed up 140 volunteers to hand-count ballots. Stevens acknowledged in an interview and again before the board that there would be concerns about results being illegally leaked before they could legally posted at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Arizona counties can start tabulating early and mail ballots that are used by more than 80% of the state’s voters as soon as they are signature-verified, but the results are tightly-held. In Cochise County, east of Tucson, only the election director knows those results before they are released.

The heavily Republican county had about 62,000 votes cast in the 2020 general election, but Stevens said a hand count could be done fairly quickly. Under state law, a small percentage of ballots in selected races go through a mandatory hand-count with bipartisan teams to check the accuracy of vote-counting machines after all the votes are counted.

A complete hand-count would be much more difficult. Stevens said 31 races county-wide races will have to be tabulated, plus additional races like school board members.
A similar hand-count push in rural Nevada’s Nye County has prompted a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues it risks illegal release of election results and raised other issues. It is among the first counties in the nation to act on election conspiracies related to mistrust in voting machines.

Local physician Joseph Patterson is pushing the plan and said the hand-count is needed to restore confidence in the election.

“All we’re trying to say is let’s reestablish trust, try to reestablish unity with the people,” Patterson said. “Find results that everybody trusts, accept them and then move on. And let’s get over this fighting, this bickering.”

There’s no evidence in Arizona or elsewhere in the country that fraud, problems with ballot-counting equipment or other voting issues had any impact on the results of the 2020 election. Yet many Republican voters who back former President Donald Trump have been convinced by him and others that there is.

Nearly 45 minutes into the board session called to study the issue and after Crosby began pushing the board to vote to proceed, Roberts dropped her bombshell.

“There’s nothing that allows a separate process within the Election Procedures Manual, nor is it in the (laws), that give the board any power to do this,” Roberts said. “We are three and a half weeks away from an election. The Purcell doctrine says you don’t change election procedures that close to an election.”

That’s a reference to a Supreme Court case where the court ruled that changes close to an election are barred.

But Judd said she’s not giving up, and said she would ask the state attorney general for an opinion on the matter.

Sophia Solis, a spokeswoman for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat running for governor whose office oversees state elections, said in an email that the proposal comes with a host of potential problems and legal pitfalls.

“To allow hand counts of all ballots would be a wholesale change of state policy, require extensive logistical changes (staffing and space), extend the length of time required to tabulate results by weeks, produce inaccurate results, and potentially damage or misplace ballots, which could impact the ability to conduct recounts or review in legal challenges,” she wrote.

Solis said it also could run afoul of state and federal law on handling and retention of ballots.

English acknowledged that the county attorney’s opinion took the wind out of the hand-count proponents sails.

“Sometimes you ask for legal help and it doesn’t always give you the answer that you like,” English said.

Arizona voters choosing between Biden, Sanders as Trump foe


Arizona opened election polls Tuesday for Democrats to pick a presidential candidate as the state deals with a public health crisis that has crippled parts of the nation.

The state’s top election official declined to seek a delay because of the coronavirus, saying Monday that there was no certainty that putting off voting would help.

“We have no guarantee that there will be a safer time to hold this election in the future,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said during a news conference in Phoenix alongside Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and other state officials.

Hobbs said after the public votes, an army of election workers will have to process ballots in warehouses, an undertaking that could get more dangerous as time passes.

The Democratic ballot will contain 18 names, but the race boils down to a face-off between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. More than a dozen other candidates dropped out, but still appear on the ballot.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

The vast majority of the 1.2 million registered Arizona Democrats cast ballots early by mail, but about 300,000 can vote in person Tuesday.

Melissa Cox, 42, dropped off her absentee ballot at an empty emergency polling place in South Phoenix on Monday. She said she’s concerned about the coronavirus outbreak but was mainly trying to avoid potential lines and crowds on Tuesday.

“I’m trying to not be panicked,” said Cox, an admissions counselor for a vocational school who voted for Biden.

Around the state Monday, election officials consolidated polling places, lined up backup poll workers and opened emergency voting centers where people can cast a ballot early as parts of the state shut down to avoid spreading the new virus. Hours for absentee drop boxes were also extended.

Ducey, a Republican, and Hobbs, a Democrat, released a video Monday outlining the precautions being taken at polling places. They include measures to keep distance between people, frequent hand washing by poll workers and regular disinfecting of equipment. Officials also asked voters to wash hands before and after visiting the polls.

“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s well worth it because our democracy is worth it,” Hobbs says in the video.

Hobbs on Friday joined the top election officials in the three other states holding primaries Tuesday in pledging to press forward, even as two states scheduled to vote in the coming weeks — Louisiana and Georgia — delayed their primaries. Delaying Arizona’s primary would require an act of the Legislature.

Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, changed his mind Monday and asked a judge to delay voting. That request was rejected. Voters in Florida and Illinois also are voting Tuesday.

Maricopa County officials scrambled to consolidate from 229 to 151 polling places as nursing homes and churches backed out of serving as locations. The remaining polling places are “vote anywhere centers” that allow any registered Democrats in the state’s most populous county to cast a ballot. The locations are available online at http://Maricopa.Vote.

The COVID-19 disease caused by the virus for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, particularly older people or those with underlying health conditions, it can cause more severe illness.

Sanders and Biden will vie for the 67 possible delegates to the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee in July. The state party will award delegates to them in proportion to the number of votes they receive. Votes cast for the remaining candidates will earn them delegates if they get at least 15% of the vote. Dropped-out candidates can direct their delegates to back their favored candidate, but they’re free to back who they want.

Republicans aren’t holding a primary for incumbent President Donald Trump and Libertarians chose delegates to their convention at a state party meeting.

Arizona’s legal battle over abortion likely far from over

Brnovich, abortion, Alliance Defending Freedom, Roe v. Wade, Fonteno, Planned Parenthood Arizona, mifepristone, U.S. District Court, Texas, Arizona,

The incoming attorney general says she won’t appeal a ruling that doctors in Arizona can perform abortions through the 15th week of pregnancy.

But that may not end the legal battle as there are others who can keep the case alive.

And regardless of what happens, Arizona’s new governor wants state lawmakers to repeal not just the territorial-era law that made virtually all abortions illegal but even the one that the state Court of Appeals just said is now the law of the land.

All this comes on the heels of the appellate court ruling Friday saying the two laws can coexist.

The judges acknowledged that a law that dates to 1864 which makes abortion a crime except to save the life of the mother never was repealed, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus is viable, generally between 22 and 24 weeks.

Mayes, Hamadeh, lawsuit, Maricopa County, ballots, hand counts, Judge Randall Warner, canvass, The Valley Law Group, Hobbs, Lake, attorney general, governor, hand counts
Democrat Kris Mayes smiles prior to a televised debate on Sept. 28 against Republican Abe Hamadeh ahead of the race for attorney general.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

But since 1973 legislators, unable to outlaw the practice, enacted a series of restrictions, ranging from where abortions can be performed and by whom to requirements for waiting periods and, in the case of minors, parental notification. In essence, the appellate judges said, lawmakers said doctors can perform abortions as long as they follow those rules.

And the court said it’s no different with the 15-week ban, even though it was approved last year in the belief that the Supreme Court would uphold a similar Mississippi law.

More to the point, the judges said the fact that the high court totally overturned the 1973 ruling and returned the power to the states to regulate abortion did not undo all those new laws. And that, they said, means that doctors who follow those laws can’t be prosecuted under the old law.

The ruling is a loss for Attorney General Mark Brnovich who had urged the judges to allow prosecutors to decide whether they want to charge doctors who perform abortions with a crime.

But Brnovich, who made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate when he could not legally seek a third term, will be out of power as of noon on Tuesday. And his successor, Kris Mayes, has said she doesn’t intend to appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Only thing is, that doesn’t eliminate a possible petition to the state’s high court. And that’s because there are others involved in the case.

The lawsuit actually goes back to the 1970s when, even before Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood challenged the state’s abortion ban. At that time, the fight involved not just the state attorney general and the Pima County attorney but also Clifton Bloom who the court appointed as a “guardian ad litem” to represent the interests of unborn children in Arizona.

The outcome of that challenge was sealed with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, with the state courts saying they had no choice but to follow suit and enjoin the enforcement of the territorial-era law. But when Roe was overturned last year, Brnovich reopened that case – this case – seeking to dissolve the injunction.

Bloom is now dead. And Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson, who inherited the reopened case, agreed to let Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, medical director of Choices Pregnancy Center, be substituted in his place.

That means Hazelrigg, represented by the anti-abortion Alliance Defending Freedom, is a party – and may have the right to appeal.

“This is going to get interesting,” said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover.

She is part of the case because the original 1970s Planned Parenthood lawsuit also involved the county. But Conover, unlike her predecessor, has now sided with Planned Parenthood in arguing that the territorial-era law cannot be enforced against doctors.

And with Mayes going to also side with Planned Parenthood, that leaves everyone still involved in the case supporting the legality of the 15-week law – with only Hazelrigg in opposition if the courts allow him to continue playing a role.

There was no immediate response from ADF.

Friday’s ruling would appear to make it unnecessary for incoming Gov. Katie Hobbs to follow through with her campaign promise to call a special legislative session to repeal the territorial-era law as the appellate court ruling, unless overturned, means it cannot be applied to those legally entitled to perform abortions.

But Hobbs said that isn’t enough. She wants to also get rid of the 15-week law.

“The decision to have a child should rest solely between a woman and her doctor, not the government or politicians,” Hobbs said in a prepared statement after the ruling. And she said the 15-week law does the opposite.

“It puts the government in charge of a woman’s private health care decisions, with deadly consequences,” the incoming governor said. And once a woman has gone beyond 15 weeks, she said, it “cruelly offers no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.”

Only thing is, getting rid of that 15-week limit and returning the law in Arizona to the way it was before – meaning abortions up to fetal viability – would require legislative action. And Hobbs, in an interview with Capitol Media Services, acknowledged that could prove difficult.

“Many members of the incoming legislature voted for that,” she said. But Hobbs said that her conversations with different medical providers convinces her that the 15-week limit needs to be repealed.

One case, she said, involves a woman who was the victim of rape or incest where “the trauma was so great they weren’t able to recognize their pregnancy until it was far past the 15 weeks do to anything about it.”

The ultimate solution, Hobbs said, may rest with voters themselves.

A planned 2022 initiative to put the right to abortion into the Arizona Constitution faltered when backers did not have enough time to get signatures.

“I think there’ll be a strong effort for a ballot measure in 2024, which I will get behind,” Hobbs said.

Behind the Ballot: It ain’t over til it’s over


Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona’s presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The final countdown to primary election night has begun. It’s been a challenging election cycle, complete with a swath of political newcomers, familiar faces with new baggage and a fervent call for change in more than one office. 

Soon we’ll know who the voters favor to get the job done.

But it’s not over until it’s over. The candidates who emerge victorious next week still have tough battles ahead leading up to the general in November. In this final episode of our summer series, our team spotlights the hottest races and predicts which candidates will come out on top. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Upon review, reporter Paulina Pineda determined a statement she made regarding the relationship between Kathy Petsas and Rep. Maria Syms was not entirely accurate. She had said both candidates have been adamant that they do not support each other; however, Petsas has said that while she does not condone Syms’ effort to undermine Sen. Kate Brophy McGee’s candidacy, she will support an all-Republican ticket in LD28 and has signed the GOP’s “Unity Pledge,” promising to support Syms if the incumbent wins in the general election.

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

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

Billionaire helps Garcia, but no match for Ducey’s millions

Incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey is burying his Democratic foe in a landslide of dollars.

New campaign finance reports show that at the end of September – the latest reporting period – Ducey’s own campaign had spent $2.4 million on his reelection effort. That’s nearly double what David Garcia had spent.

But there are many more dollars out there.

Ducey reported he still had another $3.5 million left to use on his own behalf.

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

And that pales in comparison with the $8.8 million the Republican Governors Association, which can take corporate dollars, is spending on attack ads against Garcia.

But there’s more.

Aside from his regular campaign finance committee, the governor also has a separate Ducey Victory Fund Committee. Nearly $3 million raised under that banner has been transferred to the main campaign committee and is included in the more than $5.6 million listed in contributions.

But another more than $4 million collected under Ducey’s name has been transferred to the Arizona Republican Party. Some of that comes from donors who already had given the maximum $5,100 apiece they could contribute directly to Ducey.

But the state GOP’s own campaign finance reports do not disclose how much of the money they collected, including what they got from the victory fund, has been spent in turn on Ducey’s behalf.

So why the two separate groups? The answer is simple: More money – and from more donors.

This arrangement does more than allow individuals to contribute more than the $5,100 cap. The second committee also can take corporate dollars and in unlimited amounts, something off limits to candidates but allowable in contributions to political parties.

Press aide Daniel Scarpinato said there’s nothing wrong with Ducey raising money for not just himself but also the party.

“The governor sees a strong Republican Party as critical toward success at the ballot, both for him and other candidates,” he said. Scarpinato said this arrangements simply gives donors “the opportunity to provide dollars to the party.”

There is nothing that precludes any of these donors from giving directly to the party, without running it through a committee linked to Ducey. But Scarpinato denied that the system was set up so that major donors could curry favor with the governor by making large contributions, more than they could directly to him.

Anyway, he said, the list of donors is public.

There are some large ones. Scottsdale-based Services Group of America has put in $250,000, with another $200,000 coming from the owners of Turf Paradise racetrack.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Garcia gives a victory speech after winning a three-way Democratic primary challenge Tuesday. Garcia, who will take on Gov. Doug Ducey in the governor's race, spoke to more than a hundred supporters packed into a Phoenix bar and restaurant. PHOTO BY CARMEN FORMAN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

And then there’s $500,000 from something called Blue Magnolia Investments, a limited liability company set up just six months ago in Delaware which until now was only known for its $100,000 contribution to a group set up to help the U.S. Senate candidacy of Martha McSally.

Garcia appears to be getting no financial help from the Democratic Governors Association. But California billionaire Tom Steyer, who has put millions into efforts to impeach President Trump and is weighing his own presidential race in 2020, has put more than $545,000 into trying to get Garcia elected.

The issue of tracking money isn’t limited to the governor’s race.

On paper, incumbent Attorney General Mark Brnovich has collected more than $928,000 in his reelection bid, having spent about $668,000 so far. That compares with $729,464 in contributions to Democrat January Contreras and expenses of $308,244.

But a group called Arizona For Freedom has so far spent more than $1.2 million both in commercials promoting Brnovich and those attacking Contreras. The group actually is set up by the Republican Attorneys General Association which, like the governors’ group, can take corporate contributions.

Contreras, by contrast, has not benefited nearly as much from the Demoratic Attorneys General Association which lists less than $8,000 in expenses here.

She is, however, at least the indirect beneficiary of a $3.6 million anti-Brnovich campaign being financed by Steyer. He is upset with Brnovich for changes that the attorney general made in the ballot description of Proposition 127, the renewable energy mandate, which initiative proponents contend is language designed to convince people to vote against it.

In the race for secretary of state, Republican Steve Gaynor continues to pour more of his own money into the campaign.

The most recent reports show he now has $1.9 million loaned to his campaign. That includes money he spent on the primary to defeat incumbent Michele Reagan and now to defeat Democrat Katie Hobbs.

Hobbs, who had no primary foe, lists contributions of $782,312 and expenses of $371,805. But she also has been the beneficiary of about $2.2 million in TV commercials bought on her behalf by the Arizona Democratic Party.

There also are family loans at work in the treasurer’s race, where Republican Kimberly Yee initially borrowed $400,000 but, with additional funds from others that have since been collected, managed to repay half of that.

So far her expenses total slightly more than $225,000.

Democrat Mark Manoil is waging his campaign largely with nearly $271,000 of public funds, having used almost $162,000 of that as of the campaign filing.

In the race for the two seats available on the Arizona Corporation Commission, Republican Justin Olson has spent more than $144,000 in his bid to keep the seat to which he was appointed last year. Fellow Republican Rodney Glassman has spent more than $448,000 in his bid to be elected to the utility regulatory panel but has more than $318,000 on hand for last-minute campaigning, including $200,000 of his own cash.

Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears each are running with about $271,000 in public funds. The Democrats’ efforts also are being advanced by Steyer who has put $250,000 into their combined campaign.

One wild card could be Arizonans for Sustainable Energy, a political action committee set up by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service. It has nearly $2.6 million sitting on hand that could be used to help the utility elect candidates of its choice.

Bipartisan support for election law change?

Maricopa County, elections, Election Day, ballots, certify, nullify, Bible, Bill Gates, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Ducey, Lake, Hobbs
An election worker verifies a ballot on a screen inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on Nov. 10 in Phoenix.(AP Photo/Matt York)

Election legislation led to partisan fireworks in the 2022 legislative session, but one significant election reform could potentially get bipartisan backing next year.

The proposal was part of unsuccessful legislation pushed by Republican lawmakers in 2022 and it has been endorsed by Gov. Doug Ducey and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, two moderate GOP figures. Last week, Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs said she’s open to the idea and Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, said on Dec. 21 that if some concerns are addressed, Democrats could get on board.

The idea is to require voters who drop off early ballots on Election Day – and potentially in a small number of days before – to verify their identity at polling sites. That would allow those ballots to be tabulated along with other ballots cast on Election Day, eliminating the time-consuming signature-verification process and delivering final election results faster.

Hobbs told Axios last week that she’s at least willing to consider the plan.

Mesnard, Proposition 131, Brewer, Napolitano, Mecham, Mofford, Proposition 111, Proposition 100, governor, lieutenant governor
J.D. Mesnard

Hernandez said that the idea “could potentially be something good, this is why we’re not closing the door.” Still, she added, “as of right now I do have several concerns.”

The proposal seems like the kind of election reform that could get through the Legislature, where Republicans hold narrow majorities, and could earn the support of Hobbs, either because she supports the plan or ultimately sees it as a reasonable compromise with GOP lawmakers who have said they want to address a range of perceived problems with Arizona elections.

For one thing, proponents of the idea aren’t pitching it as a response to alleged election fraud – an issue that has caused bitter, partisan division in the Legislature since 2020.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who has prepared a bill that would implement the idea, said it’s about “find(ing) a way where we can have the vast majority of votes counted on Election Day or within a couple of days, rather than a couple of weeks.”

In this year’s election, Election Day drop-off ballots were among the last segment of ballots to be counted – and there’s a growing number of them. In November 2022, more than 290,000 voters dropped off their ballots on Election Day in Maricopa County, about one-fifth of all votes cast in the county and 120,000 more than the Election Day drop-offs in the 2020 general election.

Melody Hernandez

If voters confirm their identity during check-in at a voting center, their votes can be directly tabulated without further verification. But for early ballots that are deposited in a drop box, counties must first verify the voter signature on the outside of their ballot envelope before the ballot gets counted.

That signature verification takes time, and it played a role in the long wait for results in close races this year. The governor’s race between Hobbs and GOP nominee Kari Lake, for instance, wasn’t called by news organizations until six days after the Nov. 8 election. The attorney general’s race took even longer.

The growing number of Election Day drop-offs isn’t the only factor that’s keeping Arizona races from being decided more quickly.  The state’s changing political dynamics also play a role: with more races coming down to razor-thin margins, a greater percentage of ballots must be counted before analysts can be confident in calling the final result.

But Mesnard says his idea could go a long way toward addressing the issue of long waits for election results.

Hernandez said she has two main concerns about the proposal: it could create additional hurdles for voters and could impose costs on counties related to tabulation equipment. She said lawmakers might deal with those issues by adding funding for equipment and for public outreach to make sure that voters know about the change beforehand.

“It’s just about determining how those potential burdens are addressed. Is this going to be a funded mandate? How much are we funding?” she said.

Last year, Mesnard introduced a similar proposal in Senate Bill 1362, but he ultimately amended it to simply allow – rather than require – counties to let voters dropping off early ballots on Election Day show ID and have their vote counted along with other Election Day ballots. The amended bill passed and was signed by Ducey. Mesnard said he amended it because the stronger language wouldn’t have gotten through the Legislature.

Next year, there will be fresh faces in the Legislature, and Mesnard said he thinks the experience of the November 2022 election will increase support for the plan.

“I think people are getting tired of Arizona being the laughingstock of the country,” he said, referring to the delay in declaring race winners. “I can’t tell you how many emails I got (saying) ‘Don’t you guys know how to count?’”

“They don’t fully appreciate that the reason why this is the case is because of how we allow people the convenience to drop it off,” he added.

In 2022, Republican lawmakers advanced more than 100 election-related bills – some of which directly were tied to allegations of election fraud and included shocking elements like allowing the Legislature to effectively set aside the result of elections – but many of the ideas never made it to the governor’s desk.

In the House of Representative, Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, preemptively killed a number of bills that he saw as too extreme or connected to election conspiracy theories. In the Senate, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, wasn’t shy about deep-sixing election bills he didn’t like, and with a narrow GOP majority in the chamber, that was often enough to kill the proposals.

Hernandez indicated that Democrats are expecting to see more bills next year in connection with alleged election fraud issues, but the Election Day drop-off idea is in a different category.

“I am one of the legislators that believes that we continue to have safe and secure elections and I think that this could be a way to potentially accomplish that,” she said. “Whereas some of the other legislation that’s been introduced – they are solutions in search of a problem that does not exist.”


Border top issue for statewide GOP hopefuls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boyer’s vote triggers threats of violence, retribution

In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr
In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr

The screen behind Senate President Karen Fann spelled defeat before she even started talking on February 8.

Fifteen names in red. Fourteen in green. And her own in yellow, waiting for her to cast a vote that wouldn’t make a difference unless she could convince the Republican senator sitting in front of her to change his vote.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, had surprised Fann and the rest of the Republican caucus about an hour prior, when he announced his “no” vote on a resolution that would empower Fann to send the Senate’s sergeant at arms to arrest Maricopa County’s five supervisors for refusing to comply with a subpoena the supervisors said was unlawful. 

For the past hour, Senate Republicans had tried to cajole, coerce, threaten and persuade Boyer, through pointed on-mic speeches directed his way and fervent whispers from a rotating cast of lawmakers kneeled by his desk. Nothing had changed by the time Fann started speaking.

“Needless to say, I would not have put this on the board had I not been under the impression and was told that we had 16 solid votes,” Fann began in clipped tones, looking pointedly at Boyer. “Had I been told that there wasn’t, perhaps we would have talked about this before it went up on the board.”

For the next several minutes, Fann ran through her litany of reasons for taking the unprecedented step of holding Maricopa County’s elected supervisors in contempt, a vote that could lead to the Senate incarcerating the five men for the duration of this year’s legislative session.

Boyer stared at his cell phone, which was buzzing uncontrollably with texts and phone calls from unknown numbers. Within hours, he would be packing to move with his wife and toddler to an undisclosed safe location after some of the texters escalated to overt threats.

Arguments exhausted, Fann looked at Boyer.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“So I am hoping someone might change their vote and let this pass so that we can move forward,” she said. 

Silence lingered as everyone in the room watched Boyer, then scanning through text messages to save the most overt threats for police.

Boyer looked up and shook his head. The vote was over. His hellish week was just beginning.  

Time to think

The path that eventually led to half the Arizona Senate barreling ahead with a Wild West plan to lock up other officials started in November, when 1,672,143 Arizonans voted for Joe Biden and 1,661,686 voted for Donald Trump. 

It was the first time a Democrat won the state’s electoral votes since Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election. Prior to that, the last Democrat to win Arizona was Harry Truman in 1948. 

State Republicans, and their representatives in Congress and the Legislature, couldn’t believe it really happened. As ballots were still being counted, they began weaving complicated theories involving Sharpies, manipulated voting machines, undead voters, the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and a vast conspiracy that somehow implicated Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Democratic Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and his Republican successor Stephen Richer, the four Republicans and one Democrat on the county Board of Supervisors, and hundreds of election officials of all political backgrounds.

Republican lawmakers, in particular, developed a new interest in constitutional law and a belief that they had plenary, or absolute, power to appoint electors – something previous Legislatures had delegated to voters with multiple laws requiring that presidential electors vote to reflect the state’s popular vote. 

Three days after the November 3 election, Fann asked legislative attorneys for a memo on the Legislature’s ability to change how electors are appointed. Even after attorneys told her it was impossible to retroactively change the state’s electors, the Arizona Republican Party convened its would-be electors and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, first sent a letter to Congress asking that the Republican electors be appointed and then filed legislation to do the same.

Townsend used Boyer’s signature on her December letter to Congress, assuming he would support it because he had agreed to support a previous version of the message that simply asked to delay certifying electors until multiple lawsuits over election results were settled. 

 In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Distancing himself from Townsend’s letter resulted in Boyer being the first — and still one of a few — legislative Republicans to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory. Doing so resulted in angry emailers from other states threatening his political career, he said, but his own Republican constituents didn’t seem to care.

In the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers shut down attempts to engage the Legislature in overturning election results. 

“Given the outcome of the presidential race in Arizona, an enormous amount of pressure is being directed at my office and my colleagues,” Bowers wrote in a November letter to House members. “I wish to respond by simply saying – I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona.”

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Bowers refused requests from Townsend, then in the House, to hold special hearings on election integrity. In the Senate, Fann set up a voter fraud hotline that was quickly flooded with jokes, crude photos and complaints about Republicans trying to undermine faith in the election system. She approved a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and signed subpoenas demanding Maricopa County turn over access to ballots and election equipment for a still-unidentified Senate-hired auditor to analyze.

Maricopa County supervisors, who already planned to run another forensic audit, balked at the Senate’s demands. As far as they were concerned, handing over ballots would violate state law that requires ballots to be kept secret, so they went to court to block the legislative subpoenas.

As court arguments continued, and under mounting pressure from constituents and members of her caucus, Fann last week introduced a resolution to hold the county supervisors in contempt. All 16 Senate Republicans co-sponsored it and voted to waive their own rules, and it looked like a done deal. Then, lawmakers went home for the weekend and Boyer had time to think. 


Boyer told the Arizona Capitol Times he was comfortable with the initial information he received, but the longer he thought about it and the more he learned, the worse the measure seemed. He couldn’t imagine the thought of any of the county supervisors going to jail for striving to follow the law, he said. 

He called supervisors Bill Gates and Jack Sellers on February 7 and asked for a meeting with the two of them and Fann before the next day’s scheduled vote, with no attorneys or staff. During a February 10 board meeting, Gates said he promised Boyer he would try to bring the dispute to an end as quickly as possible. 

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

“He took the time to meet with us and he took the time to find it in his heart to trust us,” Gates said. “It’s something that is a rare commodity these days, but he trusted what we said to him.”

Boyer said he told Fann during that meeting that she needed to take contempt off the table, but she made it clear she would bring the resolution to the floor regardless.  

“I heard from the board directly, and it was meaningful because it was without filter or interpretation from anyone else,” Boyer said. “It became extremely clear to me that the severity of the resolution was actually halting progress toward obtaining what the Senate ultimately desires — an additional independent audit of election results.”

Even if Republicans succeeded in passing their contempt resolution, Fann’s caucus was torn on what to do about it. She has largely avoided questions about whether she would actually send the sergeant at arms to arrest supervisors. 

“Statute tells us we must pass the resolution to move forward,” she said. “We have a number of options once we do that.” 

Some, like Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, voted for the contempt resolution out of a conviction that legislative subpoenas must be respected, even though he doesn’t agree with the underlying reasons for these particular subpoenas. 

“I think we all know we’re not going to arrest anybody,” he said. “That’s over the top.”

But others are eager to see the county supervisors in cuffs. 

“The Maricopa Board of Supervisors need to be arrested for violating our subpoena. It is outrageous how they are behaving,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, tweeted. 


The threats that forced Boyer and his family from their home are new, but he’s familiar with political retribution. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, hands a copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, during a May 28 ceremonial signing of a bill that expands the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their assailants. Looking on are Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater and sexual abuse survivor, and Gov. Doug Ducey. The senators leveraged their votes on the state budget to pass the bill and add spending to the budget. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, hands a copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, during a May 28 ceremonial signing of a bill that expands the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their assailants. Looking on are Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater and sexual abuse survivor, and Gov. Doug Ducey. The senators leveraged their votes on the state budget to pass the bill and add spending to the budget. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Two years ago, Boyer and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, stood together to block the passage of the state’s budget until the Legislature passed a law giving sexual abuse survivors more time to sue their abusers. In retribution, House Republicans blocked hearings on many of Boyer’s and Carter’s bills the following session, and Carter lost her seat to a primary challenge from the more conservative Nancy Barto.

Boyer avoided a primary last year, though he has had them in most prior election cycles and said he welcomes the challenge. After his vote on the contempt resolution, a former GOP spokesman predicted he would lose in 2022 to former Rep. Anthony Kern, who participated in the January 6 U.S. Capitol protest and breached at least one set of barriers.

And as Boyer and his wife packed their bags on the evening of February 8, precinct committeemen in his district voted on a resolution to censure him, claiming he “hides behind sanctimoniousness and the Democrat Party Media instead of representing ‘We the people’ who elected him in good faith.” Trump won the Glendale-based district by just 300 votes.

Some of the messages Boyer received, and comments one lawmaker made on the floor, blurred lines between politics and violence. Townsend later sought to clarify that she was speaking only about ongoing legal challenges and recall efforts, but several of her colleagues understood her speech on the Senate floor as an incitement of violence. 

“Right now the last place this needs to be is in a place where the public is so lathered up over all of this,” Townsend said. “We need to do this in a way that’s professional, legal and proper — not that the public’s not — but they shouldn’t have to do this on our behalf. So public, do what you gotta do.”

Kate Brophy McGee
Kate Brophy McGee

Former Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a moderate Republican who spent most of her 10 years in office as a favorite target of both conservatives and Democrats, said she would urge Boyer and the county supervisors who are dealing with threats of their own to seek prosecution for the threats wherever possible. And lawmakers from both parties need to unequivocally reject the violent threats, she said. 

“We shouldn’t put it all on public safety to keep our elected officials safe,” she said. “We need to unite Democrats and Republicans and say this has all got to stop.” 

It may not be possible to avoid political consequences for unpopular stances, she said, but lawmakers can choose to set appropriate boundaries and hold onto their convictions. 

“Changing your mind or backing off doesn’t change the objectionable behavior of people who cannot appropriately express anger,” Brophy McGee said. “What I’m seeing across the political spectrum is people afraid to stand up for what you believe in. You need to set boundaries, you need to be consistent and you need to not feed into it.”

Boyer publicly addressed his vote on Twitter February 10, writing that he believed the Senate should have access to ballots and perform its own audit, and that he looks forward to the Senate making that argument in court.

He received 41 replies, from Democrats and Republicans, moderates and party loyalists. Every one was negative.

-Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson contributed reporting



Brnovich to take ‘ballot harvest’ case to Supreme Court

Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is asking a federal appeals court to allow Arizona to continue enforcing the “ballot harvesting” law that a majority of the panel just found unconstitutional.

In new legal filings Friday, Brnovich told the judges that changing the rules now could have a confusing effect. He pointed out that early ballots for the March 17 presidential preference primary started going out Saturday for overseas voters, with the rest being mailed on Feb. 19.

“Once ballots are received, voters can began voting,” he told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. More to the point, he said that, based on the appellate court ruling, those ballots “are subject to being harvested.”

Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

So Brnovich wants the judges to agree not to enforce their ruling while he takes the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It will be just Brnovich who files that appeal.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s chief elections officer and a defendant in the original lawsuit, said she won’t be joining Brnovich in his bid to have the 9th Circuit ruling reviewed or overturned.

Potentially more significant, an aide to Hobbs told Capitol Media Services that her boss believes that the 2016 law making the practice illegal was enacted with a “discriminatory intent.”

“That’s one of the reasons she voted against the bill when she was in the Legislature,” said Murphy Hebert.

That statement could undermine Brnovich’s efforts to get the high court to overturn the 9th Circuit ruling.

In declaring the law unconstitutional, the majority declared that “criminalization of the collection of another person’s ballot was enacted with discriminatory intent.” And that, wrote Judge William Fletcher, violates the Voting Rights Act.

The law at issue is linked to the ability of Arizonans to seek “early” ballots which can be filled out at home and then either mailed in or delivered to polling places on or before Election Day.

But that requirement for ballots to be in the hands of election officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day means that anyone who has not mailed his or hers off at least a week ahead of time, depending on where in the state the item is mailed, is in danger of not having the vote count. That has led to political and civic groups going to homes and offering to hand deliver those ballots not yet mailed in.

The 2016 law makes that practice a felony unless the person doing the collecting is a family member, living in the same household or a caregiver. Supporters said that limits the potential for fraud.

Fletcher, writing the majority opinion, found the law had “substantial” impact on minority communities by denying them the right to give their ballots to a volunteer. The judges also concluded there was racial motivation in the decision to enact the law by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The court also noted there was no actual evidence of fraud in Arizona.

Brnovich, in his new filing, does not dispute that. But he instead cited what happened in the 2018 congressional race in North Carolina where the Board of Elections found “overwhelming evidence” of a coordinated and illegal campaign by the Republican contender and his supporters to collect and then refuse to deliver absentee ballots to be counted.

And that, Brnovich said, shows what can go wrong.

“Fraudulent ballot harvesting thus can − and probably has − left hundreds of thousands of voters disenfranchised,” he said in the new filing.

“Preventing such harms is of paramount importance to the State of Arizona (and all other states),” the brief reads, saying the court’s majority opinion “denies Arizona the power to protect its citizens from the harms that voters in North Carolina suffered.”

Fletcher’s opinion does note what happened in North Carolina. But the judge pointed out that what occurred there — the refusal to deliver collected ballots — already was illegal under Arizona law before 2016.

Brnovich, however, hinted that perhaps there was some political bias by the majority.

He pointed out that the opinion says, twice, that the North Carolina fraud `was perpetrated by a Republican political operative.” At the same time, Brnovich said, the majority said that ballot harvesting in Arizona was primarily conducted by Democrats.

“The Supreme Court could easily disagree with the majority’s apparent view that the only potential risk of ballot harvesting fraud arises from Republicans and not Democrats,” the legal brief read.

Fletcher, in the majority ruling, acknowledged that the trial judge had concluded that the Arizona Republican Party has “not significantly engaged in ballot collection as a Get Out The Vote strategy.” But he said that doesn’t tell the whole story.

“The base of the Republican Party in Arizona is white,” he wrote. “Individuals who engaged in ballot collections in past elections observed that voters in predominantly white areas were not as interested in ballot collection services.”

Budget includes property tax increase for some school districts

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

Homeowners in more than a dozen Arizona school districts will pay additional property taxes after lawmakers approved Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget deal May 3.

Those 18 school districts levy additional property taxes to provide funding for desegregation and student achievement efforts. They include programs designed to meet the demands of federal court orders or agreements with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in districts found to have racial disparities in their schools.

In nine of those districts, the additional levy contributes to taxes that exceed Arizona’s 1 percent cap on residential property levies. The state supplements the difference to ensure that taxpayers don’t bear the cost of taxes exceeding $10 for every $100 of property value.

But a simple shift in how desegregation taxes are classified will absolve the state of an estimated $18.9 million in supplemental funding in places like Tucson Unified School District, one of the state’s largest school districts and also one of the largest beneficiaries of desegregation funding. Budget analysts estimate that state dollars supplement TUSD desegregation funding to the tune of $16.7 million.

A provision in the budget deal struck by Ducey and GOP legislators shifts taxes for desegregation programs from the primary to the secondary property tax levy.

The move frees the state from having to provide money to offset taxes that exceed the 1 percent cap – the cap only applies to primary, not secondary, property taxes.

That means that TUSD homeowners would see their property taxes increase – enough to cover the $16.7 million the state would no longer provide to protect them from paying taxes above the 1 percent cap.

That translates to a 9-percent hike in property taxes for homeowners within the district’s boundaries, according to a letter sent to legislators by TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.

Secondary taxes are typically voter-approved measures like bonds for K-12 school construction and maintenance, or overrides to provide schools additional dollars to spend. But language in the budget is said to specify that the desegregation levy doesn’t require voter approval.

Other desegregation school districts are also affected, though to a lesser extent, because a portion of their homeowners rebate will no longer apply to the desegregation levy. That’s because the homeowners rebate, like the 1 percent cap, only applies to primary property taxes, according to Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

Initially, there was one district where homeowners were protected from a property tax increase: Maricopa Unified School District.

The shift in tax structure will cost the district $602,600 in funding that would have been provided by the state, but a supplemental appropriation of state aid matches that amount, which ensures that homeowners who live within the boundaries of Maricopa Unified won’t see their tax bills increase.

The key difference between Maricopa Unified and the eight other districts affected the most by the desegregation shift? It’s represented by Republican legislators, said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

“It’s just partisan dirty tricks,” Hobbs said. “You’ve got six people representing the small town of Maricopa, and they’re all Republicans. Everybody in Maricopa County loves to hate Tucson, especially Republicans, and loves to screw them over. This is one more way to do that.”

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said politics had nothing to do with the effort to grant a reprieve for MUSD.

“The district that’s being exempted, they are the lowest per pupil funded district out of this group of deseg schools,” Smith said May 1 in a committee hearing. The extra aid for Maricopa was later amended out of the budget.

GOP lawmakers have for years tried to get rid of desegregation dollars for schools, arguing that segregation and racial disparities are no longer an issue in Arizona.

“I don’t think these are Bull Connor racist schools that need money to force themselves into desegregation,” he said. “This is about simply giving extra cash, and requiring taxpayers throughout Arizona to pay for extra cash.”

Other organizations, like the Arizona Tax Research Association, have argued that it’s unfair that some, not all, school districts get to levy taxes for more dollars than others. Kevin McCarthy, president of ATRA, said the maneuver in the budget deal appears to co-opt at least one of his gripes with desegregation funds – that all taxpayers in the state are subsidizing extra taxes in a handful of school districts.

At least now taxpayers in desegregation districts will be the ones responsible for paying those extra personal property taxes, he said.

Democrats like Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, likened that argument to “victim blaming.”

“This would effectively force those school districts that suffer the most from segregation to pay for desegregation,” he tweeted April 30.

Cambodia to Arizona: Bo Dul’s extraordinary journey to democracy

Sambo “Bo” Dul is the elections director under Secretary of State Katie Hobbs
Sambo “Bo” Dul is the elections director under Secretary of State Katie Hobbs

Sambo “Bo” Dul wasn’t born in a democracy.

Her father gave his life to smuggle her and her family out of Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Thirty-five years later, she’s a crucial cog in Arizona’s elections.

On January 7, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tapped Dul, a former election law attorney at Perkins Coie, to be her elections director.

“It was very hard to think of leaving [Perkins Coie], but I also couldn’t not think about it,” Dul said. “It was like once that genie came out of the bottle, I couldn’t put it back in.”


Dul was born in Cambodia at one of the most tumultuous times in the country’s history.

Her family fled the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide when she was just a year old.

The trek to a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border was perilous. Her father didn’t survive.

Pure luck may have been all that kept Dul, her pregnant mother and siblings alive.

Crying babies aren’t ideal for quietly fleeing a country, so her family slipped Dul a sleeping pill before the trip.

As the Duls approached the Thai-Cambodian border under the cover of night, the sleeping pill wore off. Dul, finding herself in the arms of a stranger as her mother had grown too weary to carry her, started wailing.

That might’ve been the end, but the wind was blowing away from the soldiers lining the border, carrying the sound of her cries in the opposite direction. She was carried to safety.

She lived in the camp on the Cambodian-Thai border until she was 5.

Her family arrived in the United States as refugees in the 1980s.

Her mother, Leng Poch Dul, didn’t speak English, so Dul was in charge of completing her family’s immigration paperwork and securing their place in the U.S.

While in high school, the Dul family’s immigration status was renewed for another year, but something had gone wrong with her paperwork and immigrations officials couldn’t pinpoint the problem even after she skipped school in Tempe to go to the immigration office in Phoenix.

Her experience highlighted how bureaucratic errors could plunge the lives of immigrants into a tailspin of anxiety, anger and even resignation.

“At some point, I was just like what can I do? There’s nothing I can do?” she said.

It took nearly a year for Dul to find out that someone had misfiled her paperwork. All this time, she feared deportation.

Dul later became a U.S. citizen, and took full advantage of what America has to offer.

She graduated summa cum laude with three degrees from Arizona State University, and went on to simultaneously earn a law degree from New York University and a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University. She built a successful law career and a family of her own.

And she set out to help others like her family through a pro bono immigration law program called the Phoenix Legal Action Network or PLAN.

Telling her story isn’t always easy, but it’s even more important now than ever to combat misinformation about other immigrants who fought so hard to get to America, she said.

Dul said it’s important to share what she went through – and what she does now – out of love for America, Arizona and democracy. Stories like hers prove that immigrants can be “patriots,” too.


Attorney Roopali Desai had made the call and given the pitch.

