‘Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?’

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, tries to speak above the heckling crowd at “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix. Ugenti-Rita spoke for only 75 seconds before she exited the stage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, tries to speak above the heckling crowd at “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Ugenti-Rita spoke for only 75 seconds before she exited the stage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Not even five seconds into her speech at a rally to support former-President Trump and his agenda is when the boos and catcalls began for Arizona State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.  

She lasted at the podium for 75 seconds before she hustled off stage like a comedian who had bombed her set. 

The event, hosted by Turning Point Action – the fundraising arm of pro-Trump organization Turning Point USA – took place at Arizona Federal Theatre in downtown Phoenix on July 24, and all Republican candidates for the governor, secretary of state and U.S. Senate races were invited to speak. 

The crowd’s treatment of her raised the question of whether the Arizona Republican Party is doomed in the 2022 general election if this crowd was going to turn on one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state, someone who has passed more bills to tighten election laws than practically anybody else. 

Ugenti-Rita was one of two Republican candidates for the chief election officer job who showed up. Two others did not attend. The event surrounded the topic of election integrity – something Ugenti-Rita has built a career on over the course of a decade in politics. 

Ugenti-Rita’s record includes things conservatives have boasted about. She wrote the bill to ban ballot harvesting that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of on July 1. She also passed a bill this year to revamp the state’s early voting list, changing it from being permanent and laying out a process to remove registered voters who don’t return their ballot by mail. 

The indoor venue, formerly called Comerica Theatre, has a great sound that carries through the 5,000-seat auditorium, but during its usual concerts, the sound is coming from the stage, not the audience. 

Before she left the stage, Ugenti-Rita barely got through two full sentences as the heckling and hollering drowned her out and she shouted: “Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?” 

Two Republicans deeply tied within the grassroots of the state party were critical of the crowd’s treatment of her. 

Kathy Petsas
Kathy Petsas

Kathy Petsas is the Republican chairman of Legislative District 28 – one of Arizona’s strongest swing districts that houses some of the most prominent politicians in the state.  

She told Arizona Capitol Times she doesn’t agree with Ugenti-Rita on most issues, but that it was a “shame” nobody came to her defense to let her speak. 

“Ugenti-Rita deserved every right and every respect and courtesy to provide her message and it was a shame that party leadership like Kelli [Ward] didn’t speak up for her to say she deserves the right to speak,” Petsas said.  

She added that Ward, the two-time controversial chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, stood up for Daniel McCarthy, the failed U.S. Senate candidate in 2020 who was incredibly critical of Ward, during the state party meeting in January, but she didn’t extend the same courtesy to Ugenti-Rita. 

“If the party wants to win general elections, then they have a responsibility to allow all their candidates the platform,” Petsas said. “I don’t know that she’s the person I’m going to end up voting for. Maybe she is, but she sure did have every right to be there and speak.” 

Petsas said if there’s a candidate like Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley or Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, up against one of the Democrats for secretary of state, there’s a good chance Republican voters will not vote for that race rather than vote across party lines like what happened in Arizona in 2018 and 2020 on the top of the ticket. 

“If you don’t like either, all of a sudden you’ve got 75,000 Republicans who don’t vote,” she said.  

Nearly 36,000 people “undervoted” for the U.S. Senate race in 2020. 

Trey Terry
Trey Terry

Trey Terry, a Republican member on the Agua Fria School Board and a state committeeman in Legislative District 13, didn’t go as far as Petsas, but said it depends on how much longer Republicans are talking about the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election.  

“When it comes to a general election, this mindset that we saw at the rally is disastrous for Republicans moving forward,” Terry said. “Republicans in Arizona need conservatives like Ugenti, [House Speaker Rusty] Bowers, [County Supervisor Clint] Hickman, [Maricopa County Recorder Stephen] Richer, etc., if we want any chance at winning statewide or competitive elections.”  

He said winning a Republican primary is easier from what was seen at the rally, but general elections need independent voters to win statewide. Republicans far-and-wide have been appealing to Trump in hopes to win competitive races among their party.  

“Mark Finchem participated in the January 6 riot,” Terry said. “He would get crushed in a statewide general election. I think Shawnna is in a better position, but we just don’t know. I think if Republicans are still talking about this audit and the 2020 election in the 2022 general election, we are going to get crushed. If we are able to put this audit behind us and learn from our mistakes in 2020, there is a lot of history showing that Republicans can have a very good year.” 

Petsas said the crowd, which seemed to support another potential Trump presidency in 2024, would be better off supporting someone like Ugenti-Rita. 

“[She] is a legitimate conservative, with bona fides to prove it, which is a lot more than I can say for Trump,” she said. 

It’s believed that the boos for Ugenti-Rita were because she wouldn’t hear election bills from Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction. Ugenti-Rita, who chairs the Senate Government Committee with Townsend as vice chair, repeatedly said throughout the session that the bills were bad. 

“There is no shame in voting against something that is bad policy,” Petsas said, adding that it’s still no reason to boo her off the stage before she can lay out her platform. 

Terry said Ugenti-Rita has been the most effective legislator over the past decade when it comes to conservative changes on election integrity, but she could be criticized on other issues and he doesn’t support her candidacy or anyone else in that race.  

“But to criticize her on alleged unwillingness to ‘support election integrity measures’ or whatever, is intellectually deranged.” 

Ugenti-Rita in turn went home to immediately criticize the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election for the first time publicly and took a swipe at Senate President Karen Fann for her leadership, two moves that could hurt her chances in the race, which is still more than one year out.  

“I’ll put my record of fighting for election integrity up against anyone. What I won’t do is vote for ‘show’ legislation that does nothing to strengthen election integrity and introduced for self serving reasons,” she wrote in a Twitter thread immediately after the rally. 


4 Republican lawmakers line up for race to run House

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)
Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

At least one candidate for speaker of the House hopes the crowded race plays to his advantage.

Up until the August 28 primary election, the speaker’s race appeared to be a two-way contest between Reps. Darin Mitchell and Rusty Bowers.

But with Mitchell’s defeat in the primary, several other candidates have declared their intentions to run for the chamber’s top position.

Republican lawmakers will meet right after the general election to elect the new speaker and other leaders. Democrats will also meet to elect their leadership team.

The speaker’s race is now shaping up to be a four-way contest. Bowers, who previously served as majority leader in the Senate in the late 1990s and helped lead budget and water policy discussions this session, is joined by Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, Rep. Mark Finchem, a prominent member of the most conservative faction of the House, and Rep. Noel Campbell, who hopes members look to him when they can’t come to a consensus on any of the other three candidates.

Townsend, a three-term lawmaker from Mesa, said she is interested in running for speaker to continue building off of what current House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has done in the past two years.

Unite the caucus

As speaker, Townsend said she would work to unite the GOP caucus and build an effective team that utilizes all House members’ strengths to push through legislation that will positively affect Arizona residents.

She said she has always been inclined to lead the chamber and this being her last term in the House, she jumped at the opportunity. She said she has proven she is a strong leader through her work as an aviation mechanic in the U.S. Navy, as whip the past two years, and as the lead organizer of the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention last fall.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)
Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

“If you want to know Kelly Townsend and how I run as a leader … if you want to see how I would be like as a speaker, look at the convention,” she said. “I put everyone to work. It wasn’t the Kelly show. There were a lot of people involved in making that a success.”

If Townsend is elected speaker, she will become only the second woman to hold that position. Jane Dee Hull served as speaker from 1989-1992.

But her decision to seek the speakership comes after a tumultuous tenure as majority whip. In February, Townsend said rumors of an effort to oust her as majority whip were true. She said at the time that several of her colleagues were unhappy that she called for Don Shooter’s resignation following the release of the House’s sexual harassment report, and that some of her colleagues felt like she was “protecting” Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, whom they felt should have been reprimanded for having a relationship with former House staffer Brian Townsend.

In March, The Arizona Republic published a story about an inappropriate comment Townsend accused Mesnard of making about Ugenti-Rita’s clothing, which opened the door to a renewed effort to oust her as majority whip.

Finchem said he is running for the chamber’s top spot with Mitchell’s blessing, and that the move was part of a contingency plan that the Liberty Caucus, a self-identified group of conservative members, had in place in the event that any of its members who were seeking a leadership position weren’t re-elected.

The Oro Valley Republican had previously announced that he was running for majority leader. Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who had also announced he is running for majority leader, has said he will not jump into the speaker’s race, which Finchem said made him the “natural” choice to replace Mitchell.

He said while Bowers boasts a lot of support, he believes he can get the necessary votes to win.

‘A solid bloc’

Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley)
Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley)

“I already have a solid bloc of votes that are hard ‘yesses,’ some from elected members, some from candidates yet to be elected. And I think there is a pathway for me to collect enough votes to become the next speaker,” he said, adding that some of the votes are from people who were supporting Mitchell.

If elected speaker, Finchem said two of his major goals are to improve the image of the House and develop members’ and staffs’ skills. He said he would be a pragmatic leader who could appease both conservatives and moderates.

Campbell, of Prescott, said that while he thinks his candidacy is a longshot, he views himself as the “compromise candidate” and he hopes other members see him in the same light.

“Between you, me and the fencepost, it’s not very likely to happen. But if things get drawn out, I’d like the members to know that they can look at me and consider me for the position,” Campbell said. “The way I look at it is if it’s not him, and it’s not that guy, maybe it’s Campbell, the compromise candidate.”

Campbell said he isn’t actively campaigning for the speakership or trying to line up votes.

Both Campbell and Finchem said with Mitchell out of the picture, it has opened up the speaker’s race and given members more options.

A healthy discussion

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Campbell said the crowded race will lead to a healthy discussion among members about who will best lead the chamber, rather than having the position come down to a two-way race or it being a “slam dunk” as it has been in the past.

He said the competition will force candidates to present their case for why they should become speaker rather than just lobbying their friends for support.

“Whoever wins, wins and I’ll support them,” Campbell sid. “I know what I bring to the table. I’m not the smartest guy and I’m not super knowledgeable about all of the procedures, but I bring common sense. I get along with people and I can understand their viewpoints. And that comes from being an old guy. I would hope that I can do it well and I just thought there should be more of a choice for the members.”

Though at the moment it appears to be a four-way race, the field could be narrowed down by the November general election as candidates begin to line up votes. And the speakership could again be upended if any of the candidates fail to be re-elected.

It’s also not unlikely that other members might jump into the race leading up to the general election. Rep. Jill Norgaard, R-Phoenix, denied rumors that she is seeking the speakership, though she didn’t completely rule out the idea.

“It’s not something I’m thinking about right now,” she said, and added that she is focused on her re-election bid in Legislative District 18. “Frankly, I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries from members and from constituents about running for speaker, but at this time, I’m not interested in running for speaker. Granted things might change. It’s still months away.”

A majority under pressure reveals legislative fissures

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22 at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22 at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Early the morning of May 7, a Thursday, a motley crew of senior Senate Republicans and their Democratic counterparts, disregarding a chorus of conflicting desires from the membership as a whole, pulled the plug on the 2020 legislative session.

It appeared to be a practical decision. More than a month of quarantine has exposed deep fault lines within the majority party, schisms so vast that further legislating would likely devolve into an attritious slog. Those divisions haven’t gone away – a sizable chunk of legislative Republicans want to get back to business, and many of those same lawmakers have repeatedly threatened to raise hell at figureheads in their own party for putting the state under a quasi-lockdown for the past several weeks.

The saga began on March 30, when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, himself a Republican, followed other states in announcing a stay-at-home order that discouraged Arizonans from going out into public except to participate in a broad list of “essential” activities. Nonetheless, frustration with Ducey from his own party quickly developed.

The executive orders have highlighted three distinct factions in the House and Senate Republican caucuses: those who trust that the governor made the right decision, those rankled by some orders but not willing to roll their party leader and those who are ready to burn it all down.

Leading the charge in the House, the incubation chamber for this most recent strain of intra-party dissent, is Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa. She’s been vocal – on social media, in the press and at protests in front of the Capitol – in her insistence that the stay-at-home order amounts to a tyrannical overreach by the governor.

“I have to be a voice for my community,” Townsend said. “And they are screaming. I don’t know who [Ducey] is talking to, but it’s not LD16.”

Townsend has gone as far as to write a letter to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, asking him to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of the stay-at-home order.

And, in a move that is perhaps even more significant now that legislative adjournment is imminent, she drafted a concurrent resolution that would effectively end the governor’s declaration of emergency, terminating the stay-at-home order with it. Ending the session early, she said, would amount to a failure of leadership.

A declaration of emergency can be terminated in two ways – by the governor’s decree or by a concurrent resolution of the Legislature. Although Townsend was the first to raise the possibility, a growing number of her colleagues in the House, including Majority Leader Warren Petersen, have joined her in calls for legislative action. In the Senate, Michelle Ugenti-Rita hoped to carry a companion resolution, but she said on Facebook May 7 that Senate Prsident Karen Fann will not allow her to introduce it.

“I wish Warren Petersen was our speaker,” Townsend said. “He would be able to take care of this without giving up. I hope [Bowers] does the right thing.”

Townsend’s seatmate, Sen. David Farnsworth of Mesa, said he strongly supported both proposed resolutions. Farnsworth, who has attended two protests at the Capitol calling on the governor to immediately reopen the state, said there are always crises to provide excuses for the government to grow its authority, but lawmakers and the people of Arizona must remind the governor that his first duty is to protect the individual liberties of Arizonans.

David Farnsworth
David Farnsworth

“If I were king of Arizona, I would open it up,” Farnsworth said. “If people want to stay home, let them stay home and cower under the covers.”

Frustration with the governor’s handling of the virus has spilled over into frustration with leadership within the Legislature. Whispers abound about a ploy to instate more outwardly conservative leaders, those who might be more ideologically sympathetic with the Liberty Caucus – a group of Tea Party-style Republicans who came to power in the state more than a decade ago under the guidance of then-Rep. David Gowan, who would go on to be House speaker and then join the Senate.

One grievance is a lack of communication. This was on full display when Bowers and Fann announced in April that they planned to convene the Legislature and adjourn shortly thereafter on May 1, without first securing buy-in from many members.

One such lawmaker, Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley, said at the time that leadership’s decision to go ahead with a plan that hadn’t been shopped around was “disturbing,” and that he only found out about the May 1 date from an attorney friend who happened to have business before the Legislature.

The Senate’s new plans to adjourn sine die on May 8 also came as a surprise to many members, said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. Mesnard, who favors continuing the legislative session indefinitely so lawmakers can easily come back to pass legislation or serve as a check on the governor, said Republicans received individual follow-up messages after a closed caucus meeting on the morning of May 7 asking if they would support sine die or a bill proposed by Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, to protect people and businesses that disobey Ducey’s executive orders from punishment or civil liability.

After that, Mesnard said he learned about sine die plans from reporters who called following Fann’s early morning press release.

“When leadership wants to do something, unless there’s enough folks pushing back, it will happen,” he said. “The Senate leadership has made clear that it wants to sine die. I don’t think that there are enough folks pushing back.”

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

Mesnard said he’s counting on Republicans in the House to push back, something Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, said he and his fellow colleagues in the Liberty Caucus are doing.

“We’re in a situation where we need to speak up,” Blackman said, adding that he’s counting on that group to fight to “get back to work,” presaging the likely pushback that a motion to adjourn will get from some in the GOP.

While Blackman’s not outwardly critical of the job that leadership has done, he acknowledged that others are – and said that the House majority position that Petersen will vacate if he goes to the Senate may present an opportunity.

In fact, Blackman said he has been approached by other members to make a bid for leadership – a job he doesn’t doubt his ability to do, but nonetheless is not interested in for now.

“When you have this much pressure in a situation, the idea that we are somehow showing stress cracks should not be all that surprising,” said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

Interestingly, similar factors were at play when the Liberty Caucus was born. In 2009, Gowan, then a freshman member of the House, led a cadre of lawmakers who were frustrated with House Speaker Kirk Adams, who drafted a recession-era budget proposal that didn’t make the aggressive cuts that the new class of conservatives wanted since they were rid of Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. She resigned to join the Obama administration.

Gowan had promised on the campaign trail to read every budget before voting on it, and now was being robbed of the opportunity to review the bill, which was written without input from the freshmen. He and the fledgling Liberty Caucus refused to vote for the bill, and strong-armed Adams into making deeper budget cuts.

Whether this new iteration of staunch conservatives will be as effective this time is unclear – though they’ve got a growing track record, having cajoled Bowers into backing down from a plan to adjourn on May 1, and raising their concerns to the level of the governor, who has expedited the end of the stay-at-home order.

“The governor has moved quite a bit toward the Legislature’s worldview,” said Allen.

Democrats see the winds changing too, especially with the about-face the governor pulled in extending and then quickly dialing back his executive order.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

“From one day to the next, things changed,” said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, of Yuma.

Still, moving the needle any further may be difficult. Even though GOP membership has made it quite clear that top-down decision-making causes heartburn, many were once again surprised to hear about the May 7 decision to adjourn the next day. And a concurrent resolution to overturn the emergency declaration would require dozens of puzzle pieces to fall into place in a very specific order, largely because lawmakers have blown by deadlines for the introduction of legislation. Democrats, of course, wouldn’t vote on such a measure, and the same can likely be said for a small handful of moderate Republicans in the Senate.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, is among the group of moderate Republicans who believe Ducey made the right decisions with the information he had available. Members of her caucus were understandably alarmed by Ducey’s comments about potentially jailing, fining or revoking business licenses for people who flouted his executive orders, she said, but she wouldn’t support their “reactionary” resolutions to end the state of emergency.

The state had 9,945 COVID-19 cases and 450 deaths as of the morning of May 7, and those numbers continue to rise. Ducey now plans for his stay-at-home order to expire May 15, with retail and salons fully reopening May 8 and restaurants allowed to resume dine-in seating on May 11.

The primary response of both the Legislature and the governor needed to be protecting public health, Brophy McGee said. But she said it may be necessary to clarify how much authority lawmakers ceded to the executive in the name of public safety, she said.

“When the house is on fire, or there is a threat of fire, you don’t necessarily have the time to check off all the boxes,” she said. “This whole set of circumstances was so unprecedented, and it came upon us so fast.”

Fellow moderate Sen. Frank Pratt, a Republican from Casa Grande, described the resolutions aiming to overthrow the governor’s order as a “bad idea.” Those questioning Ducey’s actions should consider that the governor made decisions based on communicating with public health experts, Pratt said.

“I believe it’s kind of a slap at the governor,” Pratt said of Townsend’s resolution. “I support what the governor is trying to do. He’s charged with a real tough decision.”

AG rejects GOP lawmaker’s request for election fraud probe


Attorney General Mark Brnovich won’t be pursuing an investigation into the complaints aired at an ad-hoc forum of Republican lawmakers earlier this week.

In an email Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright told Rep. Kelly Townsend, who asked for the probe, that her agency’s Elections Integrity Unit has received more than 2,000 complaints related to last month’s general election. And Wright told the Mesa Republican the office is “actively reviewing every credible allegation.”

But Wright told Townsend that much of what came out at that hearing, with a series of unsworn witnesses and people presenting statistical models questioning the election returns, got folded into a lawsuit filed in federal court by supporters of President Trump. She told the lawmaker that attorneys in her office will “monitor those proceedings.”

And as far as anything else, Wright said there’s only so much her office can do in launching a probe as the legislature has not given her office the power to issue civil subpoenas in election matters.

The correspondence drew an angry response from Townsend who was one of the lawmakers who helped push last year to establish the Elections Integrity Unit.

“What I plan to do this next session is to defund the unit because it’s not performing how we expected it to,” said Townsend who will be a state senator next year. Instead, she would put it into the Auditor General’s Office, which is a branch of the legislature, and give that agency the subpoena power that the attorney general’s office says it lacks.

A spokeswoman for Brnovich declined to comment.

Townsend said that doesn’t mean she’s giving up in her efforts to get an inquiry into what she said are credible claims of irregularities in the election, specifically in the certification that Democrat Joe Biden outpolled the president.

In fact, she said she was in Tucson on Thursday to launch her own probe into allegations. And Townsend said she has a donor — she did not name names — who has pledged $500,000 to hire legal help to pursue any legal remedies.


Arson reminder of dangers that lurk in political world

A werewolf lurking in the dark

When the Maricopa County Democratic Party headquarters burned down July 24, thoughts immediately jumped to political violence – an attack on the hub of a major party in one of the most crucial swing states, with barely 100 days to the general election. 

That act of arson turned out not to have been politically motivated. The alleged arsonist, arrested July 29, is a former Democratic Party volunteer with apparent serious mental health issues. 

But petty vandalism and overt and implied threats of harm are so common in the political sphere that it’s easy to see how minds quickly jumped to thought of violence. Multiple current lawmakers have received threats so credible police investigated them, and they’re all left to try to differentiate angry but non-threatening speech and anodyne acts of vandalism, like defacing campaign signs, from serious threats. 

Death threat

A bill-drafting error, and a committee chairman intent on making a political statement, resulted in an emailed death threat for Rep. Raquel Terán last year. Terán set out to repeal a 2017 law that requires a physician to use any means necessary to preserve the life of a fetus delivered alive during an abortion, a law she said would also require doctors to take babies with no chance of survival away from mothers who have suffered miscarriages, so the infant dies on an operating table instead of in its mother’s arms.

Raquel Terán
Raquel Terán

Instead, her bill as written would have repealed an entire section of state statute about fetuses delivered alive. Terán asked that the bill be held, but House Judiciary Committee Chair John Allen, R-Scottsdale, insisted on hearing it in his committee to demonstrate that Democrats wanted to kill babies. Hundreds of people swarmed the Capitol to testify against the bill, and one man sent Terán an email containing a threat to kill her and the lawmakers who cosponsored her bill.

“There’s a history, specifically on this issue, of people getting shot,” Terán said. At least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics since 1993, including a 2015 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic.

Terán was an immigration activist before running for office, and her work organizing protests brought her in contact with anti-immigrant border militia groups,  men with guns who would show up at immigration protests. One militia leader, J.T. Ready, went on to shoot himself and four other people at a Gilbert home in 2012, several years after Terán first encountered him.

“I remember clearly looking into his eyes and seeing that hate towards our community as we were organizing,” Terán said. “And then for him to have done that, that has always stuck in my head. We were one gun away from this person taking action against our movement.”

Stalker on the loose

Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, had a sense of what she could face when she ran for office two years ago. Her brother, Daniel, is also a Democratic representative from Tucson, and his outspoken stance on gun control — an issue made personal when, as a congressional intern in 2011, he stanched the flow of blood from then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ head — drew special ire from gun rights enthusiasts.

Alma Hernandez
Alma Hernandez

During her campaign, Alma Hernandez caught the attention of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and his army of white supremacist followers. Her Mexican-American heritage and Jewish faith made her a double target for people who want the U.S. to be solely white and Christian, and Hernandez liberally uses “mute” functions on Twitter and Facebook to avoid seeing posters telling her to go back to Mexico or kill herself.

“You kind of have to learn to block it out and just keep going,” Hernandez said. “You know, if I sat in my home terrified after all the things I read online, or heard, I wouldn’t be leaving my home at all.”

The legislating Hernandez siblings, and their sister, Pima County supervisor candidate Consuelo Hernandez, have reached the point where they’re able to laugh off at least some of the attacks they get, and acknowledge that freedom of speech allows trolls to say whatever they want. Family and friends, particularly their mother, are still worried when they see the comments. 

The Hernandez siblings had to seek police protection only once, when a person who showed clear signs of instability began stalking Daniel and Alma. 

“There was a time where our great folks at the Capitol didn’t want me leaving the Capitol grounds without them walking me out, and I was like, you know I’m a grown woman, I am fine I can go out there on my own,” Hernandez said. “That was the first time I’ve ever had to report anything, and that was a little unsettling.”

Take threats seriously

The one credible threatening message police investigated against Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, came up in a roundabout way. Brophy McGee, who does a lot of work with the Department of Child Safety through her positions as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and on several governor-appointed boards, is a frequent target of a group of parents who lost custody of their children.

Kate Brophy-McGee
Kate Brophy-McGee

Those parents are close with Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who has made it his mission to find children who go missing from the foster care system and he entertains groups of people who believe in a vast child-trafficking conspiracy facilitated by DCS.

Last fall, after Brophy McGee told Farnsworth neither she nor her husband were comfortable with Farnsworth’s continued meetings with this group of parents, Farnsworth told police he believed Brophy McGee threatened that her husband would kill him. (She said her husband advised her to mention him because of a belief that Farnsworth would take her concerns more seriously if they came from a man instead of a woman.) 

Officers investigated Farnsworth’s allegation and found no reason to believe Brophy McGee was threatening him. But in the interview process, they learned about the continued harassment Brophy McGee received and hadn’t reported, and launched a new investigation. 

“They investigated, but they never could find the person who sent that message,” Brophy McGee said. “I felt better that they did (investigate) but it bothers me that they were never able to find whoever that was.”

After 10 years in the Legislature and several more on a school board, Brophy McGee said she has learned to deal with threats by taking them seriously and setting clear boundaries.

“You treat people with due respect, expect to be treated the same in return and if that doesn’t happen then you end the conversation,” she said. “But you always have to evaluate the encounter or the interaction, with security in mind. And it’s not just me, it’s my family. It’s my friends, and so that’s why I take them seriously. Obviously I’m not hysterical, but I do take them very seriously.”

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“Karens” of the world

A few years ago, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, would attribute the occasional threats of violence she receives to her status as an outspoken politician. Now, she thinks vitriol that used to be reserved for public figures has become more widely acceptable, and it worries her. 

The most recent run-in Townsend reported to DPS combined road rage and political attacks. She stepped on her brakes while turning into a parking lot and upset the driver behind her, who jumped out of his own car and began yelling. But his anger wasn’t limited to Townsend driving cautiously — the man had apparently previously gotten into an exchange on Twitter or Facebook with the representative, and he screamed about that with his fists balled up, Townsend said.  

The exchange reminded Townsend of the viral videos she has seen of “Karens,” a trend of video-shaming in which it’s not always clear how an altercation started, just that at some point one of the people involved took out a phone and began recording. 

“It might have been just public figures were more susceptible to maltreatment publicly, but now anyone is at risk of being yelled at, attacked, punched and shot,” Townsend said. “As we’ve seen, Walmart employees saying you gotta put a mask on. Oh, boy. Look out. I don’t even know if it’s a partisan thing.”

Audit stirs dissension among GOP senators

Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, tells GOP lawmakers about irregularities he said have been found so far in the review of Maricopa County ballots and equipment. With him is Ken Bennett who is the Senate's liaison with the audit. (Capitol Media Services photo from video feed)
Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, tells GOP lawmakers about irregularities he said have been found so far in the review of Maricopa County ballots and equipment. With him is Ken Bennett who is the Senate’s liaison with the audit. (Capitol Media Services photo from video feed)

In letting the Senate’s audit drag on as auditors demand more subpoenaed materials, Senate President Karen Fann has managed to delay a fight within her caucus over how to handle the eventual results. 

The July 15 impromptu broadcast meeting with Fann, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Warren Petersen and the audit team they hired laid bare ongoing rifts in the Senate Republican caucus, as some responded with calls to overturn election results and others stepped up criticism. 

Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican who has been among the most vocal to question the 2020 presidential election results, tweeted partway through the meeting that she had heard enough and it was time to remove President Joe Biden’s Arizona electoral votes – something the Senate cannot do, and that wouldn’t affect Biden’s national victory.  

On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, has renewed his criticism of the audit. Boyer, like all Senate Republicans, supported the concept of a Senate-led audit last winter, but quickly soured on the idea after Fann attempted to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt and selected the Cyber Ninjas, a firm that lacks election auditing experience and has a CEO who promoted election conspiracies on since-deleted social media accounts.  

“You told us in closed caucus the ‘audit’ would not cost taxpayers more than 150k and you wouldn’t divulge who you were hiring,” he tweeted at Fann. “Had you told us it was an inexperienced, partisan firm, I wouldn’t have been the only one to object.” 

Boyer did not return a call Wednesday. Sen. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who with Boyer is widely viewed as the closest thing to a moderate left in the Senate Republican caucus, said he wants to get a second opinion on any audit results before the Legislature tries to pass new laws.  

He worked closely with election officials across the state this year to introduce a rare noncontroversial election law bill, with adjustments to filing deadlines and a ban on using slogans as part of a nickname on a ballot.  

“I’ve been at this thing for nine years,” Shope said. “I’ve made relationships with different county recorders across the state and elections department officials, obviously good enough to run a bill that was written the way that they wanted it earlier this year, so there are people that I trust that I would go to with any of these findings.” 

Fann said during an interview last week that she stood behind the audit and would repeat the whole process over again.  

“I think that it’s going to open up a lot of eyes about some improvements that we can make in our system,” she said.  

But her insistence that the Senate is only looking forward at how to pass laws affecting the next election, not changing the results of the prior one, is an unpopular opinion among some in her caucus.  

Along with Rogers, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, has said the Legislature should consider reconvening to attempt to overturn the 9-month-old election results. Townsend is also seeking an Attorney General investigation into Maricopa County based on last week’s hearing, though she said she has yet to hear back about whether Attorney General Mark Brnovich will take up her request. 

Townsend said she wants to change a state law requiring the House or Senate to vote on a resolution to hold anyone who refuses to comply with a legislative subpoena in contempt, thus enabling Fann or House Speaker Rusty Bowers to send the sergeant at arms to fetch recalcitrant witnesses without needing the support of a majority of a legislative body.  

Instead, she said, it should be a class one misdemeanor – punishable by up to six months in jail – for anyone to ignore a Senate subpoena.  

“We’re not going to give up,” Townsend said. “I’m not giving up, and I will do what’s necessary to complete the people’s audit. And if they can’t do it on their own, we will find a way to force them to do it, either now or next year, and if laws were broken, people need to go to jail.”  

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the auditing team came across as professional and competent to him during last week’s hearing, and he blames Maricopa County for delays in completing the Senate’s review. While he hoped the investigation would have been completed a long time ago, he said the Senate can’t stop now.  

“If folks know that they can obstruct and delay, and that if they do that long enough and persist in it that you will just walk away, then everybody will do it,” he said.  

Mesnard, who represents a district won by Biden and Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, said he isn’t concerned about the audit’s political effect in swing districts like his. The 2022 election should favor Republicans because Democrats hold the White House, House and Senate, and voters don’t usually make their decisions based on a single issue, he said.  

The Senate’s audit has thus far been an entirely partisan affair, and Senate Democrats are waiting to see if they’ll get the chance to review the final results and question the auditors. Ahead of last week’s meeting, Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said he received no notice that it was a hearing or he was invited until a Senate staff member sent him a picture of a seat in the audience with a sign saying it was reserved for him. 

Quezada watched the meeting from afar and marveled at why anyone thought it was a good idea. He can only see one way out of the ongoing investigation: for Fann to announce that it’s gotten ridiculous, she’s ending the audit and she’ll accept the consequences.  

“I think that would be a good way, and a good reason to be dethroned as Senate president,” he said. “That’s what I would do if I was her. I would say, ‘Look, guys, this is stupid. We’re ending this.’” 

AZ lawmakers subpoenaed regarding Jan. 6 riot

At least two Arizona lawmakers say they were subpoenaed by the FBI for communications regarding the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, say they were subpoenaed recently by the FBI for communications regarding the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol last year.

Karen Fann

Fann said there is a list of lawmakers who received subpoenas, but did not disclose the other names.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, have stated that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump.

Borrelli said he did not receive a subpoena and Rogers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “I’ve been asked by the FBI not to comment,” Finchem said.

Townsend and Fann will cooperate with the request.

“They are looking to see if I had any correspondence with a list of attorneys for Donald Trump. Staff is going through all of my emails and will submit it soon,” Townsend said in a text on June 29.

Fann called the request a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) in the form of a subpoena, “asking for my … emails, texts, whatever we have between me and a list of people.” After the 2020 election, Fann led an audit of Maricopa County ballots to search for fraud, but never stated the election was stolen.

“I was not part of January 6, didn’t even know it was going on until after it happened. I saw it on the news like everybody else. This whole alternative slate of electors, I didn’t have anything to do with that either,” she said on June 28.

Kelly Townsend

Kim Quintero, Senate majority communications director, said that Senate attorneys don’t think Fann will be called to testify in Washington, D.C.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, testified in front of the January 6 committee on June 21 that Trump and his aides tried to convince him to investigate their claims of fraud in Arizona after the election, but they would not provide evidence. Without substantiation for their ideas, Bowers refused. “I said, ‘Look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath,’” he told the committee.

Bowers received a John F Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” award on April 21 for refusing to decertify the election despite pressure from several other Republican officials. Congressman Andy Biggs also tried to convince Bowers to go along with the theories of fraud, but was unsuccessful. Protestors picketed and yelled outside of Bowers’ home in Mesa for days.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward, and former lawmaker Anthony Kern are among a group of 84 self-proclaimed “electors” across the country who signed onto a document that said the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Hoffman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kern and Hoffman are both running for seats in the Arizona Senate this year.

Finchem and Kern were both present at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Finchem and Ward were previously subpoenaed by the committee investigating January 6 in February.




Barto revives parts of vetoed sex education bill


Republican lawmakers are making another bid to further restrict sex education in Arizona schools.

On a party-line vote, members of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services approved legislation to bar any type of sex education before the fifth grade.

Nothing in HB 2035 changes the laws regarding what can be taught in the higher grades. But it does alter the system so that a parent would have to affirmatively give permission for a child to participate, turning what is now an opt-out system into an opt-in requirement.

Both of those were in an earlier version of the bill. But that was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey who called the language “overly broad and vague.”

The governor also specifically objected to verbiage that he said “could be misinterpreted by schools and result in standing in the way of important child abuse prevention education in the early grades for at-risk and vulnerable children.”

To solve that, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, added a specific provision saying that schools are still allowed to provide “age and grade appropriate classroom instruction regarding child assault awareness and abuse prevention.”

She also agreed to strip language from the original measure that would have required an entirely separate opt-in by parents any time a teacher was discussing AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it, even when parents have signed permission slips for sex education, even though Ducey made no mention of that in his veto letter.

Nancy Barto
Nancy Barto

But Barto acknowledged during committee discussion on the measure that the now-amended measure requires not only an opt-in for actual sex education but any time any teacher in any class discusses something of a sexual nature. Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, said that presents a whole host of problems.

“This is not something that just targets sex education,” he said. “This targets all of the curriculum that we see in our classrooms.”

Consider, Navarrete said, the Shakespeare tale of Romeo and Juliet.

“That has to do with sexuality,” he said.

History lessons also could be affected, Navarrete said, like a discussion around the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York City that led to the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement. And even talking about the U.S. Supreme Court Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage also would be off limits, he said.

That did not bother supporters of the measure. Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said parents have a right to know what kind of information is being presented to their children — and have that information before it comes up in the classroom.

“Once that information is in front of the child, you can’t extract it,” she said.

“So the parent is concerned and would like to know ahead of time,” Townsend said. “And I support that.”

Less clear is whether that prior parental consent will affect after-school clubs like Gay-Straight Alliance clubs that are on some high school campuses.

“I was in the closet less than 20 years ago while I was in high school,” Navarrete said, asking if that would require a permission slip from a parent.

“Those after-school activities would be included in the bill,” Barto responded. That bothered Navarrete.

“When you are trying to find some kind of outlet to try to identify who you are or comfort around learning about why you feel this way, I find it very challenging to vote on something like this amendment,” he said.

Barto said she doesn’t see it that way.

“Frankly, public schools shouldn’t be undermining the constitutional rights of parents,” she said. “If that’s happening now and they’re not getting parental consent for after-school activities of any type, that’s inappropriate.”

But a Senate staffer pointed out that the language in what Barto has proposed is less than clear about after-school clubs. And Barto said she is “willing to consider” an amendment to clarify that that’s not what this bill is about.

The measure, which now goes to the full Senate, also requires that any new or revised course on sex education be made publicly available for at least 60 days, with at least two public hearings before adoption. It also says that any school that offers sex education must make the curricula available for parental review, both online and in person, at least two weeks before any instruction is offered.




Bill bans mask mandates in public schools

Angela Black, right, with her brother Luke Black at their home, pose for a photo Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Mesa, Ariz. The students, a third grader and kindergartner, attend a school where mask wearing is optional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Angela Black, right, with her brother Luke Black at their home, pose for a photo Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Mesa, Ariz. The students, a third grader and kindergartner, attend a school where mask wearing is optional. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican lawmakers did an about-face on facemasks in schools in the most recent version of the state education budget bill. 

The initial language, one line of the deal Gov. Doug Ducey hammered out with Senate and House Republican leadership in May, would have codified school districts and charter schools having the final authority on face mask requirements. 

The new language does the opposite and would permanently prohibit school districts and charters from requiring facial coverings. Individuals would still be able to choose to wear them. 

The change came after lawmakers such as Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, threatened to withhold their votes. 

“And to think until I publicly exposed it, Fauci Followers in the AZ Senate Leadership along w/@dougducey were almost successful in sneaking language into the budget giving school districts the power to force students to wear masks for any reason & for as long as they want,” Michelle Ugenti-Rita tweeted on June 5.  

School districts and charters have had that individual responsibility since April. That’s when Ducey rescinded his executive order from July 2020 that required them to implement a face covering requirement for everyone over the age of 5. 

The change was met with confusion and, in some cases, outrage, as districts made individual decisions on how to handle their masking policy roughly five weeks before the end of the semester.   

While the school where Rep. Steve Kaiser’s children attend ditched its mask requirement, he accused local school boards of not listening to parents. He said the mask issue was a big one for the Republican base. 

“I believe in local control, too, but I’m not about to let local control decide what’s best for my kids medically,” the Phoenix Republican said during a caucus meeting late last month. “I should decide that.” 

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, pushed for the language to include visitors, noting an incident in Scottsdale where people came to a school board meeting to protest critical race theory but refused to wear masks, leading to the board to recess the meeting. 

Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, said the flip-flop was to secure budget votes from lawmakers who tend to “thrive on disinformation about coronavirus, masks and the vaccine and the like.”  

Hernandez, a paramedic, said she doesn’t think such a move would have an immediate effect on public health because “hopefully we’re moving past the pandemic,” but that it seemed short-sighted. 

“If this is successful, it’s going to unnecessarily tie the hands of administrators and educators if there’s another airborne pandemic,” she said. 

Save Our Schools Arizona supports keeping mask mandate authority local. 

“We support keeping that authority at the individual district level where locally-elected board members were voted in to lead on their schools’ policies,” communications director Dawn Penich-Thacker said. 

Other states are also looking at the issue of who should be able to make mask mandates for schools. While most states either still have a state level mask mandate for schools or are allowing individual districts to make decisions, a handful are stripping that authority from the local boards. 