Desai was on Hobbs’ transition team and charged with finding someone to lead the elections office. Dul is more than just competent, Desai said.

Like Dul, Desai is a woman of color in the legal community. They met years ago and the two have been fast friends for so long that Desai can barely remember how they met.

The Secretary of State’s Office is a service organization and no one could connect with people quite like Dul, not after everything she experienced in life, Desai said.

“You can’t train people to have that kind of perspective. When you have and you own that kind of perspective because you’ve lived it, it’s invaluable,” she said.

When she made the pitch, Dul had just made partner at Perkins Coie.

Dul took it all in and was silent at first. But the next day, she agreed to apply.

Desai said she later learned that the idea of serving the public enticed Dul. Everything else that people usually think about when considering a new job was secondary.

“It wasn’t about how much she would make or what this could do for her professional trajectory. It was more about this moment,” Desai said.


Hobbs’ gain was Perkins Coie’s loss.

Attorney Dan Barr, who worked with her at the firm, described Dul as extraordinary, brilliant, a force of nature.

“As you can tell, I’m sort of a fan,” he said.

Dul impressed Barr in her early days with the firm, and that hasn’t stopped.

He recalled the first time she ever delivered an opening statement in court. She was representing a Native American prisoner who was not being allowed to practice his religion.

The judge kept interrupting Dul’s opening with questions.

What might have shaken any seasoned lawyer didn’t faze Dul. She just dealt with it as if she were a seasoned attorney, Barr said.

Shortly after the 2016 election, Dul and a group of young lawyers formed PLAN, which provides free legal services to immigrants who couldn’t afford legal aid. In some ways, the formation of PLAN was a direct reaction to the election of President Donald Trump, Barr said.

Barr, who runs the pro bono program at Perkins Coie, remembers Dul coming into his office one day with the proposal and a request for $150,000. Perkins Coie gave a similar amount of money to the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, which offers free legal work for detained immigrants and those facing deportation. Dul’s program would help people before their situations got so dire.


Barr anticipates Dul improving the frayed relationships with the state’s county elections officials.

That’s because “everybody likes Bo,” but also because he expects Dul to improve the elections manual and make it more useful to local election officials and others.

But perhaps most importantly, he’s counting on her to run fair elections and make voting as accessible as possible.

Mere weeks after starting at the Secretary of State’s Office, Dul spoke to the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce as part of the group’s annual Lunar New Year celebration.

She spoke about her new job, her childhood, her family’s journey to the United States and her career.

She issued a call to action – to register to vote and exercise that right consistently. Asian-Americans have the lowest turnout of any minority community in America, and Asian-Americans will not be full members of the community until everyone votes, and makes their voices heard, she said.

That was just the beginning for Dul.

“Phoenix and America welcomed my family many years ago,” she said. “We worked hard to get on our own two feet. Now that we’ve done that, I think we have a duty to work hard to give back.”

Campaign finance websites still broken as election 2020 nears


The 2020 election is a year away and the state’s campaign finance websites are broken.

See The Money – a website that presents data visually – has never worked properly, and the state’s campaign-finance database has had its own set of problems since the 2018 election, and the Secretary of State’s Office is now approaching a crucial deadline. Come January, candidates from throughout the state will be filing their first financial reports for the 2020 campaign cycle and the public will want to follow the money.

See The Money was a pet project of former Secretary of State Michele Reagan, and now Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is in charge of managing and marketing it, and more immediately, trying to fix it.

“It doesn’t work, and we want it to work,” Hobbs said. Her staff has spent the past year focused on improving the reporting side, making sure the information going into the system through Beacon, the new reporting portal, works with the website’s framework and accurately displays that information in a simple and intuitive way.

Hobbs said by election time, things will change.

“Our obligation is to house campaign finance reports and the goal of my administration is transparency to the public and that’s the biggest reason for campaign finance reporting,” Hobbs said. She said it’s crucial for the public to have access to that information, but what limits them, is their role in all of this – her office is a filing agency, not an enforcement agency.

“People think we dig through campaign finance reports and find problems – we don’t,” Hobbs said. “The reason complaints are made and campaign finance reports are found is because the public looks at those reports and they report problems to us. We rely on that.”

But Hobbs said it needs to be a “functional tool” for that to happen, and it’s not there yet. Complaints come mostly from campaign staff, lobbyists, or anyone else involved in politics.

They say it doesn’t display data in a way that is easy to understand. Overlooked campaign finance reporting loopholes and flaws have led to misleading or confusing figures, confusing and infuriating even to the most seasoned political operative. If they can’t understand it, they say, how is the public, who was initially the target demographic, supposed to?

One of them, Arizona Advocacy Network Deputy Director Morgan Dick, said she and her colleagues can’t remember the last time they used the website because they’ve had so many issues with it. Most of Dick’s job deals with digging through campaign finance reports, which can be tedious.

The idea and initial promise of See The Money was a godsend, she said, and it would have made her job easier. It was a great idea, Dick said, but it just wasn’t executed right.

“We often saw things were not congruent with what the campaign finance report said,” Dick said. “These data charts that you can export, they just didn’t accurately display the kind of spending we were seeing in the campaign finance side of the reporting.”

It’s so unreliable that Dick and her coworkers have to use third party sites like Follow The Money, hosted by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which she said is generally more accurate but still has its issues. With the way things are now, it’s almost always easier, and more accurate, to go to the original documents, copy and paste them into a spreadsheet and do their own analysis, Dick said.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in her office. Hobbs said problems with the state’s campaign-finance websites will be fixed by the 2020 election. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in her office. Hobbs said problems with the state’s campaign-finance websites will be fixed by the 2020 election. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)

For a long time, because of issues with transferring what’s reported, it’s been garbage in, garbage out. Those issues have been chipped away through years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“When you had the old campaign-finance system and See The Money was put in place, they didn’t necessarily talk to each other the right way,” Hobbs said.

She said there hasn’t been any statutory changes in what or how this information is reported, rather the way that the information is transferred and presented has.

What remains is an accessibility issue: people completely new to the system often don’t know what they’re looking at or what to look for. Now the office is working to better display the information and ensure that what’s being displayed is as accurate as they can assure it is.

Once that’s fully fixed and the website is made more accessible, it will be useful, Hobbs said, but it will never live up to the original vision. What was originally proposed was a place for every campaign finance report in the entire state, including local jurisdictions.

However, that dream never materialized because Hobbs nor her staff can compel other jurisdictions to participate and, Hobbs said, there’s no political will in the Legislature to do that. Even if there was interest, the system isn’t equipped to deliver.

If that did happen, Hobbs and others feared people would be charged to use that system. Change has been slow and hard to accomplish, Hobbs said, because her administration was a victim of circumstance – she walked into a project

The website was one of Reagan’s 2014 campaign promises: making it easier for people to see where candidates get their campaign money. Over $1 million has been spent to build the site and make it accessible for most people, but it still has issues.

Five years later, the website is still being tweaked.

Under Reagan, the office spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project, hiring a contractor that didn’t finish and forcing it in-house in 2016. Reagan, her staff and the contractors she employed hailed the website as a success with minor issues.

Former Secretary of State Michele Reagan at her inauguration in 2015. Reagan promised during her 2014 campaign to make it easier for people to see where candidates get their campaign money. Over $1 million has been spent to build a campaign-finance website and make it accessible for most people, but it doesn’t work. (File Photo/Arizona Capitol Times)
Former Secretary of State Michele Reagan at her inauguration in 2015. Reagan promised during her 2014 campaign to make it easier for people to see where candidates get their campaign money. Over $1 million has been spent to build a campaign-finance website and make it accessible for most people, but it doesn’t work. (File Photo/Arizona Capitol Times)

Together, Reagan and Hobbs have spent more than $1 million on the project.

One of the original developers for See The Money, Al Kawazi, said the larger problem has always been how the data is received. Kawazi said he and the other developers did their job.

“The problem is that the data is only as good as the data that’s coming in,” Kawazi said. “So if somebody puts in data that is wrong or they misallocated funds where they should have gone to as an expense, they put it as income, or whatever the reason may be – you can easily see that in the visualizations.”

Another problem, Kawazi said, was categorizing names and grouping contributions from the same person or not for people with similar names. Sometimes, when filing, mistakes can happen; someone misspells their name, changes a number in their address or even puts down their second home and not their primary address. Whatever the case, Kawazi said inconsistencies in data make it more difficult for developers or their algorithms to reasonably group entries from people or organizations and to assume they are identical.

Kawazi and company were experimenting with machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, and beginning to aggregate people by jobs, addresses and other information they gave. Compiling that accurately became hard at times because some people clearly, intentionally misreported their name or address consistently, knowing the information would be public and fearing people would send them letters or show up at their house, Kawazi said.

Kawazi said that flaws aside, the state has one of the most organized systems for presenting this data, but the problem remains that the data is dirty.

When Reagan first was elected, she had hoped to complete the website during or before June 2016, but she ended up being late, over budget and needed more money.

To help foot the $462,000 bill to develop a new campaign finance website to replace the other project that failed to launch, Reagan asked the Citizen’s Clean Election Commission to pay $200,000, and $50,000 each year for maintenance.

Director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission Tom Collins said he’s not sure where exactly that money spent was put toward, if it was worth it and he’s not confident that it’s “up to snuff.” Collins often hears complaints from members of the public about the site and about how information can be misreported often enough to warrant double checking the original documents, confusion over the definition of a particular vendor, not distinguishing between different types of transactions and just a general lack of explanation for what exactly people are looking at.

At the end of the day, it’s not reliable, Collins said, adding that it doesn’t achieve the goals that the commission considered when it decided to make the service agreement. Collins understands that website development is hard work and said he isn’t criticizing Hobbs personally, rather he wants to make sure this project lives up to its full potential.

“If See The Money does not provide voters information they can use, grab on-the-go and use, without having to double check the campaign finance database, what did our $200,000 buy in the first place?” Collins said.

Campaign season officially kicks off – let the games begin

It’s election season once more, and this cycle starts with a few curveballs.

May 30 marked the deadline for candidates to submit petitions to run for legislative, statewide and congressional offices. Unlike in previous election cycles, few legislative races are uncontested.

In addition to incumbents, a few familiar names popped up, including a surprise primary challenger for Gov. Doug Ducey, a bid by recently-expelled former Yuma Rep. Don Shooter to reclaim his old state Senate seat, and former House Speaker David Gowan, who was accused of misuse of state vehicles, likewise is running for the state Senate.

So, pop some popcorn and settle in for an entertaining election season.

U.S. Senate

Sen. Jeff Flake
Sen. Jeff Flake

The race to fill the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Jeff Flake, who is retiring, is expected to be the biggest contest in Arizona this year.

Republicans face a contentious primary with U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio duking it out in the primary.

Likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema also qualified for the ballot. She faces first-time political candidate Deedra Abboud, who is also a lawyer, in the primary.


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

State Sen. Steve Farley and educator David Garcia, who ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2014, will face off for the chance to take on Gov. Doug Ducey. Also on the Democratic primary ballot is Kelly Fryer, a first-time political candidate who is CEO of the YWCA of Southern Arizona.

But Ducey won’t get to coast to the general election. A last-minute addition to the governor’s race, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett gathered 7,828 signatures in about six weeks to qualify for the Republican primary.

Ducey’s campaign seems unfazed by the competition. “It would not be an election cycle without Ken Bennett on the ballot,” said J.P. Twist, Ducey’s campaign manager.

Ducey’s campaign war chest sits at $3 million on hand, which means Bennett, who is hoping to use Clean Elections funding, can’t compete financially. But Bennett, who came in fourth in the six-way Republican primary contest for governor in 2014, is undaunted by Ducey’s formidable cash advantage and is preparing to hit the governor on his record.

“Four years ago, he ran on a bunch of promises,” Bennett said. “Many of those promises turned out to be not true. We’re in this race because the truth matters.”

Secretary of State

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

In the secretary of state’s race, Republican Steve Gaynor takes on incumbent Michele Reagan. A wealthy businessman, Gaynor has vowed to self-fund his campaign to take out Reagan, who some Republicans fear may be vulnerable in the general election.  Democrats in the race are Sen. Katie Hobbs, Leslie Pico and Mark Robert Gordon.



Four Republicans and four Democrats are hoping to get their party’s nod for the congressional seat that McSally is vacating. This could be the most competitive congressional race, not only because of the open seat but because history shows the 2nd Congressional District is a true tossup district.

A similar situation exists in CD9, the seat occupied by Sinema, with three Republicans and two Democrats vying for the nominations. But that district leans slightly more Democrat in performance than southern Arizona’s CD2.

And in CD8, Republican Debbie Lesko, who just won a special election to replace Trent Franks, will have to defend her seat in the primary. Former Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling, who pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor to end felony bid-rigging charges years ago, wants to be the GOP nominee in the heavy Republican district. Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, Lesko’s opponent in the special election, is also gunning for a second chance at the seat.

Arizona Senate 

LD6: Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, who is termed out after serving eight years in the House, is looking to unseat her seatmate, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. The Republican winner will face off against Democrat Wade Carlisle in the general election.

LD23: Tim Jeffries, who was fired as head of the Department of Economic Security, is running in a four-way GOP primary that includes Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who is termed out of the House. Jeffries was ousted amid reports that he fired hundreds of state employees and used a state plane to travel to Nogales to drink with employees who gave up their job protections.

LD27: As Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, steps down to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, her nephew, Cipriano Miranda, aims to keep the family name in the Legislature and has filed to run for the open seat, but so has House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, who hopes to make the switch to the Senate.

LD28: Mark Syms, husband of Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, is challenging Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, in a move that could jeopardize the GOP’s hold on the critical swing district. Running as an independent, Mark Syms’ candidacy has some Republicans worried that his campaign will throw the race to Democratic candidate Christine Marsh. Mark Syms had jumped into the legislative race after Republican Kathy Petsas, who is viewed as holding more centrist views, filed to compete for a House seat.

LD30: House Reps. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, and Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, are facing off for the seat.

Arizona House

Teachers: A handful of teachers inspired by the “Red for Ed” movement are running for legislative seats. Middle school teacher Jennifer Samuels qualified to run for the House in LD15 and is one of three Democrats in the race. Bonnie Hickman, a teacher in the Gilbert Unified School District, is competing in a crowded field of Republicans gunning to take out Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, in LD16. Several other teachers are seeking legislative seats.

LD2: Former state Rep. John Christopher Ackerley, a one-term Republican who held a seat in the predominantly Democratic district, is attempting a comeback. Ackerley pulled off an upset victory in 2014 but lost to Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, two years later. Ackerley will face off against Anthony Sizer, an engineer also seeking the Republican nomination. Hernandez and Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, have also filed to run.

LD5: Incumbents Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, and Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, face two primary challengers – businessman Leo Biasiucci, who ran as a Green Party candidate in 2012, and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, first vice chair of the La Paz County Republican Committee. The two GOP winners will face off against Democrat Mary McCord Robinson in November. The race, however, recently turned ugly after Biasiucci and his allies accused Mosley of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun store. Mosley denied the allegation and instead accused the gun store owner of having thrown away his petitions. Though Cobb said she isn’t running on a slate with any of the three other candidates, she said she urged Biasiucci to get into the race and run against Mosley.

LD16: Five Republican candidates are looking to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, or to unseat Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a vocal opponent of the “Red for Ed” movement. Townsend consulted with lawyers about the possibility of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those affected by the walkout.

LD24: Democrats, including incumbent Rep. Ken Clark, of Phoenix, faces a seven-way primary for the district’s two House seats. Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, is termed out and is running for the Senate.

LD28: Democrats abandoned their single-shot strategy as they seek to capitalize on an expected “blue wave” in November. In addition to Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, Aaron Lieberman, also of Paradise Valley, has filed to run for the Democratic nomination. This is the first time since 2002 that Democrats have fielded two House candidates in the district. Two Republicans are also gunning for the House seats: Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas, the district’s GOP chairwoman and a longtime Republican activist. While Petsas is ostensibly running against Butler and Republicans are hoping to get three for three in November, Petsas could unseat Syms instead. Syms has struck a decidedly conservative tone in her famously moderate district, while Petsas boasts more moderate credentials.

 Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

Candidates can’t count on recount in close races

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

Any losing candidate in the general election who is counting on an automatic recount needs to come close to winning.

Really close.

In statewide races, there is a general law that requires a recount if the margin of votes between the two candidates is one-tenth of one percent. With perhaps 2.3 million votes already counted or yet to be tabulated in the race for U.S. Senate between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally, that would translate out to about 2,300.

But here’s the thing.

The same law says a recount is based on the lesser of that 0.1 percent or 200 votes. And given the number of votes cast statewide, it would be the 200 votes that would trigger a new count.

That same law applies to the race for school superintendent, though that contest does not appear close.

But the final tally in the race for secretary of state could come within that margin. In fact, at one point this week the difference was just 150 votes, with Democrat Katie Hobbs in the lead over Republican Steve Gaynor.

It could take days before the final tallies are in.

Recounts on legislative races require an even closer margin, with the process being triggered by a 50-vote difference.

State Elections Director Eric Spencer said there can be no action on a recount until the official canvass of votes. That’s set for Dec. 3.

If one of the races falls within the margin, don’t expect to see rooms full of workers examining ballots by hand. Instead, the machines that tabulated the ballots in the first place are reprogrammed and the ballots are fed back through them again.

There is a check of sorts on the machines.

Officials from both political parties select 5 percent of the precincts where the ballots cast there are then examined by hand.

If that hand count comes within the designated margin, then the machine recount is certified as correct. That designated margin is 2 percent for early ballots and 1 percent for polling places.

Spencer said if the hand count is outside that margin, an even larger random batch of precincts are added to the mix. And if that count also comes outside the margins, then Arizona would be looking at a total hand recount.

Recounts are not rare in Arizona.

Two years ago Andy Biggs won the Republican nomination for Congress after his margin of victory over Christine Jones came within the 200 votes. As it turned out, the recount added four votes to his tally and subtracted seven from hers, giving Biggs the win by a margin of just 27 votes.

McSally is no stranger to recounts. She got her congressional seat in 2014 by ousting incumbent Democrat Ron Barber by just 167 votes following a recount.

And in 2010 a bid by the Legislature to change the Arizona Constitution to reduce the amount of time people had to file initiative petitions failed on Election Day by 128 votes, triggering a recount. In the end, the margin of defeat was 194 votes.

Spencer said there is no provision in Arizona for an unhappy candidate or political party to demand a recount, even if offering to pay for it. But he said there are other sections of state law that allow someone to sue to contest the results.

But the law has only a specified number of grounds to support litigation, ranging from evidence of bribes and illegal votes to the candidate being ineligible to hold office.

Spencer said those challenges also have to wait until after the formal canvass.

Clean Elections Commission on verge of losing quorum

Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission is months away from a crisis.

Two of the five appointed commissioners are overstaying their welcome. Their 5-year terms each expired in the past two years. Come January 2020, a third commissioner’s term will also expire.

The Clean Elections Act, approved by voters in 1998, states that commissioners “shall serve no more than one term” and are “not eligible for reappointment.”

Mark Kimble
Mark Kimble

And while there’s precedent elsewhere in state law to allow commissioners to continue to serve, they’d prefer if Gov. Doug Ducey takes his lawful turn to choose a new appointee.

By law, appointments to the Citizen Clean Elections Commission, or CCEC, alternate between the governor and the highest ranking elected official of the opposite political party. The last appointment was made by Katie Hobbs, then the Senate minority leader at a time when no Democrats served in statewide office.

That made her the highest-ranking Democrat in 2017, a title she can again claim now that she’s been elected secretary of state.

But according to statute, Hobbs can’t make another appointment until after Ducey. And the governor has gone without picking a new commissioner for more than 16 months, since Commissioner Steve Titla’s term expired on January 31, 2018.

The Arizona chapter of the League of Women Voters sent a letter to the governor in early May, urging him to help restore the commission to a full roster of active commissioners.

“The League believes that the Commission furthers several of our primary goals: encouraging informed citizen participation in the political process, improving the integrity of the voting process, and diminishing the influence of special interest money in the election process,” the League wrote. “However, in order to conduct any business, the Commission requires a quorum of at least three members be present.”

Put another way, it’s bad enough that Titla and fellow Commissioner Damien Meyer, whose term expired on January 31, remain in a holdover capacity.

Damien Meyer
Damien Meyer

It’ll get even worse once Commissioner Mark Kimble’s term expires next January 31.

“Members who have faithfully fulfilled their duties to the Commission and the state of [Arizona] have tried to continue to attend as many meetings as they can in order to ensure that the Commission has a quorum and can thus function properly,” the League wrote. “The League believes that it is imperative on the Governor, as the highest ranking officer of the Republican Party, to fulfill his lawful duty to the Commission.”

After addressing the League’s letter at its May 30 meeting, commissioners weighed their own options to urge Ducey to act.

CCEC Executive Director Tom Collins noted that, come January 2020, the issue becomes “really ripe” once Kimble’s term expires.

“We’re really six months away from a potential crisis on this issue,” Collins said.

Collins suggested the commissioners could craft a letter to send to the Ducey administration, an effort Commissioner Amy Chan said won’t go far enough.

Chan said Ducey’s failure to appoint a new commission may be the result of his political leanings.

“Frankly, the problem is we have a governor who doesn’t like Clean Elections,” Chan said on May 30. “So it’s like his philosophy or policy disagreement is impacting the legitimacy of this independent, non-partisan election body, and that really is what the crux of the matter is. And how do we get him to move on that.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said there’s a simpler explanation for why the governor hasn’t made an appointment in over a year.

“The governor takes every appointment he makes very seriously, and our priority is to identify a qualified candidate to fill this vacancy. We have not received any applications for this vacancy that meet the statutory resident and partisan qualifications,” Ptak wrote in a statement.

The Governor’s Office has received four applications for the commission vacancies since January 2017, and none met the qualifications required of a potential commissioner, Ptak said.

Vacancies to any board or commission, like CCEC, are posted on the governor’s website, and Ptak added that Ducey’s staff meets regularly with individuals and organizations to encourage applicants to apply for those vacancies.

“We have and will continue communicating with the Commission’s executive director throughout this
process and we hope to make an appointment soon,” Ptak stated.

Steve Titla
Steve Titla

In the meantime, commissioners like Titla and Meyer may continue to serve under a state law that allows officers to “continue to discharge the duties of the office, although the term has expired, until a successor has qualified.”

And commissioners settled on requesting a meeting between Kimble, their chairman, and Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato to stress the urgent need for new appointees.

If Ducey follows through, he’s barred by law from appointing a Republican. That’s because no more than two appointees to the commission may be a member of any one political party. Since two of the three commissioners whose terms are still active are Republicans, the governor may either choose a Democrat or an independent.

That’s due in part to a shrewd decision by Hobbs, who in 2017 tapped Chan, a Republican who once served as elections director under former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

Hobbs had the option to choose an independent at the time. But by appointing Chan, Hobbs effectively blocked Ducey from appointing a member of his own political party. The two commissioners whose terms have expired, Titla and Meyer, are both Democrats.

Chan and Commissioner Galen Paten are Republicans, while Kimble, whose term expires next year, is an independent.

Since there are two vacancies, Hobbs will be able to make her own appointment immediately after Ducey acts.

Court awards former Senate Dem staffer $1M


The Arizona Senate fired a former Democratic policy advisor because she complained that she was being paid less because of her race and gender, a federal court ruled Friday evening. 

A U.S. District Court jury awarded Talonya Adams $1 million, according to court documents filed Monday. The jury found that Adams, a black attorney who was fired in 2015 after asking about a raise, had been discriminated against because of her race and gender.

According to court documents, Adams worked for the Senate from December 2012 until February 2015 as a Democratic policy advisor, earning $60,000 per year during her whole tenure. Adams also ran for a seat in the House in 2018, finishing last in a four-way primary in Legislative District 27. 

Talonya Adams
Talonya Adams

A few weeks before she was fired, she emailed Minority Chief of Staff Jeff Winkler and then-Minority Leader Katie Hobbs with concerns about her committee workload and whether she was being paid accurately because her timesheets only reflected eight hours of work per day. Adams then met with Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, who oversees all employees, to discuss those concerns in early February.

A few days later, the Legislative Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, published the salaries of all state Senate employees and Adams learned that she made nearly $30,000 less than Garth Kamp, a white male policy advisor for the majority caucus who had similar committee assignments. Adams emailed Baldo the next morning to ask about protocol for requesting a raise, and Baldo told her she needed to go through Democratic leadership. 

Adams emailed all six members of the elected Democratic leadership team to ask for a meeting to discuss her position, and Hobbs told her to discuss the matter with Winkler. 

At the same time, Adams planned to travel to Seattle to care for her sick son. She was away in Washington when Winkler learned that she hadn’t completed a briefing project due that day.

On Feb. 20, 2015, Baldo, Winkler and Hobbs agreed to fire Adams, citing a lack of confidence caused by her failure to complete projects before leaving for Seattle. Adams was fired by phone later that day.

She sued in federal court in 2017, alleging that the Senate violated the federal Civil Rights Act by paying her less than white male employees and firing her in retaliation after she complained. 

Adams said she couldn’t speak about the case until after an Aug. 14 evidentiary hearing, at which the court will decide whether she’s owed additional damages. That could include the Senate making up the difference between the salary Adams was paid for three years and the salaries of white male colleagues in similar roles, said Jocquees Blackwell, an attorney who worked with Adams on the case.

 A spokesman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office deferred comment to an attorney with an outside firm, Ryley Carlock & Applewhite PA, that also represented the Senate, and a call to its attorney was not immediately returned.

The Arizona Senate is working on adjusting its pay scales because some employees are not paid commensurate with their experience. Baldo told the Arizona Capitol Times those discussions are not related to Adams’ suit, but said she couldn’t comment further on the case. 

The $1 million, like other penalties against state agencies, would be paid through the Arizona Department of Administration’s Risk Management division, and not the Senate’s $12.9 million budget, Baldo said. 


Court dismisses Ward election suit

Cork, Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Kernodle said there’s something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court losses piling up for anti-abortion legislation, cost state millions

The state of Arizona has been ordered to pay roughly $2.2 million in legal fees in the past eight years to organizations that challenge restrictive abortion laws adopted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Some of those court orders are more than a decade in the making, like a challenge to a 1999 law with sweeping regulations of abortion providers that was finally settled in 2010, to a more recent case dealing with questionable medical advice the state required physicians to give to patients seeking medication abortions, for which a U.S. District Court judge ruled in August the state must cough up more than $600,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Just this week, the state and Planned Parenthood of Arizona settled the case for a sum of $550,000 in attorney fees.

Those court ordered payments, the result of five cases the state has either lost, settled or been nullified by legislative repeal, don’t include the costs to the Attorney General’s Office, which spent more than 3,300 hours and an estimated $173,500 defending the state in four such cases, according to an analysis of expense records and time sheets provided by the attorney general.

All told, that’s roughly $2.32 million spent defending laws that legislators were warned may not pass muster in court.

[Story continues after graphic.]

  • Tucson Women’s Clinic v. Eden
  • Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence v. Arizona Department of Revenue
  • Isaacson v. Horne
Lawmakers approved HB2706 in 1999, and the lawsuit stemming from it would span for more than a decade. Known as a TRAP bill, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint on behalf of several Arizona physicians. The law was ultimately enjoined by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. The state then negotiated with plaintiffs to reach a settlement that was ultimately finalized in April 2010. The Center for Arizona Policy notes on its bill tracker that the law was overturned in court. ATTORNEY FEES: $389,000
In 2011, lawmakers approved a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, that sought to prevent Arizona donors from receiving tax credits if they make financial contributions to abortion providers. Challengers never objected to that part of the law. However, the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence took issue with part of the law that banned even organizations that “promote” abortion or refer clients to abortion providers from being eligible for the state’s list of tax credit-eligible groups. The coalition, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, blocked the law in court. Lesko sponsored a different bill in 2012 that omitted the problematic referral language. ATTORNEY FEES: $56,711.15
The Center for Reproductive Rights took the lead in this case challenging a 2012 law, sponsored by then-Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, which sought to place a 20-week ban on abortions on behalf of several Arizona physicians. The 20-week ban, one of several policies in Yee’s bill, was ultimately overturned in court. ATTORNEY FEES: $388,400.00 CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $6,117.09 SOLICITOR GENERAL’S OFFICE EXPENSES: $6,125.82 HOURS / SALARY ESTIMATE: 65.8 / $2,282.20

That’s on Republican legislators, who either don’t accept that they can’t regulate abortion to the degree they seek, or worse, said Jodi Liggett, vice president of public affairs with Planned Parenthood of Arizona.

“The less charitable view is that they understand perfectly that these are unconstitutional bills, they’re being advised that, and candidly, it’s a form of harassment,” Liggett said. “To make us go down there, spend money on lobbyists trying to stop things and then spend money on attorneys trying to stop them in court. So I think there’s a bit of burnishing their cred with the Center for Arizona Policy, or just as ‘pro-life’ legislators.”

The Center for Arizona Policy is often blamed by anti-abortion foes as the impetus for legislation targeting abortion access in the state. The center has made a name for itself as a conservative, evangelical policy group in Arizona by supporting anti-abortion candidates in elections and pushing Republican lawmakers to sponsor and vote for measures to restrict access to abortions in the state.

Cathi Herrod
Cathi Herrod

Center for Arizona Policy’s website boasts of its many legislative achievements, while also hinting at the repercussions of their efforts – an asterisk next to bills the organization helped pass that were later struck down in court. When Arizona loses those legal battles, taxpayers foot the bill for causes championed by the Center for Arizona Policy and its influential president, Cathi Herrod.

Out of six lawsuits brought against the state over Center for Arizona Policy-backed bills since 2009, the state has successfully defended two laws: A 2009 law requiring minors to get notarized parental consent for an abortion, and a 2011 law banning abortions sought for race-based purposes.

Herrod said 2009 is the place to start. That’s when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano was replaced by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative friendlier to Herrod’s cause and thus when Herrod began tracking policies her organization has helped shepherd through the Legislature.

Herrod said the number of policies still in effect today far outweigh the losses in court. Thirty-seven “pro-life” policies are still on the books, ranging from a 2011 policy requiring women to receive an ultrasound before an abortion; a 2012 law requiring schools to push childbirth and adoption as preferred alternatives to abortion; and a 2016 policy prohibiting the research, experimentation or trafficking of fetuses.

“You have to first look at what is in effect. And then you need to look at what the court cases were,” Herrod said. “And the question is, why does the abortion industry oppose women being given information about abortion pill reversal? Why does the abortion industry file lawsuits on some of these bills?”

Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, and Democratic legislators who’ve argued and voted against Center for Arizona Policy-supported bills, say lawsuits are filed because the policies are unconstitutional and harmful. Planned Parenthood and other organizations challenging the Legislature have indeed won more cases than they’ve lost since 2009, leaving Liggett of Planned Parenthood to question Herrod’s motives, and the motives of lawmakers who vote in Herrod’s favor.

Jodi Liggett
Jodi Liggett

“Are we really trying to create good public policy? Is this really about – in particular, is this really about women’s health and safety?” Liggett said. “Or is this just about making it as hard as possible (to have an abortion), which is actually harmful to women’s health and safety?”

For example, a 2012 bill designed to block clinics that provide abortions from receiving federal funds through Medicaid was flagged by House staff as problematic. House Rules Attorney Tim Fleming told the House Rules Committee that the measure, sponsored by then-GOP Rep. Justin Olson, may conflict with aspects of federal law.

Fleming told legislators he found similar measures, approved by other states that were then being litigated.

“Each of the statutes in each of those states were at least preliminarily enjoined,” he said, meaning a judge thought there was a good chance challenges to those laws would succeed. Fleming added that those cases had not yet been decided at the time.

[Story continues after graphic.]

  • Planned Parenthood v. Betlach
  • Planned Parenthood v. Humble
  • Planned Parenthood v. Brnovich
In 2012, Rep. Justin Olsen sought to block Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from receiving federal funds through Medicaid. HB2800 specifically banned organizations that provide abortions from being considered “qualified providers” for purposes of providing Medicaid funds for family planning services. The law was overturned in court, as the court ruled federal law dictates Medicaid enrollees can seek services from any qualified provider and that Planned Parenthood certainly qualifies as such. ATTORNEY FEES: $295,500.00 CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $455.00 SOLICITOR GENERAL’S OFFICE EXPENSES: $480.44 HOURS / SALARY ESTIMATE: 46.10 / $1,648.10
A flurry of legislative activity in 2016 settled this case, which was spurred by Yee’s HB2036 – the same bill with the overturned 20-week abortion ban. In this case, Planned Parenthood challenged a policy requiring doctors to administer medication abortions using only the steps approved on U.S. Food and Drug Administration labels. A federal lawsuit blocked the policy in the 9th Circuit, while a separate lawsuit was filed against the policy in state court. While the law was hung up in court, Yee sought a legislative fix in 2016 that was spoiled when the FDA updated the label for medication abortion pills. Legislators repealed the law entirely later that year, rendering the cases moot, but leaving the state on the hook for legal fees. ATTORNEY FEES: $467,099* CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $4,937.50 HOURS / SALARY ESTIMATE: 2,493.20 / $88,150.40* *Combined total from cases in state and federal courts.
Despite pleas and warning from obstetricians and gynecologists, Republican lawmakers still passed SB1318 in 2015. The bill required doctors to tell their patients that there was a chance medication abortions could be reversed in between doses. Women’s health providers said there was no scientific evidence to support that claim. Still, the bill became law, though lawmakers ultimately repealed it in 2016 when faced with a likely court loss. That still left state taxpayers on the hook for attorney’s fees. ATTORNEY FEES: $550,000* CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $36,278.70 SALARIES BY THE HOUR: $25,958.60 *The state settled for less than the $612,218.78 it was ordered to pay.

Nonetheless, HB2800 was approved and a lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood. The law was overturned. And a judge ordered $388,400 be paid in attorneys’ fees, with the cost split evenly between the state and Maricopa County.

Liggett said it’s incumbent on legislators, particularly Republicans who promote themselves as fiscally conservative, to consider those costs when there are warnings the bills legislators sponsor and debate will have trouble in court. If not, they’re letting the Center for Arizona Policy use the state as a means to litigate their anti-abortion cause.

“A Republican legislator a long time ago used to talk about OPM – other people’s money. So if you can do this all day long, year in and year out, and spend taxpayer money – let’s remember, we’re talking about litigation costs. There’s also just cost of running legislation. There’s leg council, there’s staff. It’s not free. And when you have bills that you know early on that are not viable, that seems to me to be irresponsible,” Liggett said.

Among Arizona Democrats, Center for Arizona Policy takes a lot of the blame for pushing these bills and essentially having the state pay the cost of litigating abortion issues. But Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs said the buck stops with legislators, not Herrod.

Sen. Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix)
Sen. Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix)

“Herrod has a lot of clout, and she has a way to get lawmakers to do what she wants. But nobody has to do what she tells them to do,” said Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

Herrod said the Center for Arizona Policy, just like any other lobbying group, is well within the norm by pushing policy it favors at the Legislature. Contrary to the warning of other lobbyists, and at times the Legislature’s own attorneys, Herrod said her organization doesn’t push legislation if they don’t think it’s constitutional and believe it will be upheld in court.

Herrod pointed to HB2036, sponsored by then Rep. Kimberly Yee in 2012, which included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. That policy was overturned in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But at the time Yee, a Phoenix Republican, sponsored the bill and the center helped guide it through the Legislature, Herrod said there were “maybe nine or 10 states” that had a 20-week ban on the books.

“So we approached this certainly with what we believe – what problems are being solved by a pro-life bill, what the needs are, what we believe will be upheld in court, and what we believe is constitutional,” she said.

In other instances, court battles are simply part of the legislative process, Herrod said. The parental consent law, passed in 2009, “took, I think, three different tries, if not four tries, to get the parental consent requirement in Arizona upheld and enforced in law,” she said.

As for the losses in court, Center for Arizona Policy’s wins make the cost of litigation worth it, Herrod said.

“We would say that our batting average is something like 37 to 4. And I’ll take that average any day,” she said.

Sen. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria)
Sen. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria)

Republican legislators who back Herrod’s bills often feel the same way. None of the sponsors of bills that led to legal losses for the state returned calls for comment. But Sen. Debbie Lesko, who as a representative sponsored the bill to block abortion providers from tax credit benefits in 2011, had her reason for pushing the bill cited in an order preliminarily blocking the law.

“I believe God has put me here for a reason,” Lesko, a Peoria Republican, had said during a committee hearing. “And I often ask Him, ‘What is that reason?’ and I ask for a purpose. (I ask Him to) ‘Please guide me and tell me what you want me to do.’ And I truly believe that one of the purposes that I have been put in this position is to protect the lives of innocent children.”

Court reinstates ‘dark money’ contributions


The state Court of Appeals has reinstated a 2017 law that opens the door to “dark money” contributions to political races.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday the judges said the Republican-controlled legislature was within its rights to decide that any group the Internal Revenue Service has classified as non-profit does not have to disclose its donors, even if it uses the money to finance independent expenditures to elect or defeat candidates.

That change overturned the ability of the voter-created Citizens Clean Elections Commission to determine whether the group was really a charity or only a thinly disguised political action committee. PACs have to disclose donors.

Tuesday’s ruling also allows political parties to spend unlimited dollars on behalf of their candidates without disclosure. And it also means that individuals and special interests can pay the legal fees of candidates without it counting against the legal limit of how much financial help they can provide.

But there was a key victory in the ruling for the Arizona Advocacy Network, which had challenged the law.

The appellate judges said lawmakers had no right to limit Clean Elections Commission to policing only independent expenditures made on behalf of candidates who are accepting public financing. This preserves the right of the five-member commission to require disclosure of all money spent on all candidates — publicly financed or not — even if they can no longer force reporting of the original source of those dollars.

David Gass
David Gass

Appellate Judge David Gass, a Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Democrat, writing for the unanimous appellate court, said voters were well within their authority in giving that broad right to the commission to police independent expenditures. And having been approved by voters, lawmakers were powerless to change it.

Tuesday’s ruling is a reversal of fate for the challengers who had succeeded in convincing a trial judge to void the entire 2017 law. Attorney Jim Barton who represents them said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.

The commission was created by voters in 1998 as part of what proponents said was a bid to limit the influence of money on politics.

It allows — but does not require — candidates for statewide and legislative office to qualify for public financing if they agree not to take outside cash. The amount is determined by the office sought.

It also empowers the commission to enforce campaign finance laws.

When business groups which have traditionally funded many candidates could not kill it at the ballot box they sued to have it voided. Most of the provisions were upheld in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest fight stems from efforts in 2017 by then-Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to curb both the commission’s powers and campaign finance restrictions.

He argued that existing laws requiring disclosure of donors interfered with the rights of free speech and people to participate in the political process with their dollars without giving up their right or privacy. And his measure paid special attention to the ability of people to contribute anonymously for independent expenditures, money spent directly by organizations in commercials, direct mailers or other campaign materials urging voters to support or defeat specific candidates

Mesnard’s measure was approved on a largely party-line vote and signed into law by Ducey.

Key is the carve-out from disclosure requirements for nonprofits.

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

There always has been an exception for nonprofits to avoid disclosing donors.

But the commission has taken the position that designation by the IRS, by itself, is insufficient to prove an organization is a true charity. Instead, it adopted rules to allow it to demand records from a group to determine whether it actually is organized for the primary purpose of influencing an election.

The 2017 law — and now, the appellate court ruling — overturns all that. Now, once the IRS grants nonprofit status, the commission is powerless to investigate the validity of the charity, and the names of donors are kept secret.

What now also is legal is the ability of political parties to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of their candidates without disclosure.

In the 2018 election, for example, the Arizona Republican Party ran TV commercials on behalf of the re-election efforts of Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich. But the actual amount they spent on behalf of each was never reported because of the exemption created in the 2017 law.

This became particularly significant because Ducey raised money not only directly for his own campaign but also took corporate and large-dollar contributions — money he could not legally accept personally — and funneled it into a separate Ducey Victory Fund committee. And any dollars Ducey could not keep himself then were given to the Arizona Republican Party which, in turn, was free to use it to help the governor’s re-election, all without detailing how much was spent on his behalf.

This has not just been a practice of one party.

The Arizona Democratic Party also put $3.3 million into the successful effort to elect Katie Hobbs as secretary of state.

But that figure became public not through campaign finance laws. It was only because iVote, which promotes the election of Democrat secretaries of state, put out a press release detailing the expenditure.



Court rules against lawmakers in single-subject dispute

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday voided a ban on mask mandates in public schools and a host of other legislative changes, ruling it was illegal for lawmakers to pile them into a handful of budget bills. 

Without comment, the judges rejected arguments by Assistant Attorney General Beau Roysden that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the process that lawmakers have used for years to put policy changes, like whether schools can mandate masks for staff and students, into bills that are labeled only as relating to the budget. 