In May, Iowa banned mask mandates by schools and cities. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools. In Georgia, there’s no outright ban, but an executive order from the governor says schools can no longer “rely on the Public Health State of Emergency as a basis for requiring students or workers to wear a face covering.” And in Idaho, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin signed a school mask mandate ban while Gov. Brad Little was out-of-state. When he returned, he rescinded it. 

Bill bans sex ed in elementary, middle schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill proposes to outlaw public disclosure of sex photos from harassment probe

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)
Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, introduced legislation today that would prevent any sexual photos related to a House of Representatives’ investigation into sexual harassment from becoming public.

HB2544 states that if any member of the Legislature is involved in a sexual harassment investigation that includes “photographs of a sexual nature” of a member or staffer, the “explicit content” of the photo has to be redacted and the privacy of the member or staffer must be protected.

Additionally, the bill says the viewing of the photos must be limited to an “independent investigating attorney or other independent investigator of the sexual harassment claim.”

The bill also says a staffer or member with whom the person in the photo comes into contact with at the Legislature may not view the unredacted photograph.

Townsend declined to comment on the purpose of the bill or her reason for introducing the legislation, citing legal reasons.

“What I would want to say is that the bill speaks for itself,” she said. “I wouldn’t have dropped the bill if it wasn’t needed.”

The bill was introduced days after former Rep. Don Shooter sent a letter to colleagues on Feb. 1 in which he referenced a staffer who was subjected to her elected boss’s exposed genitals. Shooter did not specify if she was exposed to it via a photograph.

Shooter was expelled from the House after a sexual harassment investigation found that he violated a sexual harassment policy and created a hostile working environment at the Capitol.

The investigation began after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, named Shooter as one of the men in the legislature who had harassed her. Shooter countered Ugenti-Rita’s claims with allegations of his own, saying she was upset with him because he was critical of her for having a “very public affair” with a staffer.

Though the investigation did not find evidence that Ugenti-Rita violated the House harassment policy, it found that Brian Townsend, a former House staffer who last worked as policy director in 2015, shared “unsolicited, sexually explicit communications” in a manner Townsend said was intended to “hurt and humiliate” Ugenti-Rita, to whom he is now engaged.

News outlets, including the Arizona Capitol Times, have filed records requests seeking any documents used in the course of the Shooter investigation.

First Amendment Attorney Dan Barr said state public records laws already include a clause that can exempt photographs or other records from being made public if it can be proven that they are confidential or against the best interest of the state.

“Here, what I understand the photos to be, is you have a legislator who is not conducting public business at the time and so I would think there is a decent argument to withhold that photo,” he said. “The whole point of public records law is to evaluate the conduct of public officials. In this instance concerning the investigation into Ms. Ugenti-Rita and whatever the charges are against her, there would be a good argument that there was no state business and that such records could be withheld.”

He said he found the bill problematic because it’s too broad. He added that if explicit photos were taken in the House or other government building, the case could be made that the photos are public records.

Bill to broaden AG’s authority over initiatives likely dead

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)

A Republican bill to give Arizona’s attorney general the authority to unilaterally change wording that describes citizen initiatives on ballots is effectively dead.

At least four Senate Republicans oppose an amendment to SB1451, adopted by GOP representatives in the House, that enshrines broad authority within the Attorney General’s Office to make eleventh-hour changes to language used to explain to voters what laws proposed through the citizen initiative process would do.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, told her Senate Republican colleagues Wednesday morning that she supports the underlying measures in SB1451, which add new restrictions for paid and out-of-state signature gatherers who collect petitions to propose or challenge laws on the ballot.

But Brophy McGee won’t vote for the bill if language allowing the attorney general to “accept, reject or amend” ballot descriptions remains.

Sens. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said they also don’t like the amendment.

And Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, told the Associated Press he’s opposed to the amendment.

That leaves the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Vince Leach, in a pickle. The Tucson Republican needs to get three of those Republican senators to change their minds for the bill to pass.

Instead, Leach said he expects the bill will need to be amended again.

“We are working on something to make this bill palatable for all,” Leach said.

Though Leach concurred with the House amendment to SB1451, he can always change his mind and send the bill to a conference committee, where three lawmakers from the House and Senate would meet to discuss potential changes.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican who sponsored the controversial amendment in the House, encouraged Leach to do that.

“If we can’t get (SB1451) across the finish line without taking the part out, then I would recommend he take it out,” Townsend said, adding the attorney general can affect ballot language regardless of whether the office has the power to rewrite the description itself.

“The AG can effectively, by denying the language until it comes back to his liking, it’s pretty much the same as just modifying it himself or herself … I don’t think it’s a deal breaker to not have that in there,” she said.

Townsend said her measure was simply meant to expedite the process and avoid a situation where the attorney general continuously denies ballot language prepared by the Secretary of State’s Office. Democrats said the measure would turn the attorney general into a “kingmaker” that could change language to sway public opinion on ballot measures.

Bill would require cops to use meter in noise complaints


State lawmakers are moving to subject noise complaints to the same standards as speeding violations.

Only cops could issue them.

And the officers would have to measure the sound level with a calibrated meter, much the same way that speeding violations require the use of a calibrated radar gun.

The 5-1 vote Monday by the House Committee on Regulatory Affairs spurs from complaints by Mehmood Mohiuddin, owner of the Hitching Post restaurant in Apache Junction, that he has repeatedly been cited by city officials for excessive noise. He told lawmakers that was based on complaints from neighbors who were armed only with videos.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said that’s totally arbitrary.

Central to the issue is a state law that makes it a public nuisance to interfere “with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood or by a considerable number of persons” in a way that is “offensive to the senses or an obstruction to the free use of property.”

“So that’s up to interpretation by whomever is reading this,” Townsend said of the current law. “And it’s quite vague.”

She wants the law to reflect that any prosecution under state public nuisance laws based on noise complaints “must include an accurate recording and measurement of the noise made by a peace officer.”

But her HB 2389 is even more technical than that. It spells out the scale to be used, how samples should be taken, and even the technical requirements for the type of sound meter that would have to be used.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said that effectively would require all police departments to outfit patrol cars with these meters.

Townsend conceded she has no idea how much that would cost. But she said it’s fairer than what occurs now where the “evidence” produced against property owners often consists only of cell phone videos from nearby residents. And that, Townsend said, hardly qualifies as “valid for sound measurement.”

But Mohiuddin said those kinds of videos − he claims they have been altered − have been the basis for hundreds of complaints against him that he has had to defend himself against noise complaints at the city’s board of adjustment. He told lawmakers he has had to sell his home to pay his legal fees.

Townsend, in seeking to apply the requirement for police-gathered evidence statewide, said there’s no reason that these complaints are being handled without real, measurable evidence which has been gathered by a peace officer.

Nick Ponder, lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the legislation puts cities in the business of having to intercede every time someone files a noise complaint.

“The last thing that our police officers want to do is respond to a noise call, frankly,” he said. “They have other things they could be spending their time on.”

Townsend was unconvinced.

“I understand a police officer doesn’t want to have to go and see a call on noise,” she said. But Townsend said it’s important for a judge or hearing officer to have all the relevant — and reliable — evidence.

“If you’re going to charge somebody they’re going to have to defend themselves and spend thousands of dollars,” she said. “We don’t want this happening on a he said/she said basis by somebody who’s disgruntled.”

That argument was buttressed by Braden Biggs who is a member of the Apache Junction board of adjustment.

“When one of our police officers cites somebody for a speeding violation they have to do so with a radar gun,” he told lawmakers.

“That gun is required to be calibrated and logged and tracked, consistently,” Biggs said, providing documentation that the officer is able to review and present when there is a hearing. “That should also be the case when it comes to noise violations.”

That still leaves the question of cost.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said he did a quick Google search and found sound meters for as little as $19.90 and as much as $376.95. There was no immediate indication which of these, if any, would prove acceptable for use under Townsend’s legislation.

Powers Hannley told Mohiuddin that it sounds like he’s being targeted.

“And it’s very unfair,” she said. “I’m not sure that this bill is the fix for it, though,” saying one of the issues for her vote against the measure is the potential cost.

Townsend said she does not want this to be an unfunded mandate on cities, suggesting that if her measure advances she may look to have the state provide some dollars to communities to purchase the devices.

The measure now goes to the full House following routine constitutional review.

Bills to restrict teachers reawakens Red for Ed movement

(Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)
One of many Red for Ed signs sits at the Arizona Capitol on April 26. (Photo by Carmen Forman/Arizona Capitol Times)

A handful of bills introduced ahead of the 2019 legislative session are already stirring up tensions in the education community, leaving some to wonder if the Capitol will again be awash in red.

Reps. Kelly Townsend of Mesa and Mark Finchem of Oro Valley have introduced proposed legislation that gets at several qualms they and their fellow Republicans had with the Red for Ed movement in 2018.

Finchem’s House Bill 2002 would require the State Board of Education to adopt an educator code of ethics explicitly prohibiting politicking in public schools. In a written statement, he said the bill is a response to calls from parents to stop politics in the classroom.

Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman said it does not appear to be a genuine effort to improve the teaching profession, but rather a list of grievances. Meanwhile, Phoenix New Times reported on January 3 that the language of the proposed code is nearly identical to that of the Stop K-12 Indoctrination campaign sponsored by the conservative David Horowitz Freedom Center, which bills itself as the School of Political Warfare.

And Townsend has so far introduced four education-related bills, two of which are drawing a lot of attention as they appear to be retribution for the Red for Ed movement.

HB2017, which Townsend said is a direct response to the movement and teachers’ decision to strike last April, would prohibit public schools from shutting down except during pre-approved breaks and holidays, or in the event of a variety of dangerous situations, from natural disasters to an invasion.  And HB2018 would require the attorney general to investigate any policy, procedure or other official action taken by a school district governing board or any district employee that lawmakers allege violates state law.

The reaction online was swift, including calls for another show of force from educators.

“Clearly the legislators were not listening,” Red for Ed organizer Rebecca Garelli wrote on Facebook in response to HB2017. “Perhaps we need to make our voices even louder.”

Dozens of educators and their supporters responded, slamming Townsend and calling for renewed action.

Garelli told the Arizona Capitol Times that they’re frustrated by where these lawmakers have put their focus – on punitive measures rather than funding a workable solution. And she said the Red for Ed movement will definitely return to the Capitol this year.

What that might look like, she doesn’t yet know.

“If our elected representatives are incapable of finding a bipartisan solution to the funding crisis, then every option is on the table,” she said. “It’s not up to me. It’s up to the members. No options are off the table.”

Townsend has also filed HB2015 to prohibit school district employees from using school resources to promote a political or religious ideology, and HB2016 to prohibit employees from harassing, intimidating or harming parents, students and their colleagues. There are laws already on the books to cover each of those offenses.

Whether Townsend’s proposals will lead teachers to defy her and walk out of classrooms again, that’s not for her to say either.

“They’re going to have to make the decision if they’re going to do that again to the people of Arizona,” Townsend said.

But Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, who will join her on the House Education Committee, said Townsend and Finchem are sending a dangerous message, potentially leaving educators feeling like they’ve been backed into a corner.

“These bills send the message that if you become vocal and if you become an advocate for your profession, then we will fight back with laws that will directly impact you economically,” Bolding said. “This sets a very bad precedent.”

He said legislators should not be running retaliation legislation against members of the public, especially those whose perceived crime was to participate in the political process.

The future of these bills is in no way secure, though. Townsend and Finchem will have to win favor in the House where the partisan split is now just 31-29 in favor of Republicans. And that’s if they can first get their proposals out of the Education Committee where they are likely to be heard.

Republicans do hold a greater statistical advantage there with eight Republicans and five Democrats serving on the committee; the split was originally 7-4. But Bolding said he hopes Rep. Michelle Udall, who will chair the committee, and House Speaker-elect Rusty Bowers won’t even “allow these bills to see the light of day.”

If they do, he said the education community will surely return to the Capitol tenfold.

“Once you awaken individuals in our community about policies that are directly affecting them, it’s hard to turn off that switch,” he said.

Udall was not immediately available for comment.

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas, who has stood beside leaders of Red for Ed, said the movement last year was about so much more than teacher pay. He said teachers want to be in their classrooms, but if they have to pressure legislators on their own turf again, they will.

“We are in a system that’s been starved for so long that it’s at a breaking point,” Thomas said. “We saw some steam released last year. The legislators and the governor should really think long and hard about whether they want that to be a recurring event or not.”

If legislators thought the movement was a one-time phenomenon, Thomas said they are either blind, deaf or “just unwilling to see the crisis that they have been perpetuating.

Red for Ed first took shape online after Noah Karvelis created Arizona Educators United on Facebook. The platform attracted thousands of supporters within hours.

Still, if you’d asked Karvelis whether that would lead teachers to strike just a few months later, he would have told you that was crazy. Now, he said the movement will mobilize again if that’s what teachers believe they have to do.

“We certainly don’t want to go through that again,” he said. “It’s taxing. It’s difficult. It’s one of the hardest things anybody’s ever had to do in the classroom or outside of it. The simple way to end this is to come up with bipartisan solutions.”

Teachers feel like their voices have been entirely disregarded because this is the conversation ahead of the legislative session, Karvelis said, not the issues they believe to be vital.

Bolding said the Democratic caucus is working on legislation that would address those issues – increased funding for education, money for school infrastructure, a fix for the disproportionate student-counselor ratio and more.

“I would hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will back up their campaign rhetoric with actual action,” Bolding said. “The public will judge legislators not by what they say during the election cycle but what they actually do during the legislative session.”

Board of Ed scraps proposal on sex education rules

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, listen Monday to a parade of parents object to proposed changes in sex education rules. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman and Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, listen Monday to a parade of parents object to proposed changes in sex education rules. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Facing a barrage of parental criticism, the state Board of Education decided Monday to scrap a proposal to remove certain language from the rules on sex education.

Several members of the appointed board said they are unwilling to consider the kind of changes being proposed, not just by gay rights advocates on one side but a coalition of parents on the other who want even more restrictions on what can be taught. Armando Ruiz said that is the purview of elected state lawmakers.

“We’re not the Legislature,” he said.

Monday’s decision is most immediately a defeat for Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, and allies on the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which sought to remove verbiage that now bans the teaching of “abnormal, deviant or unusual sexual acts and practices.” Instead, that proposal sought to spell out that sex education instruction must be “medically and scientifically accurate” and that courses provide “medically accurate instruction” on methods to prevent the transmission of disease.

That provoked a firestorm of protest, with more than four dozen foes showing up to tell the board to back off. It also raised questions from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

“Who decides what’s medically accurate?” she asked the board, suggesting that scientific studies often reach the result desired by the organization that funded the research.

But board members also chose not to consider vastly different proposals by some parents for what they would change in the rules. Suggestions ranged from requiring that abstinence be the only thing taught in sex education to an outright prohibition on mentioning masturbation, oral or anal sex.

During the approximately four hours of testimony several parents took swipes at state schools chief Kathy Hoffman, who took office in January, for even putting the Quezada proposal on the agenda.

“You’re injecting your political beliefs,” said Scott Weinberg who said he has two children in the Kyrene Elementary School District.

“I understand that you won that election,” he said. “But that doesn’t give you the right to change the curriculum for all of our children.”

Lesa Antone was more direct, focusing on the state’s low rankings nationally in scores on reading, writing and math.

“Why don’t you spend more time focusing on that and less time trying to sexualize little innocent babies, because that’s what they are,” she said.

“And you want to put them in makeup and make them drag queens and make them sexualized individuals,” Antone continued. “Shame on you!”

Hoffman insisted that she was not trying to push a specific agenda. Instead, she told those in the audience that she was simply putting forward the suggestions from Quezada for the board to consider.

“I thought this was worthy of discussion,” she said. “I would give the same respect to any senator.”

But former schools chief Diane Douglas, defeated in last year’s Republican primary, accused Hoffman of giving “priority status to your most favorite organization over every other concerned parent that’s sitting in this room today.” Douglas did not publicly identify the organization.

Animosity to Hoffman, however, predates Monday’s proposed rule change.

She used her first State of Education speech to call on lawmakers to repeal a law that prohibits any courses on AIDS and HIV from portraying homosexuality “as a positive alternative lifestyle.” Hoffman, a Democrat, told members of the House Education Committee at the time that the verbiage “contributes to an unsafe school environment” and leads to discrimination and bullying.

Hoffman got her wish — but only after gay rights groups filed a federal court lawsuit and Attorney General Mark Brnovich declined to defend the law.

And the board last month separately repealed an existing rule that had required sex ed classes to “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage,” a provision also challenged in the federal court lawsuit and demanded by plaintiffs to drop their lawsuit.

Hoffman, in defending herself Monday, also said that sex ed classes operate on an “opt-in” basis, with parents having to give consent.

“That is not changing,” she said. “It’s always the parents’ choice of whether or not their child participates.”

Michael Clark, attorney for the Center for Arizona Policy, separately objected to another proposed change which would have allowed – but not required – schools to have co-ed sex ed classes. Madeline Adelman, speaking for GLSEN, said those choices should be left to local school boards.

The board could get some direction from the Republican-controlled Legislature this coming year on what changes, if any, to make.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, vowed to propose a law that absolutely forbids sex education of any type before the fifth grade; existing law allows but does not require schools to provide instruction on AIDS and HIV from kindergarten through Grade 12.

And Allen, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, made it clear she’s not particularly pleased with what is being taught at all grade levels.

“Schools should never be in competition with what parents are trying to teach at home and how they are directing their children,” she said. Allen also took a broader swipe at public education, saying it is moving away from instruction and instead to “social engineering” of children.

There were other political overtones in the hearing,

Ashley Davis, who said she was a member of the Patriot Movement, complained that 75 percent of teachers in the nation “openly identify with many leftist and Marxist values that are indoctrinating the youth of America with spite for our flag, disgust for our history, hatred for our values but, most of all, violent rhetoric towards our awesome president Donald J. Trump.”

Boyer kills Senate bid to force supervisors to comply with subpoenas

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

A Republican senator single-handedly killed a resolution that could have sent Maricopa county supervisors to jail, arguing that the Senate and the county need more time to reach a compromise over a proposed election audit. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, joined all 14 Senate Democrats to vote against the contempt resolution, killing it with a 15-15 vote. If it had passed, the resolution would have authorized Senate President Karen Fann to send the chamber’s sergeant at arms to arrest the five members of the GOP-controlled county board.

Supervisors have been in the county’s crosshairs since shortly after the election, when they certified election results that many legislative Republicans refused to accept. Boyer was the first Republican lawmaker to publicly state that the election was over and call for his peers to accept President Biden’s victory. 

Boyer said he had made up his mind last week to vote for the resolution, but he changed it after thinking about the contempt vote all weekend. His vote will buy more time for the two parties to work out an agreement, he said. 

“Today’s ‘no’ vote merely provides a little bit more time for us to work together charitably and as friends for the sole purpose of gaining more clarity,” Boyer said. “This is not a final determination, nor is this the end of the process.”

It took his fellow Republicans by surprise, and clearly irritated Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who summoned Boyer to her desk to privately lecture him and then used part of her own speaking time to plead with him to change his vote. 

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

Boyer looked up from his cell phone and shook his head near the end of the debate as a failed Republican legislative candidate tweeted his personal cell number and urged her followers to inundate him with calls . 

Fann’s plea followed more than an hour of debate, during which Democrats stayed silent while Republicans tried to alternately cajole and coerce Boyer into changing his vote. Republican Sens. Rick Gray, Vince Leach, J.D. Mesnard, Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Warren Petersen each spent several minutes kneeling beside Boyer’s desk or bending over to talk to him.

Petersen said the county has no interest in working with the Senate and accused the board members of lying. As Senate Judiciary committee chairman, he has been most involved in the months-long court battle with the board of supervisors.

“When it comes to obstruction, lies and deception, the Maricopa County Board gets an A-plus,” he said.

Petersen also spoke directly to Boyer, asking him whether the supervisors fulfilled the subpoena the Senate issued. The supervisors maintain that they cannot legally turn over ballots because of an Arizona law that states that ballots must be kept private. Absent a court order, the supervisors have declared they will not share the materials.  

 “They thought they could peel off one of our Republican Senators. It sounds like they may have. I hope that’s not the case,” Petersen said.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, participating by Zoom because she refuses to wear a mask in the chamber, chimed in “They did.” She berated Boyer during her own comments as well. 

“If you say you’re going to vote with your caucus and you don’t, your word is never going to be trusted again,” she said.

And in a statement several senators took as an incitement to political violence, Townsend ended her speech by saying the public would take care of what the Senate wouldn’t. 

“This shouldn’t fall into the hands of the public… when they’re so lathered up. So public, do what you gotta do,” she said. 

Her on-mic comments followed an offhand utterance from Sen. David Gowan that the county supervisors should “vote right” after Boyer said no elected officials should face harassment at their homes or receive death threats. 

While the contempt resolution is dead — at least for now — the battle over legislative subpoenas and audits continues. Supervisors have asked the Maricopa County Superior Court to weigh in on whether the Senate’s subpoena is lawful, and the two parties are expected to return to court in the coming weeks. 

Meanwhile, the county’s own audits into election equipment, which began last week, continued today.  

Boyer, with help, nixes six election bills

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, speaks at an event hosted by Arizona Talks at Greenwood Brewing in Phoenix on March 1, 2022. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Senate President Karen Fann pleaded with her chamber on March 9.  

“I am hoping that a couple more people might change their votes,” the Prescott Republican said as the chamber voted to kill Senate Bill 1629. “I believe that this is a good bill, and it’s a good bill for all the right reasons.” 

Senate Bill 1629 is one of the most wide-ranging election bills that the Senate voted on earlier this week. But it turned out to be a frustrating few days for the Republican Senators who’ve talked for months about using the 2022 legislative session to make substantial changes to Arizona election laws in the wake of the 2020 election audit. 

Several of the bills that failed this week were opposed by the Senate Democrats plus Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. The GOP’s 16-14 Senate majority means Boyer’s willingness to play spoiler is enough to kill legislation on its own. 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

But Boyer was also joined by, at different moments, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, in nixing election laws supported by most of their caucus. Rogers declined to comment on her vote. (Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, voted against one of her own election bills but said she did it so she can bring the bill back for reconsideration.) 

On March 7, Fann couldn’t muster the votes for three bills that would have added rules about the pens used by voters, the way hand audits are conducted and the Attorney General’s election enforcement powers. 

Boyer alone blocked Senate Bill 1475, which sought to give the AG enforcement authority over federal elections. (For now, the office is tasked with enforcing the law just for state elections.) Ugenti-Rita and Boyer voted down Senate Bill 1478, which would have prohibited counties from handing out pens that could bleed through ballot paper, and Senate Bill 1358, which would have added some additional leg work on hand-count audits in counties that use voting centers. 

On March 9 the Senate considered another slate of election laws including Senate Bill 1629. 

The bill was introduced in late January, on the same day that House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, killed another piece of election legislation in dramatic fashion. House Bill 2596 would have all but eliminated early voting, required a hand count of ballots, and given the legislature power to accept or reject election results. Bowers assigned the bill to all 12 House committees, effectively ensuring the full chamber would never even get the chance to vote on it. 

Senate Bill 1629 was received as a potentially more moderate approach to election legislation that still would have pleased fans of last year’s partisan election audit like Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who was the prime sponsor of the bill. Another 12 Senate Republicans co-sponsored the bill, which would require more frequent election audits, add regulations on ballot drop boxes and change how election officers are trained. In Maricopa and Pima counties, it would require biannual audits by the Auditor General’s Office – and the bill includes a $4.6 million appropriation to the office for election audits. 

Boyer said he supported provisions of the bill relating to ballot images and voter roll maintenance but couldn’t stomach the time and resource costs of the additional audits. “I would like to see the other two pieces move forward if that’s possible, but as far as it stands, because of the auditor general piece, I can’t support this, so I vote no.” he said. 

In total, nine election bills came to the Senate floor and died there this week, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen that last of them. Borrelli and Townsend are both committed to bringing back their election bills this session. It’s possible they can get Ugenti-Rita on board. 

Ugenti-Rita said after the vote that her objection to the election bills is that the language in some seem to overlap or contradict one another.  “You don’t just throw a bunch of stuff on the board haphazardly,” Ugenti-Rita said. “How these things are drafted, the unintended consequences, how they’re going to be implemented matters, and I care very much about the quality of the policy.”  

She confirmed that if the language is cleared up to her satisfaction, she could swing to a ‘yes’ vote, but Boyer is seemingly set on his ‘no’ votes and can continue to kill these bills without other Republicans in his corner. 

On March 9, Fann waited about 10 seconds after her plea for Senators who’d voted ‘no’ to switch to ‘yes’ on Senate Bill 1629. Then she decided that it wasn’t going to happen. “It appears I have no one changing their vote,” she said with a resigned chuckle. “It’s a sad day. I’m sorry that we could not make these changes for the benefit of the voters.” 


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 at arm’s length in election suit

In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court has rejected Republicans' last-gasp bid to reverse Pennsylvania’s certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the electoral battleground. The court without comment Tuesday, Dec. 8, refused to call into question the certification process in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
In this Nov. 5, 2020, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Arizona is seeking a voice in the lawsuit Texas has brought against some other states won by President-elect Joe Biden.

But exactly who Attorney General Mark Brnovich will side with remains unclear.

In legal papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, Brnovich said he wants to file a brief to argue the importance of “election integrity.” And he said he wants a quick decision in the case.

What’s telling, though, is that Brnovich is not joining with 17 other Republican attorneys general who filed their own brief with the Supreme Court siding with Texas. That asks the justices to back Texas in its bid to block a final vote by the Electoral College while the court considers allegations that illegal changes in laws in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin created the opportunity for fraud.

Instead, Brnovich aide Ryan Anderson said his boss wants to ensure that any ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court about laws and rules that govern election laws – in this case, in particular, about the presidential race – do not undermine Arizona’s own regulations. And Anderson said as far as his boss is concerned, Arizona does elections right, which is why it wasn’t sued by Texas as were the four other states where, like Arizona, Biden won the popular vote.

“Had Arizona been sued, that would have put our office in a situation where we would have had to decide what we would have filed and what we would have done,” Anderson said. That would have put Brnovich in the position of having to defend not only the state but the election – and Biden’s win – against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Mark Brnovich
Mark Brnovich

And Anderson left no question about what Brnovich thinks of how Arizona conducted the election.

“The Arizona attorney general will not be advocating to overturn the election results in Arizona,” he said.

Anderson said Brnovich does share one sentiment with his Texas counterpart.

“We all agree that the integrity of our elections are important,” he said. “And there are too many Americans who do not trust the outcome of the election.”

But Anderson said that Arizona’s interest in the legal fight is different than that of the other Republican attorneys general.

The lawsuit filed by Paxton charges that changes made this year to election procedures in the four battleground states, many due to the impact of the pandemic, are illegal.

In essence, he said that the changes, some enacted by courts, weakened ballot-integrity statutes. And that, in turn, has created the opportunity for fraud, though he does not allege any actual instances where that has occurred.

Courts in each of those states have dismissed similar claims. But Paxton is arguing that it is the responsibility of the nation’s highest court to intercede and declare that the procedures used in those four states were illegal and therefore the results should not be allowed to stand.

Anderson said it is noteworthy that Texas did not sue Arizona despite the fact that the election returns, which remain standing after several legal challenges, are awarding the state’s 11 electoral votes to Biden.

He said some of that is due to the fact that Brnovich has fought off various efforts to allow last-minute changes in election laws, ranging from how county election officials have to handle unsigned early ballots to extending the deadline for people registering to vote.

Anderson said it’s not clear the Supreme Court will even consider the Texas petition. But he said if the justices take it up, Brnovich wants to be sure that any ruling they issue respects the interests of Arizona.

Those interests, he said, is that the justices recognize and affirm that it is the legislature that has prime say over how elections are conducted and not courts or even officials of the executive branch.

That’s crucial because Arizona already has some of the laws that the Texas lawsuit says are lacking or were ignored elsewhere.

For example, Paxton complained that some states do not require that signatures on envelopes with early ballots be compared with records on file. Arizona requires matching of all envelopes received.

He also said that some states “flooded their citizenry with tens of millions of ballot applications and ballots,” ignoring normal controls. Arizona, by contrast, sends early ballots only to those who request them, whether on an election-by-election basis or by signing up on the permanent early voting list.

Brnovich is not the only Arizona elected official weighing in at the Supreme Court.

Ten state representatives and three senators, all Republicans, joined with counterparts from Alaska and Idaho on Thursday filed their own brief in support of Texas.

“An elite group of sitting Democrat officers in each of the defendant states coordinated with the Democrat party to illegally and unconstitutionally change the rules established by the legislature in the defendant states, thereby depriving the people of their states a free and fair election — the very basis of a republican form of government,” they charged through their attorneys.

The representatives are Nancy Barto, Frank Carroll, John Fillmore, Mark Finchem, Travis Granthan, Anthony Kern, David Livingston, Steve Pierce, Bret Roberts and Kelly Townsend. The senators are Sylvia Allen, Sonny Borrelli and David Gowan.





Brnovich to probe Maricopa County’s 2020 election

Attorney General Mark Brnovich speaks at the 2020 Converge Tech Summit at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is taking up Senate President Karen Fann on her request for an investigation into the findings of the Cyber Ninjas’ audit report. 

On Monday, his office’s Election Integrity Unit sent a letter to the Senate asking for supporting documents from the Cyber Ninjas’ audit report released on Friday, according to a news release from Brnovich’s office. Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright also sent a letter to Maricopa County officials asking them to preserve all documents and data related to the 2020 election, saying she expects to need them as part of the investigation. 

“The Arizona Senate’s report that was released on Friday raises some serious questions regarding the 2020 election,” Brnovich said. “Arizonans can be assured our office will conduct a thorough review of the information we receive.” 

Wright is asking the Senate to turn over unredacted copies of all reports; evidence supporting some of the findings, including subcontractor Ben Cotton’s claims about files being deleted and county elections devices connecting to the internet and Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai’s allegations about inadequate signature verification; and an opportunity to meet individually with the contractors and subcontractors who prepared the audit report.  

Wright is also asking the county to preserve a long list of election-related records, including ballots, election equipment, electronic data related to election systems, security camera footage and building access records. 

Fann, R-Prescott, wrote to Brnovich on Friday, sending him a copy of the report and asking for an investigation. Much of her letter was focused on criticizing Maricopa County officials for not cooperating with the audit and listed changes to election administration she would like to see in response to the audit’s findings, such as a more stringent signature verification process, “constant, unrelenting maintenance” of voter rolls and state oversight of cybersecurity for elections. 

Brnovich has come in for criticism from Trump supporters and from former President Trump himself for acknowledging President Biden’s win in Arizona. However, he has backed the Senate’s authority to conduct the audit and its legal positions, such as siding with the Senate a month ago in a subpoena dispute with Maricopa County. On Friday, he put out a two-sentence statement saying he would “take all necessary actions that are supported by the evidence and where I have legal authority.” 

Kelly Townsend

In addition to the investigation announced Tuesday, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, submitted a request for Brnovich to investigate some questions raised by the auditbut he quickly put an end to it. Commonly known as a “1487 request” after the law that gives legislators the power to ask the AG to investigate government entities for possible violations of state law, Townsend asked Brnovich to look into a wide range of issues. Among them are questions about the paper used for ballots, the signature verification process and the voting machines. 

“I am not satisfied with unanswered questions and unreported issues,” Townsend said. “I want to know what laws were broken, who broke them, and who will be held accountable.” 

Brnovich told her in a letter, however, that he was already investigating and a 1487 request is an inappropriate vehicle to thoroughly investigate the issues in the report.  

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include Brnovich’s response to Townsend’s request. 

Controversial abortion bill signed into law

Medical Concept: Black Chalkboard with Abortion. Medical Concept - Abortion Handwritten on Black Chalkboard. Top View Composition with Chalkboard and Red Stethoscope. 3D Rendering.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on April 27 signed the state’s most far-reaching anti-abortion measure in years, criminalizing providing abortions sought because of a genetic abnormality.  

The bill, which passed both the House and Senate on party-line votes, also contains a section declaring that the state considers fetuses humans with all associated rights from the point of conception – though there is an exception for embryos created for in vitro fertilization. 

“There’s immeasurable value in every single life — regardless of genetic makeup,” Ducey said in a written statement. “We will continue to prioritize protecting life in our preborn children, and this legislation goes a long way in protecting real human lives.”  

Bill sponsor Nancy Barto, a Republican senator from Phoenix, framed her measure as way to protect the most vulnerable. But Democrats who fought against the bill said it doesn’t actually help people with disabilities.   

“This bill is an attempt by anti-abortion groups to co-opt the mantle of disability rights,” Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, said in Senate debate on the bill.  

Just a few weeks ago, the measure looked likely to die. Sen Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, joined 14 Senate Democrats in voting against it, saying he had issues that could not be resolved. 

Days later, under pressure from abortion rights opponents and his fellow Republican lawmakers, Pace agreed to a series of maneuvers to revive the bill and attach new amendments. He served on a conference committee that declined to hear testimony, leading advocates with Planned Parenthood of Arizona and other supporters of abortion rights to rally outside the Senate leading up to the meeting and retreat to a House conference room to watch the debate on TV. 

Among the activists was Phoenix mother Morgan Tucker, who told the Arizona Capitol Times that she wasn’t comfortable yelling into a microphone. But, because Republicans who ran the committee wouldn’t let her testify, it was the only way she could share her story.  

Last spring, Tucker and her husband were delighted to learn that they were expecting fraternal twins. Their joy dissipated when they learned that their unborn son had a heart defect causing blood to come into his lungs.  

If her pregnancy continued, doctors told Tucker, her son wouldn’t survive. But beyond that, both Tucker and her unborn daughter would be at risk. Her physicians advised that the safest option was a selective reduction – a procedure that required her to travel to Los Angeles and pay $9,000 out of pocket. 

“My daughter is here today and she has her mother here today, because we had that care,” she said. “They’re not taking into consideration the fact that every single pregnancy and birth is so unique, and we can’t have a blanket agenda placed over it because there’s always going to be a case like mine.”  

Amendments that brought Pace on board aim to protect physicians who give advice like the counsel Tucker received. The version of the bill signed by Ducey exempts abortions provided if the doctor determines that a genetic abnormality would kill the baby within three months after birth.  

And the amendment supported by Pace would only make it illegal for doctors to provide abortions sought “solely” because of a genetic abnormality. A woman could still choose a number of other reasons, including simply electing to have an abortion as she has had the right to do since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, without risking her doctor’s freedom. 

Opponents warned that the bill could deter more doctors from practicing medicine in Arizona, at a time when the state already has a shortage of medical professionals, particularly in rural areas.  

“Why come to a state to practice medicine when the state legislature will turn you into a criminal for doing your job?” Asked Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson.  

But supporters, including Sen. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican who also works as a doula, said thathey don’t view abortions as health care.  

“We need to be honest with ourselves,” Townsend said. “Aborting a child because there’s a genetic abnormality is not health care. You’re euthanizing a child.” 

The governor last week signed a bill that would require the state to post an online list of agencies that guide pregnant women to adoption resources that have no affiliation with organizations that also provide abortion services. A proposal to spend state money on “crisis pregnancy centers” that also counsel women away from seeking abortions is expected as part of budget negotiations.  

In signing the bill, Arizona becomes one of only a handful of states with such a restriction. 

It also potentially opens the state up to litigation. While a federal appeals court has upheld a similar law in Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court has never decided whether this kind of blanket rule runs afoul of its precedents limiting the right of states to interfere with a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to a fetus becoming viable. 

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.  

Cook defenders, critics both have concerns about ethics process

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The five-month House Ethics Committee investigation into Rep. David Cook followed a long, winding path through a muck of innuendo and half-truth, only to arrive at a determination that never was very far off.

In doing so, the committee alienated or at least annoyed diverse swaths of the Legislature. Complaints about the process – and the final result, an ambiguous dismissal of the complaints against Cook – came from Democrat and Republican, Cook critic and defender alike. Taken together, they represent a desire to create more clarity and consistency in the functioning of the committee, now on its third major probe in as many years.

On one end, Cook’s Republican defenders question why the committee needed so much time to arrive at what they believe was essentially a foregone conclusion: regardless of whether Cook had an affair with AnnaMarie Knorr, a former lobbyist for the Western Growers Association, it’s doubtful that the affair significantly influenced Cook’s voting record, as he was already a staunch ally of the agriculture industry.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“Why did it take how many months and how much money to know that?” said Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican and staunch critic of this most recent ethics probe.

Dozens of love letters indeed seemed enough to convince the committee members and investigators that Cook, a Republican rancher from Globe, led a deeply personal – if not romantic – relationship with Knorr. And there was evidence that Cook at least knew about plans in Pinal County to seize Knorr’s liened property, and may have reached out to County Sheriff Mark Lamb and others to inquire about seizure policies. And Cook indeed ran legislation that would benefit agricultural taxpayers in Knorr’s position.

But the adjacent charges were all murky, and ultimately, Rep. John Allen, a Scottsdale Republican who led the committee’s investigation, decided not to pursue action against Cook, reasoning that none of the evidence investigators gathered amounted to a violation of House rules.

“Anyone could tell them that the day the complaint was levied,” said Townsend, who has filed a records request for the committee’s spending. “If we’re going to have an annual tradition of seeing if we can dig up something, if we’re gonna have ethics complaints on members, I want to know how much it’s going to cost. I think it’s something the taxpayer needs to know.”

Townsend’s complaints are similar to those of Cook’s attorneys, who regularly aired their frustrations with the House – with which Cook’s team waged protracted battles over the probe’s scope, document production and subpoena requests.

Carmen Chenal Horne, one of Cook’s attorneys, said the Ethics Committee should have guidelines for the process.

John Allen
John Allen

“They have no process for an investigation. It’s whatever they want to do,” Chenal Horne said.

The House’s outside legal team, led by Ballard Spahr attorney Mark Kokanovich, exchanged frequent testy letters with Cook and Chenal Horne, badgering them to comply with overdue document requests and eventually a legislative subpoena. Chenal Horne, meanwhile, grew increasingly frustrated with the House’s reticence to respond to a public records request for the contents of the committee’s investigative file.

Adding to this grievance was the fact that Allen showed no compunction about expanding the investigation beyond the four corners of the formal complaints against Cook, assuming evidence led investigators in that direction. This meant that the final investigative report against Cook contained frequent allusions to his drinking and comportment with Capitol denizens other than Knorr.

There’s no reason why this probe can’t lead to the creation of a subcommittee to put guardrails on the committee moving forward, Chenal Horne said.

“They’re not Hitler. It’s not a totalitarian Legislature where they can do whatever they want,” she added.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers was intentional about not involving himself in the investigation, granting Allen broad discretion to lead the probe as he pleased. It’s under this discretion that Allen decided not to pursue action against Cook, despite writing him a scathing letter in which he all-but conceded that the allegation is true.