Also now voided are a host of other measures, ranging from a prohibition against colleges requiring vaccinations and how to teach about race in public schools to the kind of paper that counties must use for ballots and stripping Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her powers to defend state election laws. 

In upholding a lower court ruling, the justices also slapped down arguments by Roysden that the legislature alone decides whether what it puts in bills complies with the Arizona Constitution. Among those requirements is a mandate that all measures deal with only a single subject and that all bills have a title that informs the public of what changes they make. 

During a hearing earlier in the day, Roysden, in essence, told the justices they should butt out of legislative business. 

“It is not for the court to second guess that,” he argued. 

That did not go over well. 

Robert Brutinel

“So the single subject rule is just a suggestion?” asked Chief Justice Robert Brutinel. 

Justice William Montgomery got more specific, citing provisions in one challenged bill labeled only as dealing with “budget procedures.” 

“So how does dog racing relate to budget procedures?” he asked. 

“I think that’s the toughest question in this case,” Roysden conceded. 

But he maintained that people, in reading the title “budget procedures,” are put on notice that there may be a grab-bag of individual items in there. And that, Roysden said, is all that’s constitutionally required. 

With Tuesday’s order, the justices said that’s not the case. But they did not explain their decision, promising a full-blown ruling at some point in the future. 

That will be crucial as lawmakers, now banned from using the reconciliation bills as catch-alls, now will be looking for guidance about what they can — and cannot — do in the future. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the more immediate question is what to do about the now-voided provisions. 

“We’re going to have to go through and get a list of what was affected and how it was affected,” she said. 

One possibility, Fann said, would be a special legislative session. There, each of the provisions that the Supreme Court nullified could be reintroduced and brought up for a vote on an individual basis, avoiding the illegal practice of bunching them together. 

But it remains unclear whether each could pass on its own. 

For example, legislation spelling out how race, ethnicity and gender can be taught in public schools had failed on its own. 

It was only when that language about what lawmakers called critical race theory, was put into a reconciliation bill that it passed. That forced foes to accept the all-or-nothing package to get other provisions they wanted. 

That’s why House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, called the ruling “a win for the legislative process.” 

“It was never appropriate for the (House) speaker and the Senate president to load up the budget with unrelated and controversial policy items to mollify certain extreme members and avoid negotiating a bipartisan budget.” 

Tuesday’s ruling also is a setback for Gov. Doug Ducey who not only championed the ban on mask mandates but has denied some federal Covid relief dollars to schools that he said are not in compliance with state law. Now, with the law permanently struck, there is no excuse for him to withhold those funds. 

Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin would not answer what Ducey intends to do next about schools that impose mask mandates, saying only that the governor believes that people should be able to make their own decisions with the guidance of their doctor, “not because of some government mandate.” 

In fact, though, Tuesday’s ruling actually could cause some school districts who had balked at mask mandates because of the law to now rethink that position. 

At stake were provisions of four measures lawmakers adopted earlier this year, all under the banner of “budget reconciliation.” 

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled earlier this year that none of the measures comply with that constitutional requirement that the title of each bill must reflect what changes it makes. And she said one of them — the one labeled only “budget procedures” — was so full of unrelated issues that it violated the separate requirement for all measures to deal with only a single subject. 

Roysden drew the task of convincing the high court that Cooper got it wrong. 

But it became clear, even before he said his first words, that the odds already were against him. Brutinel noted that the justices met earlier, behind closed doors, to discuss the issues. 

“I think it’s fair to say there’s some consensus about whether the statutory provisions violate the single subject rule and the title requirements of the Arizona Constitution,” he said. “I think the consensus is that they do.” 

All that left Roysden to argue that this is none of the court’s business. 

“This would be uncharted territory,” he told them. “That is a terrible idea for the court to start down this path.” 

Bill Montgomery

But Montgomery said legal precedents going back more than two centuries spell out that it is precisely the role of the judiciary to judge — and strike down — actions by other branches of government that run afoul of the constitution. And Montgomery said there certainly are questions about whether lawmakers are in compliance. 

Consider, he said, the measure labeled “K-12 budget reconciliation.” Among the provisions in that bill is that ban on schools mandating masks. 

“So how does that relate to appropriation?” Montgomery asked. 

“The legislature could say if we’re going to fund schools, we want kids to go to the schools and we think (a) mask mandate is going to deter attendance,” Roysden responded. 

“We don’t want the schools that we fund to impose these types of mandates,” he continued. “That is within the power of the legislature.” 

That line of thinking clearly didn’t convince the justices. 

Anyway, Roysden argued, no one is fooled by the title. He told the court that anyone who cares about K-12 funding would look at the title and be on notice that there might be major policy changes — like that ban on mask mandates. 

That drew a skeptical response from Brutinel. 

“We’re all supposed to understand that ‘budget reconciliation’ means ‘anything we want’ ”? he asked. 

Roysden said those in the know do understand. 

“Anybody who reads the newspaper will know,” he said. 

“I’m not going to a newspaper to decide a constitutional issue,” Montgomery shot back. 

Roopali Desai

In striking down the laws, the justices sided with attorney Roopali Desai, representing the education groups and allies who challenged the four statutes. She warned the justices against accepting the arguments that lawmakers alone get to decide what can be in budget reconciliation bills and that the courts have no role in determining whether they are complying with constitutional requirements. 

“That could lead to some very problematic results,” she said. “What’s to say that the legislature doesn’t say that about every act that they pass?” 

In voiding the statutes, the justices also rejected Roysden’s backup argument that if they were going to find the practice of budget reconciliation bills illegal they should make their ruling prospective. He said there was no way for lawmakers to know that what they were doing was unconstitutional. 

That would have allowed the challenged provisions to take effect. 

But Desai countered — and the justices apparently agreed — that legislators have been on notice since at least 2003 when the Supreme Court found fault with a similar process 

 Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Senate President Karen Fann, Rep. Reginald Bolding, and Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin. 




Court rules ballot measures can’t use online signature gathering

The Arizona Supreme Court from left are James Beene, Andrew Gould, Ann Scott-Timmer, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, Clint Bolick, John Lopez, and Bill Montgomery.
The Arizona Supreme Court from left are James Beene, Andrew Gould, Ann Scott-Timmer, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, Clint Bolick, John Lopez, and Bill Montgomery.

Arizona groups still trying to put a measure on the November ballot are going to have to try to get needed signatures the old fashioned face-to-face way despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a brief order Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court rebuffed pleas by several organizations to allow them to use an existing online signature-gathering system available to candidates. And the court, in its 6-1 order, was not swayed by the fact that the plea was for the special permission for this year only because of the pandemic.

The court gave no reason for its decision.

But Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office argued against allowing the change, said the justices could not provide the relief sought.

Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

“Arizona has had a provision in its constitution since statehood that provides that signatures in the initiative process have to be done by an actual human being,” he told Capitol Media Services.

The online E-Qual system, by definition, has no circulators, with supporters “signing” online petitions by providing identifying information through a web site maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Only Justice Ann Scott Timmer voted to grant the request.

Wednesday’s action may seal the fate of initiative drives that had not already collected sufficient signatures by the middle of March when the virus erupted and Gov. Doug Ducey closed many businesses and directed Arizonans to stay home. A similar request was rebuffed by a federal judge, a decision upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That leaves the question of what will be on the ballot for voters to consider.

One measure that appears to have at least the bare minimum 237,645 signatures needed is the Smart and Safe Arizona Act which seeks to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Spokeswoman Stacy Pearson said circulators already have more than 300,000, enough to provide a margin should some signatures turn out to be invalid and there are challenges made to other petitions.

Less clear are the fates of two other measures.

One would put a 3.5 percent surcharge on taxable income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples to raise about $940 million a year for public education. The other would allow judges to impose shorter prison sentences than now required under “truth in sentencing” laws and permit inmates sentenced for non-dangerous offenses to be released after serving 50 percent of their time, versus the current 85 percent.

Pearson, who represents both, said the signature gathering had continued through the governor’s stay-at-home order. She said circulators put the petitions on a clipboard, stepped back, let the person sign it in their presence, and then picked it up.

She said while neither currently has gathered sufficient signatures, the deadline to file petitions is not until July 2. And Ducey just this week announced he was lifting his stay-at-home order.

Other proposals, though, are dead.

That includes the Save Our Schools Act which sought to ask voters to limit the number of vouchers of state tax dollars that parents can use to send their children to private and parochial schools.

It would have prohibited the state from issuing vouchers to more than 1 percent of total children enrolled in public schools. With about 1.1 million students in traditional district and charter schools, that would have set the cap at about 11,000.

“We had a robust start and, had that continued, we would have been fine,” said Dawn Penich-Thacker, one of the organizers. She also said the group did not have a lot of money to hire paid circulators.

“Our own network is passionate about the issue,” Penich-Thacker said. “But they’re not comfortable going door to door, not social distancing, and we’re not going to ask them to do that.”

Also dead is a proposal that was being pushed by the National Credit Alliance to overturn virtually all of the laws that now limit annual interest charges on loans to 36 percent a year. Sean Noble, who was managing the campaign for the lenders, had called it a “stand against socialism,” arguing that the question of interest rates should be a free-market decision.

Noble said the issue is not dead, envisioning a similar effort for the 2022 ballot.

There never was any legal dispute but that Arizona law requires initiative petitions to be signed in the presence of the circulator.

But attorney Roopali Desai pointed out that state lawmakers have allowed themselves and other political candidates to gather their signatures online. Desai, representing four separate initiative campaigns, argued that the constitutional right of Arizonans to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments entitles people to that same access.

If nothing else, Desai said that the “current exigencies” of the virus and the governor’s orders should allow initiative organizers to have access to that system, at least for this year.

Brnovich said that’s not a decision for courts to make.

“The constitution is very clear on this,” he said. “If petitioners don’t like what the constitution says they need to work on changing the constitution.”

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, opted not to oppose the effort to use the E-Qual system, calling it a “reasonable request” in light of the pandemic. Brnovich, a Republican, criticized that move.

“I’m a big believer that when you’re elected to a statewide office you have to fulfill your duties and responsibilities,” he said. “It is a little head-scratching when the state’s chief election officer is consistently unwilling to defend state election laws.”

Desai wasn’t the only one seeking special relief for initiative circulators this year. Attorney Jim Barton made similar arguments to U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza, a President Trump nominee, in seeking federal court relief.

In a ruling last month, Lanza acknowledged that the pandemic “is currently wreaking havoc” on the ability of initiative organizers to get signatures. But he said it is not making it impossible, pointing out that some groups may already have qualified.

More significant, he accepted arguments by Brnovich that the failure to get the signatures may be at least partly the fault of organizers. He said the two committees suing in his court didn’t start organizing and gathering signatures until the second half of last year while other groups began their operations right after the 2018 election.

Finally, Lanza said it is possible that the conditions of the pandemic will abate ahead of the July 2 deadline.

Court stops County Recorder from sending ballots to all voters for Tuesday election

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a press conference on Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a press conference on Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Superior Court judge has stopped Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes from sending ballots to all voters who aren’t on the early voters list for Tuesday’s Presidential Preference Election. 

Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed suit Friday for the emergency order after the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said Fontes disobeyed their orders to not mail out the ballots.

“The Maricopa County Recorder cannot unilaterally rewrite state election laws,” Brnovich said in a press release. “Fontes is creating chaos in our elections during an already difficult time. In times of crisis, the public looks to our elected officials to follow the law – not make reactionary decisions for political gain.”

Hobbs wrote a letter to Fontes this afternoon calling his actions illegal. 

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“I want to reiterate what I communicated to you on the phone this morning,” Hobbs wrote. “My Office’s position is that you do not have legal authority at this stage to mail a ballot to all voters who have not requested one. The lack of an express statutory prohibition is irrelevant. If your view were correct, counties apparently have had authority to conduct countywide all-mail elections all this time.”

Hobbs also referenced in her letter a Fontes tweet Thursday in which he said “if it were up to [him]” he would have mailed all the ballots to voters already. 

“Apparently, sometime between that tweet and this morning, you decided it is up to you, despite the fact that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors determined otherwise,” Hobbs wrote

A Maricopa County spokesman told Arizona Capitol Times the Board of Supervisors did not support the County Recorder’s decision and would try to stop it if possible. 

“It’s their understanding that this is outside of his and the Board’s legal authority to send ballots to people that are not on the (Permanent Early Voting List),” county spokesman Fields Moseley said. “The board is seeking legal advice, and will stop it if it’s at all possible.”

On top of those elected officials chiding Fontes for going rogue, two elections lawyers agreed his actions were either illegal or at least irresponsible. 

Kory Langhofer, a Republican elections attorney, said what Fontes is doing is clearly illegal. 


Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

However, Fontes acted alone and planned ahead to mail out the ballots to voters with the intention that they would be in the mail before any legal action could be taken, but in a press conference, Fontes admitted no ballots were mailed. 

Tom Collins, the executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, said that aside from whether this is even legal, it creates concern from a “public confidence perspective.”

Fontes’ statement is in direct conflict with the message Hobbs sent out hours earlier based on advice from state health officials, Collins said. 

“At a time when clarity around public health communications is important and regularity in the competence of an election is of the utmost importance – and given that this particular election has been problematic within the recent memory – I would assume that the county, the governor, the secretary and the county recorder need to get on the same page,” he said. 

Hobbs also warned Fontes not to continue this approach in August and November because it will cause confusion among voters. “I … urge you to abandon your current effort, which will only cause massive voter confusion and, more critically, jeopardize the legitimacy of this election,” she wrote. 

Fontes, in his original announcement of this “unprecedented” plan, said there wasn’t a law preventing him from doing this.

“There is no explicit authority in law for this and there’s also no prohibition in law,” Fontes told Arizona Capitol Times today. “We’re doing this to support the Board of Supervisors to make sure that every eligible voter can safely fill out a ballot, put it in the envelope and maintain appropriate social distance by just popping in and dropping it off at any of the polling locations that will be open on Tuesday,” he said.

Since then, the county held a press conference addressing this issue and according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s website, some polling places have already shut down in the county. Moseley said there was a growing concern over not having enough poll workers given the state of emergency over COVID-19. 

The county reduced its vote centers from 229 to 151, but all of them will be used as drop off zones, which was Fontes’ intention.

During a conference call with county recorders last week, Fontes urged Hobbs’ staff to lean on  Gov. Doug Ducey to declare a limited emergency for the election, but Hobbs never took the idea to the Governor’s Office. 

Fontes wanted Ducey to declare a limited emergency to allow the election to go entirely ballot-by-mail, and allow the county to print ballots and mail them to the roughly 200,000 voters who didn’t get an early ballot – which he ultimately decided to do unilaterally, without an emergency declaration.

Reporter Andrew Nicla contributed to this story. 

Court tosses GOP lawsuit challenging election


A judge on Thursday removed the last legal hurdle to certifying the results of the election and handing the state’s 11 electoral votes to Joe Biden.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah, an appointee of former Gov. Janet Napolitano, denied the request by the Arizona Republican Party to block county supervisors from conducting a formal “canvass” to certify the votes. That clears the way for board action as early as Friday.

More to the point, Hannah summarily granted a bid by county supervisors to toss the entire case, a request that was joined by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Arizona Democratic Party.

State GOP spokesman Zach Henry would not comment about a possible appeal.

But Thursday’s ruling is not the end of the debate about who won in Arizona.

At a press conference Thursday, Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani promised a new major lawsuit in Arizona as well as one in the battleground state of Georgia, claiming to have “hundreds” of affidavits proving election fraud but declining to show them to reporters.

And state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, counting on such a new lawsuit, is using that as a trigger to seek a special legislative session. He said the U.S. Constitution allows lawmakers to call themselves into session to look at voting in federal elections if there is evidence available — even from what has been filed in court — that there was fraud.

Separately, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, announced that the GOP caucus is setting up a special email account “to gather documented proof of voting irregularities in the 2020 general election in Arizona.”

Fann had previously said she wanted a look at what happened this year as a starting point for a future review of state election laws. Now, however, the Senate president wants these complaints by Nov. 27 — three days before the date set to formally “canvass” and certify the vote tally.

But Fann told Capitol Media Services it is not her intent to affect the canvass. Instead, she said, any credible information gathered would be passed along to the secretary of state or the attorney general.

And she dismissed the idea of a special session, saying it isn’t practical — or legal.

Finchem is working on a slightly different time line.

Federal law says that all disputes over presidential elections at the state level have to be resolved by Dec. 8. And the electors then cast their ballots six days later.

Finchem said if a legislative probe finds no evidence of fraud, then that clears the way for those electors to vote according to the will of the majority as shown by the election returns. Unofficial returns show Biden beat Trump by about 10,500 votes.

But Finchem said if a majority of the Republican-controlled legislature concludes that there was so much fraud as to make the results unreliable, they could block electors from casting their ballots for any candidate.

That, in and of itself, would not help Trump who, based on the latest numbers, has 306 electoral votes — including 11 from Arizona. He needs just 270 to win.

But it could prove crucial depending on possible legal — or legislative — action in other states.

In tossing the state GOP lawsuit, Hannah did not provide an immediate explanation for his ruling, promising more detail later. But he clearly indicated that he believes the lawsuit had no merit.

Hannah told Hobbs she can seek to recoup the legal fees she incurred in having to hire outside counsel to fight the lawsuit by the Republicans. And that is specifically based on a provision in Arizona law that requires judges to assess legal fees when someone files a claim “without substantial justification.”

Despite the ruling, GOP officials insist they are correct in their interpretation of the law — and the relief they sought — to require that there be a sampling of ballots for hand count from 2% of all voting precincts.

“We have identified problems in our own process where the will of a Democrat secretary of state is being substituted for the black letter law passed by the state legislature,” said Kelli Ward, who chairs the state GOP, in a prepared statement.

That is based on the fact that Arizona law requires there be an audit of voting through a hand count of ballots taken from 2% of the precincts.

But it was the Republican-controlled legislature that allowed counties to set up centralized “vote centers” instead where any individual from any precinct can cast a ballot. Six counties do that.

And that same law specifically gives the secretary of state the power to enact rules allowing audit samples to be drawn by vote centers and not individual precincts. Those rules, in turn, were approved by Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, both Republicans.

Ward, however, maintains that something more needs to be done to verify the election results — and that Biden beat Trump — and to show that “only legal ballots were counted in the 2020 election.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include more information.

Court voids 2017 ‘dark money’ law

Gavel and scales

A judge has slapped down efforts by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature to create new exceptions to laws that require disclosure of campaign finance spending.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Palmer said the 2017 measure unconstitutionally conflicts with a 1998 voter-approved law designed to reduce the influence of money on politics.

Wednesday’s decision most immediately limits the ability of political parties to spend unlimited dollars on behalf of their candidates without disclosing the expenditures. It also voids some exemptions that lawmakers created in campaign finance laws, like allowing people to pay the legal fees of candidates without it counting against the legal limit of how much financial help they can provide.

But attorney Jim Barton who represented those challenging the 2017 law said the most significant part of the ruling is it restores the right of the voter-created Citizens Clean Elections Commission to police and enforce campaign finance laws against all candidates and their donors, not just those who are running with public financing.

That is significant because the 2017 law stripped the commission of that authority, giving it to the Secretary of State’s Office. But it is the commission that has adopted — and has enforced — rules requiring any group that is spending money to influence campaigns to publicly disclose which candidates they are supporting or opposing and how much they are spending.

Wednesday’s ruling, however, leaves intact the ability of groups established under the Internal Revenue Code as “social welfare” organizations to continue to shield the identities of their donors as long as they report their expenditures. The lawsuit did not challenge that “dark money” exemption.

There was no immediate response from the Secretary of State’s Office, which was defending the law, on the ruling or whether there will be an appeal.

The 2017 law, known as SB 1516, was championed by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. He said that existing laws interfered with the rights of free speech and people to participate in the political process with their dollars without giving up their right of privacy. It was approved on a largely party-line vote and signed into law by Ducey.

But the flip side of that, according to foes of the law, was that any decrease in disclosure requirements denies voters of at least some indication of who is spending money to try to influence the outcome of campaigns. That, they said, is why voters in 1998 gave broad powers to the commission to police campaign contributions.

Palmer agreed. In fact, he took a slap of sorts at state lawmakers for failing to enact such comprehensive regulations themselves.

The judge pointed out that the people who crafted the Arizona Constitution directed the first state Legislature to “enact a law providing for the general publicity of campaign contributions to and expenditures of campaign committees and candidates for public office.”

“The Legislature has never complied with that directive,” Palmer wrote. He said it took approval of the Citizens Clean Elections Act to even begin to comply.

One of the key provisions of that 1998 law, was that requirement for “independent expenditures” on behalf of or against candidates to be disclosed.

Since voters approved the law, the commission has pursued several high-profile cases when there have been TV commercials attacking candidates with no disclosure of what group was financing the effort. Barton said that Palmer’s ruling “confirms the Clean Elections Commission’s authority” to continue enforcing those requirements.

“We believe that that’s the answer to fighting dark money,” he said.

Barton said one of the biggest loopholes SB 1516 created was the ability of political parties to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of their candidates without disclosure.

In just the most recent election, for example, the Arizona Republican Party ran TV commercials on behalf of the reelection efforts of Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich. But the exact amount they spent on behalf of each was never reported because of the exemption created in the 2017 law.

This became particularly significant this year because Ducey raised money not only directly for his own campaign but also took corporate and large-dollar contributions, which he could not accept personally, through a separate Ducey Victory Fund committee. And any dollars Ducey could not keep himself were given to the Arizona Republican Party, which then was free to use it to help the governor’s reelection, all without detailing how much was spent on his behalf.

This isn’t just a practice of one party.

The Arizona Democratic Party also put $3.3 million into the effort to elect Katie Hobbs as Secretary of State. But that figure became public not through campaign finance laws. It was only because iVote, which promotes the election of Democratic secretaries of state, the group that gave the money to the state party to promote Hobbs, put out a press release detailing the expenditure.

Court: Arizona governor not required to carry out execution

death row, Hooper, execution, lethal injection, Brnovich, killings, Phoenix, Maricopa County Superior Court, Marilyn Redmond, William "Pat" Redmond, Helen Phelps, appeal, Florence, DNA, testimony


The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that state law doesn’t require Gov. Katie Hobbs to carry out the April 6 execution of a prisoner who was convicted of murder.

The decision marks a legal victory for the newly elected Democratic governor whose office said the state isn’t currently prepared to carry out the death penalty. The high court had set the April execution date for Aaron Gunches, who fatally shot Ted Price near Mesa in 2002.

The order came after Hobbs said executions will not be carried out until Arizonans can be confident that the state isn’t violating constitutional rights when it enforces the death penalty.

execution, death penalty, Mayes, Brnovich, Gunches
This undated photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry shows Aaron Brian Gunches, who was convicted of murder in the 2002 killing of Ted Price in Maricopa County,

The governor vowed two weeks ago that she wouldn’t carry out the court’s order while the state reviews death penalty protocols that she ordered because of Arizona’s history of mismanaging executions.

Lawyers for Hobbs said the department lacks staff with proper expertise and does not have a current contract for a pharmacist to compound the pentobarbital needed for an execution. They also said corrections officials are unable to find out the identity of the state’s prior compounding pharmacist, who primarily had contact with an official no longer with the department.

A top corrections leadership position critical to planning executions remains unfilled.

Corrections Director Ryan Thornell has said he was unable to find enough documentation to understand key elements of the execution process and instead has had to piece it together through conversations with employees on what might have occurred in past executions.

Hobbs maintained that while the court authorized Gunches’ execution, its order doesn’t require the state to carry it out.

Karen Price, whose brother was the victim in Gunches’ case, had asked the court to order Hobbs to carry out the execution. Colleen Clase, an attorney for Karen Price, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Wednesday evening.

Gunches pleaded guilty to murdering Ted Price, who was his girlfriend’s ex-husband.

Arizona, which currently has 110 prisoners on death row, carried out three executions last year after a nearly eight-year hiatus brought on by criticism that a 2014 execution was botched and because of difficulties obtaining execution drugs.

Since then, the state has been criticized for taking too long to insert an IV for lethal injection into a condemned prisoner’s body and for denying the Arizona Republic permission to witness the three executions.

Gunches, who is not a lawyer, represented himself in November when he asked the Supreme Court to issue his execution warrant so that, he said, justice could be served and the victim’s families could get closure. In Republican Mark Brnovich’s last month as state attorney general, his office asked the court for a warrant to execute Gunches.

But Gunches then withdrew his request in early January, and newly elected Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes later asked for the warrant to be withdrawn.

The state Supreme Court rejected Mayes’ request, saying that it must grant an execution warrant if certain appellate proceedings have concluded and that those requirements were met in Gunches’ case.

In another reversal, Gunches said in a filing that he still wants to be executed and asked to be transferred to Texas, where, he wrote, “the law is still followed and inmates can still get their sentences carried out.” Arizona’s high court denied the transfer.


Covid, unrest affect look, feel of legislative session

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The 2021 legislative session will begin January 11 in an exceedingly unusual fashion, with sharp limits on public access and increased security left over from post-election unrest.

Double rows of chain-link fencing now surround the Capitol complex, following massive protests on January 6 that resulted in a cracked window at the old Capitol Building. New security measures have already been put in place for the Executive Tower, which houses the offices of the governor and secretary of state, to limit access into the building for everyone. An Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman said they monitored the “stop the steal” protest rally at the Capitol. 

The Department of Administration, however, has already been leading an effort to beef up security measures – mostly for the protection of Gov. Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who’ve been dealing with their own threats and harassment stemming from the November election. 

Nobody will have access to the basement, seventh, eighth or ninth floors of the building without an escort. Media and members of the public used to be able to access all but the ninth floor without a security badge. Neither agency would provide specific information on the new security measures that took effect on December 14 and will remain in place indefinitely. 

“Security procedures at the state Capitol have been enhanced not for any one specific event but just to ensure the safety of the public. … Our policy is not to discuss specific security measures,” a DPS spokesman said.

The Senate told its employees to head home early January 6 afternoon and offered security escorts to their cars. Other state agencies soon followed suit.

The Arizona Supreme Court closed on January 7 at the urging of the Department of Public Safety and the Governor’s Office also alerted all other agencies to do the same. 

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest at the Arizona Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Along with lingering threats of political unrest connected to the 2020 election, the Covid pandemic will upend what is normally a boisterous day of festivities. Ducey will present his State of the State Address by video from his office, rather than on the House floor in front of 90 lawmakers and their guests. 

The speech will be broadcast on the big screen in the Senate, but most lawmakers expect to watch from their offices. Senators, who will be sworn in earlier in the day, are allowed to bring two guests but most have opted to take their oaths of office without friends or family watching.

In the House, new freshmen will each be allowed to bring two family members, but no returning lawmakers will get guests. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, praised that plan as a way to balance the need for safety with allowing new lawmakers to mark a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

“You don’t get to recreate special moments like this in your life,” he said.

The field-tripping school children, advocacy groups and observers who normally fill the House and Senate galleries won’t be welcome this year, as the Senate has already adopted policies to limit attendance and the House appears likely to follow suit. 

Under a set of Covid rules produced by the Senate late last year, members of the public would only be allowed in the building to attend a committee hearing for a measure they intended to testify on. They must wear a mask and pass a temperature check to get in, and must leave immediately after the hearing concludes.

On January 6, Senate President Karen shared an even stricter set of guidelines to follow in the event that she, Majority Leader Rick Gray and Minority Leader Rebecca Rios determine that an in-person meeting would cause increased health risks. In those cases, only five lawmakers would be allowed in a committee hearing room with the rest participating by video call from their offices, and the lobbyists and citizens testifying on bills would also be given information to call in to the hearing. 

The updated rules also include incentives for lawmakers to keep their masks on: if anyone removes a mask or otherwise fails to comply with the Senate’s Covid rules on the floor or in committee hearings, the hearing or floor session will recess until the offending lawmaker complies with the rules. 

Fann and Rios also confirmed plans to bar reporters from designated press desks on the Senate floor. This will primarily affect the Arizona Capitol Times, the sole media outlet that stations a reporter on the floor during every floor session.

Instead of the press tables on either side of the Senate president’s dais, Fann intends to set up two big screens for lawmakers who are participating by Zoom. 

“We want to try and maintain that social distancing and it would be very, very difficult with the media right there in those press boxes,” she said. 

Reporters will instead be allowed to view action from a gallery overlooking the chamber, and members of the public who normally fill the gallery won’t be permitted in the building. Several lawmakers, including influential Senate Appropriations Committee Chair David Gowan and Vice Chair Vince Leach, only answer media questions in person. 

“It’s going to be easier for members who want to avoid reporters or their constituents,” Rios said.

A legislative chamber last tried to bar reporters from the floor in 2016, when then-Speaker Gowan demanded that the Capitol press corps pass background checks in an apparent act of retaliation for negative coverage in the Capitol Times. He quickly rescinded that policy under pressure from fellow lawmakers. 

The new rules would permit any member of the Senate to participate in a floor session from their offices, provided Fann approves their request 90 minutes before it begins. 

-Yellow Sheet Report Editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this story. 

Cyber Ninjas lawyer, Trump attorney file election contest for Lake

Kari Lake, Arizona Republican candidate for governor, waves to the media as she walks into a voting precinct to vote with her family on Election Day in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

In a wide-ranging lawsuit filed on Friday afternoon, attorneys for former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake asked a Maricopa County judge to throw out the results of her election loss. The election contest lawsuit asks the court to declare Lake the winner – or order a new election. 

The case makes a stunningly broad range of claims – from First Amendment free speech violations relating to social media; to Fourteenth Amendment equal protection violations; to claims that Arizona’s election processes are unconstitutional. 

“The number of illegal votes cast in Arizona’s general election on November 8, 2022, far exceeds the 17,117 vote margin between … Kari Lake and Democrat(ic) gubernatorial candidate Secretary of State Katie Hobbs … hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots infected the election in Maricopa County,” Lake’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. 

“This case is about restoring trust in the election process – a trust that Maricopa County election officials and Hobbs have shattered. The judicial system is now the only vehicle by which that trust can be restored,” the lawyers added. 

In at least one instance, the lawsuit even made allegations of wrongdoing in Arizona’s 2020 election – a claim that was at the heart of Lake’s gubernatorial campaign. 

“The invalid-signature ballot envelopes established in the Busch and Parikh declarations demonstrate that Maricopa County’s elections suffered from (an) outcome-determinative number of illegal votes in 2020 and 2022,” Lake’s attorneys wrote. 

“If the process was illegitimate then so are the results,” Lake wrote in a Tweet announcing the lawsuit. She had long teased the lawsuit and said last month that she had “assembled the best and brightest legal team.” 

The case was filed by Bryan Blehm, an Arizona attorney best known for representing the Cyber Ninjas in cases related to the partisan audit of Arizona’s 2020 election, and Kurt Olsen, a lawyer who has worked with former President Donald Trump and spoke to Trump on the phone multiple times on Jan. 6, 2021. 

They named Hobbs and Maricopa County officials as defendants. 

Notably absent from the case is Tim LaSota, a well-known Phoenix election attorney who has worked for Lake and brought a separate election contest on Friday on behalf of Republican Attorney General Candidate Abe Hamadeh – who lost his race by only 510 votes. LaSota also brought a public records case on Lake’s behalf seeking documents related to the election. 

Hamadeh’s case used more restrained language, with attorneys saying the result of his race should be reversed, but clarifying that they’re not “alleging any fraud, manipulation or other intentional wrongdoing.” 

In a statement posted to Twitter, Maricopa County officials responded to both election contests. 

“The court system is the proper place for campaigns challenging the results to make their case,” the county stated. “Maricopa County respects the election contest process and looks forward to sharing facts about the administration of the 2022 General Election and our work to ensure every legal voter had an opportunity to cast their ballot.” 

Tom Ryan, a Chandler civil rights attorney, called the Lake lawsuit a “nothing burger.” 

“There are so many other defects within these 70 pages of the complaint that there’s not time to list them all,” he said. 

“Most notably, the complaint alleges statewide voting fraud, but they’ve only named Maricopa County as a defendant. If you’re alleging statewide election challenges, you have to bring it in all of the counties, not just one,” he continued. 

Plus, Ryan said, the complaint is asking for relief that’s outside the scope of Arizona’s election laws, which specify the rules surrounding an election contest. 

“Allegations like violations of the First Amendment right of free speech do not constitute an election law challenge,” he said. 

That First Amendment claim, the first of 10 counts in the case, is connected Maricopa County officials’ participation in government programs aimed at removing false information from social media platforms. 

Lake’s attorneys also alleged three Fourteenth Amendment violations on the basis that a class of people, namely Republican voters, were disproportionately affected by Election Day equipment problems in Maricopa County. The issues did cause confusion and long lines, but the lawsuit didn’t include any evidence that anyone was unable to vote because of them – though the attorneys assert that voters were “disenfranchised.” 

The case made reference to several different witness declarations, but there were no declarations or any other evidentiary attachments to the complaint filed on Friday. In the days and weeks following the Nov. 8 election, Lake posted dozens of videos of voter complaints about Election Day problems, but those statements didn’t make it into the case. 

Another claim argues that mail-in ballots don’t meet federal and state ballot-secrecy requirements, and therefore: “All absentee ballots cast in the 2022 general election are illegal votes.” 

The claims about state statutes include arguments that ballot tabulators were improperly configured; non-matching signatures on mail-in ballots were improperly verified by election workers; and ballots were handled without properly preserving chain of custody. 

Among their other unorthodox moves, Lake’s attorneys cited a public opinion poll in their discussion of the case. 

The results of a Rasmussen Reports poll published late last month asked if voters agreed or disagreed with Lake’s claim that the election was “botched,” according to the complaint. 

“The results of that poll are stunning,” the attorneys wrote. “Seventy-two percent (72%) of likely voters said they agree with Lake’s statement, including 45% who strongly agree.” 

Ryan noted that Lake signed the complaint and he said that could open her up to legal sanctions. 

“She’s already been put on notice by federal Judge John Tuchi,” Ryan said, referring to the Tuchi’s decision to level sanctions against Lake’s attorneys – but not Lake herself – in another election-related case. 

“Although he can’t completely prove she (knew) that she was filing a frivolous complaint” in the other case, “her verification of this complaint removes her ability to deny that in front of a Superior Court judge,” he said. 


Death threats, harassment plague Hobbs, staff

Katie Hobbs

Katie Hobbs was working late on November 17 when she got a disturbing call from her husband. There were protestors outside their home, and at least one was armed. They shouted that “we are watching you,” “we want an audit” and various expletives.  

Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, has been dealing with this sort of fury and vitriol ever since Election Night, stirred by claims of widespread voter fraud pushed by President Trump and his legions of supporters. The incident at Hobbs’ house dissipated when a neighbor phoned the police, who eventually showed up and cleared out the crowd from her condominium complex in central Phoenix.  

But over the next six months, things didn’t lighten up.  

Hobbs, a Democrat, is one of many election officials, both local and national, who maintain that this was a clean and “secure election,” she said. 

That has made Hobbs and her family targets of death threats. In November, her address and son’s phone number were posted to Parler — a social media site billing itself a free speech alternative to Twitter — while also calling her “leftist scum” and that she likes to run “rigged elections.”  

Hobbs this month requested protection from the Department of Public Safety for the second time since the election. But that protection doesn’t extend to her staff who face a daily barrage of harassment over the phone, leaving them to feel vulnerable and unable to conduct the office’s business. 


“Someone sent me a screenshot of something from Parler where they said, ‘Let’s burn her house down and kill her family and teach these fraudsters a lesson,’” Hobbs told Arizona Capitol Times at the time. “But quite honestly they’re coming so fast and furious that I don’t even know them all.”  

Hobbs said she referred several of the threats to law enforcement. After looking into it, DPS did not escalate the complaints further than an initial investigation, but as of May 10 the law enforcement agency had new threats to look into. 

Hobbs wouldn’t go into detail about these new threats during an interview on May 10 because of pending investigations, but whatever was said warranted Gov. Doug Ducey, Republican, to grant Hobbs 24-hour security detail. 

She said she probably doesn’t even know about all of the threats as people have flooded all phone lines, emails and any other way of reaching her office. And it has affected the day-to-day operations, she added.  

“It’s definitely impacted all the public facing operations of our office, because, they’re just going to try to call in at any avenue that might be available …  and so, we had to go back to where people who are in the office are not answering their phones live because they’re being subjected to horribly harassing callers,” Hobbs said, adding that all calls are going to voicemail. “It takes longer for everyone to do their job because someone has to check the voicemails and it’s interfering with our ability to serve the public like we were supposed to.” 

Besides overseeing the state’s elections, the secretary of state has jurisdiction over notaries, lobbyists, and trade names and trademarks 

Hobbs said she’s unfortunately felt numb to it all at this point, but one part that still has taken a toll is how her family has dealt with it.  

She said what bothers her most at this point is her mother’s reaction to constantly seeing her name on the news following a barrage of threats.  

“I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with her in the last year and a half,” Hobbs said, adding that she gets calls from her mom “really upset because she doesn’t know what’s going on and then spending Mother’s Day in that situation was really hard.” 

“Frankly, as an elected official, you can say that I signed up for this. But none of my staff did,” she said after the harassment in November.  


But it’s not just Hobbs who it has taken a toll on. 

Chris Rhode, a management analyst who left Hobbs’ office at the end of April, said he feared for his life while working this past election.  

“We turned off our phones because the volume of abuse was so high,” he told Capitol Times. “One that stuck in my memory was a guy that said he wanted to ‘hunt’ us [and] the secretary.”  

Rhode said that as one of the staff members who listened and read through threatening messages, it did not make him feel safe as a state employee, but that he wanted to share what he went through because his now-former colleagues are still dealing with it. 

Rhode said it was concerning to him that DPS did not do more with threats that came pouring in late last year. Going through the messages, he said, he wondered if someone was going to “track me down and shoot me through my apartment’s dining room window.” 

It’s far from only being a problem in Arizona, as election officials have experienced harassment throughout the country following the 2020 election. 

But with Arizona’s unprecedented audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the state has been in the national spotlight as conspiracy theorists and hardcore Trump supporters hope evidence of fraud appears so these challenges can continue into other states. 

This is a major reason why Hobbs is the only major election official in the country still receiving death threats months after the election. Other states – especially swing states like Pennsylvania and Georgia where election officials were subjects of threats – aren’t actively trying to keep the 2020 election in the news, at least not yet.  

The months-long saga resulted in veiled death threats made in public against Ducey for certifying the election; Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, for voting against holding the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt; House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, for refusing to allow the use of the Arizona House for an unofficial hearing with Trump’s lawyers and lawmakers who advance the “Stop the Steal” premise; and all five Maricopa supervisors for certifying the election and fighting the Senate over the audit. 

Ken Bennett, the former Republican secretary of state and audit liaison, also said he received a threatening email and sent it to the Phoenix Police Department.  

On the same day that Hobbs received what her staff called a “really creepy and specific” threat and a freelancer for an ardently conservative media outlet aggressively accosted her, Hobbs asked for and received DPS protection.  

Murphy Hebert, Hobbs’ communications director, said the freelancer hovered around Hobbs during another interview on the Senate lawn.  

“My spidey senses just went up and I thought as soon as we’re done here, we need to get Hobbs back into the office because this guy is giving me the creeps, basically,” she said.  

Hebert tried to stall him by asking which outlet he was with, and he lied, claiming to be an “independent YouTuber named Jimmy.”  

Hebert said the Gateway Pundit freelancer then pushed past her to chase down Hobbs and another employee while yelling questions at Hobbs. Hobbs tweeted about the incident and recent threats she received.  

“Earlier today a man called my office saying I deserve to die and wanting to know ‘what she is wearing so she’ll be easy to get.’ It was one of at least three such threats today,” she tweeted on May 6. “Then a man who I’ve never seen before chased me and my staffer outside of our office.”  

And while he was quick to grant protection, Ducey had not reached out to Hobbs about the death threats, leading Hobbs to question his leadership. 

“The lack of leaders willing to stand up for what’s right despite the consequences is pretty alarming. And I know everybody’s afraid of what Trump and his base is going to do, but Trump’s already thrown Ducey under the bus 400 times,” Hobbs said. 

At least one Republican did reach out to Hobbs though, she said. It was Republican U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, who served in the Arizona Legislature with Hobbs for several years. 

Hobbs wouldn’t say what Lesko said, but told Capitol Times it was “a very thoughtful sentiment,” that she was sorry it was happening and was praying for her safety.  

Lesko joined fellow Arizona Republicans Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar in voting to overturn Arizona’s election on January 6, and has not spoken publicly about the audit. 

Through the threats and harassment, Hobbs, a prospective candidate for governor in 2022, is keeping a positive outlook and is using the threats as motivation.  

“I’m getting some really good workouts in,” she said. 