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

This was an issue for the Ethics Committee’s two Democrats, Reps. Kirsten Engel and Domingo Degrazia, both attorneys from Tucson.

“We left that hearing in June with the expectation that the next step would be the committee coming back together, deciding whether or not … to provide an evidentiary hearing,” Engel said. “That was the bare minimum of what we were expecting to be the next step.”

Yet, despite Allen’s report, which among other things pointed to Cook’s possibly illegal failure to comply with a legislative subpoena, the probe will not move forward.

“I did what any chairman would do; evaluate the facts that are in front of me and decide if we will hear it in the whole committee,” Allen said.

Engel said the disparity between evidence and conclusion demonstrates that “we need some actual standards to govern our ethics investigations,” not to mention the creation of a formal code of conduct, something that the House Democrats lobbied for. She said that even so, the lack of a code that specifically interdicts romantic relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers is no excuse for the investigation to fizzle out, nor is the lack of a session in which lawmakers could vote on the committee’s recommendation.

“This investigation could and should have gone forward even with what bare bones standards and processes we have in place,” Engel said.

Allen’s decision came as no surprise to Rep. T.J. Shope, who chaired the House Ethics Committee during its investigations into former Rep. David Stringer, who resigned, and Rep. Don Shooter, who the chamber expelled after multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

“I didn’t know that any of that [Cook] stuff rose to the level of expulsion,” Shope said.

Moreover, he said, pursuing expulsion could be a foolhardy venture without a guaranteed, bipartisan 40-vote coalition willing to pull the trigger. The upcoming August primary, in which voters could very well decide to support Cook, makes that calculus even trickier, Shope said.

Still, he added, there are lessons to take from this process – for example, the issue of the committee’s subpoena power. In his letter last week, Allen says clearly that Cook failed to comply with a legislative subpoena as required by state law. Allen chose not to pursue the alleged infraction.

“Whether this conduct alone amounts to disorderly conduct is, at best, a close call,” he wrote. “And close calls probably do not merit punishment by the committee or the House.”

Shope said Allen’s disinterest in pursuing this charge leaves an open question: How much power do those legislative subpoenas actually have. Are they legally binding or simply political tools?

Shope was willing to take Stringer to court when he declined to comply with a subpoena, but ultimately the court never got to decide the degree to which the subjects of ethics complaints must comply with legislative subpoenas.

If the Legislature can’t flesh out the legal and constitutional ramifications of its rules, a string of these debacles could ensue. Eventually, Shope warned, those under investigation from the committee could decide altogether that they have no obligation to comply.

“At some point, we have to determine whether or not that subpoena is absolute,” Shope said. “I believe it is. That’s why I was prepared to go to court.”

County supervisors to approve audits of election equipment

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

Maricopa County supervisors are set to approve two separate audits of election equipment Wednesday in a bid to satisfy questions about security and the 2020 results — and avoid further litigation with the state Senate.

Chairman Jack Sellers said Tuesday he still believes that the tally showing more votes for Joe Biden than Donald Trump correct. He said that was shown through a series of court rulings and a statutorily required hand count of a sample.

“However, a significant number of voters want the additional assurance that a full forensic audit of election tabulation equipment might bring, especially given all the misinformation that spread following the Nov. 3 general election,” Sellers said. So the board will vote on Wednesday to authorize two audits.

“It is my belief these audits will prove our machines were not vulnerable to hacking or vote switching,” he said.

But Senate President Karen Fann acknowledged that may not be enough to satisfy legislators who believe the November election was rigged.

Several senators told Capitol Media Services they’re not convinced that an audit supervised by the county will be adequate.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“The Senate is moving forward with our own audit,” said Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, one of the Arizona legislators who has expressed doubt about the reported election returns. And Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said the Senate still intends to do its own examination.

In both cases, they said that was being done with Fann’s approval.

Fann, however, said it’s yet to be determined whether the Senate will do its own review. She wants to see exactly what the supervisors approve and the extent of the proposed audit.

“I’m waiting for a copy of that so I can see if that scope is everything that we were looking for,” she told Capitol Media Services.

“And if it is, great,” she said. “And if it’s not, we’ll have to have a conversation about what do we need to do to make sure we can truly put this thing to bed and answer all of these questions that so many of our constituents have.”

Some Republicans have raised questions about the results of the presidential race where Democrat Joe Biden got Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by beating incumbent Republican Donald Trump by 10,457 votes statewide.

The focus has been primarily on Maricopa County where Biden beat Trump by 45,109 votes, with many of the attacks based on unproven allegations that the Dominion Voting Systems hardware and software used there was either programmed or hacked in a way to move Trump votes into Biden’s column.

Several lawsuits challenging the results were thrown out.

A Dominion Voting ballot scanner is delivered to a polling location in Gwinnett County, Ga. outside of Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, in advance of the Senate runoff election. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
A Dominion Voting ballot scanner. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

One challenge filed in federal court resulted in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa that “the allegations they put forth to support their claims of fraud fail in their particularity and plausibility.” And a different state court judge tossed out a separate claim of irregularities after a random review of early ballots found the error rate was so small that it would not have changed the outcome of the vote.

That did not satisfy some lawmakers, with the Senate issuing a pair of subpoenas demanding access to everything from the raw ballots to access to the voting equipment. That landed the parties in court as the Senate sought to enforce those subpoenas and attorneys for the county argued that it would violate the law to give legislators access to everything they want.

Both sides agreed last week to shelve the litigation and see what they can work out.

What the supervisors are supposed to vote on Wednesday is designed to address that, but without losing control of the documents and the machinery.
“We are going to send an invite to the Senate and ask them to participate and give us feedback,” said County Supervisor Steve Gallardo.

“We’re doing one audit,” he said. “But in terms of us turning over ballots and turning over machines, it ain’t happening.”

Fann said that, for the moment, she’s satisfied with what the county is proposing without the need for the Senate to do its own audit.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is to reinstill voter integrity and confidence,” she said. “And so we have to make sure we do it right, do it independently, so that voters — hopefully 95% of them — will say, ‘Yes, you have proven to us that it was done correctly and you have answered our questions.’ ”

A draft of the proposal before the supervisors shows a multi-pronged approach.

First, it would determine that the county’s tabulation equipment is state and federally certified. There also would be a check for malware on the system and a verification that the tabulation equipment was not connected to the internet during the general election.

Second is a “logic and accuracy” test to verify that the results being reported by the machinery match the votes on the submitted paper ballots. There were similar tests already performed before and after the November election.

Finally, auditors would verify that the Dominion software was leased according to state and county procurement regulations.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Fann said she has been doing extensive research on what it takes to verify accuracy of election equipment, even reaching out to her counterpart in Georgia, another state where the results for Biden were questioned, to determine how they verified the results there.

The Senate president acknowledged that goal of satisfying 95% of voters is probably the best that can be hoped for.

“You know, in this world not 100% of people agree on everything,” she said.

“If it comes back that there are no problems, I’m going to have 5% that said, ‘I don’t believe that,’ ” Fann explained. “And if it comes back and there are problems, I’m going to have at least 5% that come back and say, ‘I don’t believe that.’ ”

Gallardo said he and his colleagues are willing to contract with outsiders for the audit if it will reinforce voter confidence and blunt the criticism of GOP legislators who have made repeat allegations of fraud and misconduct.

“I think it’s upon us to really push back to show that, no, our system is secure, it’s accurate, it’s safe,” he said.

“We had a good system, we had a great election,” Gallardo continued. “I’m sorry they don’t like the results of it but, nonetheless, the results are what the results are.”

Crowd’s treatment of Ugenti-Rita heightens Senate discord

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks April 22, 2021, during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

The unfriendly crowd Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita encountered at a Trump rally July 24 may prove problematic for her secretary of state run, but what happened after may complicate the 2022 legislative session.  

After leaving the stage, Ugenti-Rita ran into a teenage provocateur working for a right-wing website whose approach of journalism consists of yelling at elected officials and bureaucrats he dislikes. She answered his first question – she blocked some of Sen. Kelly Townsend’s election bills because they were “bad” — and tried to walk away as the man yelled more questions after her. 

Ugenti-Rita eventually told event security the man was harassing her, at which point they asked him to leave. Townsend encouraged him to return. 

“This shows (Townsend’s) erratic emotional behavior & sick personal vendetta against me and others masked as caring about election integrity,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted. “If she isn’t stopped someone is going to get hurt.”  

Her message continued as a direct appeal to Senate President Karen Fann: “This is the 2nd Senate member (Townsend) has encouraged violence against and you continue to ignore the situation. You must deal with her behavior immediately for the safety of the public, staff and members.”  

Simmering tensions between Townsend and Ugenti-Rita have already killed multiple bills supported by the remainder of their caucuses. Townsend insists it won’t happen next year – but she also wants Ugenti-Rita to resign.  

“I don’t care how well she’s done with election issues, or for how long she’s done it or how well she’s done it,” Townsend said. “If she is abusive in her position of power, then she needs to resign. We’ll find somebody that respects the community enough to not do that to them.” 

Conflict within the caucus isn’t limited to the pair of senators. Senate Republicans can’t afford to lose a single vote on any legislation that Democrats won’t support, and leaders have continued to alienate Sen. Paul Boyer, the Glendale Republican most likely to balk on some issues – particularly the Senate’s ongoing audit of 2020 election results. 

This week alone, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, went on a conservative talk show to complain that Boyer went “over to the dark side” and someone moved Boyer’s desk on the Senate floor to the Democratic side of the aisle. The desk-mover could be Senate Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, who’s in charge of seating charts, but he didn’t return inquiries from Boyer or the Arizona Capitol Times. Fann and Ugenti-Rita also did not return phone calls.  

Longtime lobbyist Chuck Coughlin speculated that problems in the Senate Republican caucus may result in Fann’s ouster, or even a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats.  

“It’s the cannibalization of their own caucus,” he said. “I’m not clear that with these types of divisions going on and a one-seat majority that the leadership arrangement will persist.” 

The Senate stands in sharp contrast to the House, where Speaker Rusty Bowers has held a 31-member Republican caucus with a one-vote majority in check for the past three years. Bowers has had disputes in his own caucus, including threats to replace him as speaker and a failed recall attempt supported by some House Republicans, but the House’s conflicts have never boiled over in the same way. 

Coughlin attributes much of that success to Bowers’ even-keeled temperament. Like Coughlin’s former boss, Gov. Jan Brewer, and former President Ronald Reagan, the speaker seems to follow a rule of not publicly criticizing members of their own party.   

“Speaker Bowers has been around much longer, and his discipline with regard to internal disputes won’t allow those things to come out,” Coughlin said. “He’s a very grace-filled man. He’s a human punching bag, but he never reacts to that. And, (House Majority Leader Ben) Toma is same way.”  

Fann has been publicly critical of some of the senators in her caucus since shortly after she became president. During an end-of-session interview with the Arizona Capitol Times in 2019, Fann complained about a lack of “team spirit” from a group of new Republican senators who refused to vote for the budget plan she presented to them unless and until it included their priorities.  

“It’s very hurtful to think that you work very closely with people only to find out that their personal wishes are more important than that of the entire group,” she said.  

Prior to that, Ugenti-Rita said she asked Fann to let her preside over debate on some bills in committee of the whole, only to have Fann tell her that was a privilege reserved for “team players.”  

“I asked [Fann] specifically, and I was told that I’m not a team player and that I’m a smart girl and can figure it out,” Ugenti-Rita said in June 2019.  

Most of Fann’s comments have centered around Boyer, who began disappointing her before his first term in the Senate even began. He was one of several Republicans who voted for former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, for Senate president, and in 2019 his crusade to secure expanded legal rights for survivors of childhood sex abuse delayed the state’s budget and led to a standdown where Boyer ultimately prevailed. 

In 2020, he joined two moderate Republicans who have since left the Senate in pushing for the Legislature to shut down during the height of the Covid pandemic. This year, he blocked Fann from arresting Maricopa County’s supervisors for contempt when they sought a court order affirming the Senate’s audit subpoenas and has become one of the most vocal Republican critics of the audit. 

Boyer said he won’t let conflicts within the Senate or pressure from outside change how he votes on legislation. If it’s a good policy, no matter who the sponsor is, he’ll vote for it, he said.  

“I’m not going to make my decision based on how I’m being treated,” he said. “I always looked at the argument. It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out for drinks after, but I don’t really do that anyways, so it’s not like I’m missing anything.” 

Curfew OK for conservatives who opposed stay-at-home order

Tucson Police Department officers guard firefighters approaching a dumpster lit on fire by protestors rallying over the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Josh Galemore/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
Tucson Police Department officers guard firefighters approaching a dumpster lit on fire by protestors rallying over the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. Protests were held throughout the country over the death of Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Josh Galemore/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Conservatives in the Arizona Legislature who held Gov. Doug Ducey’s feet to the fire over his COVID-19 stay-at-home order have had few qualms with the curfew he ordered in response to looting at a Scottsdale mall, despite his promises that he would not subject the state to a lockdown again.

Many Republicans, especially in the state House of Representatives, were harshly critical of the governor’s earlier response to the coronavirus, painting the lockdown as government overreach that hamstrung the state’s economy and limited the rights of Arizonans. This criticism persisted even as it became clear that most police departments were not taking advantage of the enforcement mechanism in the order, which classified violations as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

But whereas a month ago some legislative Republicans were hoping to pass a resolution overturning Ducey’s emergency declaration, they’ve been much more circumspect in their assessment of the curfew that Ducey ordered at the beginning of the week.

Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem

This more recent order, issued in the fallout of national demonstrations over racist and violent policing highlighted by the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, bans Arizonans from going out into public — except to patronize private businesses, among other exceptions — between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. The curfew is set to expire on June 8, though Ducey can extend it if he wishes.

Some Republicans, like Rep. Mark Finchem of Tucson, say the two situations aren’t comparable.

“On the one hand you had what was a public health emergency declaration,” he said. “My only complaint was that I thought it went on too long without informing the House and the Senate of where does this end, what are the terms and conditions of this.”

The curfew, he said, is a “whole different animal,” asserting that Ducey is using the main tool available to him to “protect state assets, lives and property.” He said the order is “distasteful,” but nonetheless necessary to stave off property damage and what he sees as a rising tide of communists and anti-fascists. “When you have people that are destroying other peoples’ property, that’s the leftist world,” he said.

Leaders of several Arizona city and county law enforcement departments have said they would not enforce the order. Finchem said those places — which include Yuma County, the town of Winslow and others — choose not to enforce the order at their own risk, though he acknowledged that many of these jurisdictions aren’t seeing mass protests anyhow.

This is not to say that some conservatives don’t think that cities should have that latitude.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

Rep. Bob Thorpe, who was among the many GOP critics of Ducey’s stay-at-home order, said he supports the governor’s curfew, though he wishes it could be more narrowly targeted.

“What we saw, especially in Scottsdale, is extremely troubling and in that regard I’m glad they did the curfew,” he said, adding that he thinks local law enforcement should be able to ignore the curfew if it’s unnecessary in their communities.

He also suggested the curfew should apply only to 16 to 25 year olds, who he suspects are the driving force for the mayhem. Thorpe said he felt “absolutely horrible” for what happened to George Floyd and the anger that has spurred from it is “completely acceptable.” However, he thinks the protests are “being hijacked.”

“They’re looking at this as an opportunity to ramp it up way past a simple political protest,” he said.

Republicans are right that an apples-to-apples comparison between the stay-at-home order and the curfew is difficult, said Democratic Rep. Domingo Degrazia of Tucson — though perhaps not for the reasons they think.

“Remember that with COVID-19, we’ve had COVID viruses cruising around the planet for years,” Degrazia, an attorney who specializes in data privacy, said. “We know how they operate, how they spread. With something like a pandemic, it’s easier to point to the data and say this is where the public health issue is and this is what we should do.”

But the threat posed by protests is harder to quantify. Plus, there are legal questions to ponder, he said.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“Political speech is the most highly protected form of speech and protections go with the speech,” Degrazia said. “It’s hard to imagine the curfew would withstand strict scrutiny questions of whether it is necessary and narrowly tailored when mayors didn’t ask for it and rural police said they won’t enforce it.”

Ducey initially said that he issued the curfew at the behest of mayors throughout the state. But none of the mayors of large cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, Scottsdale or Flagstaff say they requested the order, and many police departments in rural Arizona have said they wouldn’t enforce it. Eventually, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office clarified that the curfew was recommended by Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Heston Silbert.

“We wanted this tool for law enforcement if they needed it.,” Ducey communications director Patrick Ptak told reporters. “It was never about, ‘Someone requested it so we did it.'”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Republican from Mesa who was a driving force behind an attempt to end the stay-at-home order with a concurrent resolution, has been mostly silent about the curfew, saying she has struggled to reach Ducey’s office to get more details.

“I understand why it was statewide, but I wish it was a little more clear,” she said.

Townsend said she wishes there was an option to allow cities to override the governor’s statewide order if they did not see criminal activity. “I would like to see the governor give relief to the towns that are not affected.”

Townsend said she didn’t want to condemn the governor before finding out more, since things may escalate to a point where the curfew would have been necessary. Still, she’s not comfortable with the state interfering with people’s First Amendment rights.

“But that doesn’t extend to criminal activity,” she said.

One distinction that may explain the different levels of Republican support is the impact the orders have on businesses, said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who supported both of the governor’s actions.

“There are no businesses being forced to shut down under this current thing, that’s probably the single biggest differentiator,” he said.

Either way, the curfew is troubling, Degrazia said, because of the “silence of lawmakers when the constitutional right to free speech is being infringed and their lack of willingness to address the underlying issues.”

He continued: “Worse yet is the abhorrent notion that all protesters are committing crimes – therefore protests should be limited. The exact opposite is true – crimes against the community sparked the protests. Instead of being silent, lawmakers should be vigilant in protecting the right to gather, march, rally, and protest peacefully.”

Democratic jobless plan emerges to dormant Legislature


A Democratic proposal to bolster the state’s unemployment benefit system is taking shape.

It’s the product of a consortium of lawmakers and left-leaning think-tanks who fear that the expiration of federal benefit supplements at the end of July could spell trouble for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Arizonans.

The broad outline of the plan, which has yet to be finalized into legislative language, calls for additional weekly benefits, for an increase in the amount of money Arizonans can make working part-time before they lose their benefit payments and for loosened eligibility requirements.

Democrats broke into working groups immediately after the adjournment of the regular legislative session with unemployment insurance reform as a chief concern, hoping to bring the issue up in a special session that at that time seemed all-but guaranteed. In the pre-pandemic era, Arizona’s maximum weekly unemployment insurance benefit was among the lowest in the nation – $240.

The federal government has kicked in an additional $600 per week to help Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, more than tripling Arizona’s usual weekly benefit. But unless Congress acts to extend this supplement, that money will evaporate on July 25.

Dave Wells
Dave Wells

“The whole unemployment compensation system that Arizona has is completely out of whack,” said David Wells of the Grand Canyon Institute, which, along with the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, has been work-shopping the leading Democratic unemployment proposal.

The plan would increase the state’s unemployment insurance benefit cap to $490 a week, half the average weekly wage of covered workers, Wells estimates. This would bring Arizona’s benefit cap in line with most of the Western region, Republican and Democratic states alike.

In Texas, the maximum weekly benefit is $521; in Utah, $580; in New Mexico, $511. Legislators in Arizona last voted to increase the weekly maximum benefit in 2004, when they bumped it from $215 to $240 – or $960 a month.

Meanwhile, Wells said, it’s gotten more difficult for Arizonans to get on unemployment to begin with. Arizona’s income eligibility threshold – the amount of money a person had to make in the job they lost to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits – has risen to the nation’s highest.

Currently, the state says that you must have earned at least $4,680 in your highest-earning quarter in a base year to qualify for unemployment benefits, or more than $7,020 over a four-quarter period. Pandemic Unemployment Insurance from the CARES Act does allow some of those who would not typically meet this qualification to get benefits, though that’s not a permanent change.

The GCI calls for lowering that threshold to between $2,400 and $3,120 in that highest-earning quarter, essentially allowing a greater number of Arizonans who lose low-paying jobs or part-time work to access benefits.

This would still leave Arizona on the high end relative to neighboring states – in New Mexico, for example, the threshold is $1,993 in the highest earning quarter of the base year.

Separately, the plan also proposes the state increase its income disregard, especially important as more and more Arizonans go back to work, albeit perhaps not at the same hour or wage level as before, Wells said.

The disregard is how much money the state lets an Arizonan earn while on unemployment before it begins subtracting from their benefits. As an example: If one Arizonan earned $700 a week before the pandemic, received $240 per week in state unemployment benefits after being laid off, and is subsequently rehired at only part-time hours, receiving $420 per week, they would be effectively kicked off unemployment.

That’s because the state’s income disregard is set at $30 per week, meaning everything an employee earns above that is subtracted from their benefit payment.

“It’s a double whammy, a combination of a low benefit cap with a low income disregard,” Wells said.

Wells recommends that if the state can manage to increase its benefit cap, it should also set the income disregard at a quarter of the weekly benefit amount, a formula that most other states in the region use.

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

The governor could change that income disregard amount on his own, Wells said. In April, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp – a Republican – and state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler issued an emergency rule increasing the income disregard in that state from $55 to $300 a week, albeit temporarily, in an effort to encourage Georgians to begin returning to work. Lawmakers in Georgia passed a bill now awaiting Kemp’s signature giving Kemp flexibility to adjust that disregard on a permanent basis.

Arizona could foot the bill on these benefit expansions by increasing the amount that employers pay into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund by about $100 per employee per year, Wells estimated. Currently, the state pays into that trust fund by taxing the first $7,000 of gross wages paid to a worker each calendar year – which Wells works out to be between $116 and $168 per employee per year, depending on the business.

At this stage, making any of these changes would be difficult without the Legislature in session, unless Ducey – who has resisted calls from lawmakers of both parties to convene a special session – decides to follow Kemp’s lead and issue a temporary rule.

Some legislators have expressed interest in going around Ducey and calling a special session themselves, a move that would require a bipartisan, two-thirds majority. Last week, Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican, began circulating a petition to that effect. By July 13, she had gathered signatures from 17 members of the House and six senators, all Republicans (though not all of the caucus itself).

Democrats, who have made repeated calls for special sessions to address unemployment, police reform and other areas, did not sign on to the letter.

Reginald Bolding
Reginald Bolding

“We definitely believe that we need to have a special session in which we address COVID-19 issues,” said Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. “We need to make sure we’re thinking about the homeless community and unemployment. Also, we need a special session on police reform. Anything outside of that, we would consider that to be not the most pressing issues that are affecting the state of Arizona right now.”

Townsend, whose chief interest is reining in the authority of Ducey’s office, which some Republicans believe has gone too far in shutting down the state, doesn’t share those goals, Bolding said.

That said, Townsend and some of her colleagues have acknowledged that the expiration of the federal supplement – which currently bolsters the unemployment payments of around 400,000 Arizonans – could present problems.

Rep. Ben Toma, a Peoria Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said he’d be open to having “conversations” about increasing unemployment benefits, provided Democrats demonstrate a “responsible way to pay for it.”

“I’ve never had a problem with having discussion and open conversation,” said Toma, who did not sign Townsend’s letter.

Still, a special session on any subject seems a long way off, with the opportunity dwindling the closer lawmakers get to the August primary.

“There hasn’t been a really strong appetite at the Legislature to do anything related to unemployment,” Wells said. “You don’t really pay attention until you’re in a recession.”

Democrats irked at barefaced Republicans, don’t file complaints

Rep. Judy Burges, R-Prescott, and Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, are sworn in as new members during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. The House Republican caucus had separate swearing-in ceremonies for masked and barefaced lawmakers. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Rep. Judy Burges, R-Prescott, and Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott Valley, are sworn in as new members during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. The House Republican caucus had separate swearing-in ceremonies for masked and barefaced lawmakers. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

A month into the legislative session, nobody has yet filed a formal complaint about lawmakers who deliberately disregard the Covid safety guidelines set up by the House and Senate to ensure the safety of lawmakers, staff and visitors.

But Senate Democrats say that after pleading with Republicans to follow the rules and lodging verbal complaints with Senate leadership, they’re ready to take the next step and file formal complaints.

A public records request for complaints against lawmakers for breaking Covid protocols netted no records of any complaints in either the Senate or House.

But while no formal records have been filed, Senate Democrats have informally approached human resources and Republican leaders several times. Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said Senate President Karen Fann assured her she would intervene with lawmakers — but the time for polite requests is over.

“Clearly we are now in the second month of session, and we’re at the point where we’re going to start following up verbal complaints with written complaints,” Rios said. “It’s been a month, and that’s more than enough time to learn to wear a mask.”

Most recently, Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, on Monday complained to human resources about Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, not wearing a mask while wandering the hallways of the Senate — but that complaint came only after Townsend filed a complaint against Gonzales for harassment because Gonzales told her to wear a mask.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, left, speaks with Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, left, speaks with Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Human resources told Gonzales that Townsend was exempt from wearing a mask because of a medical issue, though Townsend has declined to disclose what that medical issue is or why it prevents her from wearing a mask. 

But for now no one is actually speaking up and filing complaints against those purposefully not following the rules.

The rules differ between chambers, but are basic. In the Senate, –  everyone must remain masked except while alone in an office. The House, which installed plexiglass barriers, makes exceptions for lawmakers at their desks on the floor. 

Everyone at the Capitol is also expected to keep six feet apart whenever possible, and handshakes and any physical contact aren’t allowed during committee hearings. But some lawmakers have disregarded the protocol since day one, and House leadership has empowered those who refuse to wear masks.

Instead of a single swearing-in ceremony at the House of Representatives, there were two: one for those who wore masks and one for those who didn’t. 

Since then, guidelines have been repeatedly violated. Representatives routinely wander the floor and speak without masks or while wearing their masks as chin straps or earrings  while several Republican senators only cover their noses when Fann is watching. One of the most salient details of former legislative assistant Michael Polloni’s ethics complaint against Sen. Wendy Rogers — that she screamed in his face until her spittle hit him — was only made possible because Rogers wasn’t  wearing a mask while in close quarters with staffers.

In the Senate, a Covid policy explicitly gives staff permission to leave the room if lawmakers aren’t following rules — but in practice, pages are still called over to assist senators who fail to comply with safety guidelines.

That gets to the heart of the power dynamics at the Capitol, where staffers can be fired for no reason, and have little to no room to complain about lawmakers.

Lobbyists are largely in the same position. Just as staffers are allowed to file complaints, but cannot do so in practice without compromising their relationships and endangering their jobs, lobbyists depend on personal relationships with lawmakers to do their jobs. Complaining about a lawmakers’ refusal to wear a mask would “be bad for business,” Tory Roberg, a lobbyist for Secular Coalition for Arizona, said.

“It would definitely cause tension if I said or did anything,” she said. 

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Before the start of the legislative session, Senate President Karen Fann said that failure to comply with the new guidelines could lead to an inability to conduct voting and a possible session shutdown. That hasn’t happened. 

Instead, Fann gave senators masks with the Senate seal and has gently reminded the lawmakers to wear their masks correctly.

“We’re doing a pretty darn good job with the masks, I just need a little more fine-tuning here,” Fann said on the Senate floor on the second day of session. “It needs to be up over your nose, please, because there are things that come out of your nose as well as your mouth.”

Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist with Creosote Partners said she doubts that House or Senate leadership would even take action against lawmakers who have disregarded the rules they set in place to keep staff, lawmakers, lobbyists and visitors safe. 

“It doesn’t sound like it would do anything other than making you feel a little better about getting it off of your chest, but the thing you’re getting off of your chest is that they’re not taking the pandemic seriously,” she said. 

House Democrats have criticized House Republicans for not wearing a mask when speaking during House committee meetings and not keeping their mask over their nose. But none of the Democrats have filed a formal complaint. 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said he has seen some improvement from House Republicans in following guidelines, but there are still “bad actors who are putting others’ health and safety at risk.” 

Those lawmakers who repeatedly break the rules need to “step up to the responsibility, that, not only that the (Senate) president has asked, but the governor, the (House) speaker and every other health expert has asked,” he said. 

“Those who are choosing not to wear it are doing it out of a sense of arrogance and I believe that is something they absolutely need to change moving forward,” he said.

Bolding has discussed raising points of order against lawmakers in violation of protocols and said “everything is on the table when it comes to health and safety and protecting staff and members.”

Bolding said it will be obvious when someone pushes him to raise a point of order, but he wouldn’t elaborate. 

Several staff and lawmakers have contracted the virus since the session started. While lawmakers continue to argue about taking the pandemic seriously, Arizonans continue to get sick. According to the Arizona Department of Health Service’s COVID-19 dashboard, since the Legislature began on January 11th over 123,000 new cases of Covid have been confirmed in Arizona and more than 2,500 deaths.

Julia Shumway contributed to this report

Dissension in AZGOP as Trump dumps Ducey

President Donald Trump listens as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a campaign rally at Prescott Regional Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump listens as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a campaign rally at Prescott Regional Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Gov. Doug Ducey got a phone call as he rustled through papers to find where to put his signature to certify the 2020 election results on November 30. 

He removed his cell phone from inside his suit jacket, scowled slightly, and silenced the “Hail to the Chief” ringtone to continue his duty as an elected official.

He may not have realized it at the moment, but ignoring that call may have ended a close relationship with the most powerful man in the world and escalated dissension in the Arizona Republican Party. 

On the other end of the line was the White House – likely President Trump himself. 

Ducey would not say that it was the president who gave him a ring, but did allow that Trump was on the other end when he called the White House back after the certification signing. 

Supporters of President Donald Trump protest in front of a local hotel where Arizona Republicans have scheduled a meeting as a "fact-finding hearing" to discuss the election, featuring members of Trump's legal team and Arizona legislators, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest in front of a local hotel where Arizona Republicans have scheduled a meeting as a “fact-finding hearing” to discuss the election, featuring members of Trump’s legal team and Arizona legislators, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

What exactly Trump told him, Ducey wouldn’t say. But it’s clear that Trump wasn’t pleased with Ducey for certifying the results of an election the president continues to dispute – results that give president-elect Joe Biden Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.

Trump lambasted his former ally on Twitter a few hours after Ducey ignored his call. 

“Why is he rushing to put a Democrat in office, especially when so many horrible things concerning voter fraud are being revealed at the hearing going on right now. @OANN What is going on with @dougducey? Republicans will long remember!” Trump posted on November 30, following up with a retweet saying Ducey “has betrayed the people of Arizona” plus other attacks.

The hearing Trump referred to was happening two miles from the Executive Tower, where Ducey and other top officials did the certification. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and eight other legislative Republicans were at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, hosting Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis at an unofficial election fraud hearing that they couldn’t get permission to hold at the Capitol. 

Giuliani and Ellis were ostensibly there to share evidence of fraud, with testimony from a line of witnesses that included an army colonel who said that the United States is facing “an unconventional warfare scenario” and a single poll observer from Tucson. 

The tide began to turn on Ducey as Trump and his followers at the Legislature and Arizona Republican Party launched a sustained attack on the governor, who until November 30, did everything in his power to appease the president.

Ducey came into the governorship as a straight-laced businessman, but had grown to accept Trump’s favor, if out of respect for the president’s many fans in Arizona politics as much as anything else. He became so accustomed to hearing from the White House that he disclosed making “Hail to the Chief” his ringtone for when Trump or Vice President Mike Pence called. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey hands over his signed election documents to certify the election results for federal, statewide, and legislative offices and statewide ballot measures at the official canvass at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey hands over his signed election documents to certify the election results for federal, statewide, and legislative offices and statewide ballot measures at the official canvass at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

“We’ve had so much outreach personally both from the president and vice president that I had to change the ringtone on my phone and it rings ‘Hail to the Chief’ because I didn’t want to miss another phone call directly from the White House,” Ducey said at the time. 

Minutes after Ducey ignored the first call and had turned off the ringtone, his phone vibrated audibly against the desk. The governor grimaced – and ignored it again.  

Ducey kept Trump at arm’s length from the 2016 campaign trail until Ducey was re-elected in 2018. But Ducey swiftly jumped on the Trump bandwagon in 2019, handing the president an early endorsement and attending multiple rallies during the pandemic that health officials viewed as super-spreader events. Ducey defended the rallies and his attendance as falling under the First Amendment. 

Ducey also patted Trump on the back at every opportunity for the handling of the pandemic, taking multiple trips to the White House while COVID-19 continued to ravage Arizona. 

But the 10-hour hearing at the Hyatt served moreover as an opportunity for the nine Republican lawmakers to rail against their party’s top officials – with of course the exception of state GOP Chair Kelli Ward, an enemy of the governor who populates her social media feeds with daily video screeds about the stolen election.

Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020, before introducing U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)
Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)

To Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley,  and other like-minded Republicans, Ducey’s refusal to call the Legislature into a special session to audit the election, and the refusal of House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann to assemble committees with subpoena power to do the same, constitutes an abdication of responsibility. 

At the hearing, they readily embraced the legal theory that they have the right to withhold Arizona’s 11 presidential electors, disregarding Arizona’s “faithless elector” law, which requires the state’s Electoral College votes to go to the candidate who received the most votes in the state. 

I’m appalled by the inept actions and the rudeness . . . (of) leaders of our own party and the body,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, at the Hyatt event, his voice raised. At one point, he apologized to Giuliani on behalf of the governor for ignoring his calls.

Senator-elect Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a persistent agitator against legislative leadership, called the government despotic and tyrannical, and added that it was “the right of the people and their duty to throw off such government, to throw off those leaders who are saying no.”

That some Republicans would take Trump’s side in his political divorce with Ducey isn’t a shock. 

Even before the November 3 election, complaints abounded that Ducey was too distant or uncaring about the priorities of Republican lawmakers outside leadership. He didn’t have the kind of back-slapping relationship that previous Republican governors had with the Legislature, and his eventual willingness to issue a stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19 – combined with his reticence to convene a special session – further alienated him from lawmakers who promised their constituents that they would get back to work. 

Proposals for legislation to rein in his executive authority soon followed, another sticking point between lawmakers like Finchem and Bowers. 

Those lawmakers who publicly criticized the governor may end up paying for it if their bills reach his desk, as Ducey has been known to use his veto power to keep the Legislature in line, like he did in 2018 when he went on a veto frenzy of 10 Republican-sponsored House bills in an attempt to force the Legislature to finish the state budget and pass his teacher pay raise plan. 

Ducey still has his allies in the Legislature, though they haven’t done much to back him up publicly. Bowers has put out internal statements to lawmakers explaining that they are effectively powerless to change the results of the election, but has not made any effort to censure them publicly. 

“(Ducey) ended up in hot water for saying everything right,” said Senator-elect T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, one of the governor’s staunchest supporters at the Capitol. “At a time when we should be celebrating the victories we had, it’s crazy to be doing this.” 

Ducey and his staff have been mum on those lawmakers directly, deferring Capitol Times to his Twitter thread defending the integrity of Arizona’s elections, as his response to Trump and others.

But he took a more direct approach to Ward — one of the most loyal Trump supporters — who shared the thread and told the governor to “shut the hell up.”

“The feeling is mutual to her,” Ducey said Dec. 2. “And practice what you preach.”

Dissension over masks returns in Senate, House

FILE - In this March 16, 2021, file photo, an usher holds a sign to remind fans to wear masks during a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottdale, Ariz. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday, March 29, to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE – In this March 16, 2021, file photo, an usher holds a sign to remind fans to wear masks during a spring training baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottdale, Ariz. The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Monday, March 29, to rescind its mandatory mask policy, and the House speaker made the same move on his own authority. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)

Around the time Senate employees swapped out paper signs saying masks were “required” with signs saying they were “encouraged,” new signs popped up outside the office suite shared by Sens. Rebecca Rios and Victoria Steele.  

Laminated yellow papers featuring a mask-wearing emoji and the words “please wear a face mask inside this office” are taped under their nameplates and on the door itself. After the Senate voted along party lines to eliminate its mask mandate on March 29, those pleas are all Democratic lawmakers and Senate staff say they have left to protect themselves from the airborne illness.  

“Unfortunately, now it’s every man for themselves,” said Rios, the Senate minority leader. “People will have to stay masked up and avoid people who refuse to wear masks.”  

In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Thursday, July 9, 2020, file photo, Gov. Doug Ducey speaks about the latest coronavirus update in Arizona. Ducey ordered cities and counties to scrap their mask mandates, but he will not take any action to curb their decisions to ignore the order. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

A week after Gov. Doug Ducey abruptly announced that he would stop local governments from enforcing mask mandates, except in their own buildings and public transportation – Arizona never adopted a statewide mask mandate – Republican majorities in the House and Senate have done away with mask requirements but left restrictions that limit public access to the government in place. 

In the House, where a mask mandate existed solely on Speaker Rusty Bowers’ orders, enforcement stopped immediately. House Government and Elections Committee Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said during his afternoon meeting on March 26, scant hours after Ducey’s announcement, that Bowers, R-Mesa, had told him masks were now optional.   

“I have no power to mandate mask wearing, especially when the actual rule is you don’t have to,” Kavanagh said in response to a complaint from Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, about some Republicans not wearing masks.   

Across the mall, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, took the news that the governor was blocking city mandates as a sign that she could finally leave her office, where she had been sequestered and voting by video call all session because she refuses to wear a mask.  

Townsend walked on to the floor on March 26, causing a commotion. Senate President Karen Fann told her to wear a mask “at least one more day,” and Townsend moved to the doorway, prompting Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, to insist that she needed to be escorted back to her office.  

A few days later, Townsend returned to the floor once again, this time for good. After a frequently emotional debate on March 29, the Senate voted to do away with the mask mandate entirely, but keep other Covid restrictions. 

Senate President Pro Tem Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, tore his mask off with a flourish as soon as the vote ended and gestured for a senior Republican staffer to do the same (the staffer refused). One row in front of him, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, fired off a tweet using language from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Free at last! I just removed my mask at the legislature. Looking forward to seeing more faces and fewer masks,” he wrote. 

No vote was required in the House, where only four Republicans showed up with masks on March 29. By March 31, most Republicans had removed the plexiglass barriers separating their desks, though Democrats kept them up.  

Masks are still mandatory in the chief clerk’s office and the rules office, and are encouraged wherever else social distancing is impossible, under the House’s new policy.  

“We are basically asking people, if they come to see people who are wearing masks, they show respect and maintain social distancing,” Bowers said.   

Fann, likewise, encouraged senators to show respect for each other. She swapped floor seats with Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, and the only Republican who sat on the left side of the chamber, creating an invisible line between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers. Fann is rarely at her desk because she presides over the chamber, and she vowed to wear a mask whenever she was there. 

It was a nice gesture, said Sen. Martín Quezada, who sits behind Fann, but it had the unintended consequence of bringing even more barefaced Republicans to his side of the room because they want to talk to Fann.  

“It’s like animals to a watering hole,” said Quezada, D-Glendale. “It just attracts more of those members over to her.”  