Democratic SOS spurs talk of change in line of succession

Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The election of a Democrat as Arizona’s next secretary of state has renewed some Republicans’ interest in the line of succession.

That’s because if anything were to happen to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey – be it resignation, impeachment or an untimely death – Democrat Katie Hobbs would be next in line to serve as the state’s chief executive.

Given the lengthy history of Arizona governors who don’t serve full terms in office, some lawmakers want to shake up the gubernatorial line of succession by inserting a new player – a lieutenant governor. But they’ll have to convince voters, who’ve routinely rejected the idea, to go along with it.

Arizona is one of only seven states in the country that doesn’t elect a lieutenant governor.

Twenty-six states elect governors and lieutenant governors as a slate, according to the National Lieutenant Governors Association. Seventeen elect lieutenant governors in separately. In only three states, including Arizona, does the secretary of state serve as next in line.

GOP proposals to create a lieutenant governor in Arizona err on the side of electing the governor and his or her lieutenant as a team. Electing the positions separately could create the same problem Republicans are trying to avoid: A situation where a Democratic politician assumes the Governor’s Office in the middle of an elected Republican’s term.

It’s not an uncommon situation in Arizona. Five secretaries of state have become governor. Four of those instances have occurred since 1977.

And twice since the late 1980s, the governor of one party was replaced by a secretary of state from a different party.

Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)
Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said voters aren’t aware of what’s at stake when they elect a secretary of state – that they’re the proverbial “heartbeat away” from becoming governor. A lieutenant governor would clarify who’s second-in-command.

“It would be like the president. The same box would provide you with that team. The two would run as a team,” Kavanagh said.

There’s also the argument that being secretary of state doesn’t prepare you to be governor. The roles are too different, say Republicans like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard of Chandler. It’d be better if the gubernatorial nominee for each party could pick a running mate to serve as their lieutenant governor.

There’s a hurdle to those plans, however. The line of succession is enshrined in the Arizona Constitution, and only the voters can decide if that should change.

Voters have overwhelmingly rejected the idea, twice in the last two decades – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by a roughly 59 percent majority.

Republicans are also aware of the perception of proposing a lieutenant governor in the wake of the 2018 election. For more than two decades, Republicans have occupied the Secretary of State’s Office, meaning in recent memory, there’s never been the fear of having a Republican governor replaced by a Democrat.

In fact, the last time a governor resigned, the transfer of power worked in the GOP’s favor. Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned from office in 2009, and was replaced by Republican Jan Brewer.

To assuage any concerns that their motives might be political, Kavanagh and other Republicans say that any effort to create a lieutenant governor must have a delayed effective date. That’s exactly what Mesnard proposed in 2015, and he may simply reintroduce that legislation. This time, he’d push the date a lieutenant governor would first be elected until 2026.

That would ensure that Hobbs, as the recently elected secretary of state, could serve at least two full terms in office without being affected.

As for what the role of a lieutenant governor would be, there are differences of opinion. Kavanagh said he sees the role as a fill-in for the governor – someone who can speak on the governor’s behalf, travel to events on his or her behalf, and most importantly, serve the state while the governor is traveling abroad.

Kavanagh also suggested the lieutenant governor could assume some of administrative duties of the secretary of state. And perhaps the secretary of state could be eliminated altogether, Kavanagh said, replaced by a gubernatorial appointee.

“You could simply make the Secretary of State’s Office a full time civil servant,” Kavanagh said.

Mesnard said it’d be a mistake to turn the secretary into an appointed role.

“The Secretary of State’s Office needs to be an elected position. It’s true that it’s mostly an administrative position… but no matter who is in that position, it’s going to be political,” Mesnard said. “At least if it’s an elected position, they answer directly to the people.”

Instead, Mesnard’s proposal would put the lieutenant governor in charge of the Arizona Department of Administration, a role in government operations that would better prepare a lieutenant to become governor if needed.

If approved by the Legislature, voters would have a final say on any lieutenant governor proposal in the 2020 election.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dems expand leads in key races, Election Day drop-offs could shift momentum

An election worker tabulates ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Democrats running for key statewide offices expanded narrow leads over their Republican opponents Thursday. But the 78,000 votes that Maricopa County tallied today were early ballots received on Saturday through Monday, not early ballots dropped off on Election Day, which could favor GOP candidates. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs earned 54.8% of the batch and added almost 7,500 votes to her lead over Republican nominee Kari Lake, bringing the margin to about 26,900 votes. Hobbs held 50.7% of the votes to Lake’s 49.3%. 

Maricopa County’s results were posted to the county website shortly after 8 p.m. and added to vote totals on the Secretary of State’s website around 8:45 p.m. 

Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes continues to strengthen her lead over Republican Abraham Hamadeh. Mayes is 16,414 votes ahead, but the margin remains thin at 50.4% to 49.6%. Yesterday, the lead in the Attorney General’s race flip-flopped, with Hamadeh briefly overtaking Mayes, before the Democrat regained her advantage later in the day. 

Lake, Hobbs, gubernatorial, election, ballots, Trump
Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Aug. 5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Another two Democrats padded larger leads. U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly increased his margin over Republican Blake Masters to 115,000 votes, more than five percentage points. Secretary of State candidate Adrian Fontes boosted his lead to more than five percentage points and 109,000 votes.  

Hobbs, Mayes, Kelly and Fontes all earned between 54% and 57% of the Thursday-night Maricopa ballot drop. 

And Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, flipped her race to take a narrow, 3,852-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne. 

Incumbent Republican Treasurer Kim Yee held onto an 11-percentage point lead over Democrat Martin Quezada. 

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Maricopa’s update followed updates throughout the day from other counties including Pima, Yavapai, Santa Cruz and Cochise. 

More than 2 million votes have now been counted across the state, which translates to almost 50% voter turnout. 

But there are still around half a million votes left to count, according to information from the Secretary of State. More than 300,000 of those are in Maricopa County and more than 100,000 in Pima County. Greenlee is the only county that’s already tabulated all votes and processed all provisional ballots. 

At a news conference on Thursday, Maricopa County officials said they expect to publish counts of about 60,000 to 80,000 ballots per night going through the weekend and into next week. 

Supervisor Bill Gates said that election workers have been putting in 14- to 18-hour days. He attributed the ongoing delay to 290,000 early ballots dropped off on election day, a figure that shot up 70% compared to the 2020 election.  

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bill Gates (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“The goal posts have changed,” Gates said.  

With tight margins in the Governor and Attorney General races, those 290,000 early Election Day ballots could determine the outcome, and analysts are speculating about whether they’ll skew towards Republicans or Democrats. 

Democrats were heavily favored in early voting, after Republican candidates told their voters not to put ballots in the mail, alleging that mail-in and early voting is more vulnerable to fraud. In person, Election Day voting broke strongly for Republican candidates up and down the ticket. 

The Election Day drop-offs are something of a third category – one that’s gone for different parties in the past. In 2018, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, won that category in her race against Republican Martha McSally. But in 2020, former President Donald Trump won more votes from Election Day drop-offs than President Joe Biden. 

Paul Bentz, a pollster for the GOP firm Highground, said the additional mail-in ballots reported on Thursday might not provide much insight into where the races are headed. 

“It would be expected that they’d act like early voters and lean towards the Democratic candidates … I’m not if sure they will really tell us much more about the drop-offs,” he said in a text message on Thursday afternoon, before the most recent update. 

A smaller segment of ballots seems likely to favor Republicans. Due to Election Day equipment problems, about 17,000 voters deposited their ballots in “Box 3” after tabulating machines couldn’t read the ballots. Since those were cast in person on Election Day, they will likely aid GOP candidates. 

The county is processing ballots affected by printing errors on Election Day and they weren’t included in Thursday’s numbers. Today, election workers started running those ballots through the tabulators at Maricopa County Elections Department. 

Several Republicans have complained about the apparently slow pace of counting, which has left the fate of key races undecided more than 48 hours after the close of polls. Some have compared Arizona to Florida, where winners were declared more quickly 

“They count ballots real slow here in Arizona,” Lake said in an interview on Fox Business.  

Gates said that’s in part because of the changing political landscape in Arizona. 

“Here’s the issue, we have so many close races (that) everyone’s still paying attention,” he said on Thursday. “Those other states like Florida, those races were blowouts, nobody’s paying attention.” 

Dems for sales tax hikes before they were against them


Arizona Democratic leaders oppose a sales tax hike to provide new revenues for teacher pay raises, despite supporting sales tax increases in previous years.

At 8.33 percent, Arizona already has one of the highest combined state, county and municipal sales tax rates in the country, wrote House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, and other top Democrats in an April 24 letter to Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Another increase would unfairly put the burden on the poor and working class, who pay an inordinately larger share of their income on sales tax,” the lawmakers wrote.

Allies of the governor were quick to point out that Democrats have supported sales tax hikes in the past. Democrats voted earlier this year for the extension of Proposition 301, a six-tenths of 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2000. And Hobbs was among 12 Senate Democrats who sponsored a measure in 2017 that not only would’ve extended Prop. 301, but increased the tax from six-tenths of 1-cent to a full 1-cent. Rios and House Democrats backed the measure as well.

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Garrick Taylor said it’s hard to keep track of Democrats’ “shifting positions” on sales tax, noting that Democrats were boasting of their proposal to increase the Prop. 301 sales tax only months ago.

“It’s tricky,” Hobbs said when asked about the Democrats’ position on sales taxes.

The party’s views on sales taxes have always been more nuanced than simply supporting tax increases, Hobbs said. She noted that in 2010, Democrats were split on Proposition 100, a temporary three-year sales tax for education championed by then-Gov. Jan Brewer. Some supported it, while others voted against referring the measure to the ballot.

And Hobbs noted the obvious – Democratic-sponsored legislation rarely gets approved in Arizona. Sponsoring a measure to increase the Prop. 301 sales taxes was intended to start a conversation about education funding. Democrats had no expectations the proposal would become a reality, she said.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who sponsored the 2017 measure to increase Prop. 301 to a 1-cent tax, said a certain level of sales taxes are acceptable. But some Republican efforts are too reliant on the sales tax, when there are other means of boosting state revenues, he said.

Proposals such as Rep. Noel Campbell’s call for a three-year, 1-cent education sales tax are an example of Republican efforts to solve all the state’s education funding woes with sales taxes, Quezada said.

Campbell’s proposal “shifts the burden of funding our public schools system onto those who can least afford it with a sales tax. That’s just flat out wrong,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, who’s running for governor against Ducey this fall.

Campbell, R-Prescott, criticized Democrats from the House floor for opposing a plan similar to those they’ve supported in the past.

“It is a solution to all the problems that we’re dealing with in education,” he said, adding that though the idea has been around for a long time, no one was interested in tackling it.  Campbell called tax hikes “the forbidden word,” but noted that lawmakers know that’s the only way to generate new revenue.

“Maybe it’s not perfect but it solves the problem,” he said. “This will do everything that you, Democrats, say you want done.”

If other members have an idea, they should put it in writing, too, or “shut up,” Campbell said. “Let’s quit trying to play for the election. Let’s get something done here.”

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, told Campbell his isn’t the only proposal on the table. Policymakers should look at spreading the burden of funding education more equitably.  “But that compromise has to include a less regressive way of raising that money,” he said, referring to Campbell’s proposal. “Your plan only proposes one way.”

Democrats have for years called for the elimination of certain corporate income tax cuts and the rolling back of income tax breaks for high earners, Farley said.

“There are people who are doing well in this economy, a whole lot of people who are not. If you shift the burden of funding public schools onto those who are not doing well, that’s not what most people in Arizona believe you should do,” he said.

Ducey agrees to remove border barriers

Activists sit on newly installed shipping containers along the border creating a wall between the United States and Mexico in San Rafael Valley, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022. Gov. Doug Ducey agreed Dec. 21 to remove the containers after the Biden administration filed suit. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Updates: Adds comments from Chandler attorney Tom Ryan disagreeing disagreed with the idea that Gov. Doug Ducey got the federal government to make any commitments related to the border.

Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to remove all the shipping containers he has installed along the Arizona/Mexico border. 

But his press aide insists his boss is not caving in because of a lawsuit filed against Arizona by the Biden administration threatening to remove the barrier and then bill the state. In fact, C.J. Karamargin said the deal actually is a victory because it gets Ducey what he wanted all along: a commitment by Washington to start closing gaps in the existing wall. 

In a stipulation filed in federal court Dec. 21, Ducey promised to take out not just the containers near Yuma but all “associated equipment, materials, vehicles and other objects” from the property of the United States by Jan. 4, “to the extent feasible and so as not to cause damage to United States’ land, properties and natural resources.” 

Ducey, Proposition 123, special election, education trust fund, Supreme Court
Gov. Doug Ducey

And the governor separately agreed to begin discussions with the U.S. Forest Service to take out the containers already installed in Cochise County on a schedule to which all sides agree. 

The agreement comes in the wake of a lawsuit the Biden administration filed earlier this month asking a federal judge to force removal of the hundreds of double-stacked containers – or to allow the feds to remove the items and then bill the state for the costs. And, up until Dec. 21, Ducey had refused. 

What changed, Karamargin said, is that there are now assurances the Biden administration is ready to start filling gaps on its own, with construction starting before the end of the year. And he said what also changed is the situation along the border. 

“The problem has gotten worse,” Karamargin said. “And the White House has apparently realized it.” 

He said that includes border cities like El Paso and Yuma being flooded by immigrants. And all this comes as the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to lift Title 42, the Trump-era regulation that allowed the federal government, under the excuse of protecting against Covid spread, to immediately deport those seeking asylum. 

Any move to fill gaps is a sharp departure for the president. 

On his first day in office, he halted further work on the border wall that had been started by his predecessor. And while the administration had made previous statements about filling some gaps, Karamargin said this is the first clear indication there will be some immediate action. 

“Better late than never,” he said. 

Tom Ryan, a Chandler attorney, disagreed with the idea that Ducey got the federal government to make any commitments in the stipulation. After reading the document, Ryan said in an email that it doesn’t contain any “suggestion or even a hint that the U.S. government has agreed to do anything.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on whether the DOJ believes the legal stipulation amounts to any new commitment from the federal government.

A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection also declined to comment.

Less clear is whether Ducey’s promise to act, which appears to be binding on Katie Hobbs, who takes office on Jan. 2, ends the litigation between Arizona and the federal government. 

In an earlier lawsuit, Ducey contended the state had a right to erect the barriers along the border. And he asked a federal judge to declare that the “Roosevelt Reservation,” a 60-foot-wide strip along the border that President Theodore Roosevelt declared as federal land, was illegally enacted. 

The new document spells out that the stipulation “is not a waiver of any rights, claims, liabilities, or defenses.” 

That theoretically allows the underlying case – and the dispute of ownership of the land – to continue. And Karamargin said there has been no decision whether Ducey, in his remaining days in office, will drop the claim of state ownership. 

That, however, may be a moot point. 

Construction of the planned 10 miles in Cochise County effectively has been halted after protesters blocked crews from working. 

More to the point, Hobbs told Capitol Media Services she intended to halt further installation once she takes office. The incoming governor said she believed that Ducey’s decision to put the storage containers along the border was wrong. 

“It’s not our land to put things on,” she said. 

“It’s a political stunt,” Hobbs said. “And I think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars.” 

The Governor’s Office put a $6 million price tag for filling in a 3,820-foot gap near Yuma. But a 10-mile stretch now being constructed in Cochise County will set taxpayers back another $95 million. 

Funding for construction came from a $335 million appropriation approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. 

Only thing is, the wording of the restrictions on that account, known as the Arizona Border Security Fund, allows the cash to be used solely to erect a barrier. That means removing the containers would require the Legislature – which still will be in the hands of Republicans next year – to approve a new appropriation or reword the old law. 

Arizona Capitol Times reporter Nick Phillips contributed to this report.


Ducey aims for ‘school safety,’ not guns to address shootings

Jordan Harb, 17, speaks at a news conference while surrounded by other student demonstrators at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Arizona high school students gathered on campuses and met with lawmakers at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday to protest the kind of gun violence that recently killed 17 young people in Florida. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)
Jordan Harb, 17, speaks at a news conference while surrounded by other student demonstrators at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Arizona high school students gathered on campuses and met with lawmakers at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday to protest the kind of gun violence that recently killed 17 young people in Florida. (AP Photo/Terry Tang)

Gov. Doug Ducey has promised legislation this year to address school safety in the wake of the latest mass shooting in a school, but what the governor wants and what lawmakers can agree on remains elusive.

That’s because seemingly every proposal on school safety, or broader efforts to address gun violence, includes something for either Republicans or Democrats to hate.

Whether it’s concerns over the cost of adding school resource officers to schools, or worries about due process in a legislative proposal to temporarily seize firearms via a court order, there’s little room for consensus on an issue that has polarized Arizona legislators for years.

Ducey has given some indication of what will, and crucially, what won’t be a part of his impending proposal to address school safety, drawing lines in the sand on certain issues that may cause divides with both parties once there’s a bill to vote on.

Ducey is expected to formally announce his proposal to address school safety on March 19. In a series of tweets on March 15, Ducey boasted of meeting with a variety of stakeholders and announced his proposal would address a variety of concerns, from mental health resources, restricted access to firearms for dangerous individuals and crackdowns on illegal gun ownership.

Armed teachers

Arming teachers is one policy that is not on Ducey’s radar.

The governor has said multiple times he doesn’t like the idea, and would prefer teachers spend their time teaching, not carrying firearms. Yet that’s exactly what has been proposed by some Republicans, like Senate President Steve Yarbrough of Chandler.

Yarbrough made a pitch for a school marshal program in a recent meeting with Ducey, which the Senate president described as a listening session – Ducey listened to suggestions from GOP Senate leaders. And Yarbrough’s idea is essentially a way to arm teachers. Based on how marshal programs are run in other states, like Texas and Utah, marshals would be school employees like teachers, coaches and administrators, who would volunteer to undergo hours of firearms safety training before being given access to guns in schools.

The idea was recently adopted in Florida, as state lawmakers scrambled to respond to the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Florida’s law closely matches what Yarbrough envisioned – a teacher can use a firearm for the “limited purpose of responding to an active assailant incident.”

It’s not likely, given Ducey’s aversion to arming teachers. And it’s not an idea that would garner bipartisan support, as Democrats in the House and Senate are fundamentally opposed to arming teachers in any way. And progressive groups argue more police in schools contribute to the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipeline, according to a letter signed by progressive groups like Living United for Change Arizona and the ACLU of Arizona.

An Arizona student wears a T-shirt decrying school resource officers as a solution to school shootings. Students across the country participated in an anti-gun March for Our Lives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
An Arizona student wears a T-shirt decrying school resource officers as a solution to school shootings. Students across the country participated in an anti-gun March for Our Lives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A more likely proposal may involve a suggestion to increase the number of school resource officers, or SROs, in Arizona. Certified police officers are already in many Arizona public schools, and Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, used her meeting with Ducey to urge more funding for the program.

That’s where Ducey may lose Republicans like Yarbrough, who noted the cost of placing SROs in every Arizona school could be astronomical.

Even Ducey has acknowledged that cost is a consideration, and the governor hasn’t said if there will be money to back up any proposals.

“Much of what we’re talking about is things we can partner with law enforcement on and work with the schools on,” Ducey said. “Other things do come with a cost. So we want to crunch the numbers before we raise expectations.”

Mental health

In rare instances when Republicans have stood up to counter Democrats’ daily calls for gun control, Arizona’s majority party lawmakers have pointed to mental health as the real crisis behind mass shootings.

Addressing mental health could draw bipartisan support. Democrats and students who protested at the Capitol in recent days have pointed to a need for more mental health resources in schools, and pointedly, Senate Democrats have tried to force Republicans to back up those words by agreeing to hear a specific bill.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, sponsored SB1347, which would allow courts to issue restraining orders to have firearms temporarily seized by someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. Like most Democrat-sponsored measures, the bill was never given a hearing.

But the meat of the bill, known as a “red flag” law, has been given some support by Ducey, who has mentioned the idea of taking away guns from people who are suspected to be a threat and have shown signs they could be a school shooter.

Ducey hasn’t specifically said he supports red flag laws, but he’s mentioned similar ideas. “You could call it a red flag or you could call it a severe threat order of protection, a STOP order, on an individual,” the governor told 92.3 KTAR’s Mac and Gaydos program on March 12.

On February 20, Ducey said: “We want to make certain that these [guns] don’t get into the wrong hands. And I think what we’ve seen here is whether it’s a felon or a criminal or someone that’s mentally ill, if we can keep guns out of those hands, we’d like to do that.”

But he added that he wants to also respect Second Amendment rights.

Democrats like Hobbs would likely support such an effort, but don’t count all Republicans in as their support depends on the particulars of any law that involves taking away an individual’s firearms.  Yarbrough said he’s got several constitutional concerns about Hobbs’ bill, and wonders if it gives enough due process to the individual who would be disarmed. But he’s not ruling the idea out entirely, and said parts of Hobbs’ bill may resurface in other bills.

Student organizers are also calling for a focus on mental health as an alternative to plans to bring more guns into schools as a safety measure. Jordan Harb, a junior at Mountain View High School in Mesa who helped lead student protests at the Capitol this week, said March 12 that any money that legislators want to spend on school resource officers should instead be spent on school counselors.

“Before we can arm our teachers and have more SROs, why don’t you fund our psychologists first, because I think that will get to the problem much more quickly,” he said.

Millennium High School junior Beyoncé Brooks, 17, walks with a hand-drawn target on her back to the state House of Representatives during a student protest against guns on March 14, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Millennium High School junior Beyoncé Brooks, 17, walks with a hand-drawn target on her back to the state House of Representatives during a student protest against guns on March 14, 2018. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Safety, not guns

The governor said repeatedly he’s working on a “school safety” plan, not a “gun plan.” The latter phrase wouldn’t play well with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

But avoiding measures to address guns may harm Ducey’s chances of gaining bipartisan support at a time when Democrats have made daily calls for action on gun violence. It also might not be enough for the hordes of students who’ve descended on the Capitol and show no signs of quieting in a week when they disrupted the House of Representatives and staged a sit in outside of Ducey’s office in the Executive Tower.

In a move aimed at proving gun violence should be a bipartisan issue, the head of the Arizona Teenage Republicans stepped down on March 14, announcing at the Capitol that he won’t resume his leadership post until Arizona lawmakers address gun violence.

Kathleen Mayer, the deputy Pima County Attorney, said at the very least, students’ voices are making a difference among lawmakers.

“I think we are seeing a turning point in our conversations. I think you can’t ignore all of the young people who frankly will outlive me,” Mayer said. “I’ve been voting since I was 18, I couldn’t wait to do that, and I’m so grateful and gratified to see that they are doing that same thing… They are going to outlive us, they will out vote us, they will out vote all of them. “

Democrats are glad Ducey’s listening, but taking a wait-and-see approach, according to House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

“We are hopeful that he will take this opportunity to create bipartisan legislation much in the same way he did the opioid legislation and we’re just waiting to hear back at this point,” Rios said.

Though she commended Ducey for being willing to discuss the issue, she said the proof is in the pudding in terms of what’s included if any proposal is introduced.

That, Rios said, will show if this is “just lip service or something substantial will come out of it to address school shootings.”

Rachel Leingang and Paulina Pineda contributed to this report.

Ducey calls on people to take precautions as more tests become available

State Health Director Cara Christ discusses Monday why people should avoid crowds. The press briefing also featured Gov. Doug Ducey and, behind them, state schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State Health Director Cara Christ discusses Monday why people should avoid crowds. The press briefing also featured Gov. Doug Ducey and, behind them, state schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Katie Hobbs, the secretary of state. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

As COVID-19 cases in Arizona continue to grow, Gov. Doug Ducey and other state health care and political leaders are asking people to take extra precautions as state and commercial testing providers prepare for more people requesting a test for the virus.

Much needed relief for the state came Monday, after weeks of following strict guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over who can be tested and why, while having access to fewer tests than needed for everyone. Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ announced Banner Health and Sonora Quest Laboratories opened patient-friendly testing sites to allow anyone who has symptoms to get screened for the virus and possibly tested.

Starting Monday, per a standing order from Christ, people will be able to seek those screenings and no longer have to get direct approval from their doctor.

“They’ll have to attest that they have symptoms, but we are looking at expanding that with additional health care partners and looking at how we increase that capability,” Christ said. “This will expand the availability to more areas.”

Later in the week, Banner Health will be partnering with state and federal programs to provide testing to the state as well as these patient-friendly “collection sites.” Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel said the group will provide more information later in the week and asked that anyone who does come for screening to call ahead of time to minimize the risk of infection to health care workers.

In addition to Banner, the state is partnering with several private-sector testing companies to handle an expected jump in requested tests, Christ said. With more laboratories testing, this will help the state make more informed decisions on how extensive the community spread is and when to take more action.

Ducey, flanked by Christ, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, and private health care leaders took turns addressing dozens in a crowded room at the state’s main laboratory for processing the tests – just hours after President Donald Trump told Americans to avoid crowds of 10 or more people.

As of Monday morning, the state has 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Some were comparing Ducey’s and the state’s response to the virus slower than average, but Ducey pushed back and said Arizona is facing different circumstances and is working with the best information it has when it has it.

“We aren’t guessing,” Ducey said. “My decisions are being guided by data facts in science in consultation with subject matter experts. When the CDC makes new recommendations, Arizona will apply its guidance.”

This announcement came after Ducey and Hoffman announced the cancellation of state schools for the next two weeks and called for the cancellation of social gatherings, after Ducey said those things weren’t necessary at the time days prior at a separate briefing. Hoffman echoed Ducey, Christ and others at Monday’s briefing and said that sudden change is a symptom of a fluid situation.

“The situation is constantly evolving minute to minute, hour to hour,” Hoffman said. She, education and health care leaders and the Governor’s Office staff are still working to ensure their plans to patch the holes in the safety net of schooling many depend on will go smoothly.

Hoffman said the group is still figuring out securing a stable short-term situation for immediate needs, like meals for poor children and teacher and school staff pay. For longer-term issues like the possibility of resuming the current school year in as late as August, when the next school year is supposed to start, Hoffman said she and her team are “working on a plan” with stakeholders and accepting help from organizations offering online course resources for free.

“But if we got to that point where we’re closed for the rest of the school year, then we will be working with the federal government on things like testing waivers and not having to make up school days,” Hoffman said. “We’ll continue to be in close communication with our school leaders on what works best for their communities.”

Ducey didn’t give a clear answer for what long-term solutions the state is considering, if and when it permanently closes down restaurants and bars, a crucial piece to the Arizona economy, only that he will be leaning on the guidance from federal officials and following their lead.

“Those inform our decisions and we’re going to continue to make decisions as this unfolds over the course of time to protect public health in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “We’re not at that point.”

Ducey discouraged anyone considering celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but stopped short of saying when he and the state would consider closing bars, restaurants and other public places. While people prepare for the possibility of having to stay at home more often and potentially be required to work from home, Ducey said people shouldn’t worry that grocery store shelves will go dry anytime soon.

“The fear that’s out there is, is very real,” Ducey said.“The supply chain for Arizona and for the United States of America will be protected. I would encourage people to buy what they need so that their neighbor can have toilet paper and necessary things for their food pantry as well.”

Meanwhile, Hobbs said the Democratic Presidential Preference Election should and will continue to move forward as planned. Hobbs and county election officials are ensuring voting places have drop-off boxes so people don’t have to leave their car, and that polling places are regularly, thoroughly cleaned for those who do have to come inside.

“We understand the apprehension that voters have right now,” Hobbs said. “This decision was not made lightly and what it all comes down to is that we have no guarantee that there will be a safer time to hold this election in the near future, and elections do not end on Election Day.”

Ducey grants $9 million of federal aid for elections safety

Man in medical mask putting his vote to voting ballot box.

Gov. Doug Ducey on July 2 announced plans to spend $9 million in federal coronavirus relief funds on election security, alleviating concerns that Arizona election officials could lose funding because of a legislative technicality.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security package gave Arizona roughly $4.8 billion, $7.9 million of which was earmarked for election security. Under the terms of the federal law, using that money would require a state match of 20%, or about $1.6 million.

And under provisions in state law, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs couldn’t touch the federal money until lawmakers appropriated it. The CARES package didn’t pass until four days after the Legislature recessed, and lawmakers didn’t take up the appropriation when they briefly returned in May. A special session that once seemed certain now looks increasingly unlikely.

Patty Hansen
Patty Hansen

Republican lawmakers have also sought to handicap the Democratic secretary of state as she oversees her first major election. Last week, some GOP members on the Joint Legislative Budget Committee voted to undermine the plan she worked out with county elections officials for a statewide advertising campaign by instead giving the money directly to county recorders in arbitrary sums.

Ducey’s decision to grant more than $9 million from the CARES Act allows Hobbs and county election officials to pursue plans they crafted earlier this spring to provide masks, gloves and cleaning supplies, enhance early voting in rural and tribal areas and recruit poll workers.

But it also means the state still stands to lose $7.9 million in federal funding intended for elections, because Ducey used CARES Act discretionary funds instead of money earmarked for elections. The CARES Act requires that states return money to the federal government if it’s not spent by the end of the year.

In a written statement, Hobbs said funding approved by the Governor’s Office will ensure voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote while remaining safe.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“From the start, we’ve said that Arizonans should not have to choose between their health and
their right to vote,” she said. “With support from election experts and the Governor’s Office, we are going to make sure voters here don’t have to make that choice.”

About $5 million of the sum will be distributed among counties, in grants based on the number of registered voters in each county with a base of $100,000 for every county. Counties with large rural and tribal populations would receive portions of up to $1.5 million in additional grants for mobile early voting units – like a bookmobile or traveling clinic, but for voting – as well as hiring temporary interpreters and installing ballot drop boxes.

Elections officials across the state had a taste of what it would be like to run an election during the pandemic with the March Presidential Preference Election. But because only registered Democrats were permitted to vote in that election, it was a very small dry run for August and November.

In March, some voters wore face masks but many did not. Come August and November, every poll worker and partisan election observer will be expected to wear masks – and in poll workers’ cases, face shields, and voters in many precincts will be offered masks if they don’t have them and asked to vote from their cars if they refuse to wear them.

Counties including Coconino, Pima and Maricopa have countywide mandates on wearing masks in public. Voters who refuse will be met by a bipartisan team of election workers to cast a ballot from their car, Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen said during an Arizona Capitol Times Morning Scoop event this week.

“They’ll be voting from their cars so they don’t come into the facility with the rest of the poll workers and voters,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, most people are willing to wear a mask.”

The state will use a portion of the $9 million to purchase 19,000 reusable face masks and 10,000 face shields for workers, 160,000 disposable masks for voters, 175,000 pairs of gloves, 3,200 gallons of hand sanitizer, 2,400 bottles of disinfectant spray and 10,000 disposable pens. Ads set to run before the elections will also encourage voters to bring their own pens.

Hobbs planned to spend about $1.5 million on public service announcements and other ads with information on voter registration, voting by mail, early voting and poll worker recruitment. Another $350,000 was earmarked specifically for recruiting poll workers.

Poll workers are often elderly and at higher risk of severe cases of COVID-19. It can be hard to find enough workers in some areas in normal years, and the threat of illness makes it more difficult this year.

Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson said he’s heard anecdotally of veteran poll workers who have volunteered for multiple previous elections being urged by children or grandchildren to sit this year’s elections out for safety. The county doesn’t want anyone to put their health at risk, he said.

In their place, though, he’s seen a swell in applications from residents who are newly unemployed or furloughed and are now able to spend a weekday at a polling place.

“We’re getting perhaps 100 applications per week from people who want to be poll workers,” Nelson said. “Right now, knock on wood, I think we’re OK.”

Ducey loses big with Trump, taxes, legal pot

President Donald Trump, left, pauses with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
President Donald Trump, left, pauses with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during a campaign rally Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican Governor Doug Ducey was able to keep the Arizona Legislature red, but not everything worked out to his benefit, based on unofficial election results.

Though practically every race appears mathematically decided, Ducey, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich still have to certify the official canvassed results on November 30. When that’s complete, Ducey will sign proof of some devastating defeats.

Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin, who served under Gov. Fife Symington and Gov. Jan Brewer, acknowledged that keeping Republican-control of both the state House and Senate was a big deal, but seeing voters approve “one of the most progressive income tax rates in the country” is something Ducey was adamantly hoping to avoid.

Coughlin is referring to Proposition 208, or Invest in Education, which eked out a victory despite tens of millions of dollars spent to defeat it. It capped off a two-year battle between Ducey’s office and the Red for Ed movement that stormed the Capitol in 2018 demanding higher pay for teachers and other educators.

Coughlin said Ducey and Republican legislators knew there would be an attempt to get this measure on the ballot this year after it was disqualified in 2018, and they still managed to not accomplish something to render a potential ballot measure as moot. 

Chuck Coughlin
Chuck Coughlin

“It was an opportune time for the Republicans to offer an alternative education funding plan with the knowledge that if you didn’t do that the (Arizona Education Association) was going to come forward with a very progressive proposal that was likely to pass,” the Highground Public Affairs president and CEO said. 

Ducey strived under Arizona’s great economy that he helped build after a brutal recession and took pride in slashing taxes for Arizonans every year since he became governor in 2015. He still plans to do so, he told Arizona Capitol Times over the summer, but he just witnessed a large tax increase that targets the highest income earners in the state. Prop. 208 adds a 3.5% surcharge to taxable income for individual filers who make more than $250,000 or for couples who bring home more than $500,000. It is estimated to allocate almost $1 billion for public education. Results as of November 11 have the “yes” side winning by 3.5 percentage points, but the opposition already conceded. 

Ducey worked hard to defeat Prop. 208, but that he may have broken the law trying to convince people to vote no – the Attorney General’s Office is investigating the governor.

Coughlin said the same writing was on the wall for Prop. 207, Smart and Safe Arizona, which aimed to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana. Ducey opposed the effort in 2016 and again this year, but didn’t contribute funds to the opposition campaign. The Legislature did nothing, Coughlin noted, and the pot proposition passed overwhelmingly with roughly 60% of the votes cast. 

Both measures are now voter-protected and will need three-fourths vote in both chambers of the Legislature to alter, but only if it furthers the intent. 

Democratic consultant Julie Erfle said those were bad losses for the governor, but she thinks since the Legislature is still in GOP hands there will be more efforts to try to reform the initiative process. 

Erfle penned an op-ed for the Arizona Mirror claiming the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry suffered the biggest defeats with 207 and 208 winning, given how much money the group spent against them. The chamber is likely the organization that will try to push some initiative reform at the Capitol, already hinting that possibility.

But overall, Erfle thought Ducey’s biggest loss is President Donald Trump not only losing the election to President-elect Joe Biden, but Trump’s loss in Arizona, too. 

“I think the governor needs to understand how he’s likely being perceived by the voters much the same way [Republican Senator Martha] McSally has been perceived, because in the beginning when Trump was first running [in 2016], [Ducey] did try to distance himself and even after Trump was elected he really kind of tried to straddle that fence,” Erfle said, adding that, like McSally, Ducey then fully embraced Trump and began to receive heavy criticism. 

“If there’s one thing that voters really dislike, it’s somebody who they can’t trust, who they don’t think it’s genuine – and the reality is, I don’t see Trump Republicans embracing Doug Ducey, nor do I see moderates embracing him,” she said.

Ducey was lockstep with Trump for pretty much the entire campaign. For example, standing by the president’s side at nearly every rally over Trump’s seven trips to Arizona; flying to Washington, D.C. during the pandemic and forgoing his weekly press briefings; joining Trump at the White House to watch him accept the nomination for re-election, and following Trump’s lead with the handling of COVID-19.

Ducey did not publicly support Trump in 2016 and kept his distance while trying to win a second term as Arizona’s governor in 2018, but this year that distance disappeared.  

Coughlin, however, noted that Trump still got about 72 million votes – the most by any Republican running for president, the most by any sitting president and only the second most in history. Of course the record sits with Biden who defeated Trump, but he still did extremely well. He didn’t buy that Ducey would see much effect from Trump’s loss and speculated that without the pandemic and the economy tanking this year, Trump and McSally may have easily won. 

Kate Brophy McGee
Kate Brophy McGee

Trump was only losing Arizona by 11,635 votes, or less than a half percentage point as of November 12, and McSally trailed Mark Kelly by about 2.3 percentage points with a dwindling vote count. 

What does matter, Coughlin said, is where Ducey decides to go from here. 

“What are you doing now that the economy has taken a dump and the virus is still in play? What are you doing to bring Arizonans together to address the challenges ahead of us,” Coughlin said, adding that if he were advising Symington or Brewer on this he wouldn’t hold an apology tour, but rather just move forward.

Coughlin said he would identify policy issues like tax reform and strengthen personal relationships with legislators. 

One legislator Ducey likely will be losing is one of his closest allies in Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. She is on her way to lose in the tightest legislative race this year against Democrat Christine Marsh in LD28. 

Brophy-McGee was the most moderate legislator who carried a lot of Ducey’s priorities to fruition either by sponsoring the legislation or being able to work across party lines. With her presence gone from the Capitol, it’s possible bipartisanship will be at an all-time low despite the margins being closer than ever before. 

“I’m not convinced that it will make that much of a difference,” Erfle said about Brophy McGee’s defeat. 

A lot of her votes where she sided with Democrats did not matter much, Erfle said, because unless Brophy McGee was able to convince another Republican the majority party still had enough votes. Brophy McGee was able to save some face with her moderate record without it killing GOP bills. 

“I think it may end up being more of a status quo legislative session that we’ve seen in the past because even though you’ve got one pick up in the Senate, the reality is you still have Republicans in the majority in both chambers,” Erfle said. 

Ducey okays voting manual without provision for forgetful voters

A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren't operational when voting began in Arizona's primary.  (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Notably missing from a final version of Arizona’s elections manual approved Friday by Gov. Doug Ducey is a provision the Navajo Nation threatened to sue over if it was removed

It’s one of more than 100 changes the Attorney General’s Office made to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ draft version of the manual, which will guide how county election officials handle the 2020 elections. Hobbs’ staff were still reviewing all the changes by press time.

Hobbs added a five-day window after Election Day for voters who forgot to sign their early ballot envelopes to rectify the mistake as part of a legal settlement with the Navajo Nation. It brought the statewide practice on missing signatures in line with a law passed this year creating a five-day window for inconsistent signatures.

But critics including Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said Hobbs overreached with the manual. Ugenti-Rita authored the law that created a curing window for inconsistent signatures, and has filed legislation for the 2020 session to bar county election officials from letting anyone correct a missing signature, regardless of when they turn in their ballot.

“There needs to be clarity in the law regarding ballots that have no signature,” Ugenti-Rita told the Arizona Capitol Times earlier this month . “At least in Maricopa County, in big red letters it says that if you don’t sign, it’s not counted. We need to make sure that’s reflected in the law as well.”

The revised manual approved by Ducey will give voters until 7 p.m. on Election Day to sign the ballot envelope or request a new ballot.

The Navajo Nation’s attorney general threatened additional litigation over Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s changes. 

Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, said in a written statement Friday he supports any actions the Navajo Nation takes to reverse Brnovich’s decision. Ballots are not printed in Diné, the tribe’s native language, and therefore providing five days to cure ballots is fair and equitable, he said.

“Arizona should be removing barriers for eligible voters to cast their ballots, not putting up more roadblocks,” Teller said.

Brnovich’s revisions also changed the reasons for which counties can electronically review votes. Hobbs’ draft would have allowed counties to use electronic adjudication programs to review blank or over-voted ballots and write-in votes.

The revised version permits electronic tallying of write-in votes, which Hobbs spokeswoman C. Murphy Hebert said is an “improved efficiency at least.” Some counties are already beginning to pursue legislation to allow electronic authorization in response to changes in the manual, Hebert said.

Manual revisions still allow some changes supported by voting rights groups and criticized by Republican lawmakers. Among these is a footnote saying that student IDs issued by a public college or university could be used as valid IDs for voting, provided they include the student’s name, photo and residential address.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, has filed a bill that would bar students from using school-issued IDs to vote, even with an address added.


Ducey outraises 2 Dem foes combined in gubernatorial race

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

Gov. Doug Ducey raised more than $2 million more than his Democratic competitors for the 2018 governor’s race.

Sen. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat who’s challenging Ducey, raised more than his party-mate, David Garcia, a professor.

Both Democratic candidates had spent a good chunk of the money they raised so far.

Farley collected more than $500,000, mostly from individual donors. Farley has spent more than half of what he raised so far, largely on staffing, and has $232,000 cash on hand. He also transferred nearly $60,000 from his past campaign account to his gubernatorial one.

Garcia raised nearly $300,000, but he spent more than two-thirds of that and has $94,290 cash on hand.

While Farley reported no contributions from PACs, Garcia got $17,600 from PACs, including the UFCW Local 99, IBEW Arizona PAC and the Latino Victory Fund.

Ducey raised more than $3 million in the 2018 election cycle and has nearly $2.7 million cash on hand. Most of Ducey’s money also came from individuals, and more than $200,000 was from PACs.

His PAC contributions read like a who’s-who of the state’s business interests, with money coming from groups representing Pinnacle West, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, GEO Group, Coca-Cola, railroads, tech companies and banks, among others.

Much of Ducey’s spending so far went toward fundraising, with nearly $135,000 paid during this cycle to Lovas LLC, GOP fundraiser Corinne Lovas’ company.

Treasurer’s race

Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit announced in 2016 that he didn’t intend to run again for the office, leaving an open seat. He has since been tapped as chief financial officer at NASA, a post that requires U.S. Senate approval.

Republicans Tom Forese, chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, and Kimberly Yee, a state senator, are running for the GOP nomination for treasurer. Rep. Mark Cardenas, a Democrat, announced his run for the office last week, though he reported no numbers for 2017 since he only recently entered the race.

Tom Forese (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Tom Forese (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

When Forese announced in May 2017 that he had $600,000 in the bank for the treasurer’s race, he didn’t mention that most of it was his own money. Forese gave his campaign $420,000, and he raised about $130,000, mostly from individual donors. He has barely spent any of the money yet and has more than $620,000 cash on hand.

Forese also gave back $3,000 in contributions his campaign had received from the Robson family, owners of Robson Communities. The Corporation Commission came under fire recently over a water controversy involving the Robson family, and criticism of the commission’s actions revolved around the commissioners doing the bidding of the Robsons because they were campaign donors.

Yee’s husband, dentist Nelson Mar, loaned her the bulk of the money she reported this cycle as well, lending her campaign $400,000. She brought over nearly $129,000 from her past legislative campaign committees. Yee has raised little so far, less than $12,000. She has spent less than $1,000, and has $540,000 cash on hand.

Secretary of state

Secretary of State Michele Reagan showed strong numbers for her re-election campaign, though Democratic challenger Katie Hobbs, the Senate minority leader, boasted high contributions as well.

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Reagan raised $412,000 from individual contributors last year and an additional $20,000 from PACs, to go along with $85,000 she loaned her campaign at the start of 2017. Including self-funding, Reagan brought in about $520,000 for her re-election campaign last year. She spent about $71,000 during that period, leaving her with $467,000 on hand to start 2018.

Hobbs raised just over $200,000 and has about $116,000 cash on hand. Most of her money came from individuals, while $22,850 came from PACs. She transferred more than $10,000 from her legislative campaign committee.

Meanwhile, former lawmaker Steve Montenegro, who was running for secretary of state and decided to run in the special election for the 8thCongressional District seat instead, showed much less in his campaign account. He raised less than $19,000 in 2017 and spent more than $16,000. He had nearly $28,000 cash on hand.

Ducey pushes for bipartisanship, water reform in inaugural address

Some of the crowd for Monday's inaugural. The first two rows were for family members of elected officials, with other state, federal and foreign dignitaries in Row 3. And behind them were those who made donations to the inaugural committee to have seats in the reserved section; the bleachers at back were for those without tickets. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Some of the crowd for Monday’s inaugural. The first two rows were for family members of elected officials, with other state, federal and foreign dignitaries in Row 3. And behind them were those who made donations to the inaugural committee to have seats in the reserved section; the bleachers at back were for those without tickets. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey kicked off four more years as Arizona’s governor Monday by welcoming two Democrats into the ranks of statewide officeholders with a message of bipartisanship and working together, especially on urgent issues like adopting a multi-state drought contingency plan.

Ducey also pledged during Arizona’s inauguration ceremony, in which six statewide officeholders were sworn into four-year terms, to build on the economic progress of his first term and hold the late Sen. John McCain as an example of public service.

The governor was sworn in for his second term along with Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Mine Inspector Joe Hart. Republican Kimberly Yee was sworn in as state treasurer and Democrats Katie Hobbs and Kathy Hoffman were sworn in as secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction, respectively.

Arizona’s elected officials should look to the state’s history when tackling major issues like the state’s water future, Ducey told the thousands of people who showed up to the inauguration ceremony at the state Capitol.

Hinting at the bipartisan approach former Republican Sens. Jon Kyl, Barry Goldwater and Democratic Sens. Carl Hayden and Morris Udall along with former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, adopted when addressing state water issues, Ducey urged Republican and Democratic officials to rise above party to secure Arizona’s water future.

“Democrats and Republicans rose above party labels,” Ducey said. “They brought skeptical and reluctant stakeholders to the table. And they acted – and they did it with good faith and honest intentions.”

State lawmakers have been tasked with adopting a multi-state drought contingency plan to stabilize water levels in the Colorado River as Lake Mead sits on the brink of a water shortage. Federal officials set a deadline for the seven Colorado River Basin states to adopt the plan that divvies up water cutbacks by Jan. 31. If they don’t, the Bureau of Reclamation will take matters into its own hands.

Gov. Doug Ducey prepares to take his oath as his wife, Angela Ducey, holds a Bible at the governor’s inauguration Jan. 7. Their son, Jack Ducey, stands behind them. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey prepares to take his oath as his wife, Angela Ducey, holds a Bible at the governor’s inauguration Jan. 7. Their son, Jack Ducey, stands behind them. PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

On several occasions, Ducey has expressed his commitment to passing the drought contingency plan, even committing $30 million in state dollars to help Arizona water interests weather water cutbacks in order to boost water levels in Lake Mead. But Ducey’s clear commitment to water reforms in his inaugural address hint at what may well be his top priority once the legislative session gavels in next week.

Among his other, high-level priorities for his second term, Ducey doubled down on growing Arizona’s relationship with Mexico — the state’s top trading partner. He also promised to see through the teacher pay raises, spread out over three years, that he committed to last year.

Ducey also pledged not to raise taxes in the next four years, following up on a campaign promise he made ahead of his first term. Some Republican lawmakers have said Ducey went back on his “no taxes” pledge when he signed into law a new, $32-per-vehicle registration fee last year.

But the state’s economic picture is drastically different now than it was four years ago, which Ducey addressed in his remarks.

When Ducey entered office, Arizona was on the tail end of the Great Recession and the governor faced a $1 billion budget shortfall. Onstage, Ducey bragged that the state now has the largest projected budget surplus in a decade, which he attributed to economic growth, economic development efforts and keeping government from getting in the way of business.

“Arizona is open for business,” Ducey said. Government has gotten out of the way, the people are benefiting, and it’s going to stay that way.”

Ducey closed his speech with a nod to McCain and other former Arizona leaders — both Republicans and Democrats. He urged Arizona’s politicians to heed McCain’s motto of “country first” to create a state the late senator would be proud of.

The governor and his staff played an integral role in helping plan McCain’s memorial services last year. Ducey also spoke at an intimate ceremony for McCain’s friends and family when McCain was lying in state at the state Capitol.

“John McCain gave us the model for how public servants should carry out their duties – with honesty, integrity, compassion, and above all, a commitment to serving a cause greater than one’s self,” Ducey said.

Other statewide elected officials also gave brief remarks at the ceremony and some like newcomers Hoffman and Hobbs outlined some of their top priorities moving forward.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs takes her oath of office on Jan. 7, 2019. She is joined by her husband, Patrick Goodman, right, and her daughter, Hannah. (Not pictured: Hobbs' son, Sam.) PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs takes her oath of office on Jan. 7, 2019. She is joined by her husband, Patrick Goodman, right, and her daughter, Hannah. (Not pictured: Hobbs’ son, Sam.) PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Hobbs, who replaces Secretary of State Michele Reagan, pledged to create a cybersecurity task force to ensure elections security and oppose any efforts to restrict voting in the state.

As secretary of state, Hobbs is first in the state’s line of succession and Democrats’ highest statewide elected official. She pledged Monday to do everything she can to make it easier for Arizonans to vote.

“The greatest responsibility of this job is one that constitutes the heart of democracy — protecting the sacred right to vote for everyone who is eligible to do so,” she said.

As she takes the reins as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Hoffman’s paid homage to public education.

She called for greater investment in the state’s public schools and competitive pay for everyone involved in public education — from teachers to support staff and beyond. She also pledged to conduct an audit of the Department of Education and explore ways to put an end to the state’s teacher shortage.

“Imagine if all our students, no matter their background and no matter their zip codes had the support and services they needed in their local school to be successful,” she said. Well, guess what? I’m done saying,’imagine if.’”

Brnovich and Yee both gave deeply personal speeches that referenced their families and their unique heritage.

Yee, who upon being sworn in today became the country’s first Republican Asian-American woman elected to a statewide office, talked about her ancestors first coming to the United States from China at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, they called the United States “Golden Mountain” because it represented a land of opportunity and prosperity.

“My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted in in this great country,” she said.

Yee, Arizona’s new state treasurer, previously broke barriers as the first Asian-American woman to serve as Senate majority leader in the state Legislature.

While the other elected officials were sworn in by Chief Justice Scott Bales of the state Supreme Court, Brnovich was sworn in by his wife Susan Brnovich, who was recently named a U.S. district court judge.

Brnovich, upon being sworn in as the state’s top lawyer, talked about growing up in Arizona as a first-generation American whose family’s primary language was not English. Brnovich’s mother was born in Yugoslavia and came to the U.S. after WWII.

“Our family didn’t read about history, we lived history,” he said. “I think when that’s the case, you have a unique understanding and appreciation for how important the Constitution is and how important freedom is.”

But being attorney general isn’t about interpreting the Constitution and law how you want it to be, it’s about leveling the playing field and ensuring everyone plays by the rules, Brnovich said, rattling off highlights of his first term.

Four years ago, Republicans swept the statewide offices. Democrats Hobbs and Hoffman bring a new flavor to statewide elected offices and could create an environment of increased bipartisanship in state politics.

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, Hobbs at odds over election procedures for nursing homes residents

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs at a press conference on COVID-19 earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs at a press conference on COVID-19 earlier this year with Gov. Doug Ducey. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The top elected state officials of the two major parties are squabbling over election procedures, with the ability of some nursing homes and other centers to vote hanging in the balance.

Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has said counties can use a procedure that allows members of already legal “special election boards” to accept ballots that are effectively filled out via telephone or video conference. This would occur when board members are not allowed to interact directly with residents because of concern for COVID-19.

But Gov. Doug Ducey, in a letter to Hobbs, says there’s no legal basis for the “experiment” she has proposed.

“These policy changes should be suspended immediately so that Arizonans can continue to have confidence and faith in the integrity of our election system,” he wrote.
Hobbs responded by telling the Republican governor that the procedures were developed “in close collaboration with your staff and the Arizona Department of Health Services.”

Ducey, however, said it is “simply not an accurate representation” that what Hobbs and her staff showed them is what she wants to do. Anyway, Ducey said, it doesn’t matter if they did.

“They are not election law experts, and do not have the authority to circumvent the legislative process or the election procedures manual process clearly defined by law,” he said.

Hobbs said if Ducey believes such a procedure is illegal — a point she is not conceding — there is a simple remedy: Issue an executive order under the emergency he declared due to the COVID-19 outbreak authorizing this practice where necessary or, alternately, authorize any other solution to ensure that all Arizonans get to vote.

Ducey has repeatedly used that authority to suspend other state laws.

For example, he declared that medical personnel providing certain assistance during COVID-19 are immune from civil liability for injuries they cause “notwithstanding any provisions of the Arizona Revised Statutes, laws, associated regulations, rules, policies or procedures.” Ducey also directed state liquor agents and state and local police to ignore violations of laws that prohibit restaurants from selling alcoholic beverages to go.

And he decided to simply extend the expiration date of driver licenses of those 65 and older to protect their health by preventing them from having to be exposed to the virus when they visit Motor Vehicle Division offices.

But gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak said his boss won’t do that here because this is different.

“We want to make sure that people have trust in the process and in the officials who are administering this election,” he told Capitol Media Services.

Ptak pointed out some of the governor’s actions have been challenged in court. He said if someone were to sue over an order allowing video voting in these circumstances it could end up that these ballots would not be counted.

He conceded, though, that would be the same result if people do not get to vote in the first place.

Hobbs acknowledges there is no specific legal authority. But she says these rules were crafted before anyone ever thought about COVID-19 and situations where visitors to nursing homes — including election officials who normally would provide in-person assistance to residents to vote — would not be allowed.

Still, Hobbs says what she is doing is legal and proper. And she said it’s not prohibited.

“Elections officials have a duty to protect the fundamental right to vote, while upholding our constitution and laws, regardless of the pandemic,” she said in response to Ducey.

There are existing procedures to have special election boards, composed of one member of each major party, go to long-term and residential care facilities as well as hospitals or where someone is disabled to help that person vote. What board members do now is meet with the person and fill out the ballot at the voter’s direction.

What Hobbs is addressing is what happens if board members are not permitted to enter a center due to COVID-19 access restrictions or the voter is not comfortable receiving assistance through direct contact. What’s also required is a statement that the voter “does not have a trusted caregiver, fellow resident, or family member or other third-party with visitation access to provide assistance.”

Hobbs said nothing changes here, with the board still face-to-face with the voter, albeit over a video link, filling out the ballot. And Hobbs said having the board in the same facility satisfies the “in-person” requirement, even if they are not in the same room.

Ptak questioned the need to change voting procedures, particularly this close to an election. He said the state managed to conduct other elections this year, including the August primary, all without changing procedures.

But Hobbs said there were not the same requests for special election boards coming from nursing homes and elsewhere for special election boards as there are for the Nov. 3 general election.

Separately, Hobbs is denying a claim by Ducey — fueled by an email to an aide to the governor from Yuma County Recorder Robyn Pouquette — that she was allowing people to actually register to vote by telephone.

Hobbs says all she is doing is allowing people to start the process by phone. But they would still have to submit a signed and competed voter registration form before Election Day to actually be able to cast a ballot.

Both Hobbs and Ducey agree the pandemic has resulted in unusual challenges to voting.

Working with Hobbs, the governor set aside $9 million in federal dollars, more than half for county recorders and election officials. That includes hiring temporary staff and poll workers, increasing the number of secure ballot drop-off locations, and expanding curbside voting at polling places.

And there was cash for reusable face masks for election workers, disposable masks for voters, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and disposable pens.

Ducey, Hoffman form unlikely duo in face of virus crisis

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announce on March 15 that all state schools would be closed for two weeks. The pair has since closed schools for the rest of the school year and they have worked together in a bipartisan way since COVID-19 has become a crisis.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announce on March 15 that all state schools would be closed for two weeks. The pair has since closed schools for the rest of the school year and they have worked together in a bipartisan way since COVID-19 has become a crisis.

As Arizona is reeling from the fallout of COVID-19 and people are sitting somewhere between preparation and panic, an unlikely duo has formed to put partisan politics aside during the pandemic.

Each day brings a new executive order from Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, but by his side throughout most of it is Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

The two gave their first joint press conference the morning of March 19 after passing out meals to students in the Cartwright School District. When Ducey announced schools would close, initially for two weeks, he deferred to her in a joint announcement in the Executive Tower.

Even when Ducey ordered a “stay at home” order on March 30, Hoffman was there.

And though both sides will say they have worked well together from the beginning, it’s clear that their relationship wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies.

Kathy Hoffman
Kathy Hoffman

Hoffman campaigned on the coattails of educators not seeing eye to eye with Ducey. She was against school voucher expansion, something he is in favor of, and she hit the ground running, accomplishing her first goal only months after swearing in.

One of the superintendent’s big ideas in year one was repealing the “no promo homo” law. Ducey’s office was not vocal throughout the process, but seeing an opportunity and reading the room, so to speak, Ducey was quick to sign it after the bipartisan repeal made it out of the Legislature.

Hoffman was coming into her own, and Ducey was realizing how things in the state had changed politically from his first to second terms and a positive working relationship began to take shape.

The two leaders have since provided updates in unison while trying to get everyone to remain calm through the coronavirus global pandemic, though both of them would argue they have always worked well together. Especially when it comes to school safety grants.

Their offices agreed on a solution that would provide enough money to fund every school with their top choice of counselors, school resource officers or social workers, but COVID-19 got in the way of it getting into the state budget as the Legislature took a recess on March 23.

Their partnership on school safety foreshadowed a chain of events that would become the current working relationship between the two.

While things in the Legislature have been tense, albeit somewhat bipartisan, Hoffman and Ducey have shown how politicians should put party politics aside when dealing with a crisis of this magnitude. Not only working to close schools, but to establish student enrichment centers for children of first responders.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s chief of staff, says it takes a leader to put aside politics in the time of a crisis.

“In a crisis, I think you really learn who can lead. I think [Hoffman] knows what she’s doing and she’s surrounded herself with a really competent staff,” he said.

It’s a relationship both sides would agree has grown over the past month, and will continue to grow beyond this crisis.

“We have been in close communication personally and through our respective teams as the COVID-19 situation has developed very rapidly over the last couple of weeks,” Hoffman said.

It’s never really planned either. Usually at a moment’s notice the two elected leaders — and their staff — will join forces for the good of Arizona, as they phrase it.

“I have greatly appreciated [Gov. Ducey’s] willingness to partner and collaborate so that we can make the best decisions for Arizona’s school communities,” Hoffman said.

Scarpinato said Hoffman is a professional.

“You can tell she really cares and wants to do the right thing and that she’s reasonable and comes at things from a perspective of wanting to find consensus, and reach a resolution,” he said.

And the governor has complimented Hoffman at every turn of this crisis from their first press conference on March 19.

“Unprecedented situations like the one we’re in call for leadership and partnership and [Superintendent Hoffman] has continually risen to the challenge to put kids first, and to be a leader for our schools, our children and our parents,” Ducey said at the time.

Of course, working together and opting to close schools for the initial two-week period was not an easy one, both of them say, especially when the original decision was the opposite.

The message was they were not recommending any widespread school closures, but schools began to close by themselves. And teachers were ready to not show up, so action was necessary.

And it didn’t come without blowback, too. Both were heavily criticized for allowing schools to remain open at first, and even the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, wrote a letter saying it would be “reckless” to send teachers and students to school.

The decision was still not an easy one to make. Hoffman said she was listening to the concerns of school leaders, teachers and students about staying healthy and safe in classrooms during the early days of COVID-19, and her team began to prepare guidelines on how they would address the concerns. The Department of Education does not have the authority to close schools, even though the superintendent is the schools’ chief. So in stepped Ducey.

Hoffman said she saw schools taking it upon themselves to close and she and Ducey were both concerned those closures would only result in more confusion for the state.

“To ensure the safety and well-being of all students and school employees, it was a priority to provide a cohesive, uniform response,” Hoffman said, adding that there were signs districts would be facing significant staffing shortages had they not acted.

Hoffman’s spokesman, Richie Taylor, said Katilin Harrier, Ducey’s education policy adviser, was a big part (and continues to be) in education decisions between the two offices.

Harrier told Arizona Capitol Times her respect for Hoffman and her staff has amplified over the past month.

“Just knowing that I can call any member of their team with whatever issue pops up and know that they’ll be willing to work with us and we’re going to get through it together, as the governor often says, it really helps,” Harrier said.

Of course Ducey doesn’t have this great a rapport with all top officials of the Democratic Party, especially during the tense time of COVID-19. He has received heavy criticism from several Democratic mayors demanding he do more than what he’s done so far regarding having people stay at home to prevent the spread. Nobody has been more vocal than U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Already, mayors in Tucson (Regina Romero) and Flagstaff (Coral Evans) have gone around Ducey’s orders to expand on his definition of what is considered an essential business. And other mayors like Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Tolleson Mayor Anna Tovar keep pushing the governor to establish a better definition of essential services that doesn’t include golf courses and nail salons.

The bipartisanship doesn’t end with Hoffman. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said her relationship with the Ducey administration has been “fantastic” lately.

“We’ve had a good working relationship since well before I was in the office I’m in now,” Hobbs said.

She previously served two terms as Senate minority leader — during Ducey’s first term as governor — and she said even though they definitely don’t always agree on policy issues there were a lot of things of which they did

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Hobbs said the governor was obviously aware that the electorate in 2018 was far different than the one that elected him to office in 2014, meaning being bipartisan was crucial for him to be successful. When she was a legislative leader, Hobbs said, Ducey did more talking about being bipartisan than he had work to show for it, but things are different

“He would say, ‘Here’s this thing that I want to make bipartisan, you should sign on to it,’ And not let us [Democrats] have any seat at the table to actually really do that,” Hobbs said. “But I think in the entire term his office has been really helpful and worked closely with us on a lot of issues. I think particularly now, in this crisis, he’s focused on leading, and it’s extremely challenging right now.”

The feeling is mutual, Scarpinato said about Hobbs.

“I would say she’s been a straight shooter, and her staff is a good quality staff that’s worked really well with our staff,” he said, adding that that cooperation enabled the election on March 17 to go smoothly.

“We made the Department of Health Services completely available to them and I think it turned out to be a real success on Election Day,” Scarpinato said.

The three state elected officials – a Republican and two Democrats – still have a lot of ground to cover in the coming weeks and beyond, but it seems Arizonans can expect the process to be bipartisan.

“I look forward to our teams continuing this close communication in the future, and hopefully we will soon be able to tackle projects other than the response to COVID-19,” Hoffman said.

Ducey: Threats against Hobbs ‘unacceptable’

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he has seen no evidence of “widespread fraud or irregularity” in the conduct of the Arizona election.

But he said he has no interest in using his voice to shut down those claims that are being spread by supporters of President Trump who continue to argue that the election was illegally stolen by the Democrats.

What Ducey was willing to do is condemn Trump supporters who have been making threats against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and even have picketed her house and yelled at her.

“That’s unacceptable, completely unacceptable,” he said. “And I denounce any threats of violence against anyone in elective office, or any Arizonan or American.”

And the governor said the Department of Public Safety has offered additional security for Hobbs and her staffers.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“But that’s different than a court challenge,” he said, pointing out that there is still litigation over the vote tallies.

“We are going to allow whatever legal challenges that come to be swiftly adjudicated inside the state of Arizona,” he said. “And I will respect the election.”

But that lone remaining case goes solely to the question of whether the decision of the method to decide which batches of ballots to set aside for a hand count in Maricopa County complies with state law.

At a hearing Wednesday, attorneys for the county argued that the legal challenge by the Arizona Republican Party comes too late. But the judge postponed a request by attorneys for the party to bar the supervisors from formally certifying the vote, something set now for Friday

None of that, however, has kept Trump supporters from making even more charges and raising other questions.

That continued Wednesday as  Kelli Ward, chair of the state Republican Party, demanded that even more ballots be pulled out for a hand count than required by law. And she resurrected charges from a now-dismissed lawsuit that thousands of people who cast their ballots at polling places were disenfranchised by being told to push “the green button” which would override mistakes they made in voting for more candidates for an office than allowed.

Ducey, for his part, said he will not use his voice, either as governor or the highest elected Republican in the state, to quell that talk even if it could undermine public confidence in the electoral process. Instead, he retreated to a generic defense of how voting occurs here.

“I’ve said and I’ve bragged on Arizona’s election process that we’re good at elections,” he said.

The governor pointed out that Arizona was one of the earliest states to allow all residents to vote by mail, a process that Trump repeatedly criticized as leading to widespread fraud.

In fact, more than 88% of the votes in the presidential race were in early ballots.

But Ducey balked at making any comment about how this most recent election was conducted.

“You want me to make a declaration before the legal process plays out,” he said.

And the governor said it’s not for him to decide that the process was fair when his name was not on the ballot. That, he said, is up to the candidates.

“In the Senate race, the sitting senator was satisfied with the vote count, saw no legal irregularity that needed to go to the court, and conceded,” Ducey said, referring to Martha McSally whom the governor appointed to the seat formerly held by John McCain. “I followed up with a congratulatory call to Senator-elect Mark Kelly.”

There will be no such call to Biden, the governor said until “the legal challenges play out.”

The entire controversy is mired in politics.

Aside from the challenge to the Maricopa County hand-count procedure, supervisors in Mohave County voted 4-1 to delay the legally required formal certification of the vote tally there.

Board members conceded they do not question the accuracy of the count performed in their county but instead said they wanted to see how things played out elsewehere.

And two Pima County supervisors, both Republicans, also refused to vote for the formal tally. But that didn’t stop the process as the other three board members gave their approval.


Election challenges mount

Kris Mayes is asking a judge to toss a bid by her Republican foe to void the results of the election which shows her winning the race for attorney general.

In new legal papers, Dan Barr, Mayes’ attorney, said the lawsuit filed last week by Abe Hamadeh and the Republican National Committee is filled with various allegations ranging from poll worker misconduct to errors in duplicating ballots when the original could not be read by scanners.

“But their claims are based on no more than speculation and conjecture,” Barr told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Frank Moskowitz. “Plaintiffs offer little factual support for their claims.

Instead, he said, Hamadeh and the RNC are using the court “to engage in a fishing expedition to try to undermine Arizona’s election.”

And there’s something else.

Democrat Kris Mayes, candidate Arizona Attorney General, smiles prior to a televised debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Barr said even if everything Hamadeh alleged were true – a point he is not conceding – none of it matters. He said the GOP contender can’t prove any of this would have altered the outcome of the election or the final tally which showed Mayes winning by 510 votes.

Take, for example, the claim that votes were counted wrong when ballots were duplicated. Barr said the lawsuit does not identify a single voter who selected Hamadeh but had the vote wrongly counted for Mayes.

“It’s just as possible that correcting any ballot duplication efforts would lead only to more votes for Ms. Mayes,” he said.

Then there’s a claim that some early ballots were counted even when the signature on the envelope did not match what was on file in the person’s voter registration record. But here, too, Barr said, the claim “would still fail as a matter of law because he alleges no facts establishing that any illegal votes were sufficient to change the outcome of the election.”

Republican candidate for Arizona Attorney General, Abraham Hamadeh, smiles prior to a televised debate against Democrat Kris Mayes on Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

And Barr told Moskowitz that some of what Hamadeh wants is beyond his ability to grant, such as allowing people who checked in at a voting center on Nov. 8 but did not get to cast a ballot to now have another chance to vote.

A hearing is set for Monday.

The lawsuit over the race for attorney general is the latest legal scrap in what continues to be a series of issues and questions about both how the general election was conducted and whether the results are accurate.

Unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial contender Kari Lake has filed her own lawsuit against Maricopa County.

But Lake, unlike Hamadeh, is not asking that a judge overturn the results showing Democrat Katie Hobbs winning the race by more than 17,000 votes statewide – at least not yet. Instead, she contends the county has failed to “promptly” respond to a Nov. 15 request for a series of documents related to what happened on Election Day.

“Given instances of misprinted ballots, the commingling of counted and uncounted ballots, and long lines discouraging people from voting … these records are necessary for plaintiff to determine the full extent of the problems identified and their impacts on electors,” wrote Tim La Sota, her attorney. He also alleged several violations of election laws, like mixing counted and uncounted ballots in the same container and failing to reconcile the number of ballots cast with the number of people who signed in at voting centers.

And Lake is doing more than hinting an election challenge based on what she learns.

Kari Lake, Arizona Republican candidate for governor, speaks to supporters at the Republican watch party in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“The law allows the public and plaintiff only a short period of time in the context of an election to seek relief from the court for violations of their rights,” La Sota said, saying the failure of the county to respond to her request for records “is preventing the courts from performing their duty.”

Lake, who trailed Hobbs in Maricopa County by more than 37,000 votes, wants an order for the county to give her the records sought prior to the returns being formally “canvassed.”

Only thing is, the county is set to do that at 9:30 a.m. Monday. And county offices have been closed since Wednesday afternoon.

The merits of Lake’s claim about public records aside, she is not likely to be the first in line to get her request answered.

More than a week ago, Attorney General Mark Brnovich submitted his own list of questions he wants the county to answer about what happened on Election Day. And these go beyond the highly publicized problems that some voters could not get their ballots immediately tallied at polling places because of the printer problems.

Jennifer Wright, the director of Brnovich’s Elections Integrity Unit, acknowledged that voters whose ballots were rejected by the counter had the option of simply dropping them into “door 3” to be tallied after the polls closed. But she said there is evidence that these were not handled properly.

Wright also wants answers to why some people who chose to go to a second location to vote were given “provisional ballots.” These were not counted because the records showed — inaccurately — that they had voted at the first site.

Overall, she said, statements by the county “appear to confirm potential statutory violations of Title 16,” the state Elections Code.

Wright wants answers by the 9:30 a.m. Monday canvass because “these issues relate to Maricopa County’s ability to lawfully certify election results.” But Wright gave no indication that anything her office ultimately finds or any conclusions reached will alter the outcome of the races.

A county spokesman said responding to the Attorney General’s Office will be a priority.

But that’s not the only thing that is pushing back any response from the county to Lake’s public records bid.

Townsend, ballot watchers, Clean Elections USA, Finchem, judge
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, has issued a subpoena with her own list of questions she wants answered – and also ahead of Monday’s county canvass. And many of these relate to the central question of why tabulators were not reading all the ballots printed out at vote centers.

The supervisors have scheduled an executive session with their attorneys ahead of canvassing the returns. But there appear to be the necessary votes on the board, which has a 4-1 Republican makeup, to declare the results accurate.

Any action Monday will come over the objection of the Maricopa County Republican Committee.

On Friday the organization asked the Republican-controlled board to delay certification until the county has “fully responded” both to Wright’s demand and its own public records request “providing critical information that Maricopa County voters were NOT disenfranchised by these failures to such a degree that it has had a material impact on the results of this election.”

Less clear is what will happen in Cochise County which faces the same Monday deadline.

The two Republican supervisors, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, voted more than a week ago to delay their formal certification. They claimed the counting equipment had not be properly certified.

From left are Kirsten Engel and Juan Ciscomani

Since that time, state Elections Director Kori Lorick has written all three board members calling those claims “false.”

“These claims are derived from baseless conspiracies about Arizona’s equipment certification process,” she wrote. “Cochise County’s election equipment was properly certified and remains in compliance with state and federal requirements.”

And Lorick said if board fails to act, Lorick warned, the Secretary of State’s Office will sue. And she said that if there is no certification by that Dec. 5 state deadline, the canvass will proceed – without the county votes.

“Your refusal to certify will only serve to disenfranchise Cochise County voters,” Lorick said.

That, in turn, would mean the official statewide tally would not include the Cochise County votes, potentially changing the results of multiple elections.

One could be the race for Congress where final results showed Republican Juan Ciscomani outpolling Democrat Kirsten Engel by about 5,200 votes.

In Cochise County, Ciscomani had nearly 14,000 more votes than Engle. Leaving them out of the statewide total would make her the winner.

Separately, supervisors in Mohave County have so far refused to certify election results there, not because of any claim that the results there were inaccurate but more as a protest against the voting issues that arose in Maricopa County. But the canvass is on the Monday agenda.

Election Day starts weeks of political theater in AZ

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

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

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

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

GOP cries foul

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

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

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

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

Trump tweets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early ballots surge

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

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

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

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

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

AP misses the mark

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

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

“The AP is rarely wrong,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Sinema wins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election officials, advocates push to use college IDs for voting

A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren't operational when voting began in Arizona's primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren’t operational when voting began in Arizona’s primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)

As Katie Hobbs prepared to take over as Arizona’s newly elected secretary of state, one question was repeatedly asked: Can a student ID be used to vote?

The short, easy answer was “no.”

But the longer, more complicated answer is “yes, but if.”

A footnote in the draft of a new Elections Procedures Manual, a handbook for running elections in Arizona, now states that IDs  issued by a public college, university or other public educational institutions are technically “government-issued” IDs.

Public schools have always been government institutions, so it makes sense that the IDs the schools issue fit the description in the manual as “government-issued,” according to Hobbs’ election director, Bo Dul.

That clarity is important, Dul said, because a valid, government-issued ID is one of the few forms of identification that can be used as a voter’s sole ID when voting.

But that doesn’t mean student IDs alone can be used to verify a voter’s identity. Those identifications would still need to meet other requirements in Arizona law – namely the inclusion of three elements: the student’s name, photo, and residential address.

It’s the address that’s missing from most student identification cards.

“The question that we kept getting was, is a student ID valid for voting? So we just wanted to clarify that our interpretation is that it could be – it just needs to have all the same elements as any other government-issued ID,” Dul said.

Perhaps the footnote “can be an impetus to the universities to start including addresses so it can be used for voting purposes,” Dul said.

Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said he requested the clarifying language, along with the Arizona chapter of All Voting Is Local, a national voting rights organization. If approved, the manual would “provide clarity to students on which forms of ID work for voting,” Edman said.

It might also empower students to advocate their administrations to start printing addresses on student IDs, he added.

“Even for now at least, it’s a signal to students that your ID can get you at least part of the way there, if you’ve got a bank statement or something else with your address you can pair,” Edman said.

In a statement, Arizona State University officials said they’ve already been exploring the issue, but raised some concerns. Many ASU student IDs are tied to bank accounts, and adding an address could put the security of those accounts in jeopardy. The university is also concerned about its own costs – given how often students move, requests for IDs to be repeatedly updated would add to printing expenses.

A spokeswoman with Northern Arizona University echoed concerns about the costs, not only as students move and need to change their address, but also for encrypting student data and meeting federal ID requirements. 

Officials from all three public universities stated they strongly encourage civic engagement. Per the ASU statement, “we continue to explore possible solutions and will of course continue our efforts to work with student organizations to provide eligible students with opportunities to register to vote,” the statement added.

If public universities such as ASU and community colleges start printing addresses on student IDs, it’d make it easier for college students to vote in a state where some legislators have sought to make the process more difficult.

In 2017, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, pushed legislation to require college students to use their permanent address to register to vote, arguing that students “unfairly influence” local elections in the college communities they reside in only part of the year. 

Specifically, Thorpe wanted to bar campus addresses from being used to register to vote in Arizona. The measure failed to gain any traction.

The updated Elections Procedures Manual is still just a draft. After accepting public comments for much of September, the secretary of state has until October 1 to submit a final draft to the attorney general and the governor, who have the authority to approve or reject it.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include statements from Arizona’s other state universities. 

Elections chief candidates unknown across the state


Steve Gaynor and Katie Hobbs have one thing in common: They’re relative unknowns across the state as they make their bids to be Arizona’s next secretary of state. And since neither candidate has a distinct name identification advantage, the election will ultimately come down to who voters feel is more competent, said veteran political strategist Chuck Coughlin.

Arizona’s secretary of state is next in line to become governor if the incumbent leaves office. The state has a long history of governors not completing their full terms, in which case the secretary of state would move up to the Ninth Floor.

Coughlin said voters will have to ask themselves, do they want someone with Gaynor’s business background or do they want someone with a legislative track record like Hobbs serving as the state’s chief elections officer and second in command.

“One would have to ask the question at the end of the day of all the voters in Arizona: who do you trust more to run our elections? That to me is the key argument here,” he said.

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Gaynor, a businessman and political newcomer, skyrocketed through political ranks this year to oust incumbent Michele Reagan in the Republican primary.

Hobbs, a Phoenix Democrat and Arizona’s Senate minority leader, worked her way up through the Legislature before seeking statewide political office.

Gaynor, who is president of Phoenix Management Group LLC, a private equity firm, and B&D Litho California, Inc., a commercial printing company, had never run for office before he filed to run for secretary of state in February.

He has shaped his campaign around his business background, saying he would run the Secretary of State’s Office like a business.

But there are some blemishes on Gaynor’s business record. He has been sued several times in business-related matters.


Gaynor blamed California’s business and legal environment after settling a lawsuit in California that accused him of underpaying workers. On the campaign trail, Gaynor has often decried the Golden State’s burdensome regulations and tried to paint Hobbs as a California liberal, who wants to make Arizona more like its neighbor.

But Gaynor also faced two business-related lawsuits in Arizona.

In 2010, he was locked in a complicated legal battle involving the sale of his Arizona and Colorado-based printing plants. The purchaser of the two plants sued Gaynor, alleging he violated a non-compete agreement by “soliciting customers for business forms” to his California plant, thus competing with the new owners of the Phoenix and Denver-based plants.

Gaynor made $12.5 million on the 2007 sale, according to court documents filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Gaynor’s California plant prints commercial materials like paperback books and catalogs. The other two plants printed business forms like checks and invoices.

In selling the two plants, Gaynor agreed the California printing plant couldn’t be in the business of manufacturing business forms. Although the plant occasionally printed some business materials, it was not in the business of printing business materials — an endeavor that would have required additional, costly printing equipment, Gaynor said.

Gaynor dismissed the suit as meritless, but he eventually settled for a “minor” amount. He said he couldn’t remember how much he paid in the settlement.

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

“I paid them a little money kind of for them to save face and go away,” he said.

Gaynor also faced a lawsuit in 2005 for breach of contract from when he bought a small printing company through his business Gaming Supplies LLC. He agreed to purchase the company from a company based in California for $130,000.

Gaming Supplies was required to pay $40,000 in cash up front and then pay off the remaining $90,000 in 32 monthly installments. In the lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, the owners of National Card West Inc. claimed Gaynor didn’t pay any of the monthly installments.

Gaynor’s company then countersued.

The seller didn’t perform as promised, Gaynor said, explaining why he held back on payment. He said he was in the midst of coming to agreement with one of National Card West’s partners on payment when the other partner filed suit.

Both parties agreed to dismiss the case just months after it began, according to court records. Gaynor no longer owns Gaming Supplies LLC.

People can file lawsuits saying whatever they want, but that doesn’t make what they’re saying true, Gaynor told the Arizona Capitol Times.

“The mere filing of a lawsuit doesn’t mean there was something untoward about the action,” he said.

Lawsuits aren’t the best way to solve business disagreements, but the United State has turned into a “litigious society” wherein people often turn to litigation to solve their problems, he said.

Gaynor also said his experience with litigation is good experience for being
secretary of state because of the sheer amount of lawsuits the state office faces.

“For being secretary of state, it certainly is advantageous to have legal experience,” he said.

Specifically, Gaynor cited a recent voter registration lawsuit filed against the state last year, which resulted in a consent decree streamlining the voter registration process. Gaynor has said the consent decree is unconstitutional and the state shouldn’t have settled the case.

In an October 3 debate, Hobbs pointed out the California lawsuit.

“You talk about being a successful businessman and running the Secretary of State’s Office like a business,” Hobbs said. “Yet you have these problems and you didn’t follow the law and you settled a lawsuit.”

Middle Ground Voters

Although he has been a big donor in federal elections across the country, Gaynor was virtually unknown in state political circles before his secretary of state bid. But since he clinched the GOP nomination for secretary of state, he was welcomed into the political establishment.

Next week, Gov. Doug Ducey will attend a fundraiser for Gaynor, a sign that the political newcomer has earned the governor’s blessing.

Meanwhile, while Gaynor almost entirely self-funded his primary campaign — to the tune of $1.5 million — he is picking up financial support from other Republicans now that he is the party’s nominee.

“After the primary, people have been very generous. I’ve actually raised a lot of money,” Gaynor said in a recent debate.

But average Arizona Republicans don’t necessarily know who Gaynor is, Hobbs said in an interview.

“The Republicans don’t really know Steve Gaynor,” she said. “It’s going to be a fight for those middle ground voters because I don’t think they know either one of us.”

Hobbs is a social worker who served as a chief compliance officer for the Soujourner Center — a domestic abuse shelter. She was first elected to the Legislature in 2010, after she decided she wanted to do more to help vulnerable populations.

After a slew of bungled elections in recent years, both Hobbs and Gaynor have promised to fix the Secretary of State’s Office.

Both candidates also share some similar goals for the office, should they be elected.

Hobbs and Gaynor have cited protecting elections from cybersecurity threats as a top priority. They have also promised not to use the office for political purposes.

But there are some differences between the two.

Hobbs’ main goal is to make it easier for everyone to vote. Hobbs stressed that students, rural voters and low income voters struggle to vote because of various barriers.

Gaynor is more concerned about preventing election fraud.

Electors vote as lawmakers hold hearing on election

Stephen Roe Lewis, a member of Arizona's Electoral College, signs his name to the Arizona Presidential Electoral Ballot, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Stephen Roe Lewis, a member of Arizona’s Electoral College, signs his name to the Arizona Presidential Electoral Ballot, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Arizona’s 11 Democrat electors cast their votes Monday for Joe Biden even as the chairman of a Senate panel said he will issue subpoenas to check the accuracy of hardware and software that gave the Democrat the edge over President Trump.

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said there are enough questions raised about whether the Dominion Voting Systems used in Maricopa County produced reliable results.

The announcement followed more than six hours of testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee which led to a series of questions about whether the results can be trusted. And as Farnsworth said, that doesn’t even address other allegations that ballots were not properly handled and that observers from political parties did not have sufficient access to oversee what was going on.