Quezada said he is particularly concerned about Senate staff, including the many young and not yet vaccinated pages who sit next to lawmakers on the floor and run errands for them. While Senate rules still explicitly allow employees to leave any room in which CDC guidelines are not being followed, he said no staffer in their right mind would challenge an elected official. 

One junior employee, the legislative assistant for freshman Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, was abruptly forced to resign earlier this year after talking back to Rogers about office décor and working while sick. That former employee is preparing to sue the Senate.  

“They can’t come out and give interviews,” Quezada said about Senate staff. “They can’t come out and be quoted in the newspaper, but I hear from them.” 

In this May 19, 2020, photo, then-Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, listens to debate in the House while wearing a protective mask. Shope, now a state senator, is one of few Republicans who continues to wear a mask after the Legislature dropped its mask mandate. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this May 19, 2020, photo, then-Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, listens to debate in the House while wearing a protective mask. Shope, now a state senator, is one of few Republicans who continues to wear a mask after the Legislature dropped its mask mandate. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

All legislative Democrats and employees but only a few Republican lawmakers have continued covering their faces this week. Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he decided to stay masked until after he gets his second dose of a Covid vaccine and waits the recommended number of days for the vaccine to fully take effect. 

Even after that, Shope said he’ll keep a mask in his pocket and be ready to put it on as needed.  

While the House and Senate have changed their mask policies, other Covid restrictions remain in place. As senators finished their work on the Senate floor on March 31, a masked-up custodial worker sanitized the bottom rung of a stair railing – continuing an intense cleaning regimen that began with Fann having pages scrub doorknobs every hour in March 2020.   

Lawmakers are still allowed to vote remotely in committee hearings and on the floor. Public access to both buildings is still limited, though Bowers said he will begin allowing a limited number of guests in the gallery. 

And in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike continue huddling in private rooms behind locked doors to hold caucus meetings that are legally required to be open to the public. Fann blocked Democrats from continuing to share video links to their caucus meetings and never offered the option for Republican caucuses, leaving lobbyists, reporters and interested citizens in the dark. 

Fann has blamed Covid – or, more precisely, critical coverage of how Republicans have handled Covid – for shuttering the building. 

Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting. 



Don Shooter expelled from Arizona House in wake of sexual harassment investigation

Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Don Shooter awaits a vote by the state House on whether to expel him on Feb. 1, 2018. He was later removed from office by a vote of 56-3. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Arizona House of Representatives voted 56-3 today to expel Rep. Don Shooter.

Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, originally was going to punish Shooter, R-Yuma, with censure for what investigators found to be his serial sexual harassment of colleagues and lobbyists.

Taking the floor, Shooter did not apologize, but said he “took it like a man.” He left before the vote was over.

After his ouster, Shooter told the Arizona Capitol Times, “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this.”

He once aspired to be speaker of the chamber and chaired the Appropriations Committee just last year. Shooter had served in the Legislature since 2011, first as a senator. He joined the House last year.

A letter Shooter penned to his colleagues Thursday morning was the tipping point for Mesnard.

In his letter, Shooter described allegations by an unnamed women who had been harassed by her “elected boss” at the Capitol. He said investigators did not include her account in the report and therefore the report was incomplete.

“What has been done to her, by omitting her story and not giving it the respect it deserves you disgrace the mission of the sexual harassment investigation committee and our chamber,” Shooter wrote. “No matter what happens to me, this young woman deserves better. The process matters. The truth matters; the process must be fair and complete.”

In a written statement, Mesnard said Shooter’s “improper conduct” had escalated, forcing him to move to expel the Yuma lawmaker.

He added that investigators, “who Rep. Shooter praised on Tuesday,” had examined every allegation made, including the one Shooter referenced in his letter.

“I’ve spoken with the individual referenced by Rep. Shooter, and the individual has stated that the letter does not reflect the individual’s reaction to the report. Rep. Shooter’s letter is nothing more than an effort to use the individual as a pawn – despite repeated requests from the individual’s attorney that Rep. Shooter not do anything to jeopardize the individual’s anonymity. He’s not standing up for the victim but rather is further victimizing the individual,” Mesnard said.

“Rep. Shooter’s letter represents a clear act of retaliation and intimidation, and yet another violation of the House’s harassment policy,” he continued.

Today’s vote marks the first expulsion of a lawmaker since 1991 when the Senate ejected Carolyn Walker, then the Senate majority whip, in the wake of the “AzScam” investigation. She and other lawmakers were caught in an undercover sting operation agreeing to take money in exchange for their votes; all the others resigned.

The last House expulsion came in 1948 when two members were removed following a fistfight.

In the interim, other legislators have quit prior to their colleagues having to actually bring a vote to the floor, including Rep. Daniel Patterson who quit in 2012 amid charges of verbal abuses and harassment of colleagues.

Shooter, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, and Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott voted against the expulsion.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

Here’s the full letter Shooter sent to his colleagues:

Dear Members,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter. Over the past few months, I have done much soul searching about what it means to be elected, to serve in elected office for the people I represent and our state. I have thought a lot about my actions and those I have caused to feel that I did not value by my careless, insensitive and offensive attempts at humor. I have thought a lot about Representative Townsend’s plea on the floor yesterday and the Speaker’s private, but urgent requests since the first week of this painful and public journey to resign.

Much of my focus has been inward and gradually coming to understand the impact of conduct, whether intentional or unintentional, that results in someone feeling demoralized and devalued. These are not just words I am saying because I have to. I care deeply that I have caused others discomfort at best and humiliation at worst. Those who know me, know that has been the hardest part of all of this. When I said that I want to begin to listen and apologize personally, to those who I have wronged, (who are interested) I meant it.

I have respect for those who had the courage to come forward whom I have wronged, because I know it has not been easy. They have paved the way for so many others to feel empowered and to educate those of us who just didn’t understand. Which is why I am writing today. Not to preserve myself but to honor one woman who reluctantly came forward even though she was terrified about the consequences of speaking the truth. With limited means, she hired an attorney and faced the biggest fear of her life because, ultimately, she dared to believe that she did not deserve to be sexually harassed and when people heard what she had endured, these private, humiliating experiences would be exposed and she would know that she never again would have to quietly and gracefully endure such conduct. She did not contact the media. She contacted and met with the independent investigator. It was the hardest thing she has ever done in her life. Yet, inexplicably, the pattern of outrageous conduct that she described, including comments allegedly made directly to her by her elected boss, as well as being subjected to her boss’ exposed genitalia, were not detailed in the report. What has been done to her, by omitting her story and not giving it the respect it deserves you disgrace the mission of the sexual harassment investigation committee and our chamber. No matter what happens to me, this young woman deserves better. The process matters. The truth matters; the process must be fair and complete.

I ask that before there is further discussion of the results of this investigation, the investigator be permitted to bring forward, with dignity and compassion, and ideally anonymously because I am certain that she has lost all faith in the system. This historic report must not hurt those it was intended to protect and empower. I ask that all of you honor the courage of this young woman whose only mistake, at this point, was the mistake of believing her voice mattered. Before we close this effort and consider consequences, I ask that the investigator not be restricted from describing and shining a light on this young woman’s agony. How dare this young woman be dismissed and hidden when she risked so much to come forward. If that is not permitted, fortunately, those with firsthand knowledge can come forward and right this wrong in the ethics committee.

I have come to understand the devastating impact of sexual harassment and no legislator, me included, has the right to sexually harass anyone. I have heightened sense of awareness and compassion for those I have hurt and have been hurt by others. Starting with my own conduct, allegations must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.



Don Shooter



Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Ducey agrees to forgo emergency powers to get vote on budget

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 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 has agreed to give up the emergency powers he granted himself 15 months ago to get the last vote necessary for his tax cut plan for the wealthiest in the state.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, told Capitol Media Services Wednesday that the deal finally means that the governor will no longer have the unilateral ability to create new laws and regulations and suspend others, using the justification of the Covid pandemic. Ducey’s exercise of those powers has been a bone of contention of not just Townsend but many Republicans.

With that promise, Townsend became the 16th Senate vote for not just the permanent tax cuts of at least $1.3 billion — and potentially $1.8 billion — but also the $12.8 billion spending plan for the new fiscal year that begins in a week.

That moves the debate to the House, but not until Thursday. Its action had to be delayed because four GOP lawmakers are missing, leaving the chamber without a quorum after Democratic legislators refused to show up.

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, says he has the necessary 31 votes — all Republican — to enact the plan once all of his members are in place.

Aside from Townsend’s vote for the plan, Ducey did get something else. Lawmakers inserted some provisions into the budget to codify in state law some of the reasons the governor said he needed those powers in the first place.

That includes, for example, a prohibition on cities and counties issuing their own emergency orders requiring the use of face masks, closing a business or, as Pima County did, imposing a curfew.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

“He needed this in here in order for him to feel good about rescinding the emergency order because he’s afraid of what Phoenix or Tucson are going to do,” Townsend said. “He’s basically saying ‘If I rescind the emergency order, then I need assurances that the cities can’t do all this other stuff.’ “

But there may be a delay: Townsend said she agreed to let Ducey defer ending his declaration until the state gets $450 million in Covid relief funds Arizona is owed from the federal government, funds the state may be entitled to only if it still has a declared emergency.

And, on the subject of gubernatorial emergencies, senators also approved a related proposal by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, that limits future declarations to no more than 120 days. Any extensions would have to be approved by the legislature, and only for 30 days at a time.

Now, once a governor declares an emergency it can last as long as he or she wants. Lawmakers can void the action with a simple majority vote. But that does no good if they are not at the Capitol, as it takes either a call by the governor or a two-thirds vote for a special session.

Townsend also got something else to become the necessary 16th Senate vote for the tax-cut and budget package: creation of a special legislative panel to review the results of the audit currently being conducted by the Senate of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.

The audit results are not due until at least August, long after the regular session is expected to be over. But Townsend said if this panel concludes changes are needed in state election laws, she expects Ducey to call a special legislative session later this year, enacting them in time to affect the 2022 election.

Townsend conceded she does not have an absolute commitment from the governor to issue such a call. But she said if he balked “it would not be politically expedient.”

“If he doesn’t do it, it’s a political time bomb,” she said.

And Townsend got something else in the budget: partial repeal of existing statutes that now allow the governor to order mandatory vaccinations of those with certain illnesses “or who are reasonably believed to have been exposed or may reasonably be expected to be exposed.” The change would allow people to opt out based on “personal beliefs.”

Gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin declined to comment on the deal with Townsend.

The key bills in the budget package — there are 11 of them — all passed the Senate largely along party lines after the GOP majority rejected every change sought by Democrats.

Some proposal sought additional funding, like one by Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, to appropriate more dollars to raise teacher salaries statewide. She said current wages are still not enough to keep qualified people in the classroom.

Also rejected were plans to put more dollars into school repairs.

Democrats had no better luck beating back policy changes that Republicans included in the budget package, like imposing $5,000 fines on schools that allow the teaching of lessons that suggest that members of some races are responsible for actions taken by others of the same race.

“Why is your discomfort more important than my history?” asked Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.

GOP lawmakers also approved expansion of who is eligible to get vouchers of state funds to send their children to private and parochial schools.

But the key debate was over the plan to permanently cut at least $1.3 billion in taxes — and potentially up to $1.8 billion — with those at the top of the income scale getting the biggest cut, not in just dollars but in percentage, of what they would otherwise owe.

Quezada told his GOP colleagues that they may live to regret their action.

“I’m going to get to vote ‘no’ on a budget that I believe is truly going to drive the nail in the coffin of the GOP dominance in the state of Arizona,” he said. “Once the people of Arizona realize what is actually in this budget, once they see this welfare-for-the-wealthy budget, they are not going to be happy.”

The plan would eventually move state income tax rates from the current four steps ranging from 2.59 to 4.5% to a flat 2.5% flat tax rate. It also would protect the wealthiest Arizonans from the full impact of  Proposition 208, a voter-approved 3.5% surcharge on earnings over $500,000 a year to help fund education.

“The overwhelming majority of Arizonans are barely getting enough to fill a tank of gas while the wealthiest of Arizonans are getting enough to buy a new car,” Quezada said of the plan.

“It is a short-sighted effort to make the wealthiest Arizonans richer,” said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said it makes sense that people who earn more and have higher taxes will get a bigger break. And he rejected the idea that voters won’t like Republican policies, saying that 2020 was a “banner year” for Republican legislatures nationwide based on their plans to curb taxes.

That wasn’t exactly true in Arizona where Joe Biden outpolled Donald Trump, Democrat Mark Kelly defeated Republican Martha McSally for U.S. Senate, and Republicans found their margin in the state House and Senate cut to just one vote.

But Mesnard said that last result was due to what he said were “gerrymandered” districts crafted by the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Anyway, he said, the Republican-controlled legislature has a record of helping those at the bottom of the income scale.

Mesnard cited a 2019 law which provided for a standard deduction of $24,000 for married couples, meaning anyone making less than that owes absolutely no state income taxes. Prior to that the figure was $10,366.

He also said that, absent the changes in the law, Arizona would have the second-highest top tax bracket in the country at 8%, meaning the current 4.5% cap plus the 3.5% surcharge from Proposition 208. Only California would be higher.

“People vote with their feet,” Mesnard said, citing the state’s rapid population growth as proof of the popularity of having policies that cut taxes and limit regulations.

And Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said the complaints of the Democrats smacks of class warfare.

“It seems kind of unfair to be attacking success in a system where we are a meritocracy, where you are actually rewarded for your efforts and you can actually pass on your successes to enrich other folks,” he said.

The final budget does have a small victory for some motorists.

Ugenti-Rita got a clarification in the law to say that anyone whose vehicle registration expires on June 30 is not required to pay the $32 per vehicle registration fee.

That fee already is set to self-destruct on that date. But the Department of Transportation has taken the position that even those who were buying new registrations that would be effective July 1 also had to pay it.

Her amendment ensures that the approximately 166,000 vehicle owners who already paid the fee will get a refund.


Ducey gets proposed ban on private funds for elections

In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Republican legislators voted April 7 to block counties from applying for private grants to make up for shortfalls in what they say they need to properly run elections. 

The 16-14 party-line vote by the Senate for HB2569 came as 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 billionaire Mark 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. 

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, complained that the cash that ended up in Arizona went to “key swing” counties, notably the Phoenix and Tucson areas. 

“This was targeted in a way to really undermine the integrity of the system under the guise of trying to promote and get out the vote logistics,” Borrelli he said. 

But the record shows otherwise. While the two largest counties got the largest allocations, seven others also got financial help, including Graham, La Paz, Yuma, and Pinal counties where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats. 

And Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, pointed out that this wasn’t unrestricted cash dropped on county election officials but that, in each case, they had to apply and spell out how they would use the money. 

That money, said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, went for particular needs this year due to the Covid pandemic, like additional drop boxes, cleaning supplies, rent for polling places, temporary staff and personal protective equipment. 

“Those are basic necessities when you are administering elections,” he said. 

“There is zero evidence whatsoever that this money was used in any partisan manner,” Quezada continued. “It wasn’t just helping Democrat voters, it was helping Republican voters, it was helping independent voters.” 

But Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the money received was above the adopted budgets for county recorders and was not needed to fill in gaps. 

“But beyond that, if this grant was coming from China or if this grant was coming from Russia, we might be calling it Russian interference with our elections,” she said. 

“So what is the difference between international money coming from a state overseas to an individual interested party, regardless of how it was spent and how desperately it was needed?” Townsend said. “It’s inappropriate.” 

That, however, still leaves the question of whether the counties had the money they needed. 

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, said she has worked in a county elections office. 

“There are struggles of logistics and so many unknowns,” she said, even in the best of circumstances. 

In the 2020 election, Peshlakai said, the extra grant dollars went into brochures and public announcements in rural Arizona. 

More to the point, she said there were measures to keep people from getting ill from Covid during the election. 

“They put out tents, they put out water, hand washing stations, sanitizer,” Peshlakai said. “And in many places they even put up porta-potties because the remote locations they vote in places are where people don’t have facilities, running water.” 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said it is “irrelevant” whether counties had enough money to run the 2020 election. He said the issue is the precedent being set. 

“This is about the future and whether or not in the future we’re going to allow big businesses to have a new tool in their arsenal for how they influence our elections,” Mesnard said. And he called it “alarming” that those who want more money for elections to say that it doesn’t matter what is the source. 

“If we don’t put a stop to this, if this becomes a trend, you’re going to see all kinds of very wealthy people engaging in this covert, behind-the-scenes” activity. 

Peshlakai, however, said if lawmakers are concerned about the influence of money, they should do more to curb the influence of cash to sway election results. Some of that, she said, is the result of the 2010 Citizens United case when the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that corporations had the same rights as individuals to donate to affect the outcome of elections. 

Mesnard had a different take on it. 

“This makes ‘dark money’ look like a bright day,” he said, referring to Arizona laws that allow special interest groups to try to elect candidates of their choice without having to disclose their donors. 

And he said the public is on his side. 

“When I talk to folks about, ‘Should we let Mark Zuckerberg start funding our elections,’ I have yet to find a single one who thinks that’s a good idea,” Mesnard said. 

The party-line vote sends the measure, which already has been approved by the House, to the governor. 


Counties that got outside funding for elections: 




La Paz$17,000 

Maricopa$2.9 million 





— Source: Arizona Association of Counties.  

An April 8 story incorrectly listed Yavapai County as one of the nine that received money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The story should have read Yuma County. A corrected version appears below.






Ducey signs divisive election bill

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

It took less than one hour for Gov. Doug Ducey to sign one of the most controversial election bills to reach his desk in six years.  

SB1485, which could potentially remove thousands of registered voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, passed the Senate on a 16-14 party line vote early Tuesday afternoon, following a roller-coaster few months in the Legislature that saw it appear to die twice 

Ducey, who has bragged about Arizona’s voting system and in January that he doesn’t know what more needs to be done with the state’s election process, said his signature does nothing to negate his pride in Arizona’s handling of elections. 

“It’s clear I am very proud of Arizona’s election system, and I’ve been a vocal champion of it – from our state capitol to the Oval Office,” Ducey wrote in his signing letter. “Because of that, some have suggested that means I can never ever support any improvements. That’s ridiculous. 

If the bill took effect now, activists estimate 150,000 voters could be removed from the Permanent Early Voting List because they didn’t vote by mail in the 2018 or 2020 primary or general elections. But because the bill does not apply retroactively, voters who do not cast a ballot by mail at any point in the 2022 or 2024 election cycles would receive letters ahead of the 2026 election cycle asking them if they still wish to receive ballots by mail.  

Ducey and Republican supporters of the bill say it only applies to voters who opt not to vote at all, but people who receive ballots by mail and opt to vote in person instead still risk being removed from the list.  

To remain on the list, which the bill renames the Active Early Voting List, voters must confirm in writing that they wish to remain on the list, include their address and date of birth and then sign it before mailing it back.  

Close to 80% of Arizona voters opt to receive their ballots by mail, including most lawmakers. The bill will not remove any registered voters from voter rolls, but voters who don’t return mail ballots for multiple elections in a row and don’t respond to the notices of removal would stop automatically receiving ballots by mail. 

Democrats who uniformly opposed the new law argued that this will have a disproportionate impact on young people, poor people and people of color, who are more likely to move frequently or prioritize other things above voting.  

“What is at the top of a lot of these people’s priority list?” Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale asked during an impassioned speech today. “It’s keeping food on their table, it’s keeping the lights on, it’s finding daycare for their children, it’s being able to drive down the street without getting pulled over and end up getting shot in the back by police. That is what is at the top of people’s priorities list, not voting. 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, has pushed this legislation with little success for several years. This year, with close margins in the Senate and the House that made it impossible to lose a single Republican vote, Ugenti-Rita watched her bill die twice in the Senate. 

The first time, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, voted against the measure because he misread it as kicking a person who misses a single election off the PEVL. After he learned it applied to people who missed multiple elections in a row, Boyer decided the measure was a “modest common-sense proposal.”  

Ugenti-Rita revived her bill, but it stumbled in the House when Greater Phoenix Leadership and a coalition of businesses signed a letter urging the bill’s defeat. The group called it a “voter suppression” bill and argued that Arizona’s election system is safe, secure and convenient.   

“Despite this success, we are now witnessing legislative efforts aimed at not only undoing this carefully crafted system, but actually attempting to suppress the votes of Arizonans. These efforts are misguided and must be defeated,” the letter read, and was signed by Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, a Ducey ally, the president of top legal firm Snell & Wilmer and the president of Banner Health, Arizona’s largest hospital system, among others.  

In response to the letter, Ducey said he would not allow business leaders to sway his decision on signing or vetoing legislation.   

Opponents of the election bills argued that Arizona could suffer a similar fate to Georgia in losing out of hosting major sporting events in the near future. Georgia lost out on the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star game. Arizona is set to host the Super Bowl, NCAA Men’s College Basketball Final Four, and the NCAA Women’s Final Four as well over the next five years. 

It’s no yet known if those sporting events will pull out of the state that once lost out on hosting a Super Bowl after voters turned down a ballot measure to create a Martin Luther King Day. Voters later created the holiday.  

Ugenti-Rita forced House Speaker Rusty Bowers to bring it to the House floor over objections from the business community with the use of a raucous news conference called to berate the press and critics. But after making it out of the House with minor amendments, the bill failed again in the Senate last month. 

In what Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, described as a principled stand for election integrity and Ugenti-Rita dismissed as sour grapes from Townsend over Ugenti-Rita not letting Townsend’s own election bills out of committee, Townsend voted against the measure. Townsend said she supported the bill, but she wouldn’t vote for it unless and until the Senate completed its ongoing audit of the 2020 election and her own election law amendments passed the Legislature in time to affect 2022 elections. 

Townsend changed her mind, however, and gave the bill the 16th vote it needs based on promises that the Senate will address her outstanding issues.  

“I have been reassured and convinced that it’s OK to move forward because we are now looking at other issues that needs to be fixed for the 2022 election, so I do feel confident going forward in good faith, voting yes on this that we will also be addressing other issues this session,” Townsend said.  

Voting rights groups and the Democratic Secretary of State quickly panned the legislation.  

“This is a mistake that will undermine our elections, not improve them,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tweeted. 

Congressman Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, has repeatedly vowed to lead an effort to refer the law to the 2022 ballot, allowing voters to approve or reject the law.  

Election audit overshadows work in Senate

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

In some ways, the most important event of the 2021 legislative session didn’t even happen at the Capitol.  

Most senators had little to do with the independent review of 2020 election results ostensibly being done in their name, and as the recount and the session stretched on, many Republicans who supported the audit in theory were eager to focus on their own legislation instead of fielding questions about the audit. 

But the shadow of the audit loomed over everything at the Capitol this year. Some speculated it was partially responsible for the long delay in passing a budget, and it was certainly responsible for a weekslong standoff when one senator publicly vowed that she would block adjournment, and vote against the budget, if necessary, until the audit was complete. 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, first locked the Senate into its ongoing audit by encouraging voters’ complaints in November, once it was apparent that Joe Biden was going to win Arizona and the presidency. While her counterpart in the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, unequivocally rejected attempts from inside and outside of his Republican caucus to challenge election results, Fann set up a voter fraud hotline, approved a December hearing about the election and signed multiple subpoenas demanding Maricopa County turn over ballots and election equipment. 

All of this was done, Fann said, with the full support of the Senate Republican caucus. But their deliberations took place behind closed doors and outside of any normal hearing process. 

“Our entire Republican body thought that this was  and still do believe this is  the right and ethical and moral thing to do,” she said.  

Fractures in the Republican caucus first appeared in early February, when Fann introduced a resolution to hold the five Maricopa County supervisors in contempt. That would allow Fann to send the Senate’s sergeant at arms to arrest Maricopa County’s supervisors and incarcerate them for the duration of the legislative session, though Fann later insisted arrest was never really on the table.  

Regardless, the prospect of arresting county supervisors – men many of the senators knew well and considered friends – was too much for Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. The first and only audit-related vote of the session failed 15-15, as Boyer joined Democrats to reject the contempt resolution. 

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference April 22, 2021.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Senate eventually won its court battle with Maricopa County, and a judge affirmed that the Legislature could subpoena the election materials.  

There were no formal hearings or public votes on the $150,000 contract Fann ultimately awarded to Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm led by a man who publicly endorsed claims of election fraud, her selection of former Secretary of State Ken Bennett to serve in a quasi-governmental role as the Senate’s liaison or any other aspect of the audit.  

When Fann and Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, eventually held a hearing, during a two-week break in ballot counting because the counting wasn’t finished by the time the Senate’s contractors had to vacate Veterans’ Memorial Coliseums for high school graduations, Senate Democrats who attempted to sit in were barred from the room. 

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said at the time that Democrats were informed that it was a closed meeting, it wasn’t safe for them to be there because of Covid and there was a livestream available to watch.  

Quezada texted: “If I were in her shoes, I can’t imagine I’d ever lock elected members of the Senate out of this process unless I had absolutely zero confidence in the legitimacy of the process I had started, the people I hired to administer it, or my ability to respond to whatever legitimate questions were asked of me in that hearing. It seems pretty pathetic to me.”  

While the Senate remained closed to the public, Republican elected officials from other states began popping up in the Senate gallery, as guests of Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff. Rogers, an outspoken Trump supporter and one of the audit’s biggest fans, invited lawmakers from around the country to tour the coliseum and take ideas back to their own states, with a visit to the Senate to round out their visit. 

Diehard Trump supporters with “Stop the Steal” flags were a constant presence outside the Capitol in some weeks, sometimes confronting Democratic activists at press conferences or shouting down reporters as they tried to ask questions.  

And when the session started looking like it would end before the audit did, true believers in the Republican caucus sought to block adjournment. After hearing that the Legislature could adjourn in two weeks, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, balked and began voting against election measures and vowing to vote against any other bills necessary to prevent adjournment. 

In the end, Townsend secured a promise, laid out in the state budget, that she’ll serve on a committee to oversee the audit results and potentially recommend a special session for more legislative work. While the session ended, the audit hasn’t yet. 


Elections priority for GOP lawmakers

Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday with a full agenda of things they want, ranging from reenacting what the Supreme Court voided to deciding what to do about previously approved tax cuts that are subject to voter repeal.

But the biggest fights may be over how much to alter state election laws. And at least some of the proposals stem from the continued charges that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump despite numerous lawsuits and audits that have shown those claims have no basis in fact.

A few of what lawmakers are expected to debate could be considered relatively innocuous, at least on the surface.

For example, Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, proposes to make the dates of the primary and general elections a state holiday. That would mean a day off for public workers.

Wendy Rogers

The plan, however, could run into business opposition because the same measure says anyone registered to vote “may be absent from the service or employment” to go vote and cannot be penalized or having his or her pay docked. By contrast, current law allows just a three-hour window — and one that is selected by the employer.

But Rogers has a more far-reaching measure, setting up a new Bureau of Elections within the governor’s office to investigate any allegations of fraud in any state, county or local election.

That new $5 million agency would have the power to not only subpoena individuals but also get a court order to impound election equipment and records. It would issue public reports but would be unable on its own to bring criminal charges.

There also will be debates over the actual process of how people vote.

Arizona already uses paper ballots. But they are tallied by machines. That had led to a series of claims — never proven — that the tabulated results could be manipulated, whether through stray marks on the ballots or entirely forged ones.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, brushed aside calls to have ballots counted entirely by hand as impractical.

Rusty Bowers

“If we’ve got seven months to wait for an election, then count away,” he said.

“Most people want it in a relatively short amount of time,” Bowers said. “And that’s what I’m interested in delivering.

But that excuse doesn’t hold water for Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who will head the Senate Government Committee, where Senate elections bills will be vetted.

“Do you want convenience or do you want secure elections,” she said. “Pick one.”

Anyway, Townsend said hand counts are possible.

Her solution? Break up each county into much smaller voting precincts. Then, on election night, the poll workers at each one would tally the ballots, with the machines there solely to compare the totals.

Kelly Townsend

Even if the state sticks with machine counts, there are proposals to address questions of accuracy of the equipment.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, supports increasing to 5% the number of precincts where there had to be a random hand count of votes following each election to compare with the machine totals. The current figure is 2%.

And for those who think that doesn’t go far enough, Mesnard also wants to allow anyone who has the money to pay the cost to demand a full recount of any race.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, is looking at the issue through a different lens, altering the law on when there has to be an automatic recount.

In most cases, that occurs when the margin of difference between the top two candidates is less than 0.1% or 200 votes, whichever is less. Ugenit-Rita, who is hoping to become the Republican nominee for secretary of state, the state’s chief election officer, wants to move that up to 0.5%.

That change is significant. Democrat Joe Biden won Arizona and its 11 electoral votes by 10,457 over Trump, a margin of just 0.3%. Had this measure been in effect in 2020, it would have required a recount of the more than 3.3 million ballots already cast.

In this May 2, 2018, file photo, Republican Rep. Mark Finchem argues against an amendment to the state budget proposed by minority Democrats, at the Capitol in Phoenix. PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Then there’s the question of the ballots themselves. And that has caught the attention of Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who also is angling for the GOP nomination for secretary of state.

He has been pushing to replace the traditional ballots with paper that is specially encoded with things like watermarks, ballot identification numbers, QR codes and even embedded holograms.

There are other more far-reaching proposals, many stemming by claims by Trump and his supporters, even before the 2020 election, that early voting is subject to fraud.

Those claims continue, with GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Kari Lake and Matt Salmon signing a pledge to eliminate early voting. And Lake in particular continues to insist that Joe Biden did not win the vote, a contention she repeated in a Twitter post this past week claiming, without any proof, that 200 “bag loads of ballots” were dumped in Arizona.

So far, though, calls to eliminate the practice entirely have so far attracted little support.

In the 2020 election, of the 3.4 million people who voted, about 3 million cast early ballots. And many Republican lawmakers say their constituents like and use the opportunity to vote by mail.

But concerns about their validity remain.

Townsend wants to let people continue to get their ballots in the mail. But she seeks to address the allegations of dumped ballots by requiring voters to return them, in person, to a designated voting location.

In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid.

Rogers already has introduced a variant, saying that counties cannot set up drive-up drop boxes for ballots, saying that, except for people with disabilities, they have to walk it into a polling place or election office where someone is monitoring. But that bill would appear to continue to allow mail-in ballots.

And Mesnard continues to push for a requirement for anyone who casts an early ballot to confirm their identity with one of several forms of identification, like a driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number. Right now the only verification is done by county election officials who compare the signature on the ballot envelope with those already on file.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she is looking for measures that are designed to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

Karen Fann

“I know that seems to be a cliche right now,” she said. But Fann said she is interested in discussing issues like the kind of paper used for ballots as well as ensuring that the chain of custody is not broken from the time a ballot is dropped into a box until the final count is over.

Townsend has a proposal to address the latter, making it a crime for anyone to “misplace” a ballot as well as to say that those which are not included in initial tallies are invalid, even if they turn up later, and cannot be counted.

There may be even more radical proposals waiting in the wings.

Last year Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, crafted a measure allowing the Arizona Legislature to overturn the results of a presidential election, even after the results had been certified and even after Congress had declared the winner, right up until noon on Jan. 20 when the president is sworn in.

Bolick did not respond to inquiries on whether she plans to reintroduce the measure.

There are other related measures that don’t directly affect how elections are run or votes are counted but also could influence the results.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, has been pushing for an investigation of social media platforms and search engines. He contends that some of these have been very biased towards one political party over another.

For example, he said, the algorithms used by search engines to determine results when someone asks a question can be altered so that certain answers or subjects come up first. And there have been claims that sites like Twitter and Facebook have a liberal bias, an argument based in part on decisions by some sites that banned Trump after they said he violated their policies by inciting people to violence, particularly ahead of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

What makes this an election-related issue is that Arizona law requires the reporting of “in-kind” contributions to a candidate, meaning a donation not of cash but of a service with financial value. And those who violate campaign finance laws with unreported in-kind donations can be fined.


Ethics chairman says Stringer not entitled to hearing before committee

Rep. David Stringer (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Rep. David Stringer (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

The Capitol shouldn’t hold its collective breath for a House Ethics Committee hearing on Rep. David Stringer as Ethics Chairman T.J. Shope wants to avoid that kind of “circus” and thinks he’s legally justified in doing so.

The House hired outside investigators to determine the veracity of the multitude of complaints against the beleaguered lawmaker, who stands accused of not only making racist comments, but of possessing child pornography in the 1980s, and Shope anticipates a final report from the investigator by the end of the month.

But Shope, R-Coolidge, said he does not believe Stringer is entitled to a full-blown hearing where he would be allowed to present and examine evidence, cross-examine witnesses and be represented by counsel before any potential action to expel him.

“I’d like to avoid that kind of circus if possible,” Shope told Yellow Sheet Report, sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times. .

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, attempted to trigger a vote to expel Stringer on Jan. 28, but that effort that failed as House Republicans opted instead for an investigation by the Ethics Committee first.

Bolding filed the second of two ethics complaints against Stringer the next day, but he did not entirely abandon the notion of expelling the lawmaker before the results of the investigation come in. He warned that if the Ethics Committee investigation appears to be wasting time, he may try again to expel Stringer.

“I want us to get to a place where we actually have the information. The end of the month seems like a long time when this conversation has been happening for weeks and months,” Bolding said Wednesday. “I’m still reserving judgement.”

Whether Stringer is entitled to a hearing before judgement day comes boils down to a question of whether expelling a member of the Legislature is a legal issue or a political one, Shope said. The courts have already said it’s the latter, he said.

That leaves the report to guide what happens next.

The report produced out of Ballard Spahr attorney Joe Kanefield’s investigation will cover all allegations made against Stringer, including interviews with sources who have reached out to Shope in addition to the original complaints filed by Bolding and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

Neither Kanefield nor Stringer’s attorney in the ethics case, Carmen Chenal, commented for this story, citing the ongoing investigation.

Shope expects to release the report once it is completed.

“My intention is to be as public as possible about this when the appropriate time comes,” he said.

But the report’s findings alone may not be enough for some of his Republican colleagues who insisted the House should afford Stringer his right to due process.

Townsend won’t challenge Shope on his decision, but she was surprised by his preference to avoid a full hearing.

“I did expect a public hearing, but I also respect the chair of the committee to make that decision,” she said.

The report makes sense as a tool from which to build a hearing, she said. But if that is not Shope’s intention, Townsend said she’ll want more information on what went into it.

“I don’t know enough about this report and how they got to the report to make a comment,” she said. “I just don’t know what their goal is with the report.”

Republicans unanimously turned down Bolding’s motion to expel, with lawmakers repeatedly citing Stringer’s due process rights as they opted to recess and avoid that vote in January.

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, made the motion to recess to avoid the expulsion vote and urged his colleagues to let the Ethics Committee take the lead.

“An ethics complaint has been filed. We have an ethics committee for a reason. And I look forward to their work and their results,” he said at the time. “We have a process, so let’s follow the process.”

And Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, passionately opposed holding the expulsion vote, harkening back to his defense of former Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Democrat from Tucson who faced similar proceedings.

“We need to look at this and put it all out there before we destroy a man,” he said. “We need to know that we are doing the right thing.”

Ethics committee chairman weighs holding hearing for lawmaker

(Deposit Photos/Tasha Tuvango)
(Deposit Photos/Tasha Tuvango)

The head of the House Ethics Committee is weighing whether to have full-blown hearings into the panel’s investigation of Rep. David Cook — assuming the matter gets that far.

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said Monday he is still reviewing both the evidence presented by outside investigators as well as the response to the charges submitted by the attorneys for the Globe Republican.

That response in particular demanded a full hearing “given the right to the fundamental protections every citizen of our country would reasonably expect to have.”

“If you don’t, then you will make the House a country club, where only those who are in the majority get to determine who sits and who doesn’t,” wrote attorneys Dennis Wilenchik and Carmen Chenal Horne. And that, they said, would override the votes of those who put Cook into office.

Allen acknowledged that there are issues to be resolved about how to handle what are the two basic complaints against Cook, one involving allegations of an affair with a lobbyist and the other about efforts to intervene on her behalf to halt the sale of some property in a tax sale.

“You take either of these complaints on a stand-alone, they probably wouldn’t have rose to an investigation at all,” Allen acknowledged.

David Cook
David Cook
So why proceed?

“If you take them as conjoined twins and you said, OK, there’s a real question here,” he explained

“How do we prove that question?” Allen continued. And does any answer rise to the level where it merits further investigation.

Even if the Ethics Committee decides neither charge merits further pursuit, Allen told Capitol Media Services there’s something else: Cook’s cooperation — or lack thereof — with the inquiry.

Wilenchik and Horne said Cook was “fully cooperative in the investigation.” But Allen said the evidence suggests otherwise.

For example, he said other parties in the investigation provided texts and emails they had gotten from him. But none of them, Allen said, came from Cook himself despite the subpoena.

“That’s a terrible precedent to have in the House, to say, hey, lookit, you don’t have to, when subpoenaed, do anything,” he said.

John Allen
John Allen

Allen said he’s not trying to build a case against Cook based solely on that issue.

“But there has to be some accounting for it,” he said.

All that leads back to the decision Allen and the Ethics Committee have to make, if they decide to go ahead with any charges, about what sort of defense Cook should be allowed to make.

Allen said there is precedent for proceeding without giving Cook the right to call witnesses of his own or cross examine those who spoke to investigators.

That involved Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, accused in 2012 of multiple incidents of intimidating female lawmakers. He also was facing domestic violence charges based on accusations that he hit his former live-in girlfriend.

Patterson ended up quitting rather than trying to defend himself before the Ethics Committee.

But Allen conceded there are some key differences between what happened in 2012 and now, differences he said may merit giving Cook the hearing he is seeking.

Most notably, in the Patterson case, there were multiple witnesses and incidents involving Patterson. This one, Allen said, is different

In essence, the first charge against Cook stems from allegations that he had a romantic relationship with AnnaMarie Knorr who was a lobbyist with the Western Growers Association, a relationship he did not disclose.

The second is that Cook called Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb to discuss a pending sale of property in which Knorr had an interest due to unpaid taxes. There also were allegations that Cook promised to arrange campaign contribution for Lamb, but the investigative report makes no such finding.

Cook did subsequently sponsor more generic legislation making it easier for owners of agricultural property, like that owned by Knorr, to get an exemption from taxes.

The issue of how and whether Cook gets to defend himself also has raised questions from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

In a Twitter post last week, Townsend said she is not condoning any behavior that is unbecoming of a legislator.

“But regardless, every legislator has the right to a fair investigation,” she wrote.

“This is setting a most dangerous precedent for future political execution,” Townsend continued. “I cannot stay silent.”

Complicating matters is that at least part of the case against Cook is based on information provided by Bas Aja, himself a long-time Capitol lobbyist and Knorr’s father who apparently has had some sort of falling-out with his daughter.

“There’s a judgment call to be made in here about the level of evidence towards these allegations,” Allen said.