It’s unlikely that anything that an audit turns up would affect the results of the election.

That would require either a court ruling overturning the results — something multiple judges have so far refused to do — or the full legislature trying to pick its own slate of electors. But both Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers have said there does not appear to be a legal way to do that, even assuming lawmakers could call themselves into special session before Jan. 6 when Congress counts the electoral votes.

Even Farnsworth, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, suggested that this was simply a matter of addressing the various claims and doubts “and try and see if we can reinsert some confidence in our election process.”

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

“We hold and audit and we see what the outcome is,” he said. “And then we can put this to rest.”

Farnsworth said the subpoenas could be issued as early as Tuesday.

All this comes as the official slate of electors — the ones pledged to Biden — cast their votes and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs sent off the results to both Congress and the National Archives.

That, however, did not stop two other groups from filing reports that their “electors” had met and were supporting Trump.

One group consists of the 11 Republicans whose names were on the ballot as pledged to Trump, who lost the popular vote according to the certified results.

That vote was organized by the state GOP on the premise that those outstanding legal challenges to the Arizona tally could end up changing the final vote total. In essence, Kelli Ward, the party chair who is a litigant in both pending cases, believes that having the Trump-pledged electors voting on Monday — the date set in federal law — sends a slate of GOP electors to Congress should the cases go their way or Congress decides that their votes are the ones that should be counted and not those pledged to Biden.

But Hobbs aide Murphy Hebert said that’s meaningless.

“It’s clearly a political gesture,” she said. Hebert said Congress can acknowledge only those electors whose votes are accompanied by “letters of ascertainment” signed by Hobbs and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Separately, a group of self-proclaimed “sovereign citizens” filed their own slate of electors with the National Archives claiming they represent the state’s 11 electoral votes for Trump.

Documents obtained by Capitol Media Services show that Mesa resident Lori Osiecki submitted sworn statements for the 11 people “by authority & direction of the sovereign citizens of the great state of Arizona.” That comes complete with the use of the official state seal which in and of itself Hebert said is itself a violation of the law.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs removes her face mask as she addresses the members of Arizona's Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs removes her face mask as she addresses the members of Arizona’s Electoral College prior to them casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“We absolutely anticipated there would be efforts to disrupt the system like this,” Hebert said. But she said the actual “votes” sent to Washington amount to little more than political theater.

“The statute is very, very clear: The slate of electors for the candidate with the most number of votes in the popular vote are the ones who represent the state in the Electoral College vote,” she said. And these were the 11 Democrats who took the official oath of office Monday morning and signed the certificate of votes.

And what of the “votes” sent off on behalf of either slate of 11 Republicans?

“Anybody can send a letter to the National Archives,” Hobbs said.

At the same time members of the Senate Judiciary were focused on Dominion Voting Systems used in the state’s largest county.

There have been a series of charges leveled against the company both here and nationally that the equipment and software were deliberately programmed to deliver more votes for Biden.

None of those complaints have been found valid by any court anywhere in the nation. But that didn’t stop lawmakers from asking and saying that there needs to be an independent audit and even a full hand count of all the ballots.

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, one of those who wants that 100% hand count, got Maricopa County Elections Director Scott Jarrett to acknowledge that Dominion workers had 24/7 access to his office and even, in certain circumstances, access to the equipment.

But Jarrett said there is no way to alter the codes in a way that would change the outcome.

Members of Arizona's Electoral College are sworn in prior to casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Members of Arizona’s Electoral College are sworn in prior to casting their votes Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

He said it starts with “logic and accuracy” test of the equipment, both before and after the election. Jarrett said that would not only capture any change made in the software but that the program is built in a way so that any change would render the results “not readable.”

The equipment itself, he said, is also subject to independent certification by the Secretary of State’s Office.

More to the point, Jarrett pointed out that state law requires an actual hand count of a random sample of ballots, both those mailed in early and those cast on Election Day.

He said the batches to be sampled and the elections to be reviewed are chosen by officials from both political parties. And of the more than 47,000 ballots checked by hand there was not a single vote difference from what was recorded by the equipment.

“These hand counts are an independent audit,” Jarrett told lawmakers. And he said they showed the equipment worked as expected.

Farnsworth was not convinced.

“I do have a concern that the county is taking the position that it just can’t happen,” he said.

“There is a litany of white-collar crimes, digital crimes in the history of this country and this world of some very sophisticated people and the victims didn’t recognize it until some future time,” Farnsworth said. “I think it’s really, really dangerous for us to say, ‘It can’t happen.’ ”

That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. He said even the operating manual for Dominion software suggests “data can be changed and votes switched around.”

“Nothing’s 100% secure,” he said. “If people want to cheat they’re going to cheat.”

Farnsworth also complained that it’s possible for people who are not U.S. citizens to have voted in the presidential race.

Arizona does require proof of citizenship to register to vote.

But a federal law spells out that people without such proof can use a registration form prepared by the Election Assistance Commission, one that has no such requirement. And those who do not provide citizenship proof can vote in federal elections, including for president and members of Congress.

Jarrett acknowledged that more than 3,000 such “federal-only” ballots were cast in Maricopa County, people who he acknowledged might not be U.S. citizens. That angered Farnsworth.

“That is harmful, detrimental, undercuts,” he said.

“And it is outrageous that we have that kind of a mandate from Congress,” Farnsworth said. “It challenges the very sovereignty of this country, in my opinion.”

Jarrett also defended against claims that observers from political parties could not get close enough to really monitor what was going on in both the process to check signatures on early ballot envelopes and in the actual counting. He acknowledged, though, that there were efforts to keep observers at least six feet from election workers amid fears of COVID-19.

He also said that, despite rumors to the contrary, there were not late “spikes” of votes for Biden. In fact, Jarrett said, the reverse was in some ways true, with Biden having a big lead among the first ballots counted and the later-counted ballots swinging for Trump.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised twice to include information as it developed. 

Fann demands records on audit from Hobbs

From left are Katie Hobbs and Karen Fann
From left are Katie Hobbs and Karen Fann

In a sign the Senate audit, which was supposed to be only about the 2020 election results, is now expanding in scope, Senate President Karen Fann now wants documents from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

In a public records request, the Prescott Republican is demanding any communications Hobbs has had with anyone about the audit and the litigation it has produced. And Fann is casting a wide net, seeking not just messages with federal, state and local officials but also political parties, volunteers, consultants, vendors, formal or informal advisors, fundraisers and the media.

“I can’t disclose what we’re looking for at this time,” Fann told Capitol Media Services, including how any of what she wants fits into the Senate’s need to investigate the election conduct and results as part of its duties to review existing laws and craft new ones.

The move comes as Hobbs, a Democrat, has publicly accused the auditors of “making it up as they go along,” and saying she has no confidence in whatever is produced by Cyber Ninjas, the firm Fann hired to conduct the review.

For the moment, Hobbs aide Murphy Hebert said her boss, is reviewing the request.

“At this point it appears to be the kind of nebulous fishing expedition that we’ve come to expect from the Senate president,” she said. And Hebert called it “ironic” that this comes even as Fann has hired outside counsel to fight requests for public records about the audit, “including who’s actually funding the partisan ballot review.”

The development comes as former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who was Fann’s initial choice as her liaison with Cyber Ninjas, said he has been locked out of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum over a dispute about information he provided to outsiders.

Meanwhile, Randy Pullen, whom Fann also tapped to work with the auditors, said the final counting of the ballots was completed Tuesday. He said they are being packed up for return to Maricopa County.

Pullen said a report on the audit could be prepared by the middle of August.

But all that depends on what new information is obtained from the county. And that goes to Fann’s separate decision to now issue new — and long expected — subpoenas to the county supervisors for items that Cyber Ninjas contends is necessary for it to complete its work.

Here, too, the scope is broad, ranging from envelopes in which early ballots were received to passwords, security keys or tokens to access the ballot tabulation devices. And then there’s the demand for the county’s routers, the devices that show traffic between computers as well as any links to the internet.

All that goes to the contention by the auditors that the county’s election system had somehow been compromised or hacked. That follows reports that the county’s voter registration system had been breached.

The issue of those routers — and what those who question the fact that Joe Biden won the state’s 11 electoral votes — has become so heated that former President Trump commented on it during the rally this past weekend in Phoenix, telling senators they must pursue that demand.

County officials say the election equipment itself was never connected to the internet, citing their own audit which they say confirms that fact.

But the fight goes beyond that, to the claim by Sheriff Paul Penzone that giving outsiders access to the routers could compromise law enforcement because it provides a road map of everyone communicating with anyone else in the county.

The subpoena also wants up-to-date voter records along with notations of any changes made. That goes to allegations by Cyber Ninjas that there is evidence some people were permitted to vote who had not registered by the deadline.

County spokesman Fields Moseley said any response will have to wait until the supervisors meet and consult with their legal counsel. But he said the supervisors believe “the county has already provided everything competent auditors would need to confirm the accuracy and security of the 2020 election,” a slap at Cyber Ninjas which has never performed this kind of audit before.

And Jack Sellers, who chairs the board, already has made his feelings quite apparent.

“I want to make it clear: I will not be responding to any more requests from this sham process,” he said in May.

The board is set to meet Wednesday. They don’t have a lot of time to respond: Fann has demanded that everything they want be produced at the Senate at 1 p.m. Monday.

That’s also the same deadline Fann set for Dominion Voting Systems, from who the county leases the counting equipment, to produce all the passwords necessary “for all levels of access, including, but not limited to, administrator access.” County officials, who have also been asked for that information, say they can’t produce what they don’t have.

Dominion is making it clear it intends to fight.

“Releasing Dominion’s intellectual property to an unaccredited, biased, and plainly unreliable actor such as Cyber Ninjas would be reckless, causing irreperable damage to the commercial interests of the company and the election security of the country,” a spokeswoman said in a prepared comment. “No company should be compelled to participate in such an irresponsible act.”

All this could pave the way for a new round of litigation about the extent of the ability of Fann to demand whatever she says is necessary for the Senate to investigate the 2020 election.

Strictly speaking, Fann does not have the necessary 16 votes in the Senate to hold the supervisors — or anyone — in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoenas.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, balked at an earlier contempt vote. And since that time, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, initially a supporter of the audit said she has become soured on what has happened.

“Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “The total lack of competence by Karen Fann over the last five months has deprived the voters of Arizona a comprehensive accounting of the 2020 election.”

But just because the Senate can’t hold anyone in contempt does not leave Fann powerless.

The last time the supervisors sought to fight a subpoena they lost. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson said that Fann,, as Senate president, has broad powers to issue subpoenas for anything related to a legitimate legislative purpose. And he said the Senate is entitled to review the election results to determine whether changes are needed in election laws.

More to the point, the judge said there is no requirement for a majority of the Senate to approve issuance of a subpoena.


Fann says audit, county counts don’t match

FILE - In this May 6, 2021 file photo Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool,File)
FILE – In this May 6, 2021 file photo Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool,File)

Senate President Karen Fann went on the radio Tuesday to say the ballot counts of the election audit she’s leading and Maricopa County’s are different.   

Fann told conservative radio host Mike Broomhead she doesn’t know the difference between the Cyber Ninjas’ count of ballots and Maricopa County’s, but it doesn’t match the 2,089,563 tabulated by the county. 

Broomhead, a radio host for KTAR News who has been critical of the Senate’s partisan audit, also pressed Fann on whether she is confident in the work of Cyber Ninjas, the company hired to do the recount. Fann said she is, and took the opportunity to criticize Maricopa County, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic Party and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, all of whom she said have done everything in their power to stop the audit.  

Fontes has been a private citizen since before the audit began, but is now seeking the Democratic nomination for secretary of state in 2022. Hobbs is running for governor.  

“All you guys are hearing is the negative spin that is being put out by the media right now. You’re not hearing all the positive things,” she said.  

It’s another attack Fann has taken against the media, who she says refuses to tell the full story, despite also limiting reporter access along the way.  

Among other things, she praised “The Deep Rig,” a film produced by Donald Trump-supporting Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne as a documentary that doubled as a security measure because the filmmakers were filming every ballot box. Byrne is one of several figures who has confirmed is financially contributing to the audit. Who is funding it overall is still unknown as is how much money has been raised to date.  

While Cyber Ninjas and the county’s ballot counts are different, another round of counting needs to be done, though it’s been delayed due to East Coast storms, audit spokesman Randy Pullen told the Arizona audit pool reporter Monday.  

The added count of ballots is now supposed to start this today, using additional, companion equipment needed for the Senate’s two paper counting machines, whose arrival was delayed due to the storms, Pullen said.  

These “jogger” machines align the paper ballots so they can go through the machines. Pullen said the estimated cost to the Senate is $30,000 for the machines, joggers and a local technician. The counting will continue into next week, he said. 

Fann also took a shot at current Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who unseated Fontes in November in a tight race. 

She questioned why Richer was critical of Fontes during the campaign, but believes the election was run smoothly.  

Richer wasn’t the recorder in 2020, so Fann didn’t think he would know what happened.  

“I would think that Mr. Richer would be on board with this,” Fann said. “When he ran, he ran on the premise that Mr. Fontes was doing some unusual things, if you will. So why is it when he ran, he was all over Adrian Fontes about maybe not doing everything exactly right, and now all of a sudden he’s siding with the Board of Supervisors saying ‘oh nothing to see here?’” 

Richer had a simple explanation for Fann’s question. 

“Karen said I opposed Adrian so I therefore should support the audit.  I did oppose Adrian.  I supported an audit.  Heck, Maricopa County did two audits of the tabulators.  But I don’t support the Cyber Ninjas,” he told Capitol Times. “I opposed Adrian because I thought he played fast and loose with the law because he was a hyper-partisan, and because I don’t think he’s a competent manager.”   

Richer referenced Fontes’ attempt to send every registered voter – including those not on the early voting list – a ballot by mail for last year’s Presidential Preference Election, which a county judge had to put a stop to before he could do so.   

“Those aren’t just my opinions – all of those things have been affirmed, explicitly, in multiple published court decisions at both the state and federal level.  But these are the same courts that have stated – repeatedly – that there is nothing to the claims of widespread fraud.  I put stock in the judicial branch of our government,” Richer said.  

Richer has become something of a national figure of sorts for the anti-audit crowd despite his pleas to make his office boring. And while he is against what the Senate and its contractors are doing for three months now, he is not against election audits altogether.  

“From my vantage, the Ninjas are conspiracy theorists who have shot a conspiracy theory movie at their audit, have baselessly accused me of deleting files, and who check things like vote switching by the machines or ballots flown in from China,” Richer said. “Those are crazy things that I wouldn’t have touched as a candidate with a ten-foot pole.” 

Richer has joined the four Republican supervisors and one Democrat in criticizing the audit because they don’t feel like it qualifies under what audits typically do.  

Chairman Jack Sellers once referred to it as a “grift disguised as an audit,” and the supervisors have called out other Republicans to speak out against it to little success so far.  

“If Karen wants to talk about how to remove politics from the elections process, or how to better safeguard compliance with statute, then I welcome her partnership,” Richer said before adding a final correction to claims Fann made.  

“For the November 2020 election, Adrian wasn’t even allowed to play any part of the handling of the ballots for the whole election.  Because he was a candidate.” 

Federal judge extends Arizona’s registration deadline to Oct. 23

Voter Proudly Displays Evidence that He Voted on Election Day in the United States.
Voter Proudly Displays Evidence that He Voted on Election Day in the United States.

In an October surprise, a federal judge extended Arizona’s voter registration deadline from Oct. 5 to Oct. 23. 

The news came with mere hours of today’s original deadline for Arizonans to register or update their registration. The court’s ruling gives Arizonans another 18 days to register. 

Progressive groups Mi Familia Vota and Arizona Coalition for Change sued Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, in a last-ditch effort to postpone Arizona’s Oct. 5 voter registration deadline, citing difficulties registering voters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan told Hobb’s office to direct county recorders to accept all voter registrations received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Logan agreed that COVID-19 and travel restrictions put in place by Gov. Doug Ducey made it difficult for the plaintiffs and others to fulfill their goal of getting more people to register to vote.

Mi Familia Vota and Arizona Coalition for Change claimed they were on track to meet or exceed their goals of registering 30,000 and 25,000 new voters, respectively, before Ducey instituted his stay-at-home order on March 30. The numbers plummeted soon after, they said. Mi Familia Vota reported registering 1,523 new voters in the last week of March but only registered an average of 193 voters per week between March 30 and the middle of August, when Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services eased restrictions on businesses, schools and public gatherings. 

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, called the ruling a “wonderful news” and suggested the state shouldn’t have such an early deadline to begin with. “I’ve proposed Same Day Voter Registration every year since I’ve served in the #AZSenate,” he wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, echoed Quezada, and Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, tweeted her thanks to the plaintiffs and other “grassroots organizations.” 

Before the extension, Arizonans were already setting records for registration numbers in Maricopa County and statewide.

Numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office shows more than four million Arizonans are registered to vote. Of the four million, 75 percent are on the state’s Permanent Early Voting List. The breakdown shows Republicans make up roughly 35 percent, Democrats 32 percent, and Libertarians, independents and other non party affiliates roughly 33 percent of the vote.

After hitting a record turnout in the August primary elections, many expect to see more than three million ballots cast for the first time this year. 

The bulk of new voters registered between the primary election and the original Oct. 5 deadline. Indeed, more than 210,000 voters have registered since the August 4 primary election. The previous record happened in 2008, when 188,000 Arizonans registered to vote between the primary election and the deadline.

Reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this article.

Federal lawsuit challenges law to regulate signature gatherers


A new lawsuit seeks to strike down a statute that can invalidate otherwise legitimate and qualified signatures on an initiative petition.

Attorney Sarah Gonski said the requirement unconstitutionally “discourages the people of Arizona … from exercising their fundamental right to make law without consulting the Legislature.” She is asking U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to block Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from enforcing the requirement.

Gonski may have an uphill battle.

The statute in question was upheld just this past year by the Arizona Supreme Court. But Gonski is trying a different path of attack, alleging that it runs afoul of protections in the U.S. Constitution.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Arizonans can propose their own constitutional amendments and laws by gathering enough signatures to put the issue directly to voters.

The 2014 law, which passed without significant debate, spells out that paid circulators and those who do not live in Arizona must first register with the Secretary of State or their signatures collected do not count.

More significant, it allows those trying to keep a measure off the ballot to subpoena those circulators. And if any circulator who has to register does not show up, then all the signatures that person gathered can be struck, potentially leaving the petition drive short of its goal.

One of the plaintiffs is Next Gen Climate Action Committee which pushed an unsuccessful measure last year to impose new renewable energy mandates on utilities. Gonski, arguing on behalf of the organization, said the statute has taken its toll, citing the experience of Jessica Miracle, a paid petition circulator on that measure.

Subpoenaed by foes of the measure, the lawsuit says Miracle could not attend because her children were sick, she did not have her own transportation to Phoenix, and no one would tell her clearly how many days she would need to be in Phoenix.

The result, according to Gonski, was that all of the 2,604 signatures Miracle gathered were invalidated.

Gonski said the law is not just unfair to circulators.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Mary Katz, listed as a Phoenix resident and registered voter.

According to Gonski, Katz signed that renewable energy measure.

“But her signature was later invalidated when the circulator who witnessed it was unable to appear in court when subpoenaed,” the lawsuit states. And Gonski said Katz was not told until long after the election that her signature has been invalidated, meaning there was no way for her to go to court to tell the judge that it was, indeed, a valid signature.

The other key plaintiff in the case is Arizonans for Fair Lending which is currently circulating petitions to enact a law to outlaw title loans. Rod McLeod, who is managing that campaign, said the law has now become a tool for challengers to use to keep measures opposed by certain business interests from ever getting to voters.

He pointed out that challengers to the renewable energy measure issued subpoenas for about 1,180 circulators. McLeod said it was clear from the start there was no way they were going to question that many people in the one week the judge had set aside for trial.

In fact, Gonski said, out of the 913 circulators who appeared, 872 were sent home without ever being asked a single question about their work.

McLeod said challengers know that, using the massive subpoenas “just for intimidation” in hopes that some people would not show up, allowing all the signatures they gathered to be voided. And that could become an issue as his organization seeks to obtain the 237,645 valid signatures it needs by July 2, 2020, to put the title loan measure on the 2020 ballot.

The tactic of issuing subpoenas to disqualify signatures actually worked last year, though it didn’t involve nearly as many subpoenas.

At issue was an initiative to insert a “right-to-know” provision in the Arizona Constitution, requiring any group seeking to influence a political race or ballot measure to reveal the identity of anyone who contributed more than $10,000.

Sarah Gonski
Sarah Gonski

Challengers issued subpoenas for 15 circulators, leaving them with a security guard at an office building which had been used by a company that had hired the paid circulators. When none appeared, the judge disqualified the 8,824 signatures they had collected, leaving the petition drive short.

Attorney Kim Demarchi challenged the law in that case in a bid to put the “Outlaw Dark Money” measure on the ballot. She argued that a circulator’s signatures should be tossed only when there is a “valid objection” to the circulator or the “need for a circulator’s testimony.”

But Supreme Court Justice John Lopez, writing for the unanimous court, said the constitutional right of people to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments “is, and must be, subject to reasonable regulation.” And he said requiring circulators to appear in court and tossing their signatures if they don’t show “furthers the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of signature gathering by reasonable means.”

Gonski, in her new lawsuit, argued to Bolton that the law is unfair and discriminatory. She pointed out that lawmakers decided the requirement to registering paid and out-of-state circulators and allowing their signatures to be struck if they don’t show up, applies only to ballot measures and not to nominating petitions for political candidates.

“There is no evidence to suggest that initiative petitions are more susceptible to fraud than candidate nomination petitions, nor that paid or out-of-state circulators are in need of special punishment above and beyond other circulators to compel their attendance in court,” she wrote.

A spokeswoman for Hobbs, who is the defendant in the case, said her office was reviewing the challenge.

The case presents an interesting situation for Hobbs: She actually voted for the measure when she was a state senator in 2014. In fact, all but two Senate Democrats supported it: Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley and Robert Meza of Phoenix.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Arizonans for Fair Lending needed to enough signatures by July 2 to make the 2018 ballot. The group actually has until July 2, 2020, to make the 2020 ballot.

Finchem recall effort fizzles

Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Wearing a face covering and sitting among socially-distanced plexiglass, Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, sits at his desk during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

The group behind an effort to recall Rep. Mark Finchem has quit three weeks short of its deadline.  

A spokesman for Rural Arizonans for Accountabilitsaid Tuesday the group, which is active in supporting progressive candidates and causes in its area, had to decide whether it was worth it to keep spending money to gather signatures to recall the Oro Valley Republican at the possible expense of their other efforts. 

The group said in a statement Tuesday that the scrutiny due to the recall campaign has drawn more attention to Finchem’s views. Previously, they said, his “extremism went unanswered and in many cases even unnoticed.” 

“Over the past four months, volunteers and organizers talked to their friends and neighbors and went door to door, having nearly 30,000 meaningful conversations about Finchem and extremism with District 11 voters,” the group said. “While it isn’t enough to trigger a recall, it is significant that no Arizona state legislator has ever had more of their constituents sign a petition to remove them from office.” 

Finchem, who has been in office since 2015, represents Legislative District 11, a largely rural and Republican area covering parts of Pima and Pinal counties north of Tucson. He has been outspoken since the 2020 election about his belief that President Trump really won and in support of attempts to overturn President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona.  He was in Washington D.C. on January 6, the day Trump supporters broke into the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory. He is now running for Secretary of State and is making election security his main campaign theme. 

“For an effort that was rooted in baseless fraudulent claims, and defamatory accusations, I am not surprised,” Finchem said in an email Tuesday. “God wins!” 

Tony Cani, a Democratic operative who has been handling public relations for the recall, said the group gathered more than 18,000 signatures, which is the most that has ever been collected for a legislative recall in Arizona history.  

The successful effort to recall former Sen. Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who sponsored the highly controversial anti-illegal immigration bill SB1070, only needed about 7,000 signatures to get on the ballot in 2011 

A recall effort must get the number of signatures equal to 25% of the number of votes cast in the last election for the office, and with a higher turnout in 2020, the Finchem recall effort needed 24,775 by July 8 

“While it’s really disappointing that voters won’t get a chance sooner rather than later to hold Finchem accountable for his actions, they’re really happy with the amount of attention and research they were able to do,” Cani said. “Finchem is a relatively national name in these circles now and he’s facing scrutiny like he’s never had to face before.” 

The recall’s supporters pointed to Finchem’s support for efforts to overturn the results of the election as evidence of his unfitness for office. Finchem has said he didn’t break any laws and wasn’t involved in entering the Capitol and has accused his political opponents of trying to stifle his right to speak about possible election fraud. Democrats have sought to keep a spotlight on what happened, filing an ethics complaint against Finchem that was dismissed and even introducing a resolution that has gone nowhere to expel him from the Legislature. 

A right-wing effort to recall Gov. Doug Ducey, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, fizzled last week when the organizers didn’t file any petitions by the deadline Friday. That leaves just two recall efforts that have a possibility of making the ballot this November – one coming from the right against House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, for which signatures are due Thursday, and another effort to recall Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, for which the signature deadline is Saturday. 

Finchem starts run for top election official

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Finchem has filed a formal “statement of interest” in running for secretary of state next year. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

One of the leading proponents of the claims of election fraud in Arizona now wants to be in charge of the system. 

State Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, has filed a formal “statement of interest” in running for secretary of state next year. That move allows him to begin collecting the signatures he would need to put his name on the ballot. 

Finchem is unlikely to be alone. 

Democrat Katie Hobbs, the current holder of the office, is likely eyeing a gubernatorial bid, what with incumbent Doug Ducey unable to seek a third term. That portends a wide-open race for the office whose duties include being the state’s chief elections officer. 

But the office holds far more importance than the assigned tasks which also cover everything from regulating notaries public to registering telephone solicitors. Under the Arizona Constitution, the secretary of state is first in line of succession if the governor quits, dies or resigns, something that has occurred multiple times over the past few decades. 

Also likely in the hunt, though there has been no formal action yet, is Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Government and Elections. 

Finchem was one of the prime organizers of what was billed as a legislative hearing last year at a downtown Phoenix hotel to hear unverified claims of widespread election fraud in the November tally that gave the state’s 11 electoral votes to Democrat Joe Biden. The prime witness was Rudy Giuliani, attorney for PresidentTrump, and even included the now-former president calling in to complain about the process and the results. 

He also sought to have the Arizona Legislature called into special session to invalidate the results and award those electoral votes to Trump. That was shot down by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, who said there is no legal authority to do that. 

Finchem, a figure in the “#stopthesteal” movement, also was at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that later turned into an invasion of the Capitol. He denied entering the building, though he posted a photo on Twitter saying, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.” 

His participation led legislative Democrats to ask the FBI and the Department of Justice to look into his activities leading up to and at the event. To date, the only response from the agencies was that they had received the letter. 

House Democrats also filed an ethics complaint against Finchem in a bid to get him expelled. When that was dismissed, he turned the tables and accused the Democrats of unethical conduct but that, too, was tossed. 

Now Finchem has a defamation lawsuit against Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, one of the signers of the complaint. 

Finchem also has backed the move by the Arizona Senate to audit the results of the Maricopa County vote, a process that remains in limbo while lawmakers figure out how to hire someone who do the work. But he also has suggested in an interview with Epoch Times that if that audit finds no problems it would be because county officials have destroyed evidence. 

A retired Michigan police officer, he was first elected to the state House in 2014. 

Finchem did not return a request for comment. 

Fired Senate staffer who won discrimination suit reinstated

Talonya Adams outside U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Talonya Adams outside U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

The Arizona Senate has reinstated a former Democratic policy adviser who won a federal discrimination lawsuit over being paid less than white male employees with similar jobs. 

Talonya Adams returned to the Senate as a senior policy adviser Monday, Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Jeffrey Winkler announced in an email to legislative staff obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times

Adams will advise Democratic senators on bills before the Commerce and Transportation and Public Safety committees, according to Winkler’s note. 

She has a salary of $113,300 — the same rate as three senior GOP policy advisers, and thousands of dollars more than Democratic policy advisers. It’s nearly double the $60,000 Adams worked for during her first stint in the Senate, from December 2012 to February 2015. 

Adams, like all Senate minority caucus employees, will report to Winkler and Senate Chief of Staff Wendy Baldo, two of the three people she accused of discriminating against her. Katie Hobbs, the Senate Minority Leader in 2015 and the third person involved in the decision to fire Adams, is now Secretary of State. 

Working for Winkler was a sticking point in negotiations between Adams and a Senate attorney, and one of the key reasons why the Senate didn’t meet an Oct. 31 deadline a federal judge set for her reinstatement. 

A federal jury found this summer that the Senate paid Adams, who is black, less than colleagues because of her race and gender, then fired her for complaining about it. Judge Douglas L. Rayes awarded her more than $350,000 in damages and ordered that the Senate reinstate her. 

The Senate has a pending motion for a new trial in the case, arguing that Adams did not lay the groundwork for a legal claim because she didn’t explain when she asked for a raise that she thought she faced discrimination. 

 Adams did not immediately return a phone call. 

First-time candidates learn hard knocks of politics


Toward the end of May, Leslie Pico walked 12 to 15 miles a day to get on the August primary ballot.

Pico, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Arizona secretary of state, spent most of April and May collecting at least 5,801 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

She collected 6,916 signatures, but they may not be enough.

Pico’s nominating petitions were challenged June 13. Like several other first-time political candidates, she is now tied up in a court battle for electoral integrity.

With a surge of new candidates seeking state and legislative offices this fall, many of them political newcomers who decided to jump into races close to the filing deadline, the Secretary of State’s Office has seen a jump in the number of candidate challenges this year.

The state’s chief elections office had 30 petition challenges in state and federal races this year. That’s up from 12 in 2016 and 22 in 2014. The number of candidate challenges this year exceeds the number of challenges in at least the past six election cycles, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Pico, 31, didn’t anticipate the petition challenge.

“I did know it was a possibility, but I guess this is where my idealism overpowered how pragmatic I should have been about the situation,” she said.

The consultant with expertise in programming and blockchain is challenging Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

Former House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, Hobbs’ former seatmate, challenged Pico’s petitions, some of which are missing required information, were signed by Republicans or signed by people who are not registered to vote in the state, a complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court alleges.

Campbell also challenged the petitions of Mark Robert Gordon — another relatively unknown Democrat in the secretary of state’s race. Gordon has since dropped out of the race and thrown his support behind Hobbs.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan is up for re-election this year. She is being challenged by wealthy businessman Steve Gaynor in the Republican primary.

Campbell and Hobbs declined to comment on the ballot challenge against Pico. But speaking more generally, Campbell said candidates should always verify and validate their signatures before they turn them into the Secretary of State’s Office.

“As I always say, if you’ve got valid signatures, then you’ve nothing to worry about,” he said. “If you don’t, then you probably shouldn’t be on the ballot.”

Pico agrees with state requirements that candidates must get a certain number of valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot, but she said that for a lot of candidates, challenges can turn into a money issue.

Pico hired a lawyer to take her case and defend her in court on June 22, a cost of $5,000. Some close family friends forked over the cash to help her cause, she said.

“The signature requirement was developed around the turn of the century … to prevent the parties from having political control of who is on the ballot,” she said. “But now it has become a tool for them to do exactly this.”

But Campbell said that it can be hard for candidates to gather enough valid signatures in a short time span. This election cycle has seen a lot more candidates get into the race at the last minute, he said.

“When you have more candidates jumping in late and what seems to be more people out there that are gathering signatures that probably either don’t know what they’re doing or doing it in an fraudulent manner, I think that’s a perfect recipe for having this number of challenges,” Campbell said.

Money has been an issue for other candidates as well. Legislative District 16 candidate Bonnie Hickman had her petitions challenged by Adam Stevens — a Republican who had previously run in the district. Instead of hiring a lawyer, Hickman defended herself in court.

Hickman, a Republican, was inspired to run by the “Red for Ed” movement. Her challenger was a member of the Purple for Parents Facebook group — created by people opposed to the “Red for Ed” teachers’ strike.

In court, Hickman wore a red skirt suit. But she seemed unsure of herself as she moved around the courtroom and questioned witnesses. She often looked to the judge for guidance.

Hickman collected her 679 signatures in about five days in May.

“Two months ago, I wasn’t even involved in politics,” she said. “Two months ago, I probably couldn’t even tell you what legislative district I lived in. This has definitely been a learning curve.”

After a hearing this week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Connie Contes ruled Hickman was seven valid signatures short of qualifying for the August primary ballot.

Kellie Engen, a Republican candidate for LD22 House, and Gabriel Escontrias, a Democratic candidate for LD30 Senate, both voluntarily withdrew from their races after having their petitions challenged. Both were political newcomers.

Engen, a nurse, said she’s unlikely to ever seek elected office again.

“I guess in some ways I was too naive,” she said. “I just thought I’d file my petitions, run a campaign and win or lose and be done. I didn’t think I’d have to go through all these hoops and then in the end, not be on the ballot.”

Escontrias characterized this more as a learning experience.

He naively thought it was a good thing when Republicans signed his nominating petitions. He thought his message was resonating with voters of all kinds. But candidates can only collect signatures from members of their own party and independents — people who could vote for that same candidate in the primary.

“I think there’s a lot of changes I would make next time just to be able to go above and beyond in signatures to make sure that my campaign is a little more challenge-proof,” he said.

Reporter Paulina Pineda contributed to this report.

Fontes asks judge to rule vote by video is legal


Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes wants a court to bless the practice he is using that allows some people to cast a ballot by video conference.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Fontes said state law provides for “special election boards” composed of one Republican and one Democrat to assist voters who are confined because of illness or disability. In general, they will go to where someone lives and help that person fill out the ballot.

But Fontes said the COVID-19 outbreak and public health restrictions may keep board members from entering these facilities. So he has developed — and used in the August primary — a system that uses video technology.

“Unfortunately, Gov. Doug Ducey has taken the erroneous position that providing this common-sense assistance to severely disabled voters violates Arizona law and must be suspended immediately,” attorney Mary O’Grady wrote for Fontes. And she noted that the Attorney General’s Office has expressed concerns.

So Fontes wants a judge to declare that what he’s doing is legal.

The ruling will affect more than just Maricopa County.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs already has provided “guidance” to election officials in all 15 counties telling them that she, too, finds the practice to be legal. Whether the other counties are entitled to follow suit is dependent on what a judge concludes.

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said she hasn’t used videos with her special election boards until now.

But Rodriguez said everything has changed with the pandemic. And the election board members have to live with the access rules that the corporations that own these nursing homes and long-term care facilities establish.

“We’re just trying to do our job for a group of citizens that we know it’s going to impact,” she said, saying it is her intent to begin using video for voting in the upcoming election.

The litigation is designed to resolve the issue before early voting begins next month.

No one questions the use of these special election boards. Rodriguez said they go not only to nursing homes and similar facilities but even to private homes where someone needs help filling out a ballot.

Even if someone else is available at the house, she said, the person may not want others to know how she or he is voting. The board members are sworn to secrecy.

Fontes said he got about 10 requests for such help for the August primary for people who could not fill out their own ballots with conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. But they could not receive face-to-face assistance because of the health concerns over COVID-19.

He said he expects more such requests for the general election, with the complicating factor of limited access to care facilities.

The solution, Fontes said, was the option for a video meeting, but only if the person is physically incapable of marking a ballot and there is restricted access. It also involves showing the voter the ballot as voted.

Hobbs followed suit, issuing recommendations for how other counties can do the same thing.

All that blew up on Monday when Ducey wrote to Hobbs, accusing her of facilitating the violation of state laws and directing “these policy changes should be suspended immediately.”

Hobbs disagreed, and Ducey then sought intervention by Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Fontes decided to short-circuit all of that and take the case directly to a judge.

The way Fontes sees it, there’s nothing that radical in the proposal. He pointed out, for example, that Republican Bob Corbin, as attorney general in 1985, said it was acceptable to use videoconferences for hearings for parole hearings despite requirements for these to be held in person.

“The use of video technology to communicate from a nearby room is little different than communicating with a person through a window,” O’Grady wrote on his behalf. “And nothing in the statute spells out that the special election board and the voter will be in the same room.”

Ducey is not convinced. Press aide Patrick Ptak said the governor still considers the procedure both illegal and unnecessary.

“Our executive orders ensure that these special election boards will have access into these facilities,” he said. Ptak said that the state has provided money, personal protective devices and COVID-19 testing “to ensure these boards can do their job, and do it safely.”

Fontes said that’s not the answer.

“We figured out a way to keep not only the people in the facilities but the people who are working in the facilities and our workers more safe and administer ballots well,” he said. “What’s the problem there?”


Former Nogales mayor announces bid for governor

Republicans GOP Democrats politics parties

Former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez launched his bid for governor with a request to “join us” — and a highly partisan jab at Republicans.

Lopez, 42, currently the president of Internmestic Partners, becomes the first entry into what is expected to be a crowded race. Incumbent Doug Ducey has to leave office at the end of 2022 due to term limits.

He told Capitol Media Services that his experience, in local, state and national government and, more recently, as a business owner, makes him uniquely suited to become the state’s next chief executive.

“The last nine years I’ve spent creating jobs in the private sector,” Lopez said. He said average Arizonans are worried about the next 10 years.

“And politicians, unfortunately, focus on four years and the next election cycle,” Lopez said.

But he is much more specific in his attacks on the people who are now running the state.

In polished videos in English and Spanish shows Gov. Doug Ducey sitting down with President Trump at a photo op at the White House where the president touted the amount of federal cash going to the state for Covid relief.

Marco Lopez
Marco Lopez

“Let’s face it: State leaders failed us even as the coronavirus cost us lives and hammered our economy,” Lopez said.

And he was even less charitable about his feelings about the Republican-controlled legislature.

“Our legislature is run by extremists, promoting bizarre conspiracy theories instead of actually getting things done for you,” Lopez said in his video.

The slap, he said, was intentional.

“You know there’s people who still refuse to acknowledge the election results were fair and balanced,” Lopez said.

“Arizonans have moved on and are now worried how to get their kids to school and what jobs they’re going to have available after this pandemic eases up,” he continued. “They’re not worried about what’s happening there at the Capitol with all these conspiracy theories.”

Lopez said he has long roots in Santa Cruz County where his parents had lived for years.

But he actually was born across the border in Nogales, Sonora.

“On the day that I was ready to be born, my mom went from our homes in Nogales, Ariz., crossed into Nogales, Son., gave birth to me in a private clinic there that was the same place that my older sister was born in,” Lopez explained. “And the next day I was back home.”

But being born in Mexico — and with his parents having only status as permanent legal residents — he had to get naturalized in 1996.

At age 22, Lopez was elected mayor of Nogales where he grew up.

He left that job after then-Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed him in 2003 to head the Arizona-Mexico Commission, later going on to be director of the Arizona Department of Commerce.

When Napolitano resigned to become director of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration she took Lopez along where he became chief of staff of Customs and Border Protection.

But his political experience goes back even farther, to when he was part of the advance team when Al Gore was running for president in 2000.

Lopez, now 42, founded Intermestic Partners in 2011. He said it works with “companies that are looking to invest and grow in the U.S.”

He also is an advisor to Carlos Slim and the foundation that operates in the name of the Mexican billionaire which is involved in providing broadband access to homes. He said that the foundation is on target for connecting 890,000 households throughout the country, including about 11,000 in Arizona.

One issue for all candidates, including Lopez, is going to be funding. It took Ducey as an incumbent more than $12 million to get re-elected in 2018, including $8 million funneled into the campaign by the Republican Governors Association.

Lopez declined to detail his budget but said he intends to seek donations rather than try to self-fund his campaign. But he also acknowledged he does not have high name ID in Arizona, saying he hopes to boost that by talking with voters throughout the state

No one else has formally announced for the post that Ducey has to vacate at the end of 2022 due to term limits.

Other possible Democrat contenders include Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Greg Stanton, a former Phoenix mayor now serving in Congress.

Potential Republican contenders including Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Treasurer Kimberly Yee, developer Karrin Taylor Robson, Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri, and Kirk Adams, a former chief of staff for Ducey.

But the situation is more complicated for Republicans.

First, they also need to field someone to run that year against newly elected Sen. Mark Kelly. The Democrat is completing the last two years of the term that originally belonged to John McCain and will have to seek his own six-year term at that point.

Second, the party has to decide whether to endorse a traditional business-friendly Republican like Ducey or find someone more aligned with Trump who has promised to take an active role in endorsing candidates in Republican primaries in 2022.



Gaynor concedes SOS race as remaining votes dwindle

Sen. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)

Steve Gaynor finally conceded late Friday he isn’t going to be secretary of state.

In a Twitter post, the Republican contender said he called Democrat Katie Hobbs to congratulate her for winning the race.