Ethics committee might investigate Navarrete

State Sen. Tony Navarrete, who has yet to resign several days after he was charged with multiple felony child sex crimes, now faces a potential Senate ethics investigation and additional allegations of sexual harassment. 

On Monday, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate the charges against Navarrete, as well as his past support of legislation to teach age-appropriate sex education to younger children. He was charged Friday with seven different felony counts of child sex crimes, allegedly committed over the course of several years with two teenage boys.  

Senate President Karen Fann and Democratic leader Rebecca Rios also issued a joint statement again calling on Navarrete to resign his state Senate seat.  

“The circumstances and serious nature of the felony charges faced by Senator Navarrete provide an untenable distraction from his role as an elected official and public servant for District 30,” they said. “The Senator also now faces a Senate ethics complaint, and no one benefits from any further delay in his ultimate resignation.” 

Townsend said that as a mother, she’s not willing to wait for Navarrete to resign. The probable cause statement released by police includes the summary of a taped call one of the boys had with Navarrete in which he admitted and apologized for the abuse, and Townsend said that’s more than enough proof to remove him from the Legislature.  

“I don’t think someone with these types of accusations and taped confession deserves a single day longer in the Arizona Legislature, and I hope that we move swiftly to get this taken care of,” she said during a news conference. 

Under Senate rules, ethics committee chair Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, will receive the complaint and decide within the next few days whether to move forward with an investigation. The ethics committee can meet and conduct an investigation while the Legislature is out of session, but any action, such as expulsion, would have to wait until the Legislature is back in session.  

“Senator Navarrete is facing serious felony charges,” Kerr said in a statement. “He should resign from the Senate. In the meantime, the Senate Ethics Committee will follow its process.” 

An ethics committee investigation would be made difficult because of the ongoing criminal investigation, said Sen. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who chaired the House ethics committee when it investigated former Rep. David Stringer over Stringer’s past alleged sex crimes against minors. The Stringer investigation revolved around a closed case from decades earlier.  

“Anything the Senate does right now could conflict with a criminal investigation,” Shope said. “That makes it quite a bit different, really.” 

Townsend said she doesn’t expect Gov. Doug Ducey to call the Legislature back into special session immediately to vote to expel Navarrete, but she hopes he does if the ethics committee recommends it.  

Her complaint includes a request to investigate whether there have been any other allegations, including sexual harassment of a co-worker or subordinate, and what was done to rectify the situation.  

Over the weekend, political organizer and former progressive state House candidate Gilbert Romero shared publicly that he had been sexually harassed several times by Navarrete, describing “behaviors that made me feel extremely unsafe, uncomfortable, objectified and embarrassed in public in front of others.” 

In his statement and in a subsequent interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, Romero said he wasn’t ready to share the details of his interactions with Navarrete, but that he and other friends were harassed. When he tried to talk to others about the harassment, he said, they downplayed it.  

Romero said he didn’t push the issue at the time, but he felt he had to speak up this weekend after learning that Navarrete didn’t prey only on adult men. 

“I wasn’t on a crusade to ruin careers,” he said. “I wasn’t on a crusade to ruin anything.” 

Navarrete was openly gay and a member of the Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus. National conservative media and state Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, have repeatedly claimed that Navarrete’s sexuality is somehow connected to his alleged crimes, and Romero said he also felt the need to speak up as a gay man.  

“As a proud gay man myself, I am no stranger to unfair, ungrounded and just false assumptions of being a pedophile,” he said. “As a gay man, I wanted to show others that his victims weren’t just allegedly children. They were other men too.” 

Another portion of Townsend’s complaint questions whether Navarrete “used state resources to advance the effort to expose minors under the age of 12 to sexual content, to include such content in the public school system.”  

Conservative parents, lawmakers and activists have spent the past several years attacking Democratic politicians over sex education, especially after a bipartisan group in 2019 succeeded in repealing a 1991 law that prohibited teaching about homosexuality while educating students on AIDS and HIV. The AIDS and HIV instruction was a federal mandate, but Republicans at the time wanted to avoid doing anything to promote a “homosexual lifestyle.”  

Since the 2019 repeal, Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of restrictive sex education bills. Navarrete has spoken passionately against many of them, while simultaneously supporting Democratic sex ed bills, including one he sponsored this year to mandate “medically accurate” and “age-appropriate” sex education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Proponents of those bills say they’re intended to help younger children learn about concepts such as “safe touch,” helping them set boundaries and recognize whether they’re being abused. Opponents of the legislation view it as sexualizing young children, and Townsend cited those parents in explaining that part of the complaint.  

“They’re concerned about this effort on his part to put sexuality and those types of things in the early grades of school,” she said. Those who are concerned with the motivations of those people pushing this at such a young age of innocence, it has just deepened their concern and they want to make that statement that sexual exploitation of a child is not tolerated.”  

While pressure mounts for Navarrete to resign, there may be legal tactics at play in Navarrete’s delay the resignation or refuse, according to attorney Kory Langhofer.   

Langhofer, a prominent GOP attorney, represented former Maricopa County assessor Paul Petersen when he appealed his 2019 suspension from his elected post over criminal child trafficking charges.  

More often than not, public officials who are accused of a crime don’t resign immediately, he said.  

“When a public official is accused of a crime, they expect they’ll have a chance of successfully defending themselves,” he said. “And so, they don’t want to give up their office before their guilt is determined, and they’re also worried that resigning is generally perceived as an implicit admission of wrongdoing.”  

Some public officials wait until there’s a conviction, while others wait at least a few months. Petersen resigned in January 2020, three months after he was charged but before his conviction later that year. Former lawmaker Ben Arredondo, a Democrat convicted of fraud in 2012, resigned his seat as part of a plea agreement.  

-Staff writer Kyra Haas contributed reporting 

Editor’s note: A previous headline for this story erroneously reported the ethics committee would investigate Tony Navarrete, when actually, the decision to investigate has not been made. 

Ethics committee picks former Brewer aide to lead Stringer probe

Joe Kanefield
Joe Kanefield

The House Ethics Committee has retained the law firm Ballard Spahr to handle the ethics investigation against Rep. David Stringer.

Attorney Joe Kanefield will lead the Ballard Spahr team, according to a press release announcing Ethics Chairman Rep. T.J. Shope’s decision on Monday.

Kanefield is the head of the firm’s politics and election law arm, and served as general counsel to former Gov. Jan Brewer, state elections director and in-house counsel to the secretary of state and as assistant attorney general among other posts.

Kanefield did not immediately return a call for comment.

Reps. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, have filed separate ethics complaints against Stringer, R-Prescott. The complaints target recorded comments Stringer made twice last year on race and immigration and multiple sex offense charges he faced in the ‘80s as reported by the Phoenix New Times.

Shope has urged anyone with additional relevant information to come forward to the committee, which may still widen the scope of the investigation if necessary.

Stringer will have an opportunity to provide his own comments to the committee regarding the allegations. He has so far ignored repeated calls for his resignation and has not returned multiple requests for comment on the investigation.

First House floor session in COVID era begins with failed adjournment motion

The state House’s first floor session since March began — and nearly ended — with fireworks.

Almost immediately, Democrats on Tuesday moved to notify the Senate that the chamber had completed its labors and was ready to adjourn sine die, a motion that, if passed, would have effectively ended the session.

The motion failed on party lines — if any Republicans have an interest in ending the session, they didn’t show it on the floor. But nonetheless it provided an opportunity for the two parties to stake their positions on the duties of the Legislature in a time of crisis.

Rep. Arlando Teller, D-Chinle, who made the motion to adjourn, cited the plight of his fellow members of the Navajo Nation, which has the highest COVID-19 infection rate of anywhere in the country.

“I believe that as a body that is looking to the best interests of Arizonans…we can successfully, cooperatively end today’s session, and proceed with special sessions that will be specific to the cover pandemic,” Teller said.

That’s one of the Minority’s key arguments: that treating this week as typical distracts from work that needs to be done to help the state survive and recover from COVID-19. Many Democrats want to end the regular session and immediately convene in a special session to that end.

“If we are talking about anything that is not COVID-19 related, we are doing our citizens a disservice,” said Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. “I believe we need to sine die today and immediately jump into a special session.”

That would provide an opportunity to pass the worker protections and unemployment insurance reforms that Democrats desire. But Republicans don’t see a reason why the Legislature can’t take on some of those issues right now.

Among that group is Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who on Tuesday filed legislation that would appropriate $88 million in federal grants from the CARES Act to support the state’s child care centers as they begin to reopen. It’s one of several pieces of legislation that advocacy groups like the Children’s Action Alliance have requested.

“This bill will appropriate that money and will allow child care centers to receive money so they can reopen…and remain open,” Udall said in a GOP caucus meeting Tuesday morning. “That money will flow to the centers. In order for people to get back to work it’s essential that they have somewhere safe where their children can go.”

If passed, the bill authorizes $85 million in one-time spending to the Department of Economic Security so it can offer forgivable loans to licensed child care facilities and $3 million to the Department of Health Services so it can waive license renewal fees for child care facilities.
Regardless of whether or not the Legislature goes into a special session after it finishes its work this week, Democrats aren’t thrilled about the way GOP leadership is conducting business.

Both the Udall bill and a separate measure to protect businesses and non-profits from legal liability if an employee or patron gets COVID-19 — the primary focus of Republicans this week — were assigned solely to the Rules Committee, rather than the Education or Judiciary committees, where such legislation might normally land.

On one hand, this is more efficient. On the other, there’s generally very little debate or public testimony in the Rules Committee, which has the task of deeming whether a given piece of legislation is constitutional.

“They don’t want to discuss the substantive issues,” said Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee

The same complaint can be made for the dozens of Senate bills the House debated today. Many of those carried committee amendments that their sponsors withdrew for the sake of expediency — and to give the Senate as little work as possible should it choose to reconvene and transmit those bills to Gov. Doug Ducey.

To House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, this reads as a political ploy.

“Stop trying to lure the Senate back into session with these Trojan Horse bills,” the Yuma Democrat admonished. “We know this is all about the strategy to get the Senate to reverse a 24-6 vote to adjourn.”

After all, unless the Senate decides to reconvene, most of the House’s work this week is for naught. The House needs the Senate to transmit bills that originated in the upper chamber, and it needs the Senate to vote on the Kavanagh and Udall bills, assuming they pass.

That said, Democrats still fell in line on some legislation that isn’t directly COVID related, such as Sen. Sean Bowie’s SB1445, which requires training programs for school counselors to include instruction on suicide prevention. Republicans pointed to this measure, which passed with near unanimity, as an example of legislation that shouldn’t wait until next year, pandemic or no.

The Senate’s role is immaterial, said Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.

“I’m proud of those of you who have come in to finish bills that need to be done. It’s important for us to do what we were elected to do,” she said. “This isn’t about what the Senate’s doing.”

If Democrats care about getting in and out of the Capitol as quickly as possible, Townsend encouraged them to resist the urge to comment on each bill and explain each vote — only fuelling claims from the left that Republicans are trying to fast-track remaining legislation with minimal feedback.

“I’d like you guys to prove that you mean it,” Townsend said. “If you really mean it, and you really mean that we need to go home and come back for a special session, then do not press your request to speak. Resist that. Vote and go home.”

Former lawmaker John Fillmore on his way back to Capitol

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction (Cronkite News Service photo)
John Fillmore (Cronkite News Service photo)

Former Rep. John Fillmore, a one-term lawmaker from Apache Junction who served from 2011-12, could be returning to the state Capitol.

Early voting poll results show that Fillmore and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, have taken a lead in the five-way GOP primary for the two House seats in Legislative District 16.

Three other Republicans, Lisa Godzich, Stephen Kridler, and Tara Phelps, are also vying for the Republican nomination, hoping to replace Rep. Doug Coleman, who is running for justice of the peace.

Godzich, a respiratory therapist, is the second vice-chair of the LD16 GOP committee. She serves on U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs’ Veterans Affairs Committee and is also a board member of the Mesa Republican Women.

Kridler is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a retired law enforcement office, who served 15 years with the Apache Junction Police Department.

Phelps, an Arizona native and mother of five, received a bachelor’s degree in business and supply chain management from Arizona State University. She is a small business owner.

The winners of the primary will face off in the Nov. 6 general election against Democrat Sharon Stinard, who ran in the Democratic primary unopposed. Green Party candidate Richard Grayson is running as a write-in candidate, and in order to qualify for the general election, Grayson must receive at least as many votes as the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot in that district.

LD16 House By The Numbers

Early votes  


Kelly Townsend 33 Percent

John Fillmore 23 Percent

Lisa Godzich 20 Percent

Stephen Kridler 9 Percent

Tara Phelps 15 Percent


Sharon Stinard 100 Percent

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 feud fuels official’s resignation amid vote fraud claims

Kelli Ward and Linda Brickman: Linda Brickman, front left, vice chair of the Maricopa County Republicans, Dr. Kelli Ward, back left, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, talk with Rey Valenzuela, right, Maricopa County Elections Department Director of Early Voting and Election Services, as the department conducts a post-election logic and accuracy test for the general election Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Rae Chornenky – the former Maricopa County Republican chair whose resignation capped off an election season full of intra-party conflict – admits she probably should have seen it all coming.

“Now that I stand back here and look, this has been building my whole term,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times in an interview about the fracas that led to her abrupt departure as party chair.

Chornenky resigned on November 11, shortly followed by her executive director, Van DiCarlo. Ironically, she ended her term feeling pretty good, as Republicans held onto to their majority in the Legislature and toppled the Democratic Maricopa County recorder, deflating Democratic expectations for a resounding success in local races.

The proximate cause for Chornenky’s abrupt departure was her absence at an October 6 test of county vote tabulation machines, a process that county party chairs observe and certify. Steven Slugocki, chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, pointed out the lack of Republicans present at the time on Twitter, but his observation didn’t prove relevant until a month later, when Sen.-elect Kelly Townsend, who sought to tie claims of election fraud to Dominion Voting Systems, the firm that the county contracts with, called for Chornenky to resign.

“It was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Chornenky said. “I had done what needed to be done.”

Chornenky and DiCarlo claimed that a months-long power struggle with the Trump campaign and with Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward precipitated her resignation.

That conflict manifested itself in sneering posts on the Republican Briefs forum and whispers among other county party board members unhappy with Chornenky’s performance, they said.

They added that several demands and the unrelenting pressure from the Trump campaign only exacerbated her already fraught relationship with some top Republicans – tension that came to a head with the logic and accuracy test, an event Chornenky and DiCarlo said she missed largely because of interference from Ward and the Trump campaign.

Neither Ward nor the Trump campaign responded when asked for comments.

**A thin pool of poll observers**

The fracas began, at least in earnest, with the recruitment of poll observers.

Before the August primary, the county party began training the observers – volunteers who go to polling places to look for irregularities – but found the applicant pool to be thin.

“There were about 10,000 one-hour time slots that had to be filled,” DiCarlo said. “Let’s just say we weren’t successful.”

Part of the issue is funding. Chornenky said paying for party observers is usually a joint effort between the state party and a national campaign. But she hadn’t heard anything from either ahead of the primaries, she said.

“I know how important it is, so I started trying to put together something for Maricopa County,” she said. “Unfortunately, right as we were hitting the primary, their cost was greater than the county could afford. We would just put something together for the primary, and in the meantime raise money for the general election.”

After the election, she said she received text messages from Ward, who wasn’t pleased that there hadn’t been enough observers for each polling place. While there had been no complaints, it shook confidence in Chornenky.

Then Chornenky got a call from Gina Swoboda, a former staffer with two different Arizona secretaries of state who had just taken a job as the state Election Day director for the Trump campaign. Chornenky said while they had been friendly in the past and their initial interactions were neutral, Swoboda eventually asked that the county party hand over the responsibility of recruiting, training and deploying poll observers to the Trump campaign.

“The problem with that is the authorization to be a poll observer is the exclusive purview of the county party,” DiCarlo said. State laws give the authority to designate representatives or challengers at polling places to parties’ county chairs.

Chornenky, not sure if she could abdicate her responsibilities, refused.

Then the pressure began, she said.

“They were telling me that I would have no access to any attorneys if we ran into a legal dispute,” she said. “The county party has never had to foot its own legal bill. If I didn’t cooperate, we could have been hurt.”

She said after some back-and-forth, the Trump campaign and the county GOP agreed on a deal. The Trump campaign could recruit and train observers, but it must provide an updated list of trainees and copies of the training materials – with the opportunity to make additions – to the county party.

“They didn’t follow through on either one,” DiCarlo said. “There’s about 1,000 ways a polling observer can go to a polling location and do something or say something that can be illegal and get them thrown out. The county chairwoman would bear responsibility in that.”

The Trump campaign also demanded that Chornenky pre-sign paperwork that poll observers fill out, and at one point, she had to sign 1,000 authorization forms on special, salmon-colored paper, and turn them over to the campaign, DiCarlo said.

Chornenky said she begrudgingly agreed, but didn’t move fast enough.

Ward began spreading the word that she was being intentionally uncooperative, according to Chornenky. Phone calls from both local and national politicos ensued, directing Chornenky to be more compliant and responsive to the Trump organization’s needs, which at that stage also included handing over her access to the live-lookup voter file, something she said she resisted.

While she was out of town, Chornenky said the Trump campaign demanded that she hand over the forms and told her that an envoy would meet her upon her arrival at Sky Harbor International Airport to retrieve them.

“There was no compromise,” she said.

**A logic test and a difficult choice**

Chornenky said this, combined with factional infighting that turned some legislative district chairs and other county executives against her, set the stage for the October 6 logic and accuracy test.

To verify that the voting machines are working properly, elections officials conduct a sort of mock election with pre-determined results known only to them. They would cast test ballots using the machines, and county party chairs would tally the votes. If the totals match, as they did in this case, everything is presumed to be above board.

“That’s what’s so funny about this,” said Slugocki, the Maricopa County Democratic Party chairman. “They’re claiming there’s fraud, but the audit matched 100 percent, the hand count matched 100 percent. If you were so worried, why weren’t you there?”

Chornenky said she, in fact, planned to show up for the test in September. But as she headed over to the county elections facility that day, she received a call informing her that Swoboda of the Trump campaign also showed up, claiming to be the Republican designated to observe the test, which would require Chornenky’s sign-off.

“Gina Swoboda has been an elections department official for SOS for at least four years,” Chornenky said. “She knows the rules. She didn’t have my written or verbal authorization to be at the test.”

“I asked, ‘Is that legal?’” Chornenky said. “They said, ‘You can authorize it in writing.’ My first response was, ‘Heck no.’”

Chornenky said she faced a difficult choice: Push back, walk into the building and possibly cause a scene in front of Democratic Party honchos and elections officials – or acquiesce. She ultimately acquiesced, only to get word that Swoboda, as an agent of a candidate, wasn’t allowed in the voting center based on county elections policy because early ballots had already gone out.

She offered to turn her car around and return to the elections facility when she learned that Swoboda was sending her own representative.

“I told them: ‘Well fine, let them, but you can’t let them in,’” she said. “They said, ‘Well, he’s already here.’”

Jack Clark, Swoboda’s representative whose office is at the state GOP headquarters, arrived at the election facility only to be eventually turned away for the same reason as Swoboda. By the time Chornenky had again turned around to take Clark’s place, the test had begun, she said.

Swoboda, reached by phone, declined to comment. A Trump campaign spokesperson did not return a voicemail from the Capitol Times. 

Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said that the county’s policy is not to allow candidates, campaigns or their agents inside the ballot tabulation room. She said Swoboda was invited to watch from the public observation area instead.

Gilbertson confirmed that Clark also came to the test, but when the county called Chornenky, she said he wasn’t authorized to act as her agent.

Slugocki said he remembers Swoboda waiting outside the facility and another person from the state party – presumably Clark – coming in and initialing a few of the machines.

“He and I even joked about it. He was like, ‘Guess I’m getting kicked out,’” Slugocki said.

With allegations from Republicans of irregularities rising against Dominion Voting Systems, Chornenky’s absence during the test became a focal point in the intra-party feud.

“Elected officers who are part of her (Ward’s) faction started emailing my executive director, saying, ‘Rae needs to remove herself now or she’s going to be laughed off the stage in the January meeting,’” Chornenky said.

In a Twitter video “exposing” Dominion Voting Systems, Ward pointed to Chornenky’s non-appearance at the test and her subsequent “forced” resignation as possible evidence of fraud.

A spokesman for the state party did not return a request for comment.

DiCarlo isn’t so sure that it even matters that Chornenky wasn’t there for the test. He concluded that, if there was a problem with the logic of the tabulation machines, it could hurt Democrats as well – meaning that Slugocki or the various county or state officials present would likely have said something.

**Waves of criticism**

By that time, the intra-party feud was on full display.

“That one tweet from Kelly Townsend got 5,266 likes,” DiCarlo said. “How do you explain yourself to 5,000-plus people who already have the mindset that you were negligent?”

Chornenky’s departure seems to have done little to cool tempers in the GOP.

When the county conducted its post-election logic and accuracy test on November 18, Chornenky’s replacement, First Vice Chair Linda Brickman, was on hand, and so was Ward, who also claimed the right to sign the paper certifying the results.

Slugocki, who also attended, said Ward grabbed the paper after the others had signed, leading Ward, Brickman and Brickman’s husband snatching the sheet back and forth from each other.

“Then I tried to grab it,” Slugocki said. “I was yelling, ‘Please don’t rip it! Please don’t rip it!’”

What he didn’t notice at the time was that Brickman had signed the paper while also writing “certification denied,” suggesting that the county party under Brickman was taking a similar stance on Dominion Voting Systems as Ward.

Ward and Brickman eventually agreed that Ward could sign the paper, but only after Brickman had taken photos, Slugocki said.

“Kelli signs the paper, then storms out to do her press conference,” he said. “It happened in front of everybody.”

GOP House leaders to appease Townsend with bill to organize national convention

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

As budget negotiations remain stalled, House GOP leaders decided to grant one conservative holdout a late hearing on a bill to organize a national convention to combat federal policies perceived as threatening “constitutional and traditional rights.” 

But Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said while she’s glad the House will take up her proposal for a new convention of the states in a special meeting on Tuesday, it doesn’t change her opposition to the budget deal. Townsend is adamant that the Legislature hold off on voting for a $1.9 billion tax cut package pushed by Gov. Doug Ducey until the Senate’s ongoing election audit is completed and she’s positive that a voter-approved tax hike on the wealthy – which Ducey’s plan aims to negate – really passed. 

In the meantime, she supports passing a so-called “skinny budget,” with enough funding to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year on June 30, and remaining in the legislative session long enough to complete the audit, end Ducey’s Covid state of emergency and pass any additional bills. 

Townsend has not yet met with GOP leaders to discuss her concerns – they expect to sit down Monday – but in the meantime leaders are trying to appease her. Rep. John Kavanagh, the Fountain Hills Republican who chairs the House Government and Elections Committee, said House Speaker Rusty Bowers asked him to run the convention of the states bill through his committee for Townsend.  

“We’re all team players, but she wanted this bill so we’re going to run it,” Kavanagh said.  

The proposed amendment, in Kavanagh’s name, states that the federal government has recently endangered rights to religious freedom, ballot integrity, personal security and the rights to travel freely and be protected from “excessive and unconstitutional fiscal policies.” 

While it does not name specific federal policies or actions, the language reflects conservative criticisms of various policies proposed by the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress, including HR 1, the sweeping voting rights law that progressives most want to pass. The right to travel freely appears to refer to talk of “vaccine passports” and the idea that people must provide proof of vaccination to travel or attend events in some states.  

“We’ve had a big upheaval with elections and we had a big upheaval with people’s rights under the pandemic,” Townsend said.  

She stressed that the proposed convention is not a constitutional convention, and no constitutional amendments will result from it. However, it’s something more than the annual gatherings of lawmakers at organizations like the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council or the liberal State Innovation Exchange, as each state would have a delegation with legal authority to vote on behalf of the state.  

In 2017, Townsend was one of the chief organizers of a similar convention in Phoenix, which brought together 19 states to recommend rules for a potential future constitutional convention. If at least 38 states agree to a convention, they can propose amendments to the constitution, though this has not happened in U.S. history.  

Tempe Rep. Athena Salman, the ranking Democrat on the House government committee, said the decision to move this bill is completely reactionary – whether to Townsend’s budget threats or to the Arizonans who just left the state on a “Freedom Ride” to pressure Congress to pass federal voting rights laws. 

With less than two weeks left to pass a budget, Republican leaders should be working with Democrats to pass a spending plan, not holding hearings on interstate conventions, she said.  

“It’s not a good use of my time,” Salman said. “It’s not a good use of anyone’s time, but I think at this point Republicans are just so reactionary that they don’t know how to govern.”  

GOP lawmaker asks AG to probe fraud claims

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

A member of the ad-hoc panel that heard 10 hours of allegations of election fraud on Monday now wants the attorney general to investigate.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, sent Mark Brnovich a link Tuesday to the YouTube video of the unofficial hearing asking that he “investigate each claim made” by a parade of witnesses. These range from people who contend they saw something amiss in processing ballots to statistical experts who contend there is no way that President Trump could have lost Arizona and that Democrat Joe Biden could have gotten as many votes as the official count says he tallied.

And she wants some response in the next 24 to 48 hours.

So far, Townsend told Capitol Media Services, there hasn’t been a lot of response.

“They told me … they needed something solid,” she said. “And now, here it is.”

Townsend, who heads the House Committee on Elections, said it’s questions like those just raised that led her to push last year for creation of the Election Integrity Unit within Brnovich’s office.

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Lawmakers allocated $530,000 for its operation. And it has been operating since early this year, starting with the presidential preference primary in March.

Instead, Townsend said she has been told that none of the allegations forwarded to the office have been acted upon because there’s no proof that something illegal has occurred. That, she said, makes no sense.

“I think where there’s smoke you have to go find the fire,” Townsend said.

“We provided them smoke,” she continued. “And they need to go and find the fire.”

Townsend said she’s prepared to accept the conclusion of the AG’s office if investigators look into the complaints and find there are no violations.

“And if there’s one, deal with it,” she said. “But to say that there’s nothing here to look at is hogwash.”

A spokesman for Brnovich declined to respond to Townsend’s allegations. Ryan Anderson said his office will send a response to the lawmaker within her deadline.

But it may be difficult for any investigator at any level to use what came out of the Monday hearing as any sort of basis for an investigation, much less provide some proof.

None of the Arizonans who spoke were under oath. And all the questioning came either from lawmakers like Townsend who said they are convinced there was fraud in the just-completed election or from presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani.

And some of the witnesses actually were brought to Arizona by Giuliani and his team, which has been going from state to state in a bid to convince lawmakers that the election was rigged and that they should act to overturn the reported popular vote and instead select people who would cast the state’s 11 electoral votes for the president.

Townsend, in her request to Brnovich, made reference to that possibility, citing a provision of the U.S. Constitution.

“It is our duty to select electors for the presidential election,” she wrote. “And I am not confident that fraud did not exist in the 2020 general election.”

Townsend, who will be a state senator next year, told Brnovich that the video is “initial evidence,” promising to follow up with an itemized list of the contents.

Her bid for Brnovich to investigate comes as U.S. Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.”

Trump himself did not respond to the comments of his attorney general. But Giuliani, who has been the chief proponent of claims of widespread fraud, said that as far as he is concerned “there hasn’t been any semblance” of an investigation into the allegations of fraud raised by the president.







GOP lawmaker kills election bill, threatens to torpedo session

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

Vowing to vote against any and all election bills and keep the Legislature in session until the Senate’s audit of 2020 election results is complete, a Mesa Republican dealt an unexpected blow to a bill that could stop tens of thousands of Arizonans from receiving mail ballots. 

Sen. Kelly Townsend said she still supports the bill, which she has already voted for in some form three times this year. She looks forward to voting for it if and when it returns aftethe audit is done, she said, but not before. 

Otherwise we’re doing [the audit] for no reason,” Townsend said. “It’s for show. It’s for replying to our constituents that ‘Yes, we’re doing an audit, but if we find irregularities you’re going to have to wait until 2024.”  

Townsend said she told her Republican caucus last week and reminded the Senate majority whip on Thursday that she wouldn’t vote for any election bills and would not support adjourning the legislative session until the audit was complete. Legislative leaders told her they hoped to end the session in two weeks, and they tried to call her bluff today.  

“They tried me out to see if I’m serious or not,” she said. “I mean it when I say that we have no business going home.” 

Townsend said she will keep all options on the table when it comes to voting for a budget, the only thing lawmakers must do before they can adjourn sine die. Republican leaders need her vote on a budget, but they could adjourn with support from Democrats.  

Bill sponsor Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who chairs the Senate Government and Elections committee, had a different explanation for Townsend’s “no” vote: Ugenti-Rita refused to hear several of Townsend’s own election bills in committee, and her vice chair was smarting over it.  

“Obviously this bill isn’t going to pass because the senator from District 16, in a show of spite and a show of rage, has decided to vote against it,” Ugenti-Rita said. “It’s disappointing that someone who purports to care about election integrity would do this.” 

Ugenti-Rita also voted against the bill, a procedural move that will allow her to revive it for a reconsideration vote at some future date.  

In complaining about Townsend’s “no” vote, Ugenti-Rita called back to another confrontation the pair had that was indirectly related to the bill. This is the second time Ugenti-Rita’s bill to prune the Permanent Early Voting List failed to pass the Senate: in February, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, voted against it because he misunderstood the language.  

Ugenti-Rita retaliated by attempting to claw back one of Boyer’s priorities, a bill expanding access to school vouchers, from the House. Upon realizing it was a retaliatory move, Townsend called on her colleagues to vote for bills based on their merits, not the sponsors.  

“It’s disappointing to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum, especially when this individual lectured everybody several weeks ago,” Ugenti-Rita said Thursday.  

Townsend, who left shortly after the vote, acknowledged that her vote wasn’t on the merits of Ugenti-Rita’s measure. In fact, she likes the bill, which would remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they fail to vote by mail in all elections over the course of two election cycles. Voters who turn in just a single mailed ballot in that four-year period would remain on the list, which House Republicans decided to rename the Active Early Voting List following numerous comments about how dropping the “P” would change to “EVL,” pronounced “evil.”  

Townsend’s ultimatum could spell disaster for other partisan election legislation, including a bill from Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to change ID requirements for mailed ballots. Mesnard and Ugenti-Rita held a joint news conference surrounded by a rowdy crowd of Trump supporters on Monday to pressure House Speaker Rusty Bowers to bring their bills to the House floor after sustained backlash from business leaders. 

Ugenti-Rita succeeded, and her bill appeared likely to reach Gov. Doug Ducey today, but Mesnard has still struggled to find traction for his. Most other partisan election bills are now dead.  

GOP lawmaker pushes legislation to give Trump AZ win

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

A Trump supporter in the state legislature has crafted legislation designed to give the president the state’s 11 electoral votes even as some GOP lawmakers in Washington work to keep Congress from certifying the election Wednesday for Joe Biden.

SCR 1002, introduced by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, is based on getting a majority of lawmakers from both the state House and Senate to approve a resolution — and quickly — saying that the general election “was marred by irregularities so significant as to render it highly doubtful whether the certified results accurately represent the will of the voters.”

Townsend acknowledges that the 11 Democrat electors already cast their votes for Joe Biden on Dec. 14, the date required under federal law. And that, she said, makes it impossible to re-run the election.

But she contends that the U.S. Constitution still gives the Arizona Legislature the power to “exercise its best judgment as to which state of electors the voters prefer.” And that, Townsend said, are the 11 would-be electors who were pledged to Trump and would have voted for him on Dec. 14 if the official — and, she contends, tainted — results had been different.

Legal questions aside, the move could come too late.

Lawmakers do not come into session until Jan. 11. And if the congressional count is completed Wednesday or even by the end of the week, any vote by Arizona legislators to change electors would be legally meaningless.

But Townsend’s proposal is built on two presumptions.

The first is that Trump supporters in Congress will find a way to delay that official count. That could take the form of refusing to accept the electoral votes from so-called “disputed” states, including Arizona, unless and until there is an audit in each state of the tally.

That, then, dovetails with the bid by Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, to get the election materials he wants from Maricopa County to do such an audit. He wants everything from copies of early ballots to access to the machines used to count the ballots.

Townsend said her resolution is ready for action “if the audit is completed before the 20th,” referring to the day that Biden is set to be sworn in.

“We will have to watch it all play out,” she said.

Townsend’s claim about “irregularities” mirrors what some Trump supporters have been contending since the final election results showed Biden outpolled the president by 10,457 votes in Arizona.

So far, though, not a single lawsuit in state or federal court has disturbed the results, with judges saying there was no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud or misconduct being alleged. Townsend, however, said that’s irrelevant.

“The legislature has plenary power in this, not the judges,” she said, referring to federal constitutional provisions which leave the manner of selecting electors up to state lawmakers. “It is solely up to us.”

Only thing is, the legislature already made its decision, spelling out in statute that it is the voters who choose the electors. And attorneys for the legislature have said it is too late now to retroactively change the rules for the 2020 election.

And a separate law adopted in 2017 requires presidential electors to cast their votes for the candidates for president and vice president who jointly received the most votes according to the official statewide canvass. In fact, any elector who does not cast a ballot according to the popular vote is automatically removed from office.

Townsend, however, told Capitol Media Services she is undeterred from pursuing her measure.

“Uncharted territory commands preparation,” she said.

GOP lawmakers rally support for special session

Anti-vaccine mandate activists rally outside Phoenix City Council chambers as the city paused implementation of a federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for 14,000 city workers, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GOP lawmakers blamed Democrats on December 7 for blocking a special session to pass a law to ban vaccine mandates. 

The complaints came at a rally that coincided with an announcement that the city of Phoenix is pausing its mandate for city employees.  

It would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to call itself into a special session, but Republicans have only two vote majorities in each chamber.  

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, called on Democrats to change direction and join Republican lawmakers in asking for a special session. 

“They need to come alongside us and fix this,” she said.  

The rally was the Arizona Workers and Heroes March to End Mandate by Christmas. It began on the Capitol lawn and ended with a march to the Phoenix City Hall where people demonstrated during the city’s policy session. More than 250 people gathered with signs like “Job or Jab is No Choice,” and “The ‘Safety Measures’ Do More Harm Than COVID.” 

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, called on people to “get the pitchforks.”  

 “We need to call out Governor Ducey. We need to have a special session and every single legislator, House or Senate, who does not get on board with protecting our rights, we need to make sure that they have no future at all.” 

Other speakers at the event included gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, Sen. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Secretary of State candidate Rep. Mark Finchem. 

“We are facing the civil rights action of our time,” said Finchem. “I join my colleagues in demanding that the governor call for a special session immediately to stop this civil rights violation.” 

The Phoenix mandate would apply to thousands of city workers at a time when many departments are already understaffed. The city’s announcement came as a result of U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker’s decision on December 7 that blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a Covid vaccine mandate on employees of federal contractors.  

This pauses mandates across the country but may also be temporary. It is unclear if and when the mandates will resume in Phoenix and throughout the country. 

GOP lawmakers’ feud ends with dead election bills

From left are Kelly Townsend and Michelle Ugenti-Rita
From left are Kelly Townsend and Michelle Ugenti-Rita

State senators voted Tuesday to kill a host of changes in state election laws as a long-simmering dispute between two Republicans spilled out into the open.

And the result was mutually-assured destruction of both their measures.

The fight, playing out on the Senate floor, started when Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, refused to support SB1241. That proposal contained a wish list from Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, of fixes she said needed to be made in how elections are administered.

For example, it sought to set up a procedure for county or state prosecutors to get involved when there is an inconsistency between someone’s signature on an early ballot and what is on file with the county recorder.

It also dealt with a requirement that people who register to vote in Arizona must cancel their registration in the state from which they moved. And it provided that anyone who votes at a polling place get a paper receipt showing their ballot has been accepted.

But Ugenti-Rita said many of these issues never got a public airing in the Government Committee which she chairs. And she said it makes little sense to make massive changes in election laws now, before the Senate-ordered audit is completed and recommendations are made for necessary fixes to the law.

Townsend shot back that she had, in fact, sought a hearing on these issues in the Government Committee but that Ugenti-Rita told her there simply wasn’t enough time.

“I think that’s a pretty substandard approach,” she said, saying her bills “never had a chance.”

So Townsend did an end run of sorts. She had the unheard provisions tacked on when her original bill — dealing only with paper receipts for ballots — went through the House.

That set the stage for Tuesday’s vote when the Senate was asked to approve those changes.

When Ugenti-Rita objected, things got personal.

Townsend said the needed fixes won’t be enacted “because of pride, because of nonfeasance, because the chairwoman didn’t like that I went around her” and because Ugenti-Rita is unhappy with the number of provisions in the final bill.

“For those reasons, this chairwoman is denying the people of Arizona confidence and election security,” she said. “That’s unacceptable.”

With no Democrats in support, Ugenti-Rita’s “no” vote killed the measure.

But there was immediate payback.

Townsend then refused to support SB1083, a proposal by Ugenti-Rita to require recounts in more situations. And, again, without Democrat backing, that bill also died.

Under current law, a statewide election requires an automatic recount when the margin of difference between candidates or side of a ballot measure is 0.1% or fewer than 200 votes, whichever is lower. SB 1083 would change that to a flat 0.5% difference.

That number is significant.

In 2020, Joe Biden outpolled Donald Trump in Arizona by 10,475 votes out of more than 3.3 million ballots cast for the two candidates, not counting those who voted for others. That did not trigger a recount based on the 200-vote figure.

Had SB1083 been in place, any difference of fewer than 16,670 votes would have mandated the recount. But with Townsend’s “no” vote and no support from Democrats, the measure failed.

Senate procedures do allow reconsideration. But that would require Ugenti-Rita and Townsend making peace before the session wraps up later this year.

GOP legislators look to curtail emergency powers of governor

FILE - In this May 20, 2020, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a news conference in Phoenix to give the latest updates regarding the coronavirus. While the Republican governor has never discouraged the use of masks, his full-throated endorsement of them Monday, June 29, was a big change from a largely lukewarm stance the last few months. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this May 20, 2020, file photo, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a news conference in Phoenix to give the latest updates regarding the coronavirus. While the Republican governor has never discouraged the use of masks, his full-throated endorsement of them Monday, June 29, was a big change from a largely lukewarm stance the last few months. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Some lawmakers say it’s time to revisit Arizona laws that give the governor broad powers in cases of emergency.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, wants a constitutional amendment sent to the ballot to require governors to get the “advice and consent” of the legislature within a certain period — perhaps 14 days — of declaring an emergency. He said the state’s chief executive would need to provide lawmakers with “evidence that an emergency exists.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she’s not willing to wait to have voters consider constitutional restraints on the power of the governor. She wants a special session of the legislature this fall to reconsider the powers that were given to governors, some specifically in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, doesn’t see the need for such a rush. But she, too, thinks that once this crisis is over that legislators need to consider exactly how much unilateral power they have given governors.

Mark Finchem
Mark Finchem

But House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, said voters elected Doug Ducey to do a job and that they — and lawmakers — should give him the latitude to do what he thinks is necessary.

In each case, those interviewed by Capitol Media Services say this has nothing to do with Ducey, the emergency he declared in March and the ways he has exercised those powers over everything from what businesses can be open to when people need to stay at home.

“We obviously respect the tough position that the governor is in,” Fann said. “It’s kind of a no-win situation for him.”

But in some ways it is about Ducey since he is the one who declared the emergency.

Fann said that, with the knowledge now of how all that works, that requires a new look at those laws and how they fit into the constitutional balance of power that’s supposed to exist between the executive and legislative branches of government.

“They probably thought it would be 30, 60 days,” she said of those who crafted the laws. And the thinking, Fann said, probably was based on the idea that it’s not easy to call lawmakers into special session to approve specific acts giving the governor special powers.

“But I seriously do not think that this was intended to go on for three, five, six months,” she said.

Ducey, for his part, isn’t interested in any limit on either the breadth or the length of his powers. Daniel Scarpinato, his chief of staff, said what’s happening now with COVID-19 shows the law is working the way it was designed.

“The virus is widespread and its spreading and the numbers are increasing,” he said.

Charlene Fernandez
Charlene Fernandez

“So to have a date certain of when it would end would be really irresponsible because this is going to go on for some time,” Scarpinato said. “There’ll be additional public health decisions that need to be made.”

What that also means is that, under current law, Ducey’s power to make those without legislative input continues as long as he wants.

So what would be wrong with a requirement for the governor, after some period of time, to go to the legislature, explain the situation and seek permission to keep the emergency in place?

“Our perspective would be that the way to determine whether a public health emergency should continue would be based on public health, the recommendation of public health (officials) and the facts on the ground” Scarpinato said. “In this case, the crisis is escalating, the cases are growing.”

Finchem, however, said Ducey’s stated goals in declaring the emergency appear to have morphed.

“It was to flatten the curve on hospitalization,” he said, spreading out over a longer period of time the number of people who got the disease to prevent overwhelming health care facilities.

“It was not to flatten the goal on transmission,” Finchem continued. “Well, now we’ve moved the goalposts.”

And that, he said, is where constitutionally required legislative oversight would fit in.

Scarpinato said that confuses two separate issues: the declaration of emergency which was issued first and then the stay-at-home order which he said was aimed at slowing the spread.

Finchem, however, said he still believes that, at some point, the governor should have to come to the legislature, explain the decision to declare an emergency and, potentially more significant, detail exactly what metrics he is using to determine when that declaration — and the expanded powers the governor assumes — is no longer necessary.

And, absent legislative blessing, the emergency declaration would cease.

He, like Fann, stressed this isn’t about Ducey.

“This is against the idea that a governor, any governor, can have unlimited, unrestrained power without the people intervening and saying, ‘Not so fast there, cowboy,’ ” Finchem said.

Townsend said something like this would restore the balance of power.

“The legislature is a co-equal branch of government, not subordinate to the executive,” she said.

Townsend is looking at what other states are doing to find a model that might work in Arizona. One, she said, would limit the number of days the governor can have a declared emergency without getting legislative consent.

Some of the powers, Townsend said, followed the terrorist attacks in 2001 “when fears of biological warfare were cresting.”

“I believe the entire state now realizes that this is not a good idea, and the people in each district want their voice to be heard and desire the representative government that they were promised,” she said.

With Ducey showing no interest in calling a special session on the issue, Townsend pointed out that lawmakers can call themselves back to the Capitol with a two-thirds vote of each chamber.

That, however, would require at least some Democrats to go along with the Republican majority.

For the time being, though, Fernandez sees no reason to act.

“I really do trust that someone elected to that office should know when to use that and when not to use those powers,” she said. In fact, Fernandez said, she doesn’t believe that Ducey has used those powers enough to deal with the current pandemic “as well as he could.”

“But I feel comfortable knowing that he could,” she said.

This isn’t the first time questions have been raised about the latitude given to the governor.

That 2002 law, crafted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, gave the chief executive broad new powers to order medical examinations and even isolate and quarantine people without first getting court approval. And it even empowered the governor to use the National Guard to enforce those orders.

Only 10 lawmakers voted against the plan, including House Minority Whip Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park. He said the governor already has broad emergency powers.

GOP pushes ‘vague’ ballot security measures

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, on the floor of the Senate in 2020. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, on the floor of the Senate in 2020. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Last-minute amendments to Arizona’s $12.8 billion budget codify election security concerns could pose trouble for the election officials required to carry out the new provisions from Trump supporters who say they believe the election was stolen and there is a deep bias against conservatives. 

A set of amendments from Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, would create new rules for watermarked ballots, set up a taskforce to investigate “algorithmic bias” on social media websites and allow the Legislature to hire someone to investigate voter rolls. 

A third, from Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, assigns a Senate committee to review the Senate’s ongoing audit of 2020 elections and recommend legislative action, up to and including calling the Legislature into special session to address any issues. That came as news to the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Juan Mendez of Tempe. 

The budget amendments, and accompanying election legislation moving through the House and Senate as a condition of Townsend’s vote, all respond to complaints from conservative voters and elected officials, and they didn’t include input from county officials who run elections. 

One key component of Borrelli’s amendment got its start months ago, when Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, now an announced Republican candidate for secretary of state, invited lawmakers to a basement conference room to shine blacklights on mock ballots and hear a pitch for making ballots more like money, with measures to add watermarks, holographic foils and security inks. 

Finchem and fellow House Republicans were unable to pass bills mandating the new ballot designs, but Arizona Association of Counties Executive Director Jenn Marson said Finchem told her his goal was to eventually make these ballot changes mandatory. Only Authentix, the company that helped him with his basement presentation, meets the requirements to provide the paper.  

Currently, Arizona’s 15 counties use different types of ballots, different election equipment and don’t even all have the same paper. Some counties have skinnier or shorter ballots than others. And at this time, counties don’t know if their existing equipment could tally votes with all the suggested security measures on the paper.  

Additionally, counties would need to have another machine, or multiple machines, to verify the security measures. Borrelli’s amendment says anti-fraud measures need to include at least three of 10 different types of safeguards, such as security ink, bar codes or stealth numbering, and counties need to know if machines can do all 10 or if they’ll need to get different machines depending on which measures they choose.  

Adding more things to check before counting ballots would also delay election results, Marson said. For example, one unsuccessful piece of legislation this year would have required adding privacy envelopes for ballots. Even assuming it took just a second to remove the privacy flap, that would end up adding 525 hours to the time it took to process ballots in Maricopa County, which had roughly 2.1 million ballots this year.  

“However long this counter measure verification step takes, even if it’s only a second, the bigger the county, the longer the time it’s adding to the front end before we can even start tabulation,” Marson said.  

Another piece of Borrelli’s amendment would require county recorders and the secretary of state to tell the auditor general, an investigator who works for the legislative branch, about every voter registration program or event, including the political affiliation of any of the events and programs. Recorders would also have to note whether they used third-party data to conduct the programs. 

The provisions were clearly targeted at former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, both Democrats who Republicans have accused of encouraging voter registration solely for Democratic voters, or those likely to become Democrats. 

But as written, the amendment doesn’t make much sense, Marson said. For one thing, it only says the secretary of state and county recorders have to report their attendance at events, but what if a deputy recorder or an employee of a county’s elections department – separate from the Recorder’s Office – goes to an event to register voters? 

And the language doesn’t explain what constitutes a “voter registration event.” If a county recorder speaks at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on a topic unrelated to voter registration but has a stack of voter registration forms in case anyone wants to register to vote, would that count as a voter registration event? 

“It’s so vaguely written, we’re unsure how we could adequately comply,” Marson said.  

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, amended the budget to allow someone selected by the Legislature to inspect voter rolls and prepare a report on “federal-only” voters. Arizona requires voters to provide proof of citizenship to vote, but the federal government only requires attestations of citizenship – so people who register to vote without providing documentation like a birth certificate or passport can vote in federal elections but not state elections.  

And while it’s not directly connected to elections, Borrelli’s amendment aims to investigate whether social media networks are providing in-kind contributions to Democrats by stifling Republicans.   

One current Republican representative, Jake Hoffman, has been banned from Twitter for allegedly running a troll farm. Other sitting Republican lawmakers have had temporary suspensions or had Facebook and Twitter add warnings to their posts when they shared misinformation about elections or Covid. 

“There are some that lost followers,” Borrelli said. “They’ve shrunk. They have 10,000 followers, and the next thing you know they get on, they log on and a whole bunch of them are gone because they’ve changed, the algorithms are already in the computers so that way a certain candidate or certain subject always goes to the top.” 


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. 


Governor’s budget ‘tantrum’ miffs lawmakers

budget Arizona

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Half of this year’s bills died unceremoniously

(Photo by Franck Boston/DEPOSIT PHOTO)
(Photo by Franck Boston/DEPOSIT PHOTO)

Covid and increased Capitol security aside, this January at the Legislature started like almost every one before it.

Lawmakers and their assistants scurried between the House and Senate, passing bill folders back and forth to collect signatures and promises to support legislation. Grand ideas to dramatically change state government, tiny technical corrections fixing apostrophe placement, bills that took up two sentences and bills that ran for hundreds of pages all landed in hoppers in the House and Senate, ending with a record 1,708 bills — and another 115 memorials and resolutions — ready for hearings.

Six weeks later, more than half of them are legally dead.

Some bills gain new life, others born with ‘strikers’
By Julia Shumway and Nathan Brown

For every rule in the Legislature, there’s a maneuver to bend it. When it comes to session deadlines, strike-everything amendments buy another chance for seemingly dead bills.

This year, strikers on electronic cigarettes, unemployment and elections surfaced after deadlines for them to be heard in committee.

Vaping: For years, health care professionals and smoke shop owners have waged war over proposed regulations of vape products and electronic cigarettes. This year, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, championed the health care side of things, with a now-dead bill that would have classified vaping products as tobacco and allowed municipalities to require tobacco retailers to obtain local licenses. Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, sponsored the now-dead vaping industry bill that would have preempted local regulations. Senate Commerce Committee chair J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, held both bills but introduced a strike-everything amendment to SB1103 with parts of both bills. Mesnard won committee approval of SB1103, which he described as a way to buy the two camps more time to negotiate. Its future depends on whether Boyer and Leach can strike an agreement.

Unemployment insurance: Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, used a strike-everything amendment to introduce a sweeping set of changes to the state’s unemployment system. Her SB1411 would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $320 from the current $240, reduce the number of eligible weeks to 20 from 26 and gradually increase unemployment taxes paid by employers. Fann said she has the votes to pass her bill.

Gambling: Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s Native American tribes are negotiating a new gaming compact before the current one expires, and they reached agreement on allowing sports betting, as represented in a pair of mirror bills introduced by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler. But Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, declined to hear Shope’s bill in the Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, and instead used a strike-everything amendment to attach the language to his own bill on historic horse racing. While the amended bill passed in committee, the tribes consider the historic horse racing component a “poison pill.” And it appears unlikely that Gowan’s bill could pass the full Senate.

Overturning elections: Gowan also drew national attention for a strike-everything amendment that would have asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment in 2022 to give the Legislature the sole authority to appoint presidential electors. After taking testimony near the end of a 12-hour hearing, Gowan announced that he would hold the resolution, saying he just wanted to start the conversation.

Checking Biden: Strike-everything amendments on both HB2310 and SB1119 would give the attorney general the power to review the constitutionality of federal executive orders. In 2014, Arizona voters approved an initiative that would prevent the state from using its resources to enforce unconstitutional federal laws. The process laid out in the two amended bills would allow the state to determine the constitutionality based on the attorney general’s opinion without waiting for court rulings. HB2310 passed the House on a 31-29 vote and SB1310 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Conversion therapy: After fellow Republican Sen. Tyler Pace killed Leach’s bill prohibiting bans on conversion therapy or professional punishments for therapists who practice it, Leach reintroduced his bill as a strike-everything amendment to SB1325. The bill was on the February 23 Appropriations Committee agenda, but Gowan held it with no discussion, killing the bill for a second time.

Legislative consultant Beth Lewallen, who has closely tracked the Legislature for a decade, said this year’s dead bills mostly just show how a typical session goes.

Beth Lewallen
Beth Lewallen

“There were such a massive number of bills,” Lewallan said. “It’s normal for that many to die and I think it’s why we all take a deep breath and can’t wait when we get to crossover week.”

While some, such as a Senate resolution to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt, publicly failed to garner enough votes to pass, most of the bills that die in the House and Senate do so quietly. By the February 19 deadline to hear bills in committees in their chambers of origin, more than 950 measures were left to die.

Most were sponsored by Democrats, who struggle to have their ideas heard when Republicans still control both chambers. But some Republican bills also struggled to find a foothold.

Among the most notable were election bills, including ones sponsored by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Reps. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, that would have overturned the 2020 election results, given legislators the power to choose future electors and ended the Permanent Early Voting List, respectively.

Lewallen, who founded her own consulting firm, Italicized Consulting, works for many clients and spends a lot of time analyzing and tracking bills. She said she noticed a larger number of duplicate bills this year, which she speculated could be why there were so many that died.

It’s a case of different people sharing the same ideas, she said, and the short window of time to be heard in a committee causes them to die.

The Pandemic and Vaccines

The Covid pandemic upended the 2020 legislative session and dominated the entire interim period through the election cycle, but most Covid bills from Democratic sponsors are now dead, as are bills downplaying vaccines.

Outside of bill sponsored by Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, to give grants to small businesses that were closed due to Covid, none of the dozens of Covid bills targeting unemployment, rental assistance, wage increases or residential eviction moratoriums from Democratic sponsors received a committee hearing.

It’s a fight Democrats have wanted since early in the pandemic, and a reason why they would have been in favor of a special session if the Republicans would have agreed to work with them on legislation. But while Democratic bills are not moving forward, efforts to raise the unemployment cap are not dead. Bipartisan efforts are making their way through each chamber.

Criticisms from the left that Gov. Doug Ducey was not effectively combating the virus or helping the people who needed it the most prompted bills like Paradise Valley Democrat Rep. Kelli Butler’s HB2788, which would increase the amount of paid sick leave for eligible employees in schools, and Glendale Democrat Sen. Martín Quezada’s SB1607, which would have prevented landlords from increasing the price tenants must pay for the duration of a state of emergency plus 30 days.

On the flipside, while Ducey and Arizona health officials push the safety of receiving one of the available vaccines that have been administered to at least 1 million people so far, at least two Republican lawmakers see the pandemic as a new reason to push an anti-vaccination agenda that has come up in consecutive sessions.

The vaccine is not mandatory, but state and federal leaders strongly encourage getting it. Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, still wanted to remove a potential condition for employment to receive the Covid vaccine. Barto has a history of anti-vaccination efforts against the advice of health experts, but has yet to get any passed — though her bill to exempt dogs and cats from rabies vaccinations is moving in the Senate. Her Covid vaccine bill SB1648 never received a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee.

An effort from Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction would have removed school immunization requirements, though it was not limited to the Covid vaccine.


A bill from Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, would have allowed women who get abortions and the doctors who perform them to be prosecuted for homicide, but it didn’t go anywhere after national attention at the start of session.

HB2650 would have given counties and the Attorney General’s Office the power to prosecute abortions while directing officials to enforce the law regardless of any federal laws or court rulings – such as the landmark 1973 case Roe v Wade – to the contrary. It contained an exemption for cases where the mother’s life was in danger, but not in cases when a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. It was never assigned to a committee.

Other similar bills would legally classify abortion as homicide have been introduced in several other states over the past few years but have never gotten far. Blackman introduced another version of the bill, HB2878, a couple days before the House committee hearing deadline, which would allow abortion to be treated as homicide but doesn’t include the language directing the state to ignore federal courts that the other bill did. It died in the House Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, introduced a bill this year to repeal the unenforced pre-Roe v Wade abortion ban still on the books in Arizona. It was left to die after being referred to two committees – usually an ominous sign of a bill’s fate.

Responding to the Ballot

In clear response to the passage of 2020’s Proposition 208 (Invest in Education) Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, introduced a ballot referral that would require voters to reauthorize tax increases every five years. Since Prop. 208 was a tax levy on Arizona’s highest income earners for the purposes of funding public education, it would go to the ballot again in 2024 – along with all other retroactive tax increases approved on the ballot. Petersen’s SCR1028 never received a hearing.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, wanted to get a bill approved to crack down on marijuana impairments on the road – a provision that was not addressed when voters approved Proposition 207 (Smart and Safe Arizona), which legalized recreational marijuana for adults. Kavanagh’s HB2084 would set a blood level limit of two nanograms per milliliter to prove impairment, which experts say is not an accurate measure for marijuana intoxication. The bill died without a committee hearing.

Cell Phone with apps


Conservatives have long complained that social media giants are biased against them, and two lawmakers who were particularly active in using social media to push conspiracy theories about the results of the 2020 election introduced bills to do something about it. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, filed HB2180 in early January, a bill seeking to penalize social media companies that censor content for “politically biased reasons” by deeming them a “publisher,” not a “platform,” and holding them “liable for damages suffered by an online user because of the person’s actions.” And Townsend Introduced SB1428, which would have let anyone sue Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites if they delete or minimize the reach of posts.

Neither of their bills ever got a hearing. And neither of them are on Twitter anymore. Both deleted their accounts in late January although Finchem, like many other conservatives who decry Big Tech bias, is still active on Parler and Gab.

Freshman blues

Heading into the session, everyone expected a repeat of last year’s bitter fight over whether transgender girls should be allowed to participate in girls’ interscholastic sports. Similar battles are raging in legislatures across the country, as part of a nationwide push following a Connecticut lawsuit filed by female athletes who say they lost chances at athletic scholarships to two transgender girls who took top spots at track and field competitions.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman attempted to head off the potential bills with a prominent op-ed in the Arizona Republic arguing that students should be allowed to play on teams consistent with their gender identity — which, for transgender students, is different from their biological sex.

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, filed SB1637 early in the session to require only biological girls be permitted to play for girls’ teams, but Senate President Karen Fann never assigned it to a committee. Barto, the Phoenix Republican who led the charge last year, as well as ardent supporter Cathi Herrod, director of the influential social conservative organization Center for Arizona Policy, instead opted to hang back and wait for courts to rule on challenges to an Idaho law that would bar transgender girls from girls’ sports and a recent President Biden executive order that appears to require they be allowed.

SB1637 is just one of many Rogers bills that earned headlines in the national conservative media but won’t move forward. Fann also declined to assign her SCR1026, which would have removed Planned Parenthood founder and longtime Tucson resident Margaret Sanger from the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.

Senate Transportation and Technology Committee Chair David Livingston didn’t bite at Rogers’ pitch to rename State Route 260 the “Donald J. Trump Highway.” Barto didn’t hear Rogers’ SB1511, which would classify so-called “gender-affirming care” as criminal abuse, or her SB1383 to ban abortions after a physician can detect a heartbeat – typically six weeks into pregnancy or just two weeks after a woman misses her period.

Committee chairs also declined to hear Rogers’ bills creating harsher punishments for blocking roadways during protests and defacing monuments.

Lewallan, the legislative consultant, said she thought most of the bills from Rogers died because of her different approach than the typical freshman lawmaker.

“She tackled really big, high-profile issues her first year. There was no learning curve. A lot of people come in and especially into the Senate, and take a handful of issues and really kind of learn their way through the process, and she had a very different strategy than a lot of freshmen,” Lewallan said.



Harassment policy left out of amended House rules

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard on Jan. 30 addresses reporters about the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don Shooter. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard on Jan. 30 addresses reporters about the findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Don Shooter. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The House of Representatives didn’t include a formal anti-harassment policy in amending its rules, a change the House speaker called for after an investigation found a pattern of harassment at the chamber.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he pulled a clause concerning a formal anti-harassment policy from the amended rules because there are questions about what part of the rulebook the harassment policy best fits in.

“There’s an ongoing discussion about the proper place to put the reference to the policy in the rules,” he said. “Should it be under the speaker’s power or should it be in a section that gives members more power to amend it?”

He added that once those questions are answered, the rulebook will “certainly” be amended to to include a formal harassment policy and it will come back for a vote.

“They weren’t just words,” he said, referring to remedial actions he announced last week following the release of the investigation report. “We’re going to make sure we have in House rules a harassment policy and code of conduct policy.”

After an investigation found that there was “credible evidence” former Rep. Don Shooter violated a sexual harassment policy and created a hostile working environment at the Capitol, Mesnard announced he planned to institute a formal code of conduct and prohibit the consumption of alcohol on House presimes. The House expelled Shooter Feb. 1. 

Mesnard said he also wanted to add a formal anti-harassment policy to the House rules, which carry the force of law.

Prior to voting on the proposed changes on Feb. 5, Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese said he was disappointed to see the anti-harassment policy taken out.

“I believe in light of what just happened recently, the reflection of that policy in the rulebook is important,” he told his colleagues on the floor.

Minority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she asked leadership to add language to the rules to address harassment at the Capitol, such as a form to file written complaints, but her suggestions have gone unheard.

Townsend added that though she was discouraged to see the anti-harassment policy taken out of the rules, she was also not pleased with the original language. She said as it was written last week, it would give the speaker sole power to create a harassment policy, something she said lawmakers should have input in.

“More than one person has to have control over what that policy is,” she said. “It just said that there had to be a policy and that the speaker was the one who was making the policy. It didn’t give anyone else any control over what the policy was.”

To address many of the concerns expressed by her colleagues regarding the harassment investigative process and proposed changes to the House rules, Townshend introduced HB2546, which would require both the House and Senate to establish a comprehensive harassment policy.

The policy would include a non-retaliation policy, investigation and due process procedures, would provide for a standard form to allow members and staff to file written complaints, and would also address privacy concerns.

The policy would require senators to submit a written complaint to the secretary of the Senate, and representatives would submit their complaint to the chief clerk. Members must also provide a copy of the complaint to the accused person, chair of the ethics committee and the accounting office within two business days after filing the complaint.

The bill states that any member who “knowingly” files a false complaint would be subjected to discipline or expulsion.

“This is what I would like to see, either in the rules or in the policy, and the policy wouldn’t be changeable without a vote of the body,” Townsend said, though she noted that she was unsure if the bill would go anywhere.

Mesnard said though most agree that the House needs a harassment policy, there isn’t consensus on whether that policy should be in the House rules or in statute.

“I think (Townsend) has a very specific idea of how the process should work but I don’t know how much widespread agreement there is on the process,” he said.

He added that including the policy in House rules would make it easier to change, while a statute would require a member to introduce legislation to amend the law.

House Dems torpedo GOP efforts to pass budget

Efforts to enact a new $12.8 billion budget and tax cuts sputtered Tuesday as House Democrats refused to come to the floor, leaving the Republican-controlled chamber short of a quorum.

The maneuver came on the heels of Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, saying he had finally lined up all 31 House Republicans to support the modified plan.

Only thing is, four GOP lawmakers are absent. And while House rules allow them to vote remotely, Toma said the Arizona Constitution mandates that there be 31 people physically in the building to get a quorum in the 60-member chamber.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, is not suggesting that Democrats have the votes to block the plan.

But he told Capitol Media Services that Republicans presented some new amendments just 90 minutes before the session. And Bolding said that didn’t give Democrats enough time to fully understand what the majority was trying to push through at the last minute — and without sufficient public oversight.

That maneuver also hobbled any attempt by Democrats to research those-last minute changes and offer objections or alterations of their own.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, claimed that the maneuver puts operations of the state at risk.

While the new budget year doesn’t start until July 1, the current payroll period ends this week for checks that would be produced next week. But he claimed that if there’s no budget in place by the end of this week, that could mean that state employees won’t be paid for what they do next week.

And that, he said, leads to ripple effects as government would have to be shut down.

“So if you’re planning on a July 4th weekend at a state park of your choice, that won’t be available,” he said.

Also gone, said Bowers, would be funding for schools that open in July, revenues for cities and counties and even the ability of people to visit inmates in state prisons.

And what of essential services, like public safety — and keeping the prisons secure? C.J. Karamargin, press aide to Gov. Doug Ducey, brushed aside the question of what plans, finances and legal options — if any — the state’s chief executive has to deal with such a contingency.

“We’re confident there will be a budget,” he said. “We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals and what-ifs.”

Complicating matters is that even if the House approves the plan, there may not be the votes in the Senate.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said Tuesday it is “up in the air” whether she will support the spending and tax-cut plan. And with no Senate Democrats willing to vote for the plan, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, needs her vote.

Townsend wants Ducey to rescind his executive order giving him emergency powers.

She pointed out that if lawmakers approve the budget, they will adjourn for the year. And that, Townsend said, leaves the governor with broad unilateral authority to enact restrictions and even effectively alter state laws, with the legislature not around until next January to try to countermand his actions.

Townsend also is balking at providing tax relief for the most wealthy to counter Proposition 208, which imposes a 3.5% surcharge on earnings over $500,000 a year for married couples.

She believes an audit will show that the measure did not pass. And Townsend questioned the need for legislation that makes sharp reductions in tax rates for the most wealthy if it really failed.

House panel approves bill to quash political activity in classrooms

(Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Teachers, students and Red for Ed supporters gathered at Chase Field on April 26, 2018, before marching to the Arizona Capitol. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

The president of the state’s largest teachers’ union warned a House committee Monday of a potential Red for Ed resurgence if they advanced a contentious bill from Rep. Kelly Townsend last night, which they did.

Townsend’s House Bill 2015, which opponents view as retaliation for last year’s strike, would prohibit school district employees from using school resources to espouse a political or religious ideology or face a fine of up to $5,000. Democrats and opponents argued the bill would have a chilling effect on teachers without solving an existing problem.

The House Education approved the bill 8-5 along party lines, just hours after teachers in West Virginia, who inspired last year’s strike in Arizona, decided to walk out of their classrooms again starting today in protest of a Republican bill viewed as retaliatory.

Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas cautioned the committee before they voted on Townsend’s proposal.

“I’m telling you right now if this goes through tonight, I’m going to be on television for the rest of the week talking about this against the backdrop of West Virginia,” he told the committee.

He said the problem as Townsend and supporters of the bill described it – teachers indoctrinating their students based on their own personal beliefs – is not a widespread issue. And he argued state law prohibiting the use of school resources to influence elections, such as endorsing or opposing a candidate during work hours, is sufficient.

Following West Virginia teachers’ decision, Thomas said Arizona educators were already inundating him with questions of what they would do next.

“Are you threatening to have a walk-out if this bill passes?” Townsend, R-Mesa, asked.

Thomas insisted he was not making threats, but emphasized again that representatives should consider the timing, warning Townsend’s bill could ignite anger that is already stirring.

Rep. Kelly Townsend
Rep. Kelly Townsend

In any case, the bill will now advance to the House Rules Committee before a vote on the House floor.

Townsend did amend the bill to remove a provision allowing parents to file suit against teachers in their districts in violation of the law. Her amendment adopted by the committee also removed language from the original bill that specified violators may be fired.

But the adjustments she made did not appease opponents who waited hours to speak against the proposed legislation; the bill was the last the committee considered during the marathon hearing that ran until 10 p.m. Monday.

Organizers of the Red for Ed movement that led to a statewide teachers’ strike last year have already been surveying parents and members of Arizona Educators United to gauge interest in a variety of actions the movement could take this year.

A copy of the educators’ survey posted on Facebook asked whether respondents were satisfied with last year’s outcome, which actions they felt were most effective, which of the original demands is most relevant this year and whether they are committed to taking further action.

And a copy of the parents’ survey asked what should be prioritized in terms of K-12 funding, whether respondents support the movement and this: “Can Arizona students afford to wait for funding or do we need immediate action from the state Legislature?” The options for the latter included an indication that the Legislature needs to act, that schools can wait for funding or that “districts need to be more accountable with the funding they receive.”

House passes bill to put more restrictions on voter registration

The "I voted sticker" is commonly given to voters across the U.S. after they cast their ballots. (Wikimedia Commons).
(Wikimedia Commons).

The state House voted Monday to create some new crimes for certain voter-registration activities in a move several lawmakers suggested will suppress voting, particularly by the young and minorities.

HB 2616 would make it a misdemeanor to pay someone based on the number of people they sign up to vote. Violators would be subject to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the measure is designed to deal with problems presented to her by some county recorders who say they are finding large numbers of fraudulent registrations.

“We have people going in the phone book and filling out voter registrations with names in the phone book,” she said. “We’ve got people who are making up names.”

But the part of the measure that caused more concern would require that filled-out voter registration forms must be sent in within 10 days or there is a four-month jail term.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that she, as a candidate, always has carried around such forms when going door-to-door in case she would come across someone who wanted to register. Engel said she would send them in when she had a small pile.

“All of a sudden now, you don’t send them in within 10 days, you’re subject to a criminal infraction,” she said.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said all that will chill efforts, often by volunteers, to get people signed up.

He noted this is not the only House-passed measure aimed at voting, citing another bill which requires people who drop off their early ballots at voting centers to provide identification, something not now in law. Foes of that measure say some people don’t have the kind of ID the legislation would require.

“It’s clear to me that the real driving force behind these bills is to keep down the number of votes, especially from those who are young, those who are old, those who are poor and those who are minority voters,” Bolding said.

That drew an objection from Townsend who said House rules prohibit members from commenting on what they believe are each other’s motives. Bolding, however, refused to back down, even suggesting that there are lawmakers who want to keep turnout low, especially among some groups.

“What we know is that when more people go to the ballot, when we see more individuals voting, you’ll see effects just like you saw in 2018,” he said, with less support for certain types of politicians.

“Republicans know, just like Democrats know, that the more people who vote the less likely we will see an extreme Legislature that is forcing policies that don’t reflect the state of Arizona,” Bolding said. And he suggested that last year’s election, where Democrats picked up four seats in the House — reducing the GOP edge to 31-29 — has worried some on the other side of the aisle.

“I do not think it’s a mistake that we consistently see voter suppression bills this cycle,” Bolding said.

Townsend, however, argued that her legislation actually helps enfranchise voters.

“I cannot believe that we are arguing that we should be able to look the other way when someone commits fraud, when someone purposely keeps back voter registration, for whatever reason, in a nefarious way,” she said. Townsend said this is designed to protect those who thought they had registered “and instead their registration form is sitting on someone’s desk for some purpose I don’t understand, sometimes until after the election.”

But Bolding said if Republicans were truly interested in ensuring that everyone who wants to vote gets to vote they would support automatic voter registration. That system, in effect in some states, signs people up to vote when they get a driver’s license and provide proof of citizenship.

While all the Republicans voted in favor of the measure, Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said she was uncomfortable with at least some of the language, particularly in how that 10-day limit is applied. She said there could be circumstances where a volunteer turns in a slip in plenty of time to an organization but that group fails to get the form off within 10 days of when it originally was filled out.

The measure now goes to the Senate.


House suspends floor votes until Republicans at full strength


The House worked through a record-setting agenda on the floor today – not.

Instead, the chamber adjourned until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, meaning members will not return to the floor Tuesday even for points of personal privilege or other business not requiring a vote.

Both the Republican and Democratic caucuses will still meet tomorrow at 10 a.m.

There was no floor action today or on Thursday either. Multiple voice and roll-call votes were canceled the day after former Rep. David Stringer resigned.

His resignation leaves the partisan split in the House at 30-29. That’s still in Republicans’ favor but leaves them one vote shy of the 31 votes bills need to pass out of the chamber.

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors is meeting Wednesday morning to appoint someone to Stringer’s now vacant House seat. The Yavapai County Republican Committee selected former Senate President Steve Pierce, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett and potential Capitol newcomer Steven Sensmeier for the board’s consideration. Pierce is favored to win.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, did not immediately return calls for comment. House spokesman Matt Specht said the decision was made to delay floor activity until the body is back to full membership.

But Senate President Karen Fann said members were afraid Democrats would take the opportunity to kill any bills that came up for a vote while the Republican margin was weakened.

“I heard from a couple of members over there that they were sorry, but they just couldn’t trust the Democrat caucus to not kill more COW bills,” she said.

She wasn’t in on the decision, though. Had she been notified, she said she might have adjusted the Senate’s schedule accordingly. There was no action on the Senate floor today, and it is unlikely that chamber will get much work done tomorrow as the House takes the day off.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez wasn’t consulted either. Petersen only told her about the decision when members came to the floor this afternoon, she said.

And she denied that her caucus would have banded together to kill bills in a show of force.

“They don’t do the same thing? That’s just ridiculous. That just because they operate as one, they think that we would do the same thing,” she said.

Democrats have used that tactic before.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, launched a silent protest in February in response to at least one of her bills being held in the House Rules Committee. She voted “no” on every bill that came to the floor on February 27, giving Democrats an advantage over anything they opposed.

The House recessed in the middle of floor action, presumably to put a stop to the demonstration, but Townsend had disappeared when members returned to continue their work.

That allowed Democrats to strike down several Republican bills. House Bills 2469, 2495 and 2453 were later revived, though, and passed out of the House unanimously.

In any case, Fernandez said her members would have come together with Republicans to vote on the merits of any bills brought to the floor while Stringer’s seat was vacant.

She said it was Bowers’ choice not to trust them.

“We’re at the 78th day today, and we’re taking a day off,” Fernandez said. “It’s really irresponsible and unprofessional.”

Ben Giles contributed to this report.

House, Senate GOP leaders bring in budget holdouts

budget Arizona

The Legislature may start debating and voting on the FY22 budget as early as Tuesday after striking a deal with Republican holdouts that slows down the implementation of tax cuts and pays off more debt. 

The deal, aimed at convincing GOP Sen. Paul Boyer and Rep. David Cook to support the spending plan, also increases funding for cities. House and Senate leaders were headed into additional meetings Monday afternoon to work out remaining details. 

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said the chamber could start moving budget bills at least through the Committee of the Whole as soon as Tuesday if the votes are there.  

One key change is upping state revenue shared with cities from 15% to 18%, a change demanded by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. Twenty-one mayors signed a letter praising the updated budget plan on Monday, though the 13 mayors from Cook’s Legislative District 8 who have opposed the flat tax plan were not among them.  

“We are pleased to see that the agreed upon budget reflects the priorities of cities and towns,” the mayors wrote. “Recent adjustments to the proposed budget will increase Urban Revenue Sharing to cities and towns to 18% beginning a year prior to cities feeling the effect of the income tax cut.” 

Toma said he opposes this personally – he wants to set it at 17% — but is willing to compromise on it.  

“I am willing to make that change because we still get where we need to get,” he said. 

The mayors’ letter also refers to a revised income tax cut plan that will start at $1.3 billion and ramp up to $1.8 billion annually, slightly lower than the $1.9 billion in Gov. Doug Ducey’s original plan. GOP leaders were still finalizing details of how the tax cut will be phased in, but current plans would reach a single 2.5% tax rate (and a maximum of 4.5% for Arizonans making more than $250,000 who are subject to a 3.5% surcharge for education funding under last year’s Proposition 208) only if the state has the revenue in future years to handle the tax cut.  

Boyer did not return a call or text today, but Cook said he had a handshake deal to support the new proposal while waiting to see details in ink.  

A Senate Republican spokesman said Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, the last remaining GOP holdout in the Senate, is on board, though Townsend did not return a call Monday afternoon. 

Townsend’s opposition to the budget had less to do with the budget itself and more to do with keeping the Legislature from adjourning sine die before completing the Senate’s ongoing audit or ending the year-long state of emergency.  

To court her, House Republicans scheduled a Tuesday hearing on a resolution calling for a convention of the states and on Monday afternoon passed her election policy omnibus bill along party lines. 

Meanwhile, teachers stepped up their advocacy against the budget and tax plan, gathering in the Capitol Rose Garden Monday afternoon to protest the proposed tax cuts before setting up in the House gallery.  

Kelley Fisher, a kindergarten teacher from the Deer Valley Unified School District, said a better use of the state’s surplus is more spending in education, including restoring funding for full-day kindergarten. Her district now offers full-day kindergarten, at a cost of about $4 million to the district that Fisher said could be spent on salaries, counselors and reducing class sizes, but many districts do not.  

“Our state has a very real opportunity right now to give our kindergarten students everything they need to learn,” Fisher said. “Our governor and Republican legislators have chosen instead to give the wealthiest Arizona’s yet another tax cut.” 

Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said there’s a “very strong chance” education groups seek to refer the tax cuts to the ballot if they end up passing. Doing so would require collecting more than 118,000 signatures from valid voters. 

-Staff writer Kyra Haas contributed reporting 

In their court

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, right, is joined by Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, prior to the Arizona Senate Republican hearing on the review findings of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. The final report of the election review found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican lawmakers will likely use results of the partisan Senate audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County as a blueprint for changes to voting procedures and administration.  

Audit contractors identified what they said were trouble spots, such as signature verification and people possibly voting from the wrong addresses, findings which county officials and election experts have disputed, saying there are innocuous explanations for things the audit report casts as possibly nefarious. 

But some Republican lawmakers have made it clear they take the report’s findings, which were presented September 24 publicly, seriously and plan to act based on them. 

“Arizona voters deserve an unimpeachable electoral process — and the State Senate is already working hard on new legislation to deliver that,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Mark Brnovich on September 24. 

It is not a foregone conclusion that Republicans can pass much even in 2022. With the GOP holding two-vote majorities in both the House and Senate and with Democrats unlikely to support any bills stemming from what they call the “fraudit,” any audit-inspired legislation will require unanimous Republican support to pass. This includes the handful of Republicans who have either publicly expressed skepticism about the audit or who balked at similar changes to voting laws during this year’s session.  

While this year’s legislative session produced plenty of concern for progressives, some highly publicized measures, such as a bill to increase ID requirements for voting by mail, failed to pass because just one or a couple of Republicans opposed them. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who has been one of the few Republicans to publicly criticize the audit, said he doesn’t think the report revealed anything that needs to be addressed legislatively. 

Paul Boyer

“Some of the recommendations there are already done in practice, or it’s already state law,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong, I do think my colleagues are going to probably introduce about 100 bills on election law reform, but there’s nothing pressing on my end that I’m looking at right now. I guess I’d have to be shown and given a good argument on what’s deficient and how we fix it.” 

Boyer said he thinks early voting works well in Arizona and that lawmakers have done a good job of working out the kinks over the years. 

“You wouldn’t know that having watched that godawful hearing last Friday, but as far as I see it, we run a tight ship here in Arizona. … I think it’s working just great, and you know what? Until (President) Trump lost, so did everybody else,” he said. 

Senate Government Committee Chairwoman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, sponsored SB1485, a controversial measure to remove some voters from the Early Voting List that became one of the few Republican “election integrity” bills to pass this year. However, she has been criticized by some in her own party for holding up some of Sen. Kelly Townsend’s elections bills, and she publicly criticized the audit in July shortly after being booed off the stage at a Trump rally. 