But by that point Gaynor was simply admitting what was already obvious to others — including Gov. Doug Ducey, who said hours earlier he already had reached out to Hobbs after concluding there is no way his fellow Republican is going to be secretary of state.

“I said, ‘Congratulations, a race well run, and I’m looking forward to working with you, I think we can work well together,’ ” the governor said.

Ducey’s decision to effectively call the race for Hobbs, currently the Senate minority leader, came even before the vote tally released Friday night showed her increasing her lead over Gaynor since Thursday by close to 2,000. She now leads the race by more than 15,000 votes out nearly 2.3 million ballots already counted.

There were only about 67,000 ballots left to be counted.

That includes 60,000 from Maricopa County where Hobbs is slightly outpolling Gaynor. The balance are from Pima County which has provided three votes for Hobbs for every two for Gaynor.

As Gaynor’s late-night concession acknowledged, there was virtually no way for him to catch up.

Ducey, in speaking with reporters Friday, said he also is reaching out to other Democrats who won their statewide races against Republicans.

“I’ve spoken with Senator-elect (Kyrsten) Sinema and we’re going to be visiting on Monday,” the governor said. And Ducey said he “left a message for Kathy Hoffman” who won the race for state superintendent of public instruction over Republican Frank Riggs.

“So I’m going to be working with all elected leaders, just like I’m going to be governor of all the people,” he said.



Glassman concedes, Hobbs still leads

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

Republican Justin Olson will be taking the second open spot on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

New vote tallies Wednesday evening put Olson 4,422 votes ahead of fellow Republican Rodney Glassman. And while there are more than 100,000 votes yet to be counted, Glassman told Capitol Media Services he had no reason to believe he could make up the difference.

“On election night I was 4,000 votes behind Justin,” he said.

“Ten days later I’m still about 4,000 votes behind,” Glassman continued. “I have no reason to believe that there’s going to be any substantial changes.”

Glassman’s concession formally means that the commission, now an all-Republican affair, will have one Democrat. Sandra Kennedy, who had served on the commission between 2009 and 2012, was outpolling both of the Republicans.

In other results Wednesday, Democrat Katie Hobbs is making headway in her bid to be the next secretary of state, with her lead over Republican Steve Gaynor up by more than 1,000 from a day earlier. It now stands at 6,115 votes.

Hobbs is being propelled in part by the fact that voters in Maricopa County, where Republicans hold a voter-registration edge, were choosing her over the GOP nominee. As of Wednesday, Hobbs had a lead of more than 13,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million already counted in the state’s largest county.

She also picked up steam with another batch of votes from Coconino County where she is outpolling Gaynor by a margin of 2-1.

Gaynor has done better elsewhere.

Mohave County finished its vote counting on Wednesday, with 51,900 votes for Gaynor against just 18,774 for Hobbs.

In Navajo County, the final tally was closer, with Gaynor picking up 19,040 of the 35,970 votes cast there for that office.

But it’s not the votes that are already known that is keeping the ultimate outcome of the race in the air.

There also are about 19,400 ballots yet to be counted in Pima County. But election officials there have said they don’t intend to update their count until sometime Saturday.

Hobbs, currently a state senator from Phoenix, has been picking up close to three votes in that county for every two for Phoenix businessman Gaynor. But even assuming the remaining votes come in at the same rate — meaning perhaps 11,400 for Hobbs versus 8,000 for Gaynor — the ultimate outcome of the race rests with Maricopa County where Recorder Adrian Fontes said his office still has another 104,000 ballots to process.

To this point, the trend of early ballots now being counted from this county has broken in Hobbs favor, albeit just slightly. The latest tally has Hobbs picking up 50.5 percent of the votes tallied.

But at the processing rate of 20,000 a day, it could be days until either candidate has a sufficient margin to claim victory.

If Hobbs takes the office it will be the first time a Democrat has been in that position since Dick Mahoney, elected in 1990, left office four years later.

But it wasn’t always that Republicans had a lock on the office. In fact the post was occupied by Democrats from 1931 through Mahoney’s term, even through years when Arizona voters were electing Republicans as governor.

Wednesday’s numbers also keep incumbent state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix ahead of Democrat Christine Marsh, though the difference between them now is just 472.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Rodney Glassman conceded. 

GOP candidate who lost in ’18 to run for governor

In this Oct. 18, 2018, photo, GOP Secretary of State candidate Steve Gaynor speaks to supporters at a Make America Great Again campaign really for President Trump at International Response Hangar at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa. Gaynor, lost in the 2018 election to Katie Hobbs, is running for governor in the 2022 election.
In this Oct. 18, 2018, photo, GOP Secretary of State candidate Steve Gaynor speaks to supporters at a Make America Great Again campaign really for President Trump at International Response Hangar at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa. Gaynor, lost in the 2018 election to Katie Hobbs, is running for governor in the 2022 election.

Republicans just got a fifth choice for governor.

Steve Gaynor, who lost a race for secretary of state four years ago to Katie Hobbs, announced Friday he is now going after the top slot on the ballot.

In a prepared statement, Gaynor is seeking to position himself as an outsider who can deal with the problems of securing the border, election integrity, water shortage, public education and critical race theory, “all intensified by a virus from China.”

“Career politicians and political insiders have gotten us into this, but they can’t get us out,” he said, a salvo likely aimed at state Treasurer Kimberly Yee and former Congressman Matt Salmon, who already are in the race.

Gaynor, a Paradise Valley business owner, gained attention four years ago when he defeated incumbent Secretary of State Michele Reagan in the Republican primary. But he narrowly lost the general election to Democrat Katie Hobbs.

His statement had an answer for that. Gaynor claimed that financier George Soros and his “buddies” put $4 million into Hobbs’ campaign. And he claims that all was a part of a plan to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

“As a (Republican) Party, we failed to deal with the threat and now we are paying the price,” he said. “We can’t let that happen again.”

Gaynor did not return messages seeking comment.

In running for secretary of state, Gaynor caused a bit of a stir with comments that ballots should be printed only in English.

He conceded that would require overturning a key portion of the federal Voting Rights Act which requires counties and cities to provide election materials in other languages when there are significant numbers of voters for whom English is not their first language. Hobbs said that Gaynor was seeking ways to suppress minority voting.

Also in the hunt for the GOP nomination is former TV anchor Kari Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.

Democratic contenders include Hobbs as well as Marco Lopez, a former Nogales mayor. Incumbent Republican Doug Ducey is constitutionally precluded from seeking a third term.


GOP candidates lean on Trump, Dems avoid Biden

From left are President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump’s involvement in Arizona politics was a boon to Republicans in the primaries, but Democrats speculate that it will harm the GOP in the upcoming general election.

In the time leading up to the primary election, Trump-endorsed candidates used the former president as a launchpad for funding and recognition. Democrats are not receiving endorsements from President Joe Biden or Democratic former President Barack Obama, but Democratic consultants say that’s the better strategy.

Trump makes frequent trips to Arizona and is possibly on the campaign trail himself. He makes appearances with his endorsees and rakes in contributions from supporters.

Rodd McLeod, a Democratic consultant, said. “Donald Trump is basically trying to help Donald Trump. Yeah. I mean, he goes out and does these events because he raises a lot of money and the candidates aren’t necessarily getting help.”

The “MAGA” strategy of deifying Trump was a success in the primaries, which put almost all of the Trump slate ahead of the other Republicans. But candidates need to impress a different population to win the general.

Democratic consultant Matt Grodsky said. “Primaries are a different game. You’re appealing to your base, especially as the right’s concerned.”

Grodsky explained that because Republicans have better voter registration they can afford to “play with fire” in the primaries, but Democrats would be alienating necessary votes by playing the same game. “They’re not doing big rallies, because all that’s going to do is fire up the Democratic base that’s already with these candidates. Right now, we’re trying to go get that middle of the road voter.”

McLeod said, “I don’t think a Bernie Sanders endorsement is extremely helpful in a general election in Arizona, right? But that doesn’t mean it would be a bad thing to have in a primary when you’re trying to distinguish yourself and stand out.”

Trump endorsees preached a far-right message before the primaries. One candidate called abortion a “demonic” sacrifice although most Arizonans want abortion rights. Universally, Trump’s candidates spread misinformation about election fraud although most Arizonans also don’t believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

McLeod noted that when Trump himself scared moderates away with extreme rhetoric, he lost Arizona.

Grodsky said, “I prefer the Republicans to continue to make that mistake. Because theoretically, their logic makes sense based on the math, but it doesn’t make sense based on the rhetoric. Their message does not resonate with the middle.”

Wary of that outcome, after winning the primaries, some of Trump’s candidates are trying to pivot to a more moderate and accessible stance, either refusing to address their past comments or claiming their views have changed.

Unlike Trump, Biden, Obama and former Republican President George Bush haven’t endorsed anyone in years. Obama did make some endorsements in 2020, but only Trump is regularly endorsing candidates and paying visits to Arizona. Biden is avoiding that now, which Democrat consultant McLeod said is standard practice during the midterms.

McLeod cautioned that Trump’s appearances do not necessarily indicate widespread support. “Republican members of Congress are not excited about having him come to their district unless it’s like, you know, Andy Biggs,” he said.

McLeod said Biden’s involvement would not be “a great play” with the economy doing poorly. McLeod noted that Obama and Trump were unpopular two years into their terms as well.

McLeod compared Trump’s preferred gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and Republican leadership with current Gov. Doug Ducey who was much more successful at collecting moderate votes. “Ducey won four years ago by like 14 points,” McLeod said. “So, you know, I don’t think it’s necessarily a great situation they’ve created for themselves.”

“She’s scared away a lot of voters and there’s a lot of voters who voted for Karrin Taylor Robson and who would not be voting for her,” McLeod said of Lake.

It’s not yet clear whether the Democrat’s old strategy will work. They weren’t successful in the past three gubernatorial elections, and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of state, is by no means expected to win in a landslide victory.

Democrat consultants say that the party’s national groups are supporting Arizona candidates, but they’re doing it by pouring money into Hobbs’ campaign and against Lake’s; not through rallies and endorsements.

Grodsky said, “I think the general consensus is, you know, we’re not going to win this thing with Democratic surrogates, right, you’re going to win it by going up the middle. To go up the middle and to communicate to the middle you need money for paid communications. So, I think that’s the first and most important strategy I do think in terms of raising more money.”

But Democrats aren’t the only ones spending money.

Both sides are giving their all. The Republican Governors Association alone is spending millions against Hobbs.

Candidates on both sides are enjoying the endorsements of a handful of national players like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who recently endorsed Lake and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. who is supporting Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., in his re-election bid. However, former presidents apart from Trump are staying out of the fray.

Obama hasn’t endorsed anyone since 2020. Biden hasn’t endorsed anyone since Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in 2018.



GOP divide spurs call to arms, doxing

In this file photo, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers speaks on a video-chat with a handful of members who planned to vote remotely before the start of an unusual session devoid of members of the public on March 19, 2020. On December 8, 2020, protesters gathered at his Mesa home after people unhappy with his decisions related to the 2020 election posted his home address on social media. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
In this file photo, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers speaks on a video-chat with a handful of members who planned to vote remotely before the start of an unusual session devoid of members of the public on March 19, 2020. On December 8, 2020, protesters gathered at his Mesa home after people unhappy with his decisions related to the 2020 election posted his home address on social media. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

Protesters rallied outside House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ home December 8 and a self-declared candidate for Arizona governor threatened to remove Gov. Doug Ducey through non-legal means this week as intraparty Republican conflict reached new heights of intimidation and innuendo.

The branch of the party that cannot and will not accept the results of the presidential election, led by state party chair Kelli Ward and a small group of GOP lawmakers has grown increasingly desperate as the number of available legal options to reverse Joe Biden’s victory continues to shrink. 

Arizona Republicans and the Trump campaign have brought eight lawsuits in state and federal court and lost seven so far, though Ward vowed to appeal one to the U.S. Supreme Court. Legislative attorneys shut down theories that lawmakers could appoint their own presidential electors, and Ducey, Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann have stonewalled requests to reopen the Legislature for a special session — though Fann authorized a special committee hearing on election fraud for December 11.

With slightly more than a month to go until Biden’s inauguration, elements of the Republican Party turned this week to suggesting that it was time for violence. On December 7, the state Republican Party fired off a pair of tweets advocating violence and encouraging supporters to die for President Donald Trump’s false conspiracy that the election was stolen from him. 

Throughout the week, the party’s official Twitter account continued its onslaught on Ducey and Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. In one of its less aggressive tweets, the party shared a picture of the state’s top two officials from March with the caption “betrayed.” 

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

On December 5, a male nurse who previously accosted a female state senator and Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ appeared to threaten Ducey’s life during a rally at the Capitol. Bryan Masche, flanked on either side by men carrying rifles, said he put out a call to militia groups after he forced his way into the state House the previous week and was arrested on his way home. 

“Doug Ducey will be removed from office,” Masche said. “He will be gone, either through legal means, or, beyond that, it might come down to ‘Plan B.’ We know what it means. I don’t have to tell you what Plan B means. There are people here that know exactly what Plan B means.”

And Rep. Kelly Townsend, the Mesa Republican leading many of the calls to overturn election results, earned national attention for tweeting at Ducey a phrase from the Old Testament that was written by a mysterious hand on a Babylonian king’s wall to inform him that God found him wanting and his kingdom would fall. The biblical king was killed the night he saw that message, leading some to interpret Townsend’s message as a death threat against Ducey.


Townsend did not return phone calls for comment, but tweeted that her use of a biblical message was just intended to show that Ducey has not acted sufficiently by not calling the Legislature back into session. 

Other Republican lawmakers have privately condemned calls to arms, but largely stayed mum publicly. Ducey declined to call out his own party in a tweet he posted December 8, ostensibly responding to the calls to arms.

“The Republican Party is the party of the Constitution and the rule of law,” he tweeted. “We prioritize public safety, law & order, and we respect the law enforcement officers who keep us safe. We don’t burn stuff down. We build things up.” 

One exception to the anti-Ducey gang was Rep. T.J. Shope, the House speaker pro tem from Coolidge. He said he used up his monthly quota of curse words in responding to tweets from the state party.

Shope has been the only outspoken member of the Republican legislative caucus to repeatedly condemn the behavior coming from his peers. In separate tweets, he publicly called the doxing and protests of the House speaker “gross” and “crappy.” 

He told Arizona Capitol Times it’s “not acceptable” to do this to anyone, including to Hobbs, who faced her own doxing and home protests last month, or U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“You shouldn’t have to fear for your safety at your own home,” he said.

Protesters showed up outside Bowers’ Mesa home the evening of December 8, and they were rowdy enough that Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies responded. A Twitter user shared his address and a Republican Phoenix City Council candidate facing a run-off election shared his personal number encouraging people to call and text him. 

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

Incoming House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, was on the phone with Bowers during part of the demonstration outside the speaker’s home. He could hear cars honking in the background, he said. 

That level of protest crosses the line and is “un-American,” Toma said. 

“We don’t do this as Republicans,” he said. “It’s one thing to make your displeasure known to someone in their official capacity – showing up at the Capitol and protesting and whatnot. It’s quite another to try to terrorize their family at their home.”

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, has been among the vocal lawmakers calling to overturn election results. He insists that Donald Trump won the election in Arizona, based on unproven anecdotes about voting machines changing Trump votes to Biden votes and residents who aren’t registered voters receiving multiple ballots. 

But Blackman said the protests outside Bowers’ house and the state party asking if people were willing to die to overturn election results went too far for him. Before being elected to the House in 2018, he served in the army for 21 years, including tours of duty in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“Being a soldier that’s deployed several times to real places where people die, I don’t use that word lightly,” Blackman said. “When people use that word like that, are they using it for showmanship or are they actually prepared to do that?” 

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

Bowers and Ducey are far from the first high-profile Arizona elected officials to receive threats and targeted harassment from people angry about the results of the presidential election. Protesters showed up outside Hobbs’ home in mid-November, after a user on Parler posted her home address and contact information for family members.

Ducey and lawmakers denounced threats made against Hobbs and her family, but argued that there was no connection between the people harassing her and the various unfounded election fraud theories trumpeted by many elected Republicans.

That week, Townsend had resurfaced a 2017 tweet in which Hobbs — then a Democratic state senator — complained about Trump’s refusal to condemn a neo-Nazi who struck and killed a woman with his car during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Separately, more than a dozen lawmakers signed an open letter demanding that Maricopa County redo its hand count audit of ballots because of “growing concerns expressed by voters about the integrity of the ballot counting process.”  

Sen. Paul Boyer, a Glendale Republican who signed that letter, said he doubted the letter had anything to do with harassment of Hobbs. 

“I mean, don’t you think that someone like that is going to do it regardless of whether or not we as a legislative body are asking for an interpretation of the statute that says 2% of precincts rather than voting centers?” he asked. “Someone like that who’s willing to be disgusting, and atrocious, and dox a public official, do they really need an excuse to do that?”

GOP lawmakers ready budget to send to Hobbs

budget Arizona

Legislative Republicans are gearing up to send a budget to Gov. Katie Hobbs soon, which will likely be met with a hasty veto.  

Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said on Monday Republican leadership was going to send a continuation of last year’s budget to keep the government from shutting down “very, very soon.” 

“As for what the governor is going to do, that’s up to her,” Toma said Monday.  

Staff at the governor’s office have indicated Hobbs will not entertain a continuation budget while Republicans have called Hobbs’ proposal “dead on arrival.” Josselyn Berry, a spokeswoman for Hobbs, took a shot at Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, for threatening to sue Hobbs over not promptly sending several new directors for Senate confirmation in a tweet. 

“We’ll be sure to keep an eye out on Twitter for this newest ‘budget,’” Berry said to the Capitol Times. 

Shortly after Hobbs’s staff unveiled the budget proposal to Republican leadership, Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, said Republicans are “prepared for war” with Hobbs.   

“The Republican legislature is not going to be an easy roll. We’re not just going to roll over and give her everything she wants. I don’t want to fight, but I’ll tell you what – I’m not afraid of one either,” Martinez said on Jan. 13.  

Republicans have objected to several items in Hobbs’ budget proposal including the repeal of universal empowered scholarship accounts and a $40 million proposal for tuition assistance to students living here illegally, among other items.  

The decision to send Hobbs a budget this early in the Legislative session is unprecedented. The House canceled its Rules Committee hearing on Monday but Toma said other House business will continue. 

“It was a relatively light rules agenda anyways so in that sense it’s not a very big difference,” Toma said. 

Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said on Tuesday he expects to see budget bills appointed to House Appropriations sometime before the end of the month. Livingston is the chairman of the committee and said members are currently in the process of creating the first drafts of the budget bills, which will then be sent to committee staff for review. 

Senate Pro Tempore T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, wrote in a text to the Capitol Times on Tuesday that he also expects to see budget bills next week.  

Chuck Coughlin, a GOP consultant and the president and CEO of HighGround Public Affairs, said he thought it was smart that Republicans would send a budget proposal to Hobbs this early since the caucus was not fully on board with the majority proposal from last session.  

Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, voted against a Republican skinny budget proposal when he was a state Representative in April 2022 during a House Appropriations hearing. Hoffman, the leader of the Arizona Freedom Caucus, said he preferred a budget that cut spending, and other Republicans felt a similar way. With only a one-member majority in both chambers in 2022, this led to Republican leadership seeking votes from Democrats on the budget in 2022.  

Coughlin said the early budget proposal was a strategy to get the Republican caucus unified on a budget and avoid a situation from last year.  

“You’ve got to give them their day on the floor and show it’s not going to work,” Coughlin said. “Then you can begin to have realistic discussion with your caucus about what another budget is going to look like,” he added. 

Longtime lobbyist Barry Aarons said he couldn’t remember a budget proposal being sent to the governor this early in a session, and said the move was an attempt to establish Republicans’ parameters and negotiate from there — likely up until June 30, he said.  

Aarons said it was possible Hobbs could call a special budget session sometime near the beginning of March like previous governors have.  

“The problem is once she signs a budget, if there’s any remote possibility that she would sign something like this, it’s game over. Then the Legislature can just dally around. They don’t have to worry about getting something done by June 30,” Aarons said. 

But there is value to the nearly guaranteed veto coming to the Republican budget from Hobbs, Coughlin said. 

“She’s going to send a veto letter,” Coughlin said. “Hopefully if that letter is written well, there’ll be a lot of information in there.” 


GOP lawmakers seek to nullify Hobbs in election litigation

From left are Katie Hobbs and Mark Brnovich
From left are Katie Hobbs and Mark Brnovich

Republican lawmakers took the first steps Tuesday to strip Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of some of her powers.

Measures approved by both the House and Senate Appropriations committees would take away her power to defend state election laws and give it to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

It even prevents her from being able to get legal advice from the Attorney General’s Office. And it also would remove her purview over the Capitol Museum located in the historic Capitol.

But they insist it’s not personal, not a power grab and not punishment for her political stance, even as several said how unhappy they are with things she’s done.

It does, however, come as relations between Democrat Hobbs and Republican Brnovich have apparently reached a new low. It was disclosed Tuesday that she has filed more than a dozen complaints against Brnovich and staffers with the State Bar of Arizona, the organization that polices attorney conduct and has the ability to punish those who violate ethical rules.

A spokesman for the Bar said he is legally precluded from providing specifics. And there is no timeline for conducting any investigation and releasing any findings.

But Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the move by Hobbs only adds to why the Republicans in the legislature are moving against her. And he used them to respond to arguments by Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, that the action to remove some her authority was political.

“I don’t know what’s more political than the secretary of state submitting charges against almost the entire upper echelon of the attorney general,” he said.

“I would say the unprecedented attack on the attorney general, the chief deputy and many high-level attorneys is uncalled for,” Leach said. “This is really disconcerting and should be disconcerting to the people of Arizona.”

“She’s the one acting politically,” added Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria.

A spokesman for the State Bar said he can only confirm that a complaint was filed. And neither Hobbs nor Brnovich provided any immediate details.

And with no timeline on how long that inquiry would take, that leaves GOP lawmakers making the moves it can, using the state budget as their tool.

The actions spell out that the attorney general and not the secretary of state has the sole authority to defend the state when election laws are challenged. It also precludes the attorney general from providing any legal advice to the secretary of state, instead giving her $100,000 to hire a single legal adviser.

“This is a more efficient way of doing this,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who chairs the House panel.

But Democrats noted this isn’t a permanent change. Instead, it’s only for the coming state fiscal year. And that means it will expire after Hobbs leaves office in 2023.

Cobb acknowledged that a lot of this has to do with how Hobbs chooses to defend — or not — state statutes being challenged in court.

She said there have been instances where Hobbs and Brnovich have started on the same page, defending the changes enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature.

“And during the litigation, half way through the litigation, she’s decided to go the other direction from the AG’s office, from what they’ve been helping her with,” Cobb said. Then, on top of that, Hobbs is billing the state when she hires outside counsel to make those legal arguments.

And sometimes Hobbs actively opposed what Brnovich was arguing.

That’s the case with the challenge to the 2016 law on “ballot harvesting” where lawmakers voted to make it a felony for someone to take anyone else’s filled-out ballot to a polling place.

Brnovich sought review by the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal appellate court voided the law. But Hobbs urged the justices, who are still considering the matter, to uphold that ruling and void the statute.

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, pointed out that Hobbs, like Brnovich, is elected directly by voters.

“The secretary of state is entitled to her own opinion of the law,” he said, pointing out her role as the state’s chief elections officer. And Friese said if her views differ from that of the attorney general she should be entitled to hire outside counsel.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said there’s more to the move than that.

“I really believe that this is not about policy but politics,” she said. And Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, called it “politically driven.”

It also comes as Hobbs, who is expected to announce a run for governor in the 2022 election, has been vocal about what she considers a “sham audit” of ballots being conducted by Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott.

Republicans are not stopping with the question of election laws.

A separate provision takes away the authority Hobbs now has over the Capitol museum, the parts of the old Capitol building with historic displays. That would now be under the purview of the Legislative Council, essentially legal staff that advises lawmakers and helps draft legislation.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the transfer would ensure that better use can be made of the building by lawmakers. But Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said this appears to be a reaction to the fact that Hobbs in 2019 chose to hang a “gay pride” flag from the balcony of the building.

“Oh, I have an issue with that,” Kavanagh said.

“I don’t think we should politicize government buildings,” he continued. “But that’s not what this is about.”

Cobb agreed, saying the flag incident was “done a long time ago.”

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said he wasn’t buying any of what he saw as excuses by Republicans for what they were doing.

“I learned a long time ago when smart people are saying things that don’t make sense there’s something else going on that’s not being talked about,” he said.

GOP schools platform: parents, curriculum

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake takes the stage at a “Stand for Freedom” rally in Scottsdale on July 5, 2021. Lake and other GOP candidates have embraced a new focus on parent influence at schools and curriculum, pushing their stances ahead of traditional education policy issues like school choice or funding. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/STAR NEWS NETWORK

Earlier this month, Republican candidates in the governor’s race turned up at a school board meeting in Scottsdale.  

In October, a group of Republicans launched what’s effectively a conservative alternative to the Arizona School Boards Association.  

At a policy rollout in November, Democratic governor candidate Katie Hobbs chose her words carefully when she said that parents are needed “partners” in schools. 

Heading into the 2022 governor’s race, the political fault lines surrounding education are moving quickly, with a new focus on parent influence in schools and curriculum items like “critical race theory.” Many Republican candidates are pushing their stances on curriculum ahead of traditional policy questions like school choice and funding for public education. 

“I will stop the ‘woke’ curriculum overtaking our schools, and ensure our kids are given the tools they need to grow and be successful in every phase of life,” states the website for Kari Lake, the GOP primary frontrunner. 

It all amounts to a “pretty large shift” in the conversation about education policy, said Matt Simon, vice president for advocacy and government affairs at Great Leaders, Strong Schools, a pro-school choice group. 

And it has emboldened Republican candidates to emphasize their stances on education, an issue that’s historically been a bigger talking point for Democrats. Chuck Coughlin, a consultant with GOP firm HighGround, told Arizona Capitol Times earlier this month that education is the top issue for Democrats, with immigration the most important for Republicans. 

The candidates might be taking cues from a gubernatorial race across the country. Many analysts think that an eleventh-hour comment by Democrat Terry McAuliffe – “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” – helped Republican Glenn Youngkin beat him in the Virginia governor’s race. 

The conservative message on education ties together a mix of issues ranging from pandemic restrictions on learning to questions about curriculum content. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson speaks with people in attendance at an event hosted by the Defend America Foundation at the Scottsdale Gun Club in Scottsdale on September 11, 2021. Robson other GOP candidates are pushing a new education platform that focuses on parental influence at schools and curriculum ahead of traditional public-school policy issues. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/STAR NEWS NETWORK

“It’s more important than ever that we empower Arizona parents and families at a time when we’ve seen teachers unions locking down schools; a rise of racialized, anti-America curriculum; school board members collecting dossiers on parents; and even the Department of Justice treating concerned moms and dads like domestic terrorists,” GOP candidate Karrin Taylor Robson said in an emailed statement.  

Simon said the pandemic has given parents a new view on education and led to “parents not only wanting to be invested in knowing that their students are achieving, but really being a participant in finding an instructional model that works for their child.” 

Robson and Matt Salmon, another GOP candidate, also mentioned familiar issues like support for school choice and, in Salmon’s case, opposition to the 2020 Proposition 208 tax hike. 

But some in Arizona education policy, particularly on the Democratic side, indicated frustration at the newfound focus on what they see as political issues at the expense of educational aims. 

“I think it’s distracted from what we should really be focusing on,” said David Lujan, a former Democratic legislator who helped organize the Proposition 208 ballot measure. Lujan pointed to high school graduation and third-grade literacy rates as concrete goals that should be the focus of education policy. 

“I think it’s great that parents are involved in the process, but I think they’re becoming almost political fights rather than what’s best for kids,” he said. 

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said districts should address teaching issues if they arise, but the current political environment has led to some ill-advised mixing of two separate things: funding and curriculum.  “It’s not good public policy to be combining those issues,” he said. 

There’s also a question of whether the emerging politics of parental involvement and school curricula are only political winners for Republicans. 

In a statement sent by his campaign, Democratic governor candidate Marco Lopez didn’t directly respond to questions about parent issues, but said the state needs to invest more in education to help drive the state’s economy.  

“Right now we’re almost dead last in the nation when it comes to investing in educating them and that’s simply unacceptable,” Lopez said in the statement. 

But Julie Erfle, a liberal consultant and commentator, said parent involvement schools fits with Democratic values and that parents who are invested in their children’s school might be more willing to agitate for more education funding. To make this messaging work, she said, Democrats need to separate parent participation and skepticism of schoolteachers.  

“You don’t have to embrace parent involvement and then make teachers the bad guy.” 

In her comments at the policy rollout on November 4, Hobbs said, “We absolutely need parents as partners in our education system.” (Hobbs’ and Aaron Lieberman’s campaigns didn’t respond to emails seeking comment for this story). 

Still, Erfle said that increasing funding as a means to improve educational attainment remains a principal goal for Democrats and is their best play for political support.  

“To me, that’s where Democrats should be focusing,” she said. “Do we want more tax cuts for the wealthy, or do we want more money in our classrooms?” 


GOP senators take revenge on Boyer

From left are Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Paul Boyer
From left are Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Paul Boyer

A small group of Senate Republicans on Tuesday sought to punish one of their GOP colleagues for killing their legislation by voting to claw back one of his bills from the House.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, joined with Democrats Tuesday afternoon to kill a bill that could remove about 200,000 inactive voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List. 

Over the past week, Boyer and Senate Democrats have also killed Republican-sponsored measures to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt, ban photo radar and strip the Secretary of State of her authority over the Arizona Capitol Museum. His “no” vote on Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s mail voting SB1069 was the last straw, prompting Ugenti-Rita to call for a vote on getting the House to return a Boyer voucher expansion bill that passed yesterday.

Senate Democrats, initially torn between supporting Boyer in voting with them on election legislation and jumping at any chance to kill a school voucher bill they revile, ultimately voted with Ugenti-Rita and five other Republicans to support the motion.

The House will now receive a message asking that the voucher bill be returned to the Senate, and the full House must vote on that motion. If House members decide against returning the bill, it will proceed through committees as normal. 

House Speaker Rusty Bowers told the Arizona Capitol Times he plans to wait a day or two before holding the vote to see if the Senate will reconsider its reconsideration motion.

Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend, who was confused by the floor events because she was voting by video call in her office, asked for an explanation of the Ugenti-Rita motion after she realized it could be retaliatory.

“I certainly hope we don’t set the practice of retaliation,” she said. “I came here to vote for bills on their merit.” 

At least three of the six Republicans who voted to bring the voucher bill back to the Senate were irritated at Boyer for recent votes against their bills. A single Republican vote against a partisan bill can doom it because of the Senate’s 16-14 margin, and more often than not, Boyer has been that single vote. 

During a Senate transportation and technology committee hearing Monday evening, his “no” vote killed a bill from Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, to ban photo radar and red light cameras in the four remaining Arizona cities that use them. Boyer said he despises red light cameras, but he couldn’t justify removing that tool from cities who don’t have the resources to replace them with law enforcement officers.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, he voted with Democrats on the floor to kill a bill from Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, that would give control of the Arizona Capitol Museum to the Legislature, not the Secretary of State. Legislative Republicans have wanted to seize power over the museum from Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs since she hung LGBTQ pride flags over the old capitol’s balcony in 2019. Boyer said that control should remain with the secretary, regardless of who it is. 

And in a move that infuriated legislative Republicans, prompted an ongoing recall effort and pushed Boyer to relocate his family over death threats, he voted last week to prevent the Senate from potentially arresting Maricopa County’s board of supervisors over a spat about legislative subpoenas and post-election audits.

Boyer said he asked Ugenti-Rita to wait to vote on the election bill because he had questions he wanted answered before he could vote for it, but she moved ahead with the scheduled vote anyway. He said he still doesn’t know why Ugenti-Rita tried to reconsider his voucher bill, but that it’s clear she’s unhappy with him.

“I asked Michelle directly if it was retaliation,” he said. “She swears up and down that it’s not, but she won’t tell me the reason.”

Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said the move surprised him, and he’s waiting to see what the House does.

“I’ve never seen one party use the rules that way to punish another person of their party,” he said. “If it was pretty apparent for Townsend to understand what was going on, then I have to assume everybody knows what’s going on. I don’t know how vindictive the House is to Boyer.”

Two years ago, it was the House — and Townsend herself — who sought to punish Boyer and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, for their refusal to vote for the Republican budget until they secured a vote on a bill to expand legal protections for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Townsend and other House committee chairs were caught on a hot mic during a closed caucus meeting discussing punishing the two by refusing to hear their bills the following year.

Townsend appeared to allude to that incident in her comments to the rest of the Senate on Tuesday, saying she has learned from her mistakes and she wants other senators to learn from them as well. 

“I think we should be ashamed of ourselves,” Townsend said. “I want the record in the journal to show that I have learned from my own past mistakes that as tempting as it might be to do that to each other, this isn’t high school. This is the Arizona state Senate.”

  • Staff writer Nate Brown contributed reporting 

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Sen. Paul Boyer. 


GOP takes another bite at early ballot lawsuit losses

The Trump re-election committee is making a last-ditch effort to keep a new deadline for people to sign their mail-in ballots from taking effect this year.

In new legal filings Wednesday, attorneys for the Donald J. Trump for President organization are asking U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes to stay the order he granted last week giving people who forgot to sign their ballots up to five days after the election to “cure” the problem and guarantee their votes will be counted. They contend Rayes’ ruling was legally incorrect.

More to the point, they want it reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But there is virtually no way for the appellate judges to fully consider the issue before the Nov. 3 general election, which is why they want Rayes to put his order on the shelf, at least for the time being.

It’s not just the president’s allies who want to stop the change. The same attorneys also represent the Arizona Republican Party and the Republican National Committee.

But Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who technically was the one sued, is making no such request. In fact, Hobbs took no position in the complaint by the Arizona Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who charged that voters were being illegally disenfranchised.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Separately Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow rebuffed efforts by the Trump re-election committee and other GOP interests to intercede in another case on early ballots, this one dealing with how quickly they need to be received.

This involves a bid by members of the Navajo Nation to get a court order saying any ballots mailed from reservation addresses should be counted if they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Attorneys for the tribal members say slow mail service on reservations can result in people getting their ballots in the mail on time but not arriving at county by the deadline. The result, they argue, is they are being illegally disenfranchised.

Challengers say they are simply seeking to provide reservation residents the same amount of time as those living elsewhere. But attorneys for Republican interests, including the president’s campaign, are openly suggesting that giving reservation residents additional time to get their votes in and counted “would unquestionably affect the share of votes that candidates in the state of Arizona receive,” effectively suggesting it would affect the outcome of elections — to the detriment of GOP candidates.

Snow’s ruling does not mean challengers win by default when he hears arguments this coming week. The law and the deadline for receipt of ballots is being defended by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Central to the fight in the other case, the one before Rayes, is that Arizona law says the envelopes with early ballots have to be signed if the votes are to be counted.

Election officials already provide an opportunity — right up until 7 p.m. on Election Day — for those who forgot to sign their ballot envelopes to come to county offices. But every year there are several thousands ballots that are not “cured” by the deadline, leaving those envelopes unopened.

Rayes said last week he saw no reason for the hard-and-fast deadline.

“The state has not shown that continuing to implement these existing cure procedures for an additional five business days after an election is likely to impose meaningful administrative burdens on election officials given the relatively small number of ballots at issue,” the judge wrote.

He also noted that the state does allow five days after Election Day to “cure” situations where the signature on the envelope does not match what is on file in county records. Extending that to unsigned envelopes, the judge suggested, is hardly a stretch.

But attorney Patrick Strawbridge who represents the GOP interests, told the judge on Wednesday that the issue is not as clear as he has suggested. He said Rayes’ ruling “raises serious and difficult questions of law in an area where the law is somewhat unclear.”

Beyond that, Strawbridge said while there is a constitutional right to vote, there is no right to vote in any particular way. And he said that requiring early ballots be signed by Election Day imposes no actual burden on voting rights.

“It couldn’t, since in-person voting always remains available,” Strawbridge said.

Potentially more problematic, he argued, is the timing. He said the judge is requiring a last-minute change in election procedures

“This very much has the potential to confuse voters,” Strawbridge wrote. “And as an election draws closer, that risk will increase.”

Assistant Attorney General Michael Catlett raises similar concerns in his own arguments to Rayes asking him to set aside his order, at least for the time being. And he told the judge to ignore arguments that some people whose votes would not be counted this year might be harmed.

Catlett pointed out that Arizona has had an Election Day deadline since 1919.

It is true, he acknowledged, that state lawmakers last year did provide a five-day “cure” period in cases where the signature on the envelope doesn’t match county records.

But Catlett said it was made clear to the Arizona Democratic Party that did not extend to unsigned envelopes. And he said party officials were told last December that Election Day signatures would still be required.

Yet he said challengers waited for another six months to sue.

“Thus, any potential hardship that plaintiffs may suffer from a stay pending appeal is largely self-inflicted,” Catlett wrote.”Little harm, if any, will result from a stay of a deadline that has been in place for decades.”

Rayes gave no indication when he will rule.




GOP, state ask court to keep status quo on ballot order


Attorneys for the state and Republican legislative leaders are asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit by Democrats challenging the way candidates are listed on the ballot.

Attorney Mary O’Grady, representing Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, does not dispute that a 1979 Arizona law spells out that the party whose candidate got more votes in the last gubernatorial election in each county gets to list its candidates first. That means that in 2020 GOP candidates will be listed ahead of Democrats in 11 of the state’s 15 counties.

But in new legal filings from earlier this month, O’Grady told Judge Diane Humetewa, a President Obama appointee, that even if people tend to choose the first person on the ballot, that doesn’t make the system illegal.

“Arizona’s ballot order statute establishes logical, efficient, and manageable rules that determine the order in which candidates’ names appear on a general election ballot,” O’Grady wrote. And she argued that nothing in the law precludes those who have sued – Democrats and Democratic organizations – from voting for the candidates of their choice.

In their lawsuit, the challengers say the statute is illegally “diluting” some people’s votes, citing research which shows that, everything else being equal, people tend to vote for the first candidate on the list.

They said that can be important, citing what is expected to be a tight race for the U.S. Senate.

Republican Martha McSally, appointed to the seat that used to belong to John McCain, faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Mark Kelly. If the law remains in place, McSally will be in the No. 1 position in most counties, including Maricopa where most voters live.

But attorney Kory Langhofer, representing Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, argued that even if there is some such edge for the first position on the ballot – what he said has been dubbed the “donkey vote” – that does not make it an unconstitutional government-imposed burden. Anyway, he told Humetewa, it’s not like ballot order is the only thing that might make people decide how to vote.

“Even assuming that the ‘donkey vote’ exists, and even if it were possible to quantify its precise impact on election outcomes, ballot order is merely one of many cognitive shortcuts that voters employ in their electoral decision-making,” Langhofer wrote. He said there are other studies which show the impact of party label, incumbency, gender, name familiarity and even “religious-ethnic cues apparent from candidate surnames” that may influence voters’ decisions.

O’Grady, in her own arguments, told Humetewa that there are even simpler reasons for the judge to throw out the case.

First, she said, the individuals that sued lack legal standing, as they have suffered no particular harm — other than being unhappy about election results. And she said that does not change even if some voters do lean toward selecting the first candidate listed.

“The lack of an entirely rational electorate is not an injury-in-fact’ necessary to invoke (constitutional) standing,” O’Grady wrote.

She similarly argued that the committees who sued, including the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Priorities USA, a political action committee that backs Democrats, also have not identified any members who are actually harmed. Instead, O’Grady said, the groups are alleging “nothing more than a statistical probability that some of its members might be injured,” an allegation the attorney said is not enough to sue.

But that does not mean such a lawsuit is legally impossible.

“Candidates themselves may have standing to bring the equal protection claim alleged,” O’Grady wrote.

A hearing is set for March.

Much of the focus is on Maricopa County, where unless the law is enjoined, nearly two-thirds of the state population will get ballots with Republicans in top position in every partisan race.

According to the lawsuit, Maricopa voters have favored Republican gubernatorial hopefuls in all but two elections in the nearly 40 years that the ballot order statute has been in place. The only exceptions have been in 1982 when they supported Democrat Bruce Babbitt over Republican Leo Corbet, and in 2006 when Janet Napolitano, seeking a second term, outpolled Republican Len Munsil.

Governor, House, Senate: three political parties?

Arizona’s Legislature and Governor’s Office will go from mainstream Republican control to three separate ideologies.

Control of the Governor’s Office flipped to Democrat, control of the Senate shifted to Republican control that is more in line with former President Donald Trump and control of the House remains relatively the same for the upcoming session.

Republicans kept their majorities in the state House and Senate but did not gain any seats.

In the Legislature’s most recent session, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, controlled the branches of state government. The leaders are from the same sect of establishment Republicans with some middle-of the-road conservative views. Ducey, Bowers and Fann did not work to decertify the results of the 2020 election – although Fann permitted the 2020 Maricopa County election audit – and they support some social justice issues.

Warren Petersen

This year’s elections ousted several “moderate” Republicans in the primaries, including Bowers, in favor of opponents endorsed by Trump, who claims the 2020 election was stolen.

The Trump-endorsees did not perform as well in the general election in statewide races, but the Legislature has more “MAGA” Republicans than ever before. In the Senate, those same Republicans are now in charge. Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, was narrowly elected Senate president on Nov 10. Although Petersen has never said that the 2020 election was stolen, he also never said it was secure and was instrumental in pushing the Senate’s 2020 Maricopa County presidential election audit.

In the House, Petersen’s “running mate” Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, lost the speaker election to establishment Republican Rep. Ben Toma of Peoria.

“Chaplik would be the total MAGA guy,” said attorney Tom Ryan. “And the problem for Toma, the difference in style between him and Petersen is, he’s got a tough row to hoe, especially with some of the MAGA people that did get elected. So, the way I look at it, I think more appropriately is he’s going to be more handicapped than Warren Petersen. Petersen will keep this group together. Toma is gonna’ be herding cats.”

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

Toma and Bowers’ views are closely aligned, and the lawmakers are friendly. So much so that Bowers recused himself from running the House leadership election to avoid accusations of favoritism for Toma. Toma’s win suggests that the House will be run similarly to the past two years.

After House Republicans chose Toma as Speaker-elect, Toma said he doesn’t believe there is a significant difference in how conservative members of his caucus are and members are unified in their goals for the state.

Petersen and Chaplik tried to decertify Arizona’s 2020 election results. Petersen signed onto a resolution supporting “alternative” electors who declared that they were legitimate and worked with other Trump supporters to try to get the former president elected for a second term after he lost to Joe Biden. The actual Arizona electors cast their votes for Biden. Petersen was one of several Republicans who signed the resolution asking Congress to accept the alternative electoral votes instead of the legitimate ones.

Chaplik was not elected at the time, but he concurred on the alternative elector document.

Petersen and the other Republicans were unsuccessful in taking their claims to court.

How onboard Republicans are in unity remains to be seen. Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said “get ready for shitshow round two” as she left the House Republicans leadership meeting.

Liz Harris

Another incoming Republican representative from Chandler, Liz Harris, recently said on a Cause of America podcast that she will refuse to vote on any bills until a new statewide election is held because she thinks Republicans should have performed better in legislative and statewide races. She also criticized Toma and said it wasn’t likely he would let election reform bills pass in the House.

Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said of Harris’ threat, “They wouldn’t have 31 votes anymore. How many more bipartisan budgets do we have to pass before they realize that strategy?”

Harris holds a small lead for the second Legislative District 13 House seat over Republican Julie Willoughby and they are headed for a recount. Rep. Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, has secured the other seat, but Harris said she and Willoughby should be the district’s rightful winners.

Legislative District 4 Rep.-elect Matt Gress said there may be some institutional tension between the House and Senate, but that’s the point of having those two chambers.

“Republicans, we largely agree on a number of these pressing issues,” Gress said. “But I think it’s going to entail a lot of communication so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.”

Candidates Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs fought a bitter race for control of the Governor’s Office. Both candidates were far away from Ducey in their ideologies.

Republican Lake was Trump-endorsed and campaigned against Democrats and establishment Republicans, famously stating that she would drive a “stake through the heart of the McCain machine.”

Hobbs, a Democrat and secretary of state, defends the results of the 2020 election and pulled through by about 17,000 votes out of 2.6 million cast.

The state’s three political units must find a way to work together next session. Hobbs’ priorities of codifying Roe v. Wade and abolishing the aggregate expenditure limit on public school spending will have to get past Petersen. But his priorities will have to pass Hobbs, too. It’s not clear what will or won’t get by Toma.

“Experience matters and really that’s it,” Toma said about the speaker’s working relationship with Gov.-elect Hobbs.

 (File photo)

Democrat Janet Napolitano served as governor of Arizona from 2003-2009 with a Republican Legislature. As governor, Napolitano broke the record for highest number of vetoed bills at 180.

Without Republicans like Bowers, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye, and Rep. Joanne Osborn, R-Goodyear, all of whom have shown a tendency towards being moderate or bipartisan, policy discussions could be much more discordant. There will also be dozens of new lawmakers joining the Legislature who could be anywhere on the spectrum of cooperative to obstinate when it comes to bipartisanship.

Boyer speculated: “I think that House and Senate Republicans are going to be in for a rude awakening because they’re just not used to coming into work” with a Democrat as governor.

Boyer did not run for re-election and was the only Republican who routinely stood in the way of the 2020 presidential election audit. He voted against arresting the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, shut down dozens of Republican election reform bills and worked with Bowie to pass a bipartisan budget in the last session.

Bowie often worked across the aisle and didn’t run for re-election either.

“Actually, I’m optimistic,” Bowie said of the upcoming session. “I think they could get quite a bit done. … Obviously, they might have fights on abortion or more controversial social issues, but most of the work that we do, like 85% of the bills we pass, are pretty non-controversial. So, I think there are some issues where you could see Governor Hobbs and the House and the Senate work together on meaningful policy.” He pointed to water, education and workforce development as bipartisan opportunities.

Matt Gress

Some Republicans, including Matt Gress, also said there’s room for bipartisan solutions to issues Arizonans are facing.

“We have some commonsense policies that I think both Republicans and Democrats should be able to get behind,” Gress said. “I personally want to work in a collaborative way, and I think it’ll just depend on the kind of tone that (Hobbs) wants to set.”

Bowie said he believes there are “still folks there that want to govern.”

“I think T.J. Shope is in that category,” he said. “I think Ken Bennett is in that category. I think David Gowan would be in that category. Not to say that they’re moderate in terms of policy, I just think they’re more moderate in terms of approach, and more pragmatic in terms of approach,” Bowie added.

By that metric, he draws a line between Toma and Petersen. “I think Toma is probably a little more pragmatic in terms of his approach, whereas Peterson is probably a little more ideological,” Bowie said. “I mean, they’re both conservative. But I think it’s more about how they approach the job. Do you want to get things done or do you want to obstruct?”

Boyer said that the difference between the Republican groups is not “establishment” versus “MAGA” because all the Republicans are conservatives. The biggest divisions are over election certification and personality.

“I really think it’s more of a style issue, where Chaplik’s more of a bomb thrower and Toma’s much more about getting things done,” Boyer said. He referred to an argument between Toma and Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek – an alternative elector who says he believes that Biden stole the 2020 election.

Hoffman attempted to push another abortion restricting bill on one of the last days of the session. Toma yelled at Hoffman and accused him of not following the process to introduce a new bill, not getting the votes needed to pass the bill, and not considering that the bill would potentially overlap with existing abortion laws. Toma also emphasized that he is pro-life.

“Toma was like, ‘I’ve done more pro-life legislation that you have.’ It’s just their style is a lot different,” Boyer said.

Consultants expect to see some leveraging on both sides next session.

Teresa Martinez

Hobbs has Democratic priorities like codifying the state’s 15-week abortion ban instead of the more restrictive 1864 near-total abortion ban. But to make that change, she’ll need to support of at least two Republicans. In exchange, the Republicans will likely ask for a conservative favor such as a tax cut.

Incoming Republican House Whip Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, said there’s plenty of room to work with Democrats to ensure the state’s business is taken care of.

“It’s not ‘Thunderdome’ for Pete’s sake, you know, where two men enter and one man leaves,” Martinez said. “We’re going to debate like adults.”

If the two (or three) parties refuse to make trades, then the Legislature is in for a long session that won’t produce any substantive policy.

“It’s not really ideology. It’s more about approach,” Bowie said. “Do you want to build bridges? Or do you just want to throw bombs?”


Group seeks court order to end referendum campaign

An organization that pushes for lower taxes and less government regulation is trying to deny Arizonans the option to decide whether they want to approve or veto the $1.9 billion in tax cuts enacted last month by the Republican-controlled legislature.

In new court filings, attorney Thomas Basile contends that the right of Arizonans to second-guess decisions of the state legislature does not extend to measures “for the support and maintenance of the departments of state government and state institutions.”

Basile, representing the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and Scot Mussi, its president, does not contend in his legal papers that the successful petitions drives would leave the state without the revenues needed to run the government. In fact, if the referenda on the three measures succeed and the tax cuts are canceled, it actually would leave Arizona government with a lot more money than needed to cover anticipated expenses.

But he essentially is arguing to Maricopa County Superior Court Katherine Cooper that is legally irrelevant. Basile urges her to read the constitutional right of people to refer measures to the ballot as precluding a public vote on anything dealing with taxes.

Mussi, in a prepared statement, defended that interpretation.

“All three bills directly provide for the support and maintenance of the state, were key aspects of the state’s budget, and therefore cannot be referred by Invest in Arizona, he said.

Scot Mussi
Scot Mussi

Basile and Mussi want Cooper to not only declare the three ballot measures illegal but also to block Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from accepting any petitions gathered and putting them on the ballot.

His arguments are going to get a fight from Roopali Desai. She represents the Invest in Arizona Committee. That’s the organization that started out as Invest in Education and first got voters to approve Proposition 208 in November imposing a 3.5% surcharge on taxable incomes above $250,000 a year for individuals and $500,000 for married couples.

She said Mussi and Basile are misreading the constitutional restrictions.

“Understandably, if you have the legislature imposing a tax for the purpose of state operations … then it makes good policy sense that you would not be able to refer that,” Desai told Capitol Media Services.

“It’s a completely different fact pattern when you have the elimination or reduction of a tax, which obviously means you cannot make the argument that, ‘Oh, that tax was necessary to operate the state,’ ” Desai continued. “Ironically here, our position is by eliminating these taxes it’s really going to create hardship, not just for education but for many other things.”

At the heart of the fight are three separate measure approved by Republican lawmakers which, taken in total, will enact tax cuts that largely benefit the most wealthy.

One scraps the current graduated income tax rates of 2.59% to 4.5% over the next three years in favor of a flat 2.5% rate.

A second seeks to limit the impact of Proposition 208 on the wealthy by setting an absolute limit of 4.5% on all income taxes, including that 3.5% surcharge.

And a third creates a method for the owners of small businesses to escape the surcharge entirely by creating an entirely new tax category for them.

Roopali Desai
Roopali Desai

Backers need 118,823 valid signatures on each of the three measures by Sept. 28 to place them on “hold” until the November 2022 general election. That’s when voters would get the last word on whether to ratify or reject each of them.

Mussi told Capitol Media Services he rejects any contention that, in seeking to block a public vote on the tax cuts, he is denying voters a say in the process.

“This tax reform package wasn’t adopted by unelected bureaucrats,” he said.

“It was voted on and approved by 90 lawmakers duly elected by the people of the state of Arizona,” Mussi continued. “The tax package was signed by a governor duly elected by the people of the state of Arizona.”

In arguing that the measures can’t be referred to voters, Basile relies on a 1992 ruling by the state Court of Appeals. In that case, the judges, relying on the same constitutional provision he is using here, quashed a referendum to overturn a decision by Greenlee County supervisors to impose a half-cent sales tax.

Desai, however, said that precedent provides no help to Basile because the facts are different. And the main one is that the county was seeking to hike taxes to keep government operating, not to cut them.

That point was underlined by appellate Judge Joseph Livermore who wrote the court’s opinion.

“Permitting referenda on support measures would allow a small percentage of the electorate, in Arizona 5%, effectively to prevent the operation of government,” he wrote, thwarting until at least the next election the decision of a majority of the supervisors to fund “necessary government programs.”

“The functioning of government can be as effectively damaged by the inability to acquire funds as by the inability to spend them,” Livermore wrote.

Desai said there’s another potential flaw in the litigation. She said it’s premature.

She said the question of whether the measures can be placed on the ballot are not ripe to address until after the petitions are turned in and after the secretary of state has verified there are enough signatures. Desai said she doubts that courts would move to block the secretary of state from accepting the petitions before it’s even known whether there will be enough names on them to force an election.

No date has been set for a hearing.






Group sues, alleges slow mail disenfranchises rural, tribal voters

Photo by Farah Eltohamy/Cronkite News
Photo by Farah Eltohamy/Cronkite News

Send a piece of mail — maybe an envelope with a signed ballot — from Teec Nos Pos on the Navajo Nation to the Apache County recorder, and that envelope will go on a six-day, 916.5-mile odyssey around the Southwestern U.S., traveling to Albuquerque, Flagstaff and Phoenix before finally making it to the county recorder’s office in St Johns.

Try it from Dennehotso, a similarly small and remote community in Apache County, and you’re looking at a 10-day one-way trip. Sending mail from Pinon to the Navajo County seat of Holbrook, a two-hour drive, took six days.

But a ballot dropped in the mail in Scottsdale will take less than a day to arrive at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

That disparity in mail deliveries is at the heart of a federal voting rights complaint filed August 26 by Native American voting rights organization Four Directions that alleges that voters on the Navajo Nation don’t have the same access to the ballot as non-Native voters in other parts of Arizona.

“The fact is that two-thirds of people living off the reservation have more time to vote,” said Four Directions co-executive director OJ Semans. “How is that equal? It’s like having a basketball team where one side gets five people and you get two. You’re not gonna win.”

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

State law allows voters to request mail ballots up to 11 days before Election Day — October 23 for the November 3 election. Because of U.S. Postal Service delays, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and county recorders this year are urging voters to mail their ballots back no later than October 27.

Those timelines don’t work out for Navajo voters with limited mail access, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by Four Directions, which has been testing mail delivery to and from remote parts of the Navajo Nation.

“In the community of Dennehotso, which is in Apache County, it takes 10 days for them to vote by mail and that’s one way,” Semans said. “Then, including the return, that’s 20 days, and that’s not even accounting for them saying ‘Hey we got to fill this out, stamp it and get it out.’ That might take two or three more days.”

Many areas on the Navajo Nation don’t have residential mail delivery — residents instead must travel sometimes long distances to pick up mail from a post office or mail center. That’s likely not a daily trip, particularly for residents who don’t have vehicles, adding to a delay in getting and casting mail ballots.

Attorney Michael J. Novotny wrote: “Voting by mail systems rest upon the premise that all citizens have equal mail service, however, hundreds of thousands of rural Americans have non-standard mail service burdened with a range of service limits including irregular service or unreliable service, no residential delivery, excessive distances to post offices or other postal providers with limited hours of operation among other issues,”

Novotny is asking the court to rule that Arizona’s refusal to count ballots from remote tribal lands received after the election is unconstitutional and violates federal law, and to order Hobbs to accept ballots from tribal lands that are postmarked before Election Day until 10 days after the election.

Federal COVID-19 relief funds gave Hobbs $9 million to use for election security, $1.5 million of which was earmarked for ballot drop boxes, mobile early voting sites and paying interpreters on rural and tribal lands.

Adding more ballot drop boxes doesn’t solve the underlying problem of ensuring that Native voters can vote by mail just as non-Native voters are able to, Semans said. And adding the roughly 1,100 drop boxes it would take to make sure Navajo voters don’t have to travel farther than voters in Scottsdale to drop off their ballots would cost far more than Four Directions’ preferred solution: counting postmarked ballots from the Navajo Nation that arrive up to 10 days after Election Day.

Alaska and Maryland already count ballots that arrive within that 10-day period, and several other states accept postmarked ballots that arrive between 48 hours and two weeks after polls close.

Arizona statute sets a hard deadline for mail ballots, which must arrive at the county recorder’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Hobbs defended that deadline in a February lawsuit filed by two voting rights groups, which argued that the 7 p.m. deadline caused voters to waste their presidential preference election votes on “ghost candidates” who dropped out before Election Day but after voters had to mail their ballots.

Through an attorney, Hobbs said at the time that voters were responsible for deciding when and how to cast their ballots.

“For any mailed ballot, there needs to be a deadline for receipt, and somebody may miss it, just as someone may arrive to the polls too late on Election Day to cast a ballot,” she said.

Groups ask court to extend voter registration deadline

Voter Proudly Displays Evidence that He Voted on Election Day in the United States.
Voter Proudly Displays Evidence that He Voted on Election Day in the United States.

Saying the pandemic interfered with the process, two groups want more time to sign up voters for this election.

Legal papers filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix claim the current deadline of October 5 to register does not work this year. That complies with the requirement in Arizona law to close the process 29 days before the general election.

So Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Coalition for Change are asking U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan to set the registration deadline no later than October 27. That is just a week ahead of the vote.

The move could draw opposition from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, if for no other reason than the idea of making major changes in the system so close to the election.

Attorney Zoe Salzman said her clients recognize that. But she said there is ample evidence that the unique conditions this year have put a damper on getting people registered to vote.

She also said that Arizona’s voter registration deadline is one of the most restrictive in the county, saying 37 other states allow people to sign up closer than 29 days before the election. And Salzman said 40% of states permit people to register the same day they vote.

But all that notwithstanding, she pointed out her clients are requesting a change in the registration deadline for this year only. And that may prove more acceptable to a court.

In her pleadings, Salzman said Mi Familia Vota had the goal of registering 30,000 new voters this year. And Arizona Coalition for Change had a target of 25,000.

But all that was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak and, more significant, the various orders by Gov. Doug Ducey in March limiting group gatherings, closing certain businesses and, eventually, issuing a stay-at-home order. While some of this was lifted in May, an explosion of new cases resulted in new restrictions that ran into August.

Others limits remain, however, affecting traditional sites to sign up voters.

“In response to the pandemic and the governor’s orders, the majority of these high-traffic areas, including schools, churches, and community centers, closed at the end of March 2020 and most remain closed to this day,” Salzman wrote. “Even in those high-traffic areas which remained open, such as grocery stores, it was almost impossible for voter registration staffers to register voters while maintaining the physical distancing of at least six feet required by the governor’s orders.”

And she said that same distancing requirement also complicated door-to-door registration efforts.

Salzman said this isn’t a problem of just her clients.

For example, she said, in 2016 – the last presidential election year – 146,214 people registered to vote in Arizona between January and August. This year the figure is 62,565.

A court order extending the deadline, Salzman said, will make a real difference.

She said in the last three weeks alone, with most restrictions lifted, Mi Familia Vota registered 4,500 new voters. That, said Salzman, is in line with the pace before the March closures.

“An extension of the voter registration cutoff would allow plaintiffs to register thousands of new voters before the November election,” she told Logan.

Salzman alleges that the deadline, at least this year, places a “severe burden” on the right to register voters, something she said are “core political rights protected by the First Amendment.” She also is arguing to Logan that the deadline, at least this year, deprives people of their right to vote, violating their due process rights.

She dismissed concerns that pushing the deadline beyond October 5 would cause problems in running the election, pointing out for example, that early voting starts on October 7.

“That means that, as a matter of course, Arizonans can register to vote on October 5, and cast their ballot by voting early just two days later,” Salzman said.

She also said the state allows already registered voters to simultaneously update their address and cast their votes the same day. And Salzman said the use of electronic poll books, instead of the old-style computer printouts, allows for swift and frequent updating of the list with new registrations.




Groups give up on challenge to election law


Groups seeking to put initiatives on the ballot have thrown in the towel in their bid to void a law that can disqualify many otherwise valid signatures.

In a new filing in federal court here, attorney Sarah Gonski dismissed the request she had for Judge Susan Bolton to void the state’s “strikeout law.”

That means the 2014 statute will remain on the books and enforceable at least through this year’s election. It also means that those seeking to quash the initiative drives she represented will be able to use it to try to keep them off the November ballot.

Gonski, speaking for the team of attorneys who represented challengers, told Capitol Media Services she still believes the law is illegal and ultimately would have been struck down.

But she conceded that her efforts to get even a preliminary injunction were rebuffed, first by Bolton and then by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And while that still left open the legal door to proceed to a trial on the merits of the law — eventually — Gonski said that did not make sense.

“One of the unfortunate realities of litigation is that sometimes you have to litigate for years to get what is ultimately the right conclusion,” she said.

“At this point, with this much time and money sunk into this effort, it just didn’t make sense to proceed,” Gonski said. “But that matter remains an open question and we hope that at some point in the future this law will no longer threaten the free-speech rights of Arizonans.”

The end of the case also has political implications.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who as the state’s chief elections officers was named as the defendant, refused to defend the statute. That forced Attorney General Mark Brnovich to intervene. And Brnovich, a Republican, used the opportunity to slap down Democrat Hobbs in a press release, saying this is one of four instances where she did not try to uphold state laws.

All that could play out in 2022 when Hobbs and Brnovich could face off in the race for governor.

The underlying law is simple. It requires those who circulate initiative petitions for money or who are not Arizona residents to first register with the secretary of state’s office.

But the real teeth is that it also requires those people to show up in court if they are subpoenaed.

Foes of some initiatives have used that provision in the past to challenge initiative drives, knowing that if the people do not show — for whatever reason — that all the signatures they gathered are disqualified.

More to the point, that action is automatic, meaning it is legally irrelevant whether the signature itself was valid, whether the signer wants to vote on the measure, and even if the signer were to show up in court to verify the validity of the signature.

That, in turn, has led to the death of some petition drives, including one two years ago which would have put a provision into the Arizona Constitution to ban “dark money” anonymous contributions and require public disclosure of the true source of all funds for both candidate and ballot campaigns.

More immediately, it could affect this year’s elections.

Arizonans for Fair Lending, one of the groups that filed suit, is circulating petitions asking voters to cap interest rates on auto title loans at no more than 36 percent annual interest. Current law allows lenders to charge more than 200 percent.

Backers need 237,645 valid signatures by July 2 to qualify for the ballot.

Their signature-gathering process has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the stay-at-home directive by Gov. Doug Ducey and his orders closing various businesses where would-be signers might otherwise gather.

U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza already has rejected a bid by some initiative drives to be able to gather signatures they need using an existing online system available to candidates. An appeal is pending at the 9th Circuit.

The Arizona Supreme Court has yet to rule on a parallel legal challenge.

Groups settle lawsuit over ballot counting

This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs settled a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation by adopting an elections procedure that allows counties five days to fix early ballots that don’t match signatures on file or are missing signatures. PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz.  PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Arizonans won’t be able to wait until the last minute to drop their early ballots in the mail.

In a deal reached June 18, two groups who challenged the law will not pursue their claim that it is unconstitutional to refuse to count ballots that have not arrived in the mail by 7 p.m. on Election Day. They had asked a federal judge to say that it’s the postmark that counts.

In exchange, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has agreed to do more voter education to help ensure that the ballots do either get mailed in time to meet the deadline or that they are dropped off at polling places.

And Hobbs also is required, under the terms of the deal, to specifically look for ways to “expand early voting opportunities in Hispanic and Latino, Native American and rural communities.” But some of that is contingent on Hobbs, a Democrat, getting the Republican-controlled legislature to provide the funding — or at least authorization to use federal grant money — specifically to reach out to those communities.

Central to the litigation is the wide use of mail ballots, with about 1.9 million votes cast that way in the 2018 election out of about 2.4 million ballots cast.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Attorney Sarah Gonski said people who get early ballots can bring them to a polling location on Election Day. She said that personal drop-off option can be “more time-consuming and burdensome” for rural voters who often live many miles from a drop-off location, as well as Hispanic and Latino voters who she said have difficulty obtaining transportation or leaving work during the hours when county recorders’ offices are open.

The result, Gonski said, is about 90 percent of people who voted with a mail ballot returned it through the U.S. postal service. But if they don’t get them in the mail on time — and it can take days for delivery — the votes don’t get counted.

In 2018, she said, Maricopa County alone rejected 1,535 ballots for arriving late.

She had asked U.S. District Judge Dominic Lanza to declare that any ballot postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day had to be counted if it was received within five business days following.

In signing the settlement, Hobbs denied that the deadline violates any constitutional rights. But the deal not only avoids what could have been a protracted legal battle but also gives her an opportunity — and potentially some funding if lawmakers approve — to do more outreach to ensure that people get their ballots returned in time to be counted.

Some of that is totally within her control as the state’s chief elections officer.

For example, she committed to do more voter outreach in multiple languages, informing people about the early ballot process and the deadlines.

Hobbs told Capitol Media Services that she already was planning to do some of that. The secretary noted that she had asked to conduct this year’s election solely by mail, what with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The legislative response to that was, ‘We think you should let voters know about their options to vote by mail,’ ” Hobbs said. “And that’s what we’re planning to do.

But there’s more in the agreement, including her promise to ask the legislature to let her use her allocation of money from the federal Coronaviruis Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to help counties pay for things like more drop-off boxes for mail ballots in Hispanic, Latino, rural and Native American communities, more early voting locations, and “mobile early voting units.”

“Counties can start early voting 27 days before the election,” Hobbs pointed out. Providing things like curbside voting and secure drop boxes, she said, provides additional opportunities for people to cast ballots “so folks don’t have to rely on the mail.”

Mobile voting, however, is a newer concept.

Hobbs said Pinal County now operates a mobile voting unit, what essentially looks like a food truck, which can be used for everything from registering people to vote to being a secure place to drop a ballot. She said it makes sense for other counties to consider that option in light of the pandemic.

Aneesha McMillan, representing Priorities USA, one of the groups that sued, said her organization considers the settlement a victory even though it did not get what it asked for, meaning moving back the deadline for ballots to be returned.

“The biggest issue for us that we were concerned about it is awareness in the communities that are listed,” she told Capitol Media Services. And McMillan said that “ballot suppression” can take many forms, including keeping certain communities from being informed of their options, especially in a language that they are most familiar.

The plaintiffs also got something else that could help them in a future challenge.

Hobbs agreed to study how many votes were not counted in the past three elections because they missed the deadline as well as the “feasibility of implementing a postmark deadline.” That includes a requirement to see how other states have successfully moved to such a deadline.

Gonski, in filing suit, said there are public policy reasons to give people until Election Day to drop their ballots in the mail.

She cited the 2016 presidential preference primary where more than 72,000 Republicans cast a ballot saying they wanted Marco Rubio to be the GOP nominee. Only thing was that he quit the race days before, Gonski said, meaning all those were votes for “a ghost candidate.”

Gubernatorial candidates tout drought plans

Water flows through this canal Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Laveen, Ariz. Central Arizona has been booming — more people, more houses, more need for water. There’s also a long-term drought, and less water to buy from the Central Arizona Project canal system. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As election season heats up, politicians and activists are voicing their opinions on how elected officials can work together toward a solution to the drought plaguing the state.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake says she is committed to a three-step plan to tackle the drought, according to a spokesperson. This plan includes conservation, water swaps and leases, as well as managing current resources. She said she plans to increase the storage capacity of the Salt and Verde rivers, lining and covering canals, creating more wells to better capture groundwater and building desalination facilities for brackish water.

As for long term solutions, Lake says she plans to seek a new, sustainable source of fresh water. Her spokesperson said Lake is “committed to exploring every possible opportunity to do so and pushing to secure unified action with our federal, state and international partners.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, the current secretary of state, laid out a multi-step plan on how she would resolve the drought. This plan is called Resilient Arizona.

“The water crisis we’re facing today is the result of years of elected leaders kicking the can down the road, and now requires immediate and discerning action from Arizona’s next governor,” Hobbs’ spokesperson said.

Hobbs has said she plans to create a task force of experts, which she plans to call the Water and Energy Innovation Initiative. She also has said she plans to modernize the Arizona Groundwater Management Act, which was passed in 1980. In doing this she said she hopes to improve water access to rural communities by creating locally tailored water conservation and management programs. These programs would be state funded and supported.

Hobbs also said she plans to expand water reuse efforts in Arizona. She said she wants to utilize the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) to expand water reuse in the state. She said she will give grants to Arizonans to help them utilize these reuse efforts. Finally, she says she plans to utilize “tens of millions of dollars” from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to ensure water is clean and safe to consume.

The Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter in Arizona works to protect national parks, forests, wildlife habitats and bodies of water, including tackling the drought.

Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr said she prefers the term aridity to drought, because drought implies a temporary issue. Bahr predicts that Arizona’s dry conditions will be a permanent issue. She said droughts, flooding and wildfires are caused by climate change. Bahr called climate change a public health emergency that will make living in Arizona more expensive and more deadly for humans and wildlife.

She encouraged residents to “embrace the desert lifestyle,” saying acres of green turf are not sustainable in the Sonoran Desert. Bahr also encouraged Arizonans to urge their local members of Congress to focus on advocating for water conservation.

“We’ve seen the number of Republicans who are advocating for environmental protection take a dive,” she said. “At the Arizona Legislature, you can’t get a climate bill heard, let alone passed, and then the only ones that pass are the ones … where they don’t talk about climate change.”

Though Bahr’s hopes of getting Republicans to support action against climate change have dwindled, conservative environmentalists are beginning to take a stand. The Western Way, an organization that describes itself as “conservative stewards of the western environment,” aims to convince people of all political backgrounds about the environmental benefits of sustainability. The Western Way hopes to see Democrats and Republicans working together on environmental related policies.




Hobbs alleges Goldwater illegally lobbies at Legislature


Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs alleges The Goldwater Institute is illegally lobbying and wants Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate his former employer. 

Hobbs’ Office says several Goldwater employees are acting as lobbyists without registering as such, a claim Goldwater had previously denied. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank, has long claimed it doesn’t need to register its employees as lobbyists who regularly testify at the state Legislature.

Lobbyists also cannot register themselves.  

The think tank currently has one registered lobbyist in Jenna Bentley, and argues that Jon Riches, the director of national litigation and general counsel, and Christina Sandefur, the executive vice president, aren’t acting as lobbyists when they regularly advocate for or against legislation at the Capitol on Goldwater Institute’s behalf. 

This fight began to brew in 2010. After years of the organization contending it only provides “technical information,” and therefore doesn’t need to register any lobbyists, the Goldwater Institute registered one lobbyist . Before registering its single lobbyist, Goldwater would often sign in as “neutral” on legislation, though its employees’ testimony rarely left any question as to where the organization stood on a given issue. 

The issue came up again in 2013, when then-Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake said the lobbying loopholes are so big that “you could drive a truck through them.”

In February, HighGround Public Affairs’ Chuck Coughlin resparked the debate after the two organizations found themselves at loggerheads over the Phoenix rideshare fee. Coughlin penned a blog post saying Goldwater “looks like an elephant but acts like a snake.” Hobbs’ Office began to look into the complaint then. 

In one instance, Bentley tweeted a picture of Riches testifying this year with the caption indicating he was testifying on behalf of Goldwater, HighGround general counsel Jeff Kros wrote to Hobbs in February. 

Coughlin filed the complaint to Hobbs, a Democrat, hoping her administration would take the issue more seriously than past administrations. The two previous secretaries were Michele Reagan and Ken Bennett, both Republicans. 

Goldwater Institute replied, arguing its other employees don’t meet the statutory definition of “lobbyists for compensation” or “authorized lobbyists,” that their testimony meets is technical in nature and therefore exempt and that requiring registration would infringe upon its freedom of expression. 

In a July 7 letter to Brnovich, Elections Director Bo Dul wasn’t buying that explanation, saying there’s reasonable cause to believe Goldwater Institute must register additional employees as lobbyists. She asked Brnovich, who previously worked at Goldwater years before becoming attorney general in 2015, to investigate the organization for breaking lobbyist registration laws. The Attorney General’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment. 

This year, Riches and Sandefur both testified for SB 1554 — a short-term rental bill sponsored by Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix — and while they signed in as representing themselves, they were clearly doing Goldwater Institute’s business, Dul said.

She said that during their testimony, the duo repeatedly mentioned their Goldwater Institute titles and used terms like “we” believe or “our” position. Yet the think tank maintained the duo aren’t employed to lobby, and therefore aren’t lobbyists, which Dul called a “circular definition” of lobbyist.

“This interpretation would produce the absurd result that no principal is ever legally obligated to list a lobbyist for compensation or authorized lobbyist under [state law] unless the principal has already chosen to list that person as a lobbyist in its registration,” Dul wrote. 

“We bring this to your attention because it seems the Goldwater Institute feels they are above the laws that all other lobbyists and lobbying entities are subject. This is unfair and brings disrepute into the legislative process,” Kros wrote.

In an email to the Yellow Sheet Report, Goldwater Institute said it disagrees with Hobbs’ decision, and that while it sometimes engages in policy debates, its employees spend the bulk of their time litigating. 

“We have one employee who lobbies for Goldwater, and she is registered. On rare occasions, other staffers come to the Capitol at her request to provide expert testimony, but they are not lobbyists. And, of course, none of these employees are making lobbying expenditures, which is the primary purpose of the lobbying registration statutes,” the organization said.

Besides Bentley, Riches and Sandefur, Goldwater employees who signed in to support or oppose legislation this year include Director of Education Policy Matt Beienburg, Senior Fellow Jim Manley, Senior Attorney Matt Miller, Senior Fellow Jim Rounds and Visiting Fellow Jeff Singer. 

Yellow Sheet Report editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this story. 

Hobbs asks court to dismiss challenge to 2014 election law


Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is urging a federal judge to throw out a challenge to a law that could make it more difficult for groups to put initiatives on the ballot.

In new legal filings, attorneys for Hobbs are defending a 2014 law which says that if petition circulators do not show up in court then all the signatures they gathered will not be counted, regardless of whether it turns out they actually were valid. Hobbs said the law serves a legitimate state purpose and does not unduly burden the right to circulate petitions or to vote.

Hobbs also brushed aside arguments that the law violates the First Amendment by making it less likely that initiatives will qualify for the ballot.

“The First Amendment does not mandate that ballot access be easy,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Joseph La Rue who is defending her and her office.

“There is no first Amendment right to place an initiative on the ballot,” he argued in the new legal papers to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton. “The fact that a regulation makes it less likely that initiatives will be enacted is therefore not constitutionally determinative.”

The 2014 law, which passed without significant debate – and which Hobbs voted for as a state senator – spells out that paid circulators and those who do not live in Arizona must first register with the secretary of state or their signatures collected do not count.

More significant, it allows those trying to keep a measure off the ballot to subpoena those circulators. And if any circulator who has to register does not show up, then all the signatures that person gathered can be struck, potentially leaving the petition drive short of its goal.

Attorney Sarah Gonski represents several individuals and groups that have been involved in prior ballot measures. One of the plaintiffs is Jessica Miracle, a paid petition circulator on the 2018 proposal to impose new renewable energy mandates on utilities.

Subpoenaed by foes of the measure, the lawsuit says Miracle could not attend because her children were sick, she did not have her own transportation to Phoenix, and no one would tell her clearly how many days she would need to be in Phoenix. The result, according to Gonski, was all of the 2,604 signatures Miracle gathered were invalidated.

The measure still made the ballot but was defeated.

Hobbs, in the new legal filings through her attorneys, said the 2014 law is simply an extension of existing laws designed to protect the integrity of the initiative process.

For example, La Rue wrote, one requires a circulator to personally witness each signature.

“This requirement discourages those signing petitions from forging other electors’ signatures on petition sheets,” the legal papers state. Similarly, he cited the provision that says circulators must be qualified to register to vote in Arizona, meaning they cannot be felons unless their civil rights were restored.

“This helps ensure circulators have not been convicted of crimes that might call into question their trustworthiness,” La Rue wrote.

All of that, he said, goes to the nature of the 2014 law which requires Hobbs to remove signatures collected by circulators who have not complied with subpoenas.

“This assists the secretary in fulfilling her statutory duty to uphold the integrity of the initiative process for everyone by only certifying for the ballot those initiatives that have fully complied with applicable legal requirements and gathered sufficient signatures,” La Rue argued.

A spokeswoman for Hobbs said the secretary “has an obligation to enforce and defend duly enacted state law in good faith” but declined to comment on the specifics of the law or the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first challenge to the requirement.

A separate lawsuit was brought in state court by attorneys for the 2018 “Outlaw Dirty Money” campaign after a trial judge ruled there were no longer enough valid signatures after several petitions were disallowed due to the failure of circulators to show up. Attorney Kim Demarchi argued in that lawsuit that signatures should be tossed only when there is a “valid objection” to the circulator or the “need for a circulator’s testimony.”

But Supreme Court Justice John Lopez, writing for the unanimous court, said the constitutional right of people to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments “is, and must be, subject to reasonable regulation.” And Lopez said requiring circulators to appear in court – and tossing their signatures if they do not show – “furthers the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of signature gathering by reasonable means.”

No date has been set for a hearing on the latest federal court lawsuit.

Hobbs asks high court to decline ‘ballot harvesting’ case

From left are Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Mark Brnovich
From left are Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Mark Brnovich

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to spurn a request by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to defend Arizona’s ban on “ballot harvesting.”

In legal papers filed with the nation’s high court, Hobbs said the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals got it right when it concluded that the law, approved by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2016, was adopted at least in part to discourage minority voting. She also noted the appellate judges found that it does, in fact, have a disproportionate effect on the ability of minorities to cast a ballot.

But attorney Jessica Ring Amunson, representing the Democrat secretary of state, told the justices that there’s an even more basic reason they should send Brnovich packing.

Amunson said it was the secretary of state’s office that had been sued, years ago, before Hobbs held the office. And she said that means it is Hobbs, the current holder of the office, who decides whether to appeal that 9th Circuit ruling.

In this case, Hobbs said she believes the judges got it right, not only in voiding the ballot harvesting law but also in concluding that challengers were correct in demanding that votes should be counted, even if cast in the wrong precinct.

“The attorney general cannot maintain a lawsuit in the guise of an appeal by himself or the state that he could not maintain directly on behalf of the secretary,” Amunson wrote.

An American flag waves in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
An American flag waves in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The legal filing is more than a philosophical dispute between Hobbs and Brnovich. It is the latest in what has become open hostility between the two about what election laws are legal and defensible.

And it has political implications.

They are the top statewide officeholders within their respective parties other than Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. And with Ducey unable to seek a third term in 2022, that potentially pits each of them against the other in the gubernatorial race.

Politics aside, the fight is over two issues related to how elections are conducted in Arizona.

The first is that 2016 law, HB 2023, that made it a crime for anyone to retrieve someone else’s already voted early ballot for delivery to polling stations. Republicans said it created the potential for fraud.

But the 9th Circuit said there was no such evidence. More to the point, the judges said the law was more likely to affect minority voters who did not have reliable mail service and were more dependent on civic and political groups to get their ballots delivered on time to be counted.

The second surrounds the fact that some people show up at the wrong polling place on Election Day.

Challengers, led by the Democratic National Committee, said their votes for offices that were listed on what would have been the ballot at the correct polling place — like statewide races for Congress and governor — should be counted.

Here, too, the appellate judges found this was more likely to affect minorities as polling places were more often changed from election to election in the areas they live.

Anyway, Hobbs said, there is nothing in state law precludes counting of out-of-precinct votes. What it is, she said, is a matter of policy put into the Election Manual by the secretary of state — in this case, her Republican predecessor Michelle Reagan.

That, said Hobbs, allows her to conclude — as did the challengers and the 9th Circuit — that the ban on counting out-of-precinct votes is “discriminatory and unjustifiable,” meaning she can change it unless or until the legislature rules otherwise.

“Arizona law grants the secretary discretion to choose between permissible alternatives for counting ballots when promulgating the (Election) Manual,” she argued.

And Hobbs also pointed out that, even under the current system, some counties already operate “voting centers” where anyone from anywhere in the county can cast a ballot.

But a key to her arguments is the question of who gets to decide whether to appeal a ruling that went against the secretary of state’s office.

“Secretary Hobbs — the official charge under state law with asserting the state’s interest in elections — has no interest in keeping the out-of-precinct policy or HB 2023 for future elections,” her attorney wrote. Therefore, she said the justices should ignore the request by Brnovich to review the 9th Circuit ruling.

Hobbs is not battling just Brnovich in trying to convince the nation’s high court to leave the 9th Circuit ruling intact.

The Arizona Republican Party filed its own legal papers asking the justices to take up the issue. Attorneys for the GOP said it was wrong of the appellate court to conclude that the ban on ballot harvesting was illegal and that votes not cast in the right precinct should be counted simply because they had a disparate effect on minorities.

But the arguments also acknowledged that any change ordered by a court in election procedures based on claims that it would be helpful to minorities could be bad for Republican candidates.

“If this decision is allowed to stand, the federal courts will become instruments of an aggressive campaign to dramatically reshape American democracy to favor one political party,” wrote attorney Michael Carvin.

But Hobbs told the justices to simply ignore what the GOP was saying. She said they lack legal standing to appeal the 9th Circuit ruling “because they were not ordered to do or refrain from doing anything.”


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

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

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

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

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

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During one debate they cited the 2012 congressional race.

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

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