Ugenti-Rita said she plans to reintroduce a bill she sponsored this year that would increase the margin that triggers an automatic recount of votes in a close race. Her proposal would set it at 0.5% across the board, which would have triggered a recount of the close 2020 presidential race in Arizona. 

Asked if the report by Cyber Ninjas, the contractor hired by Senate leadership, raised any new concerns for her that needed legislative action, Ugenti-Rita said, “there are a lot of things that could be done.” 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

“The process hopefully will be utilized the right way, so that we can vet proposals in a transparent process, and I look forward to being a part of that,” she said. 

Session Rerun 

In some ways, the 2022 legislative session could be a reprise of 2021, which was marked by bitter partisan arguments over the audit and about new laws that Republicans said would guard against fraud, but Democrats called voter suppression.  

Townsend, R-Mesa, who introduced numerous election-related bills this year only to see most of them stall, said in a Telegram message September 28, that she plans to revisit and resubmit all of them in 2022, along with some new proposals.  

 Fann and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, have also proposed some specific changes to election law and administration in response to the audit’s findings.  

Fann told reporters after the audit report presentation that two legislative committees  the Judiciary Committee and the Special Committee on the Election Audit – may meet before the 2022 legislative session to review the results.  

The Special Committee on the Election Audit was created in an expansive budget reconciliation bill that a Maricopa County Superior Court judge found unconstitutional on September 27. That case is still working its way through the courts. 

While some audit supporters hoped for a special session, this seems unlikely. The Legislature can call a special session with a two-thirds vote, although this would require some Democratic support. Gov. Doug Ducey can call a special session on his own, but he appears to have ruled out the possibility.  

“Any meaningful policy recommendations identified should be addressed in the next session of the legislature,” he said in a Twitter thread about the audit results on Sept. 24. 

Fann acknowledged she likely doesn’t have the votes to call a special session. 

The other side of the aisle, they have opposed this all the way,” Fann said. “They’re probably not going to jump right in to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll vote for a special session,’ but we’re hoping there’s some good common ground that we can find here to at least get started.” 

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, center, is flanked by Ben Cotton, left, founder of digital security firm CyFIR, and Randy Pullen, right, the former Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, prior to the Arizona Senate Republicans hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


The Cyber Ninjas’ final hand count came out very close to Maricopa County’s certified ballot count – in fact, President Joe Biden’s margin in Maricopa County over former President Donald Trump went up by 360 votes in the Ninjas’ tally. 

Some of Cyber Ninjas’ findings included people who might have voted by mail from the wrong address, problems with signature verification on mail-in ballots, 10,342 voters may have voted in Maricopa County and in other counties because they shared the same full name and birth year as someone who voted elsewhere, and deleted data, which the county said was simply archived, not deleted.  

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan drew cheers and applause from the mostly conservative crowd in the Senate chambers when, at the presentation of the audit report, he called for an end to voting by mail. And Fann, in her letter to Brnovich, said she wants “improvement and additional testing” to accept signatures on mail-in ballots. 

“Signatures on mail-in ballots should not be accepted unless they closely match the voters’ authenticated signatures that are on file,” she wrote. 

Fann also wrote that she wants to see “constant, unrelenting maintenance” of voter rolls, including correcting the registrations of people who move, die or are registered more than once. Some of the other changes she called for deal more with election administration than voting rights, such as requiring counties to preserve evidence of all elections and comply with future audits, and state-level oversight of election cybersecurity. 

Fann accused the county of breaking laws in its handling of the election – something county officials deny – and said the Senate would look to see if its laws were strong enough, and if penalties should be added in. 

“If you do not follow statutes, then you should be held accountable in one way or another,” Fann said. 

Independent experts find no foul play in 2020 election

A new report from an independent review of Maricopa County’s 2020 election equipment supports what the county has said all along: the voting machines weren’t connected to the internet, and the county didn’t try to obstruct the state Senate’s audit or delete data. 

The report comes after the Arizona Senate and the county agreed in September 2021 that three independent computer security experts would review the county’s routers and answer the Senate’s questions in relation to the 2020 general election. Both parties agreed that former Congressman John Shadegg would act as an impartial “special master” to oversee the process. 

Six months later, the findings, which were released late Wednesday, fall in line with the county’s own independent election audits conducted more than a year ago. 

John Shadegg

The Senate’s election review team, headed by Cyber Ninjas, presented its report in September 2021, offering no evidence of widespread fraud. Its ballot hand count found Joe Biden received 99 more votes than the official tally. However, the Senate still wanted to examine the county’s routers and Splunk logs, which it had also subpoenaed earlier in the year. The county resisted, citing security concerns. But, faced with losing hundreds of millions of state-shared revenues for not complying with the subpoenas, the county eventually settled with the Senate to allow an independent review of the equipment. 

Shadegg’s report stated that the team found no evidence that “routers, managed switches, or election devices” connected to the Internet. He and the experts also found no evidence that the county obstructed the audit. 

“The special master and expert panel found no evidence of data deletion, data purging, data overwriting, or other destruction of evidence or obstruction of the audit,” the report stated. 

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairman Bill Gates said in a written statement that the report should be “a final stake in the heart of the Senate’s so-called ‘audit,’” pointing out that it concluded the ballot tabulation system was not connected to the internet and that county routers were not connected to the election tabulation system. He also noted that one of the three independent experts was recommended by the Senate. 

“Whenever impartial, independent and competent people have examined the County’s election practices, they have found no reason to doubt the integrity of those practices,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors remains committed to free and fair elections that conform to federal and state laws.” 

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said in a text message Wednesday evening that she had not yet reviewed the report. 

The Maricopa County Twitter account posted that the county appreciated the results of the special master report, but it wasn’t new information. 

“(I)t is discouraging that more people didn’t listen 488 days ago when Elections Director Scott Jarrett explained all of this in a public meeting prior to canvass vote,” the county tweeted. 

The report does not end the Senate Republicans’ inquiries into the county’s 2020 general election. Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, on Monday issued a subpoena to county officials, ordering them to come to the Senate Government Committee meeting next week and answer questions about election documents requested by the Attorney General’s Office. Townsend, who chairs the committee, said via text message Wednesday evening that she had not yet had a chance to review the report, though on Twitter, she questioned its credibility.  

“If Maricopa County cannot bother to answer the questions of @andybiggs4az from a congressional hearing regarding deleted/archived files, why am I supposed to trust or believe any other report they submit? I am sorry but too little, too late,” she posted, referring to a hearing in October where then-Board of Supervisors chairman Jack Sellers and current chairman Gates strongly criticized the election review and defended how the 2020 election was conducted. 

The Attorney General’s investigation based off the reports from the Senate’s contractors in September is ongoing. 

In responding to the Senate’s questions, the computer security experts noted that Maricopa County uses two separate facilities and two separate computer systems to conduct elections, not one “election network.” They said in the report that the Senate’s questions “appeared to have been written based on the assumption” that the county only had one. 

“This utilization of separate systems, which are physically separated and are not electronically connected, either by wire or wirelessly, is a critical factor in answering the Senate’s questions,” the report stated. 

The experts stated that they found no evidence that the elections equipment in the ballot tabulation center connected to the public internet.  

“There are no routers or managed switches or Splunk logs in the BTC,” the report stated, adding that Splunk logs were not used in the center to comply with the Arizona Constitution’s privacy requirements. 

The ballot tabulation center, the report stated, is only accessible with key card access and is monitored 24/7. It has no electronic connection to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, wireless or otherwise. 

“Vote tallies, as they are completed, are loaded on a newly opened USB (thumb drive, Flash drive), under the observation of politically appointed observers, and are then physically taken out of the BTC and loaded on a separate computer for distribution to the press and public,” the report stated, adding that the official canvass is put on a “newly opened USB” and hand-delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office along with chain of custody information. 

The routers in the Office of Enterprise Technology did connect to the public internet; however, the experts noted that the facility only housed registration information and records and plays no part in counting ballots. 

“No ballot tabulation information is ever received by, sent to or stored in the OET,” the report stated. 

The experts did not review the voting machines used in 2020 because they were sequestered by Attorney General Mark Brnovich and have been replaced. 

“The special master and the expert panel did inspect the equipment present for our visit and confirmed with the County that the vote tabulating machines at the BTC during the 2020 General Election and the new machines currently within the BTC were not, are not now, and are not ever connected by wire or wirelessly to any routers, computers, or electronic equipment outside the BTC.” 

Judge rules Wadsack stays on ballot in LD17

From left are Sen. Vince Leach and Republican Senate nominee Justine Wadsack. A judge ruled Aug. 29 Wadsack will remain on the ballot after constituents of Leach filed suit alleging Wadsack does not live in Legislative District 17.

A Pima County judge denied a request by friends of Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, to knock GOP Senate nominee Justine Wadsack off the general election ballot on Monday. 

Two of Leach’s constituents and friends, Onita and Edward Davis, filed a lawsuit against Wadsack days after she beat Leach in the Legislative District 17 primary election. 

The lawsuit claimed that Wadsack should be ineligible to proceed to the general election because she does not live in Legislative District 17, but just lists her address there. Leach’s attorney Tim La Sota argued that since he received the second highest number of votes, his name should replace hers on the ballot. 

Wadsack and her attorneys argued in an evidentiary hearing that lasted several hours, that she moved from her former home outside the district into a home inside the district in February and has been living there ever since. 

Judge Richard Gordon – appointed by former Governor Jan Brewer – ruled against the Davises in Pima County Superior Court late on Monday evening, allowing Wadsack to stay on the ballot. 

Wadsack claimed that she had to move out of her Tucson home on East Sixth Street where she lived for many years with her husband, because her extreme political views were drawing angry people to their home who harassed her, threatened her and used racial slurs. 

She referred to some of the attackers as “Antifa” and said that one of them sicced his dog on her husband and bit him severely in 2020. Now, Wadsack said that she and her husband Garrett are separated, but she hopes to get back together with him eventually. “Either stop running for office and stay home, or leave,” she recalled him saying. 

Garrett testified that he does intend to reunite with his wife.  

La Sota argued that Wadsack only listed a change of address so she could run in an easier district but noted that she signed onto circulation forms in March listing her old address on seven occasions. Wadsack’s children also listed the Sixth Street home as their address, but she said they don’t live there. The house is owned by the Wadsack Trust and Wadsack is listed as a trustee, but she said that doesn’t technically make her an owner. Finally, Wadsack is listed as a precinct committeeperson outside of her district, but she said that’s a mistake. 

Wadsack’s attorneys noted that if Leach had concerns about her residency, he could have filed them months ago, but he waited until he lost his election to act. In the hearing, Wadsack deflected to several topics, criticizing the Secretary of State’s office, crying, discussing her past relationships and going on tangents about her family. 

Wadsack’s new address is a house on Oakbrook Street, also in Tucson. That home is owned by a woman named Rosa Alfonso who said that Wadsack is renting a room from her and paying $250 a month in rent for it. She also testified that she often sees Wadsack around the house and that she keeps things there. 

Wadsack said that at her new address she hasn’t been getting the same threats and attacks that drove her away from the other house because she parks in the garage and is trying “not to bring harm to Rosa.” 

Residency challenges in Arizona have a very low success rate. La Sota brought a case against former lawmaker Don Shooter on a similar claim and failed. He was also prepared to defend Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, in case her primary opponent Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, filed a residency suit against her. Townsend attempted to subpoena Rogers at the house she lists as her residence in Flagstaff, but said her attorneys were only able to find Rogers at a residence in Tempe outside their district. Townsend lost to Rogers but decided not to spend the money on a lawsuit. 

Apart from Wadsack’s suit; there are no other residency lawsuits filed against legislators this year. 

La Sota confirmed on Tuesday that he will not appeal the judge’s ruling.

Lawmaker gives second thought to robot-delivery bill

A personal delivery device made by Starship Technologies is parked outside the Arizona Senate. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
A personal delivery device made by Starship Technologies is parked outside the Arizona Senate. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

The killing of a pedestrian crossing the street by an autonomous vehicle this week has a Mesa lawmaker giving second thoughts to allowing automated motorized delivery devices on sidewalks.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend told Capitol Media Services Tuesday that her bill to allow autonomous vehicles onto sidewalks to make deliveries, something not allowed under current Arizona law, likely needs a closer look after the fatal crash. And Townsend said HB 2422 may need more restrictions.

Her concerns come in the wake of an incident Sunday night in which a vehicle being tested by Uber, operating in autonomous mode, struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk in Tempe. Preliminary reports are that the vehicle did not brake before hitting her, suggesting it did not “see” her.

In the interim, Uber has suspended all of its self-driving testing in Arizona and elsewhere. But HB 2422, pushed by Estonia-based Starship Technologies, already has cleared the House and now awaits Senate action.

A company spokesman told reporters last month the plan is to have them do the kind of delivery that might otherwise be done by a person, ranging from groceries to packages. The devices, he said, are programmed to unlock when they reach their desired destination.

Townsend, who saw them in operation in Washington, D.C. liked the idea. But there was a problem: They’re not currently legal in Arizona.

“I just need the bill to allow them to be on the sidewalk,” she said.

The proposal is to give these devices the same rights and duties as pedestrians, with whom they will share the sidewalks and crosswalks. That includes a mandate to follow all traffic and pedestrian-control signals and devices.

“Once it’s on the sidewalk, it has to obey the laws and it can’t be mowing people down, obviously,” Townsend said. “I want them to have to abide by our laws so that they’re not just running amok.”

At the same time, Townsend said the idea is to allow the testing without a lot of up-front regulation. She said that is in line with the philosophy espoused by Gov. Doug Ducey who first opened the door to autonomous vehicles on Arizona roads years ago by signing an executive order shortly after taking office in 2015.

But Townsend said she can’t ignore what happened Sunday.

“I don’t want my name attached to a fatality or injury,” she said of her legislation. “So I want to make sure what we’re doing going forward is safe.”

Townsend said she wants to be sure that what’s in the bill that makes it to the governor does that.

Some of the safeguards built into her original proposal, the one she pushed through the House on a 52-7 vote, were removed when the measure went to the Senate Transportation Committee last month.

Gone, for example, is that 100-pound weight limit.

Townsend said she agreed to that change because there are companies other than Starship Technologies that have their own devices that weigh more than that. She said the state should not be crafting laws that favor one device or company over another.

Still, she acknowledged, a heavier vehicle can cause a lot more injury if it runs into a pedestrian. And Townsend said that, given what happened Sunday, she may insist that the weight limit be put back into the bill.

But the version awaiting a Senate roll-call vote also removes some other provisions that were in the original bill, including a requirement that the devices have brakes. And it deletes a provision that would preclude the robots from transporting hazardous materials.

Also gone is the requirement for $100,000 worth of liability insurance.

Townsend said that, given all the questions, it might be appropriate to put a “sunset” provision into her legislation, having it self-destruct at some future date unless specifically renewed by lawmakers. That would require the Legislature to review how the testing has gone and determine whether changes are needed in the law — or even whether Arizona wants to continue to allow the devices on the sidewalks.

Lawmaker says her child vaccination bills are ‘misunderstood’

FILE - This Feb. 6, 2015, file photo, shows a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine on a countertop at a pediatrics clinic in Greenbrae, Calif. A measles outbreak near Portland, Ore., has revived a bitter debate over so-called “philosophical” exemptions to childhood vaccinations as public health officials across the Pacific Northwest scramble to limit the fallout from the disease. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last week declared a state of emergency because of the outbreak on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
FILE – This Feb. 6, 2015, file photo, shows a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine on a countertop at a pediatrics clinic in Greenbrae, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

The sponsor of three bills aimed at altering state vaccination laws said Thursday that her proposals are “misunderstood.”

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, told Capitol Media Services nothing in any of the measures that is designed to convince parents to opt out of state requirements to inoculate children as a condition of sending them to child care or public school. Instead, she said, it simply provides information that parents need to make those decisions.

Barto’s comments come a day after Gov. Doug Ducey said he would veto any measure that he believes will result in fewer children getting immunized against a host of diseases.

The governor never addressed the specifics of the three measures that await a House floor vote.

But Ducey, with his comments, aligned himself with medical professionals who testified last month that much of what Barto is pushing − and what cleared the House Committee on Health and Human Services − would deter parents from vaccinating their children. And that, they warned, would endanger overall public health.

Barto sidestepped a separate question by the Arizona Capitol Times about whether Ducey himself misunderstood her bills.

Instead she said there has been a hesitancy to see a connection between vaccinations and “terrible outcomes” for some children who have been inoculated. And Barto said parents who do not believe vaccines are safe should be “spared” from the requirements.

“And they shouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens for using their constitutionally protected right to not be forced to undergo vaccinations,” she said. “We’re headed in that direction.”

It isn’t just Barto who fears that the option for parents to refuse inoculations could evaporate.

Also Thursday, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she fears efforts by the government to force parents to administer vaccines. Townsend, who has a daughter whose epilepsy she links to childhood immunizations, said she has the ultimate right to refuse to vaccinate the girl’s younger brother.

“The idea that we force someone to give up their liberty for the sake of the collective is not based on American values but rather Communist,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Townsend did not back down when questioned about the comments by Capitol Media Services.

“My son’s body is sovereign,” she said.

“The line for me is the government does not have authority to inject him with something and put him at risk,” Townsend said. “That’s my line.”

And she dismissed the question of whether by not vaccinating her son against communicable diseases she puts at risk other children who cannot be immunized for medical reasons.

“Who’s more important, my son’s health or the potential (of) contracting measles which may or may not be fatal?” Townsend asked. “We are sovereign and ought to be able to make that decision.”

Barto is not alone is proposing new laws about the rights of parents regarding inoculations and hoping that the governor signs them.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, is pushing similar measures in the Senate. And he defended them as common-sense proposals.

One of those requires that parents be given a list of all the ingredients in each vaccine, along with the warning label that the Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to provide to doctors. Boyer said there’s no reason all that should not be available to parents.

“The FDA has mandated that every single ingredient we eat from a food product … is on the back of the food package,” Boyer said Thursday. “And that’s something we voluntarily consume.”

In this case, he said, parents are being told they have to get their children immunized by injection as a condition of going to school, though parents can opt out.

“I don’t see any problem with giving parents more information,” he said.

Potentially more concerning to some is Barto’s proposal to not only expand the right of parents to claim a religious exemption but to eliminate the requirement that they first sign a form, prepared by the state Department of Health Services, acknowledging that they understand the implications of spurning each vaccination and the physical effects that getting the disease can have, up to and including paralysis and death. That same form requires parents to also acknowledge that if there is an outbreak of the disease their children can be denied entry to school or child care.

Instead, they could simply write on any sheet of paper that they are not having their children vaccinated.

But even Boyer, who wants the expanded religious exemption, said he believes that goes too far in the wrong direction. He said parents should have to acknowledge they know of the specific dangers of what can happen if an unvaccinated child gets a disease.

“But they should also know that there are risks, benefits and limitations,” he said.

The third measure at issue also goes to the question of what parents need to be told. It requires doctors to inform them that there is a test to determine, on a pre-vaccination basis, whether their child already has immunity to the specific disease.

Several doctors who testified on that measure last month said the test is not only expensive but also unreliable.

All that goes to why Townsend said she fears the state using its power to coerce parents into getting their children inoculated.

“When we start having the mindset that, ‘Well you could be harmed but we’re going to put you at risk for the greater good,’ you lose your individual rights,” she said.

Lawmaker seeks protections for teachers against strike

Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. (AP Photo/Matt York)

With a strike looming on Thursday, a key Republican lawmaker is moving to give legal protections to teachers who say they don’t want to walk out.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, is telling teachers who oppose the job action to send her emails at her official state address detailing that they actually want to go to work but can’t because the school has been closed. Townsend told Capitol Media Services she will write back – and from her official state email account – to provide proof that they made that claim.

What makes that important is that state schools-chief Diane Douglas issued last-minute warnings to teachers that she will refer complaints against teachers for abandoning their jobs to the state Board of Education. And that board, she said, can investigate and, if appropriate, rescind the teaching certificates of each of the strikers.

Douglas acknowledged that the odds are against the state board decertifying tens of thousands of teachers, especially with schools already unable to find certified teachers for thousands of classrooms. That has resulted in increased class sizes in some cases and courses being taught by long-term substitutes in others.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)
Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

She said the board has other options, like a censure.

None of this is likely to come into play, however, at least not for the rest of the week.

Stefan Swiat, spokesman for the Department of Education, said a teacher runs afoul of the law by abandoning his or her job.

But many of the teachers are instead taking personal leave days today and Friday, something to which they are entitled in their contracts. And that, Swiat said, means no breach of contract — and no chance of punishment.

All this comes as Townsend also is working with attorneys to explore the possibility of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who were financially harmed by the strike.

That specifically includes families who might have to reschedule a long-planned vacation or even change airline reservations for a planned graduation ceremony that had to be rescheduled. Townsend will not identify the law firms involved, saying they are still planning their strategy.

She also had no answer for the question of who, exactly would be the defendant in any lawsuit seeking damages. Townsend said, though, she would not want to penalize individual teachers.

Douglas said what’s happening Thursday and Friday raises another issue, with some districts closing their schools in anticipation of a walkout.

“I would like to know how a governing board or a school superintendent ratifies an illegal action by just closing the schools,” she said.

Diane Douglas
Diane Douglas

And Douglas brushed aside the contention that such a move may be appropriate, given that district officials fear that not enough staff shows up to open the building and operate it safely.

“You don’t know that,” she said.

“Has every single principal sat down with his staff and said, ‘Are you going to walk out or do you want to be here?’ ” Douglas said. “I bet you we’re going to find a whole lot of people who want to be at work but can’t be.”

That is backed, at least in part, by the tally of last week’s vote by the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United. They said of the 57,000 people who asked for ballots — both teachers and support staff — 78 percent voted to strike.

What that also means is that more than one out of every five people who voted are against the walkout.

But Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said the local board members who decided to close schools were doing the right thing.

“You trust that your school leadership has done their homework,” he said, looking at any contingency plans about what it takes to keep a building open — and safe.

“It would be irresponsible to have school if you’re not staffing it appropriately,” Ogle said.

Lawmakers assert power grab over state offices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State of Emergency

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

Michelle Ugenti
Michelle Ugenti

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Democratic secretary of state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

The Boyer Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawmakers can call bluff with slim margin


House Republican leaders bent on passing a flat tax and succeeding with threadbare majorities where past Republican supermajorities had failed hatched a plan last week: put the tax bills up for a vote and embarrass their outspoken holdout into voting for it. 

Instead, the plan fell flat, as Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, joined Democrats to vote against the spending plan. He used his floor speeches to lambaste a lack of transparency and paint himself as the true conservative of the caucus, focused on paying debt and fulfilling obligations instead of giving away billions in state revenue. 

“As a conservative Republican with a consistent conservative voting record, I think we need not mirror the federal government and continue with the borrowing and the debt,” Cook said. “Paying off our financial obligations as a state before spending more money is a Republican value I have encouraged my fellow lawmakers to consider before casting their vote.” 

The dramatic June 7 budget vote was just the latest and most extreme example of a phenomenon that has played out in the House and Senate during the current session. Calling a lawmaker’s bluff to see if concerns expressed behind closed doors are enough to cause that senator or representative to buck their caucus isn’t particularly unusual, longtime lobbyist Barry Aarons said, but it is rare to see on a budget vote.  

“This effort was kind of a truth or dare,” he said. “(GOP leaders) said ‘We want to make you vote ‘no’ on this so that perhaps that’ll put some pressure on you from your district.’” 

David Cook
David Cook

Cook is under plenty of pressure now – but not from his district. While state and national Republican groups criticized him, a dozen mayors in his rural district penned an op-ed praising him for looking out for cities and towns, which stand to lose nearly one-third of their state revenue under the flat tax plan. 

And as the twin threats of the Mescal and Telegraph fires menace Legislative District 8, Cook has been out meeting with evacuees and nonprofit groups and sharing updates about the fires and services, doing the kind of constituent work that means more to most voters than votes on tax policy. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, the Glendale Republican who shares many of Cook’s concerns about the flat tax, said he’s relieved the Senate didn’t try to force him to vote on the budget the way the House did to Cook. This year, conservative activists have maligned Boyer for voting against his caucus on issues ranging from whether to arrest county supervisors for contempt to having the attorney general investigate teachers.  

“It’s not like he hasn’t been public about his opposition, like I have, to the $1.9 billion tax cut,” Boyer said. “I thought it was unfortunate. I’m glad they didn’t do that to me.”  

Ultimately, the House’s failed budget on June 7 illustrates the difficulty in passing a spending package – or any kind of controversial legislation – in a Legislature where every single Republican holds veto power, and rank-and-file lawmakers have seen proof that holding out can work. 

And this is part of the problem faced by House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, the architect of the flat tax proposal. Toma said there are Republicans who only support the budget because of the tax cut, and scaling it back to get Cook on board would risk losing them. 

“If we buy one but we lose five, that doesn’t work,” Toma said. 

It’s something Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, feared would happen two years ago, when she tried for several weeks to steamroll Boyer and then-Sen. Heather Carter, who had pledged not to support a budget until the Senate voted on a Boyer bill to expand opportunities for sexual assault survivors to seek justice in civil court.  

“What happens next year when every single person has a bill that they didn’t get passed and they say, ‘I’m not going to vote for the budget unless my bill gets passed?’” Fann asked at the time. “You know full well there are some bills that should never get passed.” 

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, ran into this when she told her Republican caucus she wouldn’t vote for a bill to prune the Permanent Early Voting List, at least not before the Senate completed its ongoing audit of the 2020 election and not unless the House or Senate took action on some of her own proposed election law changes. 

Despite Townsend’s threats, the Senate put that bill up for a vote in late April anyway, telling Townsend they needed to pass it quickly before ending the legislative session in two weeks.  

“They tried me out to see if I’m serious or not,” she said. “I mean it when I say that we have no business going home.” 

After several post-vote discussions and a promise that her election legislation would be revived in the House, Townsend agreed to vote for the early-voting bill on reconsideration. 

That’s often how attempts to call lawmakers’ bluffs end up working out, Aarons said.  

“You’ll see a vote go down, and it’s designed to find out where the opposition is,” he said. “Somebody immediately jumps up and moves for reconsideration, it gives them a few days to resolve whatever problem there is, and then they come back and pass it.”  

Arizona Capitol Times reporter Nathan Brown contributed to this report. 

Lawmakers pass measures to curb executive emergency power

State legislators voted Thursday on multiple fronts to curb the power of the governor — this one and future ones — to declare and maintain an emergency.

With no discussion at all, the Senate gave preliminary approval to SCR 1001. If it gets final approval by the Senate and later by the House, it would immediately terminate the emergency that Gov. Doug Ducey declared nearly a year ago.

The resolution, crafted by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, states that the governor’s March 11 emergency order has interfered with individual rights. That specifically refers to the stay-at-home edicts he issued early in the Covid pandemic.

While those have been allowed to expire, Ugenti-Rita said other Ducey actions remain, including restrictions on how some businesses can operate. which she said have wreaked havoc on the economy.

Ducey could terminate the emergency on his own. But he has repeatedly insisted the need for him to assume the special powers remains.

This measure, which now needs a final roll-call vote in the Senate before going to the House, bypasses using. a constitutional provision which allows the legislature, by a simple majority, to declare the emergency over.

But Ducey could have the last word: A recent opinion by Attorney General Mark Brnovich said that, under the current constitutional provisions, the governor remains free to issue a new emergency order.

That, in turn, goes to the separate actions designed to keep that from happening — at least in the future.

HCR 2037, approved by the House on a 31-28 party-line vote, would allow a simple majority of state lawmakers to call themselves into special session to consider and review any gubernatorial emergency. It now takes a two-thirds margin to do that.

Separately, the Senate gave preliminary approval to SCR 1010. It actually would require the governor to call a special session any time he or she declares an emergency.

In both cases, that would give lawmakers the power to review what the governor has done, the restrictions imposed, and decide for themselves whether they are appropriate.

Nothing in either measure would affect the current emergency order. That’s because it requires a constitutional change, something that requires voter approval. And that can’t happen until November 2022.

But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who crafted the House version, said that there is a need to revisit the decades-old laws for the next time a governor declares an emergency.

“What we have now is absurd,” he told colleagues.

“What we have now are emergency procedures that were created for floods and hurricanes and fires, local short-lived emergencies, not pandemics,” Kavanagh said, with the governor given broad — and pretty much unquestionable — powers to act. “Pandemics are statewide and they’re long-lasting and the current procedures don’t work.”

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, author of the Senate measure said it’s a simple matter of the constitutional right of a republican form of government.

“And that’s not what we had this last year,” she said.

“We had one person and his advisers making decisions on behalf of the entire state,” Townsend said. “And I would challenge anyone to say that the state and the people in the state were satisfied with those decisions.”

Kavanagh said his measure is not a total power grab.

He said if whoever is governor doesn’t like the changes the legislature has made, he or she has the right to “protest,” essentially a form of a veto. And it would take a vote of 60% of lawmakers to override.

The whole concept of legislators second-guessing the governor bothered Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson.

“In a pandemic, very specifically, when decisions need to be made expeditiously to address rapid spread, I think one person with the advice of experts, and the guidance of their agencies like the Department of Health Services, making those decisions is less problematic than 90 people,” he said. And he asked if that wouldn’t slow the process down to the point of being ineffective.

Kavanagh and Townsend both said nothing in the measure would stop the governor from declaring an emergency and issuing immediate orders. What it does is ensure the legislature is in session and has a voice.

“And that’s when we deliberate, maybe we negotiate, we do a lot of things,” Kavanagh said. “And then we make a decision as to whether or not the governor acted wisely.”

Friese said he agrees, in essence, with the idea of giving the legislature a voice in future emergencies.

“We should have, as a legislature, some sort of automatic approval or something,” he said. And Friese said there should be some simple procedure for lawmakers, at some point, to review the declaration.

But he said that future emergencies could require rapid — and unilateral — action.

“One thing we know for sure is these viruses will evolve, these viruses will become more and more difficult to manage,” Friese said. And if there isn’t quick action, he said the impact on Arizona could be even more pronounced than it has been.

“We will have businesses close for much longer, we will have hospitals at capacity,” Friese said.

“We will have much more people sick and dying,” he continued. “And if we put too many triggers and make it too easy to undermine the plan of the executive, on the advice of many, many specialists and scientists and those people who are trained to respond to these things … we could be causing ourselves a lot of grief.”




Lawmakers should not spread misinformation about vaccines

Doctor holds syringe with vaccine

Protecting people from getting sick should be the definition of an uncontroversial idea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like our state legislators agree.

As we head into the 2020 session, Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, has introduced a bill barring schools from requiring students to be immunized against disease. He’s become the latest Republican state legislator to fall for conspiracy theories and propaganda about vaccines.

Email records recently uncovered by the group Equity Forward show that fringe groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center and the Association of American Physicians have been working through state legislators’ offices to push anti-vaccine misinformation.

Emily Kirkland
Emily Kirkland

These organizations may sound official, but in reality, they are far-right lobbying groups. Despite its objective-sounding name, the National Vaccine Information Center (originally named Dissatisfied Parents Together) exists to advocate against vaccines based on long-discredited studies and anecdotal evidence. NVIC’s director, Barbara Loe Fisher, is a favorite of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and has appeared on his show to make the case that vaccines are a stepping stone towards a government-sponsored effort to take over healthcare and bring back eugenics.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is a far-right conservative lobbying group that runs a fake “medical journal” not recognized by any academic institution or peer-reviewed publication. They have published authors who claim that climate change is not because of human activity, that HIV does not cause AIDS, and that abortions lead to breast cancer, all of which have been discredited by accredited medical and academic journals.

The email records show that the National Vaccine Information Center worked closely with Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, on the three anti-vax bills they introduced last session. Irene Pizzi (aka Irene Pi), the group’s state director, provided background information and helped set strategy. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons weighed in with their own talking points, emphasizing the (minuscule) risks of vaccines and claiming that doctors push vaccines to pad their own pockets, with no mention of vaccines’ enormous public health benefits.

By early March, rhetoric at the Capitol around vaccines had grown so bizarre and overheated that Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, was comparing school vaccination requirements to the government forcibly tattooing ID numbers on people’s arms.

The Health and Human Services Committee passed all three anti-vaccine bills on a party-line vote: HB2470/SB1114 (creating a religious exemption from vaccination), SB2471/SB1115 (requiring medical professionals to provide overwhelming and potentially confusing details on vaccine benefits and risks before each shot) and HB2472/SB1116 (requiring an unnecessary blood test before a vaccination). None of the three bills made it to a floor vote in the House.

But in many ways, the damage was done. The high-profile lobbying campaign around Boyer’s and Barto’s bills contributed to a growing and deeply misleading public narrative about the dangers of vaccines.

Just a few months after Boyer and Barto introduced their bills, a measles epidemic driven by reduced vaccination rates sickened one person in Arizona and hundreds more across the country, leading New York City and Washington to declare states of emergency.

Since then, declining vaccination rates in Maricopa County have contributed to the first outbreak of mumps in many years, and a measles outbreak in Samoa driven by anti-vax rumors has killed 81 people, mostly children under 4. The World Health Organization listed the growing anti-vaccine sentiment as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019.

Parents shouldn’t endanger everyone’s children by skipping out on vaccinations, which are safe, effective and save lives. And state legislators shouldn’t endanger the state as a whole by spreading dangerous misinformation about one of the most important public health tools we have.

Emily Kirkland is executive director of Progress Now Arizona.

Lawmakers who lost primaries plan next steps

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

Twenty-two lawmakers lost their races this year for various offices and won’t return to the Capitol for at least two years.

Nine House Republicans, nine House Democrats and four Republican senators were knocked out of the running, several in surprising upsets from political newcomers.

Nearly all the legislators say they will spend some time focusing on their other jobs and families, but don’t rule out another run down the road.

House of Representatives

Morgan Abraham

Rep. Morgan Abraham, D-Tucson: “I can’t see a situation where I run for the lege (Legislature) anytime soon but there’s other offices,” Abraham said. He wants to go back to being an “involved citizen” in the meantime.

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale: Andrade is a locomotive engineer who was already on vacation in Hawaii by the middle of August. He’ll take a break from the Legislature but plans to run again as a Clean Elections candidate. “My opponent was able to pull it off because he had a lot of outside help like special groups, special interests,” Andrade said. He hopes that using Clean Elections funding will boost him and he won’t turn to organizations that he said disappointed him “immensely.” He lost his race to fellow legislator Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson.

Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake: Blackman said in no uncertain terms that he will run for office again, but maybe not for a seat in the Legislature. “I’ve been asked to run for the Senate in my district, and so we’ll see. We’ll see, but I definitely am running,” he said. Blackman lost a congressional bid to Trump-endorsed newcomer Eli Crane.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers

Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa: Bowers is hard at work traveling on behalf of the state. He wants to make a trip on his own to Romania and Kazakhstan outside of work, and paint pictures of Romanian haystacks. Bowers is the best-known artist in Arizona politics and decorated the House with his own paintings and sculptures. His vacation plans are no indication that he intends to leave politics behind. “I’m very, very concerned about the direction my party has taken. Obviously, I’m not a ‘member in good standing anymore’ because I didn’t want the Legislature to take away the right of citizens to vote,” he said of being censured by Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward. Bowers said he wants to have an impact on the future of the Republican party. “I am a victim in a district against three competitors who used tactics and said things about me and my morality and my stature and my reputation that was disgusting. … It’s a vicious bunch of people,” Bowers said. His primary opponent David Farnsworth was endorsed by Trump after Bowers testified to the January 6 congressional committee about former President Trump’s efforts to overturn Arizona’s election results.

Judy Burges

Rep. Judy Burges, R-Sun West City: Burges said that she’ll be in her 80s when she runs again and she’d have to “give it some thought,” but in the meantime she’s going on a vacation to Hawaii for the first time. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she said on August 16. Burges wants to continue working for the Republican Party whether she runs again or not. “You can’t be busied out the Legislature and come back home and do nothing,” she said.

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction: Fillmore said he will never leave politics and that his election isn’t over. He said he believes that he only lost due to problems in Pinal County on Election Day that included a shortage of ballots and is considering legal action. For now, Fillmore said he is in the mountains of Oregon “recuperating” by “drinking incessantly” and camping in a motel.

Joel John

Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye: “To be frank, I don’t think I’ll run any time in the near future. I would like to run again, but the Legislature is a huge commitment for someone who runs a business and has kids at home,” John said. He has an agricultural business to run and takes care of his children.

Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix: She wants to remain in politics and hasn’t decided whether she’ll run for the Legislature again. “This time last year, I didn’t know I was going to be at the Legislature. So, this time next year, I don’t know what my life is going to be like,” she said on August 15. Liguori is interested in putting her experience in real estate behind her and focusing instead on politics in Phoenix. She was appointed rather than elected to this term and lost to fellow incumbents Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix.

Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix: Meza said he’ll keep working at his own business and potentially come back into politics later. “I’ve never been through this before, because I always win by large amounts,” Meza said.

Joanne Osborne

Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear: “I will be doing what I always do and try and be a part of my community, and have my small business, and be a mom and a grandma,” Osborne said. She is not sure whether she’ll come back but said that may depend on what happens in Arizona. “We’re doing well as Arizonans, and I hope nobody screws that up,” Osborne said.

Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion: Sierra said he may run again, but now he’s hunting for a job in the private sector and considering moving to Washington, D.C., with his wife. “We have kids who live out-of-state and one of them is getting married. We’d love to be near grandchildren,” he said. In terms of his work, Sierra said he wants to remain “politics adjacent” with community relations and marketing.

Rep. Christian Solorio, D-Phoenix, Solorio’s spokesperson (and sister) Diana Solorio said that he will continue to work in the community and combat homeless issues but has not committed to another politics run.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen; Rep. Shawna Bolick, R-Phoenix; Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix; Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson; Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa; and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, did not respond to requests for comment.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Bolding and Bolick all competed and lost in the primary race for secretary of state. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro-Valley, won that Republican primary.


Tyler Pace

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa: Pace didn’t promise to run again, but he said the 2022 session was “probably” not his last time serving in the Legislature. “I have no plans running for office in this next election cycle. Other than that, I’m not entirely sure, but it won’t be the end,” Pace said. Pace has his own business to manage and is considering getting a cabin or a beach house to enjoy. He also said he’s not planning to collaborate with Robert Scantlebury, who beat him in the primary election for Legislative District 9.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction: “I have given ten years plus of my life to serving the people of this state and country. I’ve sacrificed my children’s childhood, my career before politics, to some degree my health due to the high level of stress and many other things, and right now my focus is my children and my family and then I will decide,” said Townsend. She used to work full time as a doula but said she probably won’t go back to that now. “I’ve given every last fiber of my soul to this state for a long time and now it’s time to turn and focus forwards,” she said. Fellow Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, beat out Townsend in the primary.

Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson: Leach still hasn’t conceded his Legislative District 17 race to victor Justine Wadsack. He had two friends file a lawsuit against Wadsack claiming that she actually lives outside of the district she ran in and is asking that her name be removed from the general election ballots and replaced with Leach’s. “If you’re going to represent the district; you should live in it,” Leach said on Thursday.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, did not respond to requests for comment.


Mitchell primary loss opens door for Bowers’ run for speaker

Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, said requiring Arizona Department of Corrections officers to be U.S. citizens would help ease unemployment in his district, which stretches to Yuma. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Juan Magaña)
Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, said requiring Arizona Department of Corrections officers to be U.S. citizens would help ease unemployment in his district, which stretches to Yuma. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Juan Magaña)

A surprise loss in Legislative District 13 upended the speaker’s race in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Rep. Darin Mitchell will not be returning to the Legislature after losing in the August 28 GOP primary for the two House seats in LD13.

Rep. Tim Dunn and Joanne Osborne defeated the Goodyear Republican and his running mate Trey Terry and now move on to the November 6 general election.

Mitchell was one of two members in the running for speaker of the House and the loss leaves the chamber’s top position wide open for Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, if Bowers is re-elected.

But the loss has also opened the way for other House members to jump into the speaker’s race.

Bowers said Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, a member of the most-conservative Liberty Caucus, which rallied around Mitchell, have expressed interest in running for speaker. Finchem had previously announced he would seek the majority leader position after the 2018 elections.

In a text to the Arizona Capitol Times, Townsend said she was “exploring a run for speaker,” now that Mitchell was not advancing to the general election.

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, another member of the Liberty Caucus, said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, could also jump into the race.

But their candidacies are unlikely to pose a threat to Bowers, who announced his intention to run for the speakership late last year and has been campaigning for that leadership position ever since.

Bowers would not comment on whether it is too late for another candidate to jump into the race, but he said he feels confident about the support he has drummed up over the past couple of months.

“They’ll do what they think they need to do, but I feel very good about our position,” he said. “Now it’s time to double down and try to tie this up.”

Bowers said Mitchell has been a strong advocate for the Liberty Caucus and he will now work to gain the caucus’ support.

Mitchell’s loss in the primary was one of two surprises in the House, where incumbents were defeated by relative newcomers on the political scene.

While it is difficult to unseat an incumbent, there was a fairly aggressive opposition campaign being run against Mitchell this election cycle because of his interest in the speakership, said political consultant Chuck Coughlin.

Coughlin said it’s not unprecedented for a candidate who is running for leadership to lose their bid for re-election.

Political action committees and independent expenditure groups spent heavily in the race, pouring money into Dunn and Osborne’s campaign.

Responsible Leadership for AZ PAC, which is funded by the Arizona Association of Realtors, spent heavily against Mitchell, who is a Realtor himself. Mitchell’s consultant, Chris Baker, said the PAC’s spending was intended to influence the speaker’s race in Bowers’ favor.

The group launched ads shortly before the primary election describing Mitchell as one of several “very concerning candidates” in LD13, lumping him together with Terry and ousted lawmaker Don Shooter, who failed in his bid to return to the Legislature.

The ad also accused Mitchell of unpaid debts and a state income tax lien, and it drummed up an ethics complaint filed against him by House Democrats in 2016. It also hit Mitchell for supporting and sponsoring legislation that the Realtors opposed.

Neither Mitchell nor Baker immediately returned a request for comment.

New election bill could make criminals out of voters


This week, the state legislature is considering SB1241, a wide-ranging elections bill championed by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa. Buried in this multi-pronged bill is a new and troubling provision that could ensnare thousands of Arizona seniors, voters with disabilities, students, and other absentee voters in surprise criminal investigations. 

As any Arizona absentee voter knows, for your vote to count, you have to sign the ballot envelope. Elections officials then compare the signature on the ballot to the one on file to ensure the voter is who they say they are. If the signature doesn’t match, the vote isn’t counted. This is a normal part of election safeguards, in line with how most states verify absentee ballots, and generally results in thousands of ballots being routinely disqualified. In 2016, for example, 2,663 Arizona ballots were rejected because of a signature discrepancy.  

But SB1241 takes this normal part of election security and dramatically heightens the stakes. Unless the voter actively contacts the elections office to fix a signature error, he or she would automatically and in all cases have their “ballot affidavit and related materials” referred to law enforcement. Shockingly, this means law enforcement could have access not only to the signed envelope, but also potentially the secret ballot itself, opening the possibility that investigation decisions may be informed by who the person voted for. No other state has such a provision.  

This presumption of criminality, regardless of the intentions behind the bill, is disturbing, dangerously misguided, and will fall on some of Arizona’s most vulnerable voters. Signature verification is an imprecise process that balances attention to detail with the tendency of human handwriting to change over time—or of a careless signature to smudge, wobble, or warp.  

Delaney Gomen
Delaney Gomen

As Tammy Patrick, a former Maricopa County elections official, said last year, there are countless reasons a signature may not match: “People had broken arms. They were signing with the other hand — that’ll change the signature right there. I had people that told me they had had a stroke; people who told me they were signing it on their dashboard while they were driving down the highway; they signed it on top of the blue collection box at the post office, or on top of their mailbox.” 

Moreover, signature mismatches also tend to fall on four groups: senior citizens whose handwriting may have grown shaky, voters with disabilities, students and young people whose signatures change regularly, and voters of color. In 2018, a judge struck down New Hampshire’s signature matching law, arguing that “[v]ariations are more prevalent in people who are elderly, disabled, or who speak English as a second language.” 

Ben Raderstorf
Ben Raderstorf

SB1241 ignores the messy reality of human signatures, assuming that every slip of the pen is evidence of wrongdoing. It replaces current practice—where election officials refer cases to law enforcement only when there is reason to suspect a crime—with a rigid and bureaucratic referral process that could result in thousands of unnecessary investigations after every election. (There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Arizona or any other state.)  

If this bill passes, any absentee voter in Arizona who signs their ballot sloppily and fails to fix the error after Election Day could find themselves caught up in a criminal investigation. This would be a discriminatory burden on senior citizens, disabled voters, students, and people of color. 

In a democracy, no voter should have to worry that messy handwriting will get them reported to the police.  

Delaney Gomen is a data analyst at Protect Democracy. Ben Raderstorf is a policy advocate at Protect Democracy.  


Panels advance budget bills, GOP holdouts seek compromise

american dollar banknotes forming and the map of Arizona State and white background

Budget bills cleared their first hurdle Tuesday after a day of arm-twisting and political maneuvering, but problems getting it passed persist.  

One Republican in the House voted against every budget bill, while a fiscal hawk in the Senate skipped the appropriations committee in protest after Senate leaders added another Republican to negate her “no” vote.  

And still others are determined to vote against the budget, or at least some of its components, in its current form, leaving Republican leaders to cajole and coerce reluctant representatives demanding more or less spending before they can end for the year. 

Budgets are put together with compromises, so this must be a very good budget because we’ve got people mad on both sides,” said Sen. Vince Leach, the Saddlebrooke Republican who serves as vice chair of the Senate appropriations committee.  

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, who is leading a group of Republicans who want additional spending cuts, voted against every budget bill in the House Appropriations committee. However, he said he liked much of what was in the bills and plans to talk with House leaders to find an agreement that will satisfy him and the rest of the holdouts. 

“I’m hopeful that Republicans will be able to reach a deal and produce a better budget by the time this comes to the floor,” he said. 

Hoffman’s group, which he said represents a quarter of the 31-member House Republican caucus, has said it wants to nix tens of millions of dollars in the budget for road repair, state parks and pay raises for state employees, as well as spending $7.5 million on election issues, including watermarked ballots and future legislative reviews of election results. 

Across the mall, there was a conspicuous silence each time the Senate Appropriations committee’s secretary called on Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita for her vote. The Scottsdale Republican stayed away from the Senate today, after GOP leaders responded to her explanation that she couldn’t support the $12.8 billion spending plan as a fiscal conservative by appointing Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, to the committee to vote “yes” and cancel out Ugenti-Rita.  

Another Senate Republican on the committee, Kelly Townsend of Mesa, threatened to vote against a budget bill that contained policies for K-12 education because it would allow school boards to require students and staff to wear masks 

But after Senate leaders pulled her aside and explained it was too late to amend the bill in committee, Townsend agreed to join fellow Republicans in moving it forward, with a caveat that she will vote against it if it isn’t amended on the floor. 

“The final say about what goes on the face of a child should be the parents, not the school board, not the cities, not the county board of supervisors,” Townsend said. “In order for me to vote ‘yes’ for this on the floor, there’s going to have to be an amendment that allows an exemption not only to not wear a mask but not be shamed.”  

A plan to cut about $3 billion in taxes in the next three years proved particularly testy in both the House and the Senate, as Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said he won’t vote for it unless he gets his questions about it answered. 

“Until I get the answers and I feel comfortable about the people … that I represent in Arizona and this state, I’m not voting for this bill,” he said. 

Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, voted to advance the bill out of committee but said she will need to have her questions about how to hold cities harmless answered if she is to support it on the floor. 

“Like I said from the beginning, there is a way for us to be able to handle this and do it, and I look forward to that continued discussion,” she said. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, a Glendale Republican who has been the leading advocate for cities and towns in discussions of the flat tax, said he asked House and Senate leaders and the governor to meet with the League of Arizona Cities and Towns to discuss ways to protect city budgets, but no one bit. Because cities and towns receive 15% of state income tax revenue under a decades-old agreement that barred municipalities from enacting their own local income taxes, any cut to state income taxes will also affect cities. 

Proponents of the tax plan contend that cities will benefit from increased growth spurred by lower taxes, and that taxes on recreational marijuana and online sales tax collected following the Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision will increase city revenues. But the League argues that those funds already belonged to cities and don’t make up for losing income tax revenue – instead, cities and towns want to see an increase in the proportion of income tax revenue shared with cities and towns, from 15% to above 18%.  

League legislative director Nick Ponder told the Senate committee that cuts to city revenues will affect police and fire budgets.  

“This vote will be one you take home to your community,” he said. “It will be what your mayors and council members talk about when you go to shared events.” 

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who is largely responsible for crafting the flat tax proposal, said he would “work with my members here to try to get this done – hopefully tomorrow.” 

However, other lawmakers doubt that a deal will come together by Wednesday, when the Senate and House both plan to come to the floor at 10 a.m. 

“I don’t believe these bills will pass,” said Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma. “I have no crystal ball here, but I really hope for the sake of Arizona that both sides of the aisle will come together. … I want to be part of the budget. I don’t just want to pick it up and say ‘That’s not right for me. That’s not right for my constituents.” 

Passage of resolution to overturn Ducey’s order a very long shot

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who with Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, called for a resolution to overturn Gov. Doug Ducey’s emergency declaration, posted this photo on Twitter and called for the reopening of the economy by saying, “Let’s start with removing police tape from our children’s play equipment.” PHOTO TWITTER
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who with Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, called for a resolution to overturn Gov. Doug Ducey’s emergency declaration, posted this photo on Twitter and called for the reopening of the economy by saying, “Let’s start with removing police tape from our children’s play equipment.” PHOTO TWITTER

The plan hatched by some of the Legislature’s most vocal conservatives to reopen the state’s economy hinges on a concurrent resolution that would overturn the governor’s emergency declaration.

Indeed, under statute, a state of emergency can only be lifted by a decree of the governor or by “concurrent resolution of the Legislature declaring it at an end.” The governor has extended his stay-at-home order until May 15, but whether it gets extended once more – and how long the emergency declaration itself lasts – is as of yet unknown.

The concurrent resolution is the brainchild of Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa. She and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, have already drafted language, though if both chambers adjourned by May 8 as legislative leaders planned, it may never see the light of day.

The resolution cites the impact of quarantine on mental health and the economy, the personal responsibility of Arizonans in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and guidance from U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr stating that “if a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach.”

Already, the resolution has key supporters, including House Majority Leader Warren Petersen. But even Townsend has acknowledged that she may not have the 16 and 31 votes in each chamber to pass the resolution, which would go straight to the Secretary of State’s Office if approved by each body – in short, a bill overriding Gov. Doug Ducey’s authority doesn’t need his signature.

And Senate President Karen Fann and others have warned that if the resolution passes, the state could lose millions of dollars in emergency funding.

“[Passage] means Arizona will get to keep the Covid money we have received to date but will NOT be entitled to all the millions of FEMA or DEMA funds,” she wrote in an email to members. “In addition, all of the emergency declarations the governor has passed over the past few weeks will end immediately.”

Those declarations include the state income tax deferral to July 15, and protections from evictions.

There’s an argument that staunch conservatives might find more appealing as well: the executive order provides parameters for how strictly cities can enforce the stay-at-home order. It’s possible, some Republicans caution, that lifting the governor’s order could give the go-ahead to (largely Democratic) mayors like Regina Romero of Tucson who have called for stronger COVID-19 measures than the state as a whole.

Still, that’s all a long way away. The success of the resolution requires a lot to go right, and very little to go wrong. First, the Legislature needs to be in session, which was slated (though not guaranteed) to happen May 8.

There are two basic scenarios from that point. The first is that Townsend or Ugenti-Rita tries to introduce a new resolution. Because the Legislature has passed the deadline for the introduction of new legislation, they would need permission from the Rules Committee, which would have to meet to take a vote. In the House, the committee is controlled by Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale – though Kern certainly knows that Speaker Rusty Bowers exercises a great deal of control over who sits on that committee.

Unless a motion is passed to lift certain House rules, that resolution would still need to follow the constitutional requirement that each piece of legislation is read on three separate days.

The second, more likely scenario (albeit not that likely), is that the resolution is introduced as a strike-everything amendment to existing legislation. Townsend was specifically interested in amending her HCR2016, which concerns term limits.

This wouldn’t require permission of the Rules Committee, but would still require suspending quite a few rules in order to allow for the late introduction of an amendment on the floor. House Rule 32, for example pertains to the timeliness of agendas and calendars. That would have to go. As would House Rule 12O, which prevents striker amendments on a bill available for final reading from being introduced in the committee of the whole. The same for 8F, which requires certain notifications to be made to the House clerk, and finally Rule 11, which also pertains to calendars.

And that’s all just in one chamber. It would still need the votes. In short, the concurrent resolution is an ambitious plan by a clearly frustrated faction within the Republican majority – but a plan that doesn’t look headed for success.

Passing $12.8B budget means appeasing several Republicans


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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Ugenti
Michelle Ugenti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

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

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

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

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


Primaries set, some legislative incumbents face off

While some state Senate candidates can relax – nine are unopposed both in the August primary and the general, and a few others are facing only token opposition in districts that are safe for their parties – other would-be legislators have tough races ahead of them.

The deadline for candidates to file to run in the August primary passed on April 4.

The Democrats’ path to flip two more seats in each legislative chamber for a majority – already expected to be tough in a year where President Joe Biden is polling poorly and Republicans are hoping to make big gains nationwide – could be complicated in the Arizona House.

That’s because only one Democratic candidate filed to run for the House in three of the state’s most competitive districts, which guarantees that even if Democrats were to do well in these suburban Phoenix districts, Republicans will win the other seat in those three districts. That means the Democrats’ only hope for 31 House seats is to score some upsets in even redder territory.

However, running only one Democrat in these districts greatly increases the chances that the one Democrat will win in November, said political consultant Chuck Coughlin. In Arizona’s system, where up to two candidates from each party all run against each other in the general election for two House seats and the top two vote-getters win, only having one Democrat means all the Democrats will likely vote for that one person, and they can then focus on courting enough independents to ensure they get more votes than at least one of the Republicans.

It’s “highly disciplined, instead of the barroom brawl that Republicans are having,” Coughlin said.

“It’s actually the best way to pick up a seat,” Coughlin said. “They get all the Democratic votes and they’re not diluting all the Democrats between two candidates and they’re making their choice simpler.”

Before that happens, though, candidates need to get their party’s nominations first. Some of the most competitive primaries will likely happen in safe districts such as the very red District 7, or very Democratic districts 5 and 11 in Phoenix, which have drawn crowded fields of candidates, including some incumbents who will be running against each other due to redistricting.

“I think the Capitol crowd is going to focus on those races where we have incumbent versus incumbent, not only in the primary of course but in the general,” said Republican consultant Stan Barnes. “Like District 4, with Sens. (Nancy) Barto and (Christine) Marsh running against one another. It’s hard to avoid those races being the top of the stack of interest – after all, there’s going to be a losing incumbent that does not return, and everyone will want to know how that’s going to play out.”

Legislative races take shape

Thirty-three of the House’s 60 members are running for re-election to their House seats. In the Senate, five members are retiring and seven are running for other offices. Only half of the Senate Democrats will attempt to stay in their chamber, and some are in difficult races.

Wendy Rogers

All eyes are on District 7, which stretches from Flagstaff to the outskirts of Tucson and where conservative incumbents Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa will compete to keep their seat.

Rogers was censured by the Senate on March 1 for making violent comments, and Townsend denounced her for refusing to apologize for them. Shortly thereafter, Townsend dropped out of her congressional race and announced that she would run in the Senate again against her former ally.

The House races there could get equally messy, with Reps. David Cook, R-Globe, Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, and Brenda Barton, R-Payson, competing against newcomer David Marshall for two spots on the November ballot.

And this isn’t the only district where incumbents will be competing for their political futures. In District 5 Reps. Jennifer Longdon, Amish Shah and Sarah Liguori are running for re-election against two other Democrats. Marsh will face Barto in light-red District 4, which includes Paradise Valley and parts of Scottsdale and North Phoenix.

Kelly Townsend

Marsh isn’t the only Democratic incumbent who will face a tougher race due to redistricting – Reps. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, and Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, will also face more Republican electorates in their suburban Phoenix districts than they did before.

The most crowded House primary will be in south Phoenix’s District 11, where Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez and six other Democrats are vying for two House seats. In District 4 six Republicans, including former Rep. Maria Syms and Ducey budget director Matt Gress, are seeking the two House seats, while only one Democrat, Laura Terech, has filed.

Barnes said he was struck by the number of people interested in running for the House this year, which he said seems unusually competitive.

“I think it reflects the political dynamics in both parties where the more pragmatic portions of the party are wrestling with the more ideological portions of the party both in the Republican and Democratic side,” he said.

However, even if Democrats win all the House seats in the 12 safely Democratic districts created by redistricting, plus both seats in the newly created District 9 – a Mesa district that leans Democratic by less than a point – even if Schwiebert, Terech and Pawlik all win, that would only give Democrats 29 seats in the House, the same as now.

From left are Reps. Jennifer Longdon, Amish Shah and Sara Liquori, Democratic incumbents running against each other for two House seats in Legislative District 5, where redistricting has resulted in the contest in which one of them will be eliminated. A similar situation is also occurring in the Legislative District 7 House GOP primary.

The next-most-competitive districts are the Casa Grande area’s District 16, where only one Democrat will be on the ballot alongside the two winners of the GOP primary, and District 17, a Republican-leaning district in northern Pima County where two Republicans and two Democrats will be facing off in November.

Then-President Trump and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally carried both districts, albeit by narrow margins and with a lot of ticket-splitting in 17 especially, according to an analysis by consultant Landon Wall.

Barnes agrees with the conventional wisdom that his party will expand its legislative majorities in November.

“Democrats have real headwind in redistricting and the extremely weak and unpopular president of their party in the White House,” Barnes said. “Those are two formidable challenges for successful Democratic takeover of one or both chambers.”

Whatever happens, Barnes said, there will be more new faces in the Legislature in 2023 than he has seen in any year since 1988. And, the Legislature will have its first parent/child pair since Pete and Rebecca Rios – Rep. Jacqueline Parker is running unopposed for re-election in District 15, while her mother Barbara Parker is running for a House seat in neighboring District 10. (There is a Democrat running but it’s a heavily Republican district.)

“There are going to be a lot of new people, a lot, because of the combination of retirements, term limits, people running for other offices, people running against one another where an incumbent will lose,” Barnes said. “There are just going to be a lot of new people, and there’s good and bad with that.”

The U.S. Capitol building is seen before sunrise on Capitol Hill in Washington on March. 21, 2022. Several congressional races in Arizona primaries have crowded fields PHOTO BY GEMUNU AMARASINGHE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Crowded field of U.S. House hopefuls

U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran is no stranger to close elections. His congressional district, which is the 2nd District on the new map, has been one of the most competitive in the state – it was the only one in 2016 to elect a Democratic congressman despite giving a plurality of its vote to Donald Trump.

However, with the addition of some Republican parts of Gila, Yavapai and Pinal counties, O’Halleran’s rural northeastern Arizona district has moved from six points redder than the national average to 15 points redder, according to FiveThirtyEight’s redistricting tracker, making an already competitive district even tougher to hold in a year when Biden is polling badly.

“We know this race will be tough, but I’ve never been one to back away from a tough race before, and I don’t intend to now,” O’Halleran said after the final maps were approved. “This election will require a lot of doors knocked, many phone calls made, and all-encompassing voter turnout from Arizonans across our beautiful state.”

Seven Republicans are seeking the party’s nomination to challenge O’Halleran, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Of them, former U.S. Navy Seal Eli Crane has raised the most money, followed by state Rep. Walt Blackman, a U.S. Army veteran and Republican from Snowflake. Other candidates include Andy Yates, who used to work for the International Republican Institute promoting democracy abroad; Williams Mayor John Moore; and Ron Watkins, who said he believes the 2020 election presidential election was stolen and who some journalists and researchers believe to have been behind QAnon. Watkins has denied this.

Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick is retiring from her position this year leaving the new 6h District open for a newcomer. Although Kirkpatrick is a Democrat, the new district leans blue and includes five Republican candidates and three Democratic candidates. State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, joined the race with former Sen. Kirsten Engel. On the Republican side, no one is running who has experience in office.

In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent David Schweikert will try to stay in office in a district that still leans Republican. In the primary race, Schweikert will go against two other Republicans. Two Democrats also made the cut for this election: Jevin Hodge and Ginger Torres. Torres has the endorsement of some current members of Congress, including Rep. Raul Grijalva.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Lesko and Paul Gosar – the latter of whom has been a frequent target of national media coverage and Democratic criticism over his support for overturning the 2020 election and his coziness with white nationalist leader Nick Fuentes – aren’t opposed by any Democrats. Lesko doesn’t even have a primary challenger, while Gosar will have to beat three other Republicans before the winner cruises to election unopposed.


Proposal would require charter schools to follow open meetings laws

Rep. Kelly Townsend
Rep. Kelly Townsend

Rep. Kelly Townsend is taking a first stab at charter school reform with a bill to make charter schools comply with state open meetings law.

House Bill 2032 would require charter schools, their governing bodies, sponsors, holders, operators and boards of directors to comply with state laws that already apply to school districts. State law requires that all meetings of public bodies shall be public and open for anyone to attend, and all legal actions of those bodies must occur during open meetings.

The Mesa Republican’s proposal would also require charter schools to post notices of public meetings, agendas and minutes on the school’s website and that of the State Board for Charter Schools.

Calls for charter school reform have been a rallying cry ahead of the 2019 legislative session, and Townsend said her proposal should be an easy place to start.

“The fact that we have closed-door meetings using taxpayer money isn’t transparent,” she said. “If it’s taxpayer money, it ought to be transparent. I’m all about accountability regardless of what part of government it is.”

She also alluded to potential legislation regarding who can sit on charter school boards.

“If you have a bunch of family members on the board of directors, it’s not really in the public interest, the public benefit,” she said.

But a bill on that subject won’t yet materialize. She said she needs more information before she can move forward with that or any other proposal.

Townsend will sit on the House Education Committee in the 2019 legislative session and chair the House Elections Committee.

“I’m supposed to be focusing on elections, and I keep finding myself looking at education,” she said. .

Push to change election laws triggers GOP infighting

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
In this undated photo, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, makes a point during a debate on the floor of the Arizona Senate. Ugenti-Rita has long been the leader in pushing election policy at the Legislature, but is at odds this year with fellow Republicans who pushed a record number of election-bills in response to their dissatisfaction with the 2020 presidential election. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita had spent the past month heading off more than a dozen bills sponsored by her vice chair, and she was so close to succeeding.

Days before the deadline to hear bills in committee or let them die of neglect, the Scottsdale Republican and chair of the Senate Government Committee scheduled a single bill from Sen. Kelly Townsend, a simple two-sentence measure that would require that election equipment be made in America and all election data stay here.

Instead, she got all Townsend’s bills, in the form of a sweeping 13-page amendment that would ban felt markers at polling places, create new rules for Maricopa and Pima counties and give lawmakers carte blanche to demand that hundreds of thousands of ballots be recounted by hand.

Ugenti-Rita and the committee’s three Democrats killed the amendment. Townsend used her microphone in the committee room – and later her figurative microphone on social media sites — to complain about a fellow Republican blocking her bills and vow that the bills will be resurrected at some point. 

The showdown illustrated a point of contention among Republicans this year. Ugenti-Rita has for years led her caucus on election policy, pushing bills that earned the ire of voting rights advocates but that still pale in comparison to legislation introduced this year by others.

Ugenti-Rita and her House counterpart, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, have reintroduced legislation from past years to remove some voters from the Permanent Early Voting List, add warning clauses to voter initiatives and limit future initiatives to a single subject.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22 at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22, 2020, at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. Townsend this year introduced several bills to address problems Republicans found with the 2020 presidential election. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Other Republicans have gone much further, with bills that would effectively end mail voting and permit lawmakers to toss out election results a legislative majority doesn’t like. The record 125 election-related bills introduced this year posed an unprecedented challenge for voting rights advocates who are used to battling against a familiar set of foes on a familiar set of election issues. 

“It feels like this session they are consciously trying a strategy of just throwing bills at the wall to see what sticks,” said Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona. 

‘Wrong way’

There are always more bills addressing elections in odd years, as lawmakers and election officials seek to fine-tune legislation and prevent whatever issues – real or perceived – in the latest election from arising in future years. But this year, as a sizable chunk of the Republican majority in both legislative chambers refuses to publicly admit, if not believe, that President Joe Biden won Arizona, there are more bills than ever and some of them go further than anyone could have imagined.

“It’s a full-scale assault on democratic norms and institutions,” Kirkland said. “It’s a really urgent situation that feels like a five-alarm fire.”

Rep. Shawanna Bolick, R-Phoenix, made national news in late January when she introduced a bill that would allow the Legislature to revoke the secretary of state’s certification of election results at any time before the presidential inauguration, by a simple majority vote of the Legislature.

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Republican lawmakers looked in vain for ways to replace Biden electors with President Donald Trump electors, only to be shot down by their own attorneys. Townsend even filed a resolution that would have the Legislature — which first met nearly a week after Congress certified Electoral College results and just over a week before Biden’s inauguration — belatedly appoint Trump’s electors. That resolution was never assigned to a committee.

While Townsend’s measure would have retroactively addressed one election, Bolick’s was a far-reaching plan to allow the Legislature to override voters at any point, for any reason. It also would have required jury trials in all election challenges, and would have barred county supervisors and county recorders from being eligible for office for 10 years if there is any disruption in a live video feed of ballot tabulation. 

In a statement after her proposal was widely panned, Bolick blamed media coverage for her bill’s poor reception. 

“The mainstream media is using this elections bill as click bait to generate misleading headlines,” Bolick said. “This bill would give the Arizona Legislature back the power it delegated to certify the electors.  It is a good, democratic check and balance.”

House Speaker Rusty Bowers declined to assign Bolick’s bill to a committee. Without a hearing by the end of the week, it’s theoretically dead – but parts of it could still come back as amendments to other bills.

Also dead without a hearing is a bill from Reps. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, and Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, that would have repealed the 2007 law that created the Permanent Early Voting List. About 80% of Arizona voters are on the list and regularly vote by mail.

Payne acknowledged hours after he filed the bill that it wouldn’t pass and he didn’t want to waste his time with it. Ugenti-Rita, who again introduced legislation to remove some — but not all — voters from the PEVL, called the bill out as bad policy on her Twitter page. (She did not return multiple calls for comment on this story.) 

“Sharpiegate + legislative power grab + eliminating voting options = bad news for Arizona voters,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted over a picture of Blackman, Bolick and Alex Kolodin, her primary opponent turned GOP election attorney. “Each of these issues represent the wrong way to address election integrity, particularly voter confidence in our election system.”

Most bills dead

The high-profile nature of some election legislation this year drew more eyes to all bills. In 2019, the last time Ugenti-Rita ran her bill to kick roughly 200,000 voters who have skipped two consecutive election cycles off the PEVL, several hundred Arizonans registered their distaste of the bill in the Legislature’s Request to Speak system and the measure passed the Senate 16-14.

This year, well over 1,000 voters signed in against it, and it failed 15-15 in the Senate.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she expects to see her office, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Gov. Doug Ducey work together to try to prevent many election bills from even reaching the governor’s desk. So far, many of the bills appear dead — though so-called zombie bills that re-emerge are common late in the session. 

“Some of the things are really far-fetched and I imagine that legislators have introduced them to make a statement about something, but they won’t necessarily get a hearing,” Hobbs said.

Nationally, current and former secretaries of state described seeing an increase in election laws, some introduced by lawmakers who have never been involved in elections before. Trey Grayson, the former Republican Secretary of State of Kentucky, said this year’s bills, in Arizona and across the country, reflect an escalation of an existing theme of lawmakers trying to interject in election law. 

“In general, one of the things we do see in election administration is legislators, who aren’t necessarily on the relevant committees, often introduce election bills,” he said. “They all run for office, and so they have opinions that they think are fairly well informed — and sometimes they are from their own experience. It is an area where we often see outsider bills introduced.” 



Q&A with House Speaker Rusty Bowers

Rusty Bowers (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Rusty Bowers (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

In a legislative body where long-winded speechification, highly visible interpersonal disputes and general cacophony is the norm, House Speaker Rusty Bowers is remarkably difficult to nail down. His penchant for substituting answers to questions with half-related parables is the stuff of local legend, and his caucus’ tendency to do business in closed meetings can make it difficult to figure out exactly where his head’s at – assuming it’s not buried in his sketchbook. But after an unprecedented, bruising legislative session, the Mesa Republican was unusually transparent in a 30-minute Q-and-A with the Arizona Capitol Times, adding some color and context to the still unfolding story of a very strange five months at the state Capitol.

In a session full of challenges – from interparty (and intraparty) discord to the coronavirus, which moments were the most difficult or frustrating for you?

I think the ongoing biggest challenge was to make sure that on a regular basis, our caucus retrenched, understood where we were all going, got our ducks in a row for a day or a couple of days, and kept working to keep the unity. That was a challenge. We have, as you know, some very independent members who have their own opinions.

What was left behind that whoever is in charge next year should take up?

Well, I just drove over it coming down from the mountain. Infrastructure. We were expecting to have a lot of money that could move a lot of projects to move people across the state. And it just isn’t panning out that way. There’s water, of course. But where we did keep our promise, we got the last installment for teacher pay. That’s another big deal. We got the money for it. And the skinny budget, it had a few chocolate bars added on from the year before. I mean, it wasn’t what I would call on a weight-loss program.

At the beginning, we talked about the struggles with keeping unity and cohesion within the party. Obviously there was a fair amount of division and rancor, as recently as this weekend — Representatives T.J. Shope and Kelly Townsend were going at it on Twitter. Do you see these differences as arising from policy, personality or just aesthetics? 

I have seven children of my own and 20 grandchildren and 30 surrogates, and they all are unique and they’re all different. And they all have personalities that I try to anticipate what will happen under different circumstances. And you try to have peace in the family – here are two future senators practicing for the Senate. I think you’re going to have some fun over there.

To get back to the question, do you think these divisions (between Liberty Caucus and establishment Republicans) are rooted in policy? 

You don’t think I’m answering your question, come on.

Since when do you?

You’re making me laugh, and I’m a very serious legislator and leader.

Obviously some Republicans have different stances on certain things, but ultimately vote the same way on a lot of the same legislation, which leads me to almost think that these differences are largely in aesthetics or just personality more than they are policy.

Yeah. That’s probably fair. Also, the 29 Democrats sure helped unify the 31 Republicans.

Are you confident that your tenure as House speaker will continue, or do you think that this dissatisfaction has reached a point where new blood is going to be desired?

My approach to it is not to get out the ax and start swinging it in all directions. It’s to take a minute, let things settle, then try to address them. I’m not in any hurry. I’m not going anywhere. But I realize that I serve at the pleasure of my caucus. I absolutely do. I’m glad that Mr. Finchem (who confirmed his desire to make a bid for speaker to the Capitol Times) feels he needs to run. If he feels that way, great. If others feel that he has more acceptable leadership material or direction or whatever, I serve at the pleasure of my caucus, but I know that I am honorable and I kept my promises. I ran a member-centric majority. Keeping the unity of the caucus, whether they liked it or not, was paramount to me because that’s the only thing we have. Yes, we have a kind of an ideology of sorts, that on any one thing might get stretched in one direction or not. But the only thing we had was our unity. If we want to maintain capability in policy, our only play is that we are unified.

A lot of people were talking about a special session or multiple special sessions as all but certain, but now that’s seeming much less likely. Did you ever receive a commitment from the governor that he would call a special session? 

No commitments. They talked about, you know, that might be, this might be – I know what “it might be” means after 30 years of this place.

Do you think that Gov. Doug Ducey’s relationship with lawmakers isn’t as cozy as the relationship between governors and legislators in the past? 

I think it’s either five or six governors I’ve dealt with. There are common themes. The governor’s floor is six floors higher than the highest point in my building. So many times there isn’t the communication there should be – when they want to communicate. I get all that, I don’t take offense. They do things their way.

Now onto your favorite subject: the ethics complaint into Rep. David Cook. Have you read the report that was released on Friday?


And based on the contents of that report, do you find that the relationship between Rep. Cook and [AnnaMarie Knorr] is inappropriate?

I will make no comments. And I’ve told him that. The caucus expressed early in my desires to be speaker that they were not fully on board with how other ethics things have happened in the past. And I said, we will establish that there is an ethics committee, just like any committee. The committee has opportunities, powers, authorities, responsibility, but the committee will do its deal here. Not the speaker. The speaker’s not going to weigh in and tell the committee which way to go, or to opine on X or Y or Z. This is up to the committee to do it by the book. And the committee chair has done exactly that. I’ve read [the report]. And I’m going to leave it up to them to move forward. According to what they know, their responsibilities are – be that something, be that nothing, be that in the middle. That’s up to them to bring that back to the caucus, not up to me. And I’ve said that to Dave, and I’ve said it to others.




Rep. Shooter accused of repeated sexual harassment of Capitol women

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marilyn Rodriguez
Marilyn Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Kelly Townsend
Rep. Kelly Townsend

Rep. Kelly Townsend wants school district employees and board members investigated at the whim of any legislator who questions the legality of their policies. And she wants the Attorney General’s Office to do the job despite the strain already imposed on the office by existing law.

The Mesa Republican’s proposal in House Bill 2018 would expand a 2016 law that allows any state legislator to ask the attorney general to investigate an ordinance, regulation, order or other action taken by a municipality or county to determine whether it is in compliance with state law.

The bill would require the attorney general to investigate any policy, procedure or other official action taken by a school district governing board or any school district employee that lawmakers allege violates state law. If investigators find the law has been broken, the superintendent of public instruction would be directed to withhold up to $5,000 per violation from offending districts’ state funding.

The existing law, passed as SB1487, requires that the investigation be completed within 30 days of a legislator’s request, a timeframe Townsend has adopted in HB2018. And that may spell hardship for investigators.

According to the attorney general’s tally, the office has received 11 complaints, all by Republican lawmakers, since SB1487 was enacted. At an estimated 100 hours per investigation, that’s months of man hours.

AG spokesman Ryan Anderson said the 30-day timeline is not effective. He said it puts an incredible strain on everyone involved, including the subjects of complaints, and expanding the statute to another level of government will only exacerbate the problem.

“To expand that statute to every [district] employee, thousands of employees, I just don’t see a way,” he said.

But Townsend said SB1487 must be extended to school districts because laws have been broken without consequence for years.

“The things that are happening at the school level have been overlooked for long enough that people are offended that we’re asking them to abide by the law,” she said.

A state law already forbids the use of public school resources to influence elections and allows violators to be penalized.

But Townsend said the law has no teeth and may not be enough for some officials to take action. She said Attorney General Mark Brnovich won’t hold that office forever, and those who come after him may think they have bigger fish to fry than district employees potentially using school resources to influence elections.

“We as legislators, at least Kelly Townsend, think that this is a big enough fish to take care of,” she said. “Our election process has to be pure.”

Anderson said the Attorney General’s Office would continue to meet legislators’ expectations – expansion or not. Still, any expansion of powers under SB1487 would have to come with corresponding increases in staff resources, he said. The office did receive additional funds for the unit investigating claims last year, but he said that only covered the office’s needs to enforce the law as it currently stands.

For the sake of the election process, Townsend saw no problem with that.

“I am willing and will support whatever it takes to get to that place where our voters can be confident that the process is protected,” she said. “And if that means more money, then by all means, put that money there.”

But even with more available dollars, Anderson said the Attorney General’s Office has argued the current law could be fine-tuned, including to provide flexibility in terms of the timeline.

“The last thing that our office wants to do is just half-ass an investigation and say we didn’t have enough time to come to a conclusion,” he said. “That’s not justice.”

The “drop everything” timeline is tough enough for the Attorney General’s Office to keep up with let alone small municipalities trying to fulfill the office’s requests, he said.

Phoenix and Tucson may have resources readily available to give investigators what they need, but places like Bisbee and Snowflake, both of which have been investigated under SB1487, may not.

And there is one significant difference between SB1487 and Townsend’s HB2018.

SB1487 gives municipalities and counties found to have broken the law 30 days to resolve the issue. Take Bisbee, for example. The Attorney General’s Office determined in 2017 that its plastic bag ban ordinance was illegal as it conflicted with state law. Rather than appeal the decision, the Bisbee City Council voted to suspend the ordinance and draft a new version making it voluntary for retailers. It was either that or lose nearly $2 million in revenue from the state.

Townsend’s bill does not include a grace period for school districts to take corrective action.

She said that’s because the damage is already done when it comes to electioneering.

State law already forbids the use of public school resources by employees to influence elections.

In fact, the Phoenix Union High School District recently fined two of its teachers for advocating for the Invest in Education Act at school.

The teachers, not their districts, were held responsible.

Anderson said the current statute says an official action must be taken by a governing body to have a violation of the law. If lawmakers want the statute to apply to every city employee, or every school district employee in this case, they have to change the existing law.

And that’s a decision that should be considered carefully, he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments made by Rep. Kelly Townsend.

Republican lawmakers propose flat tax, $12.8B budget


House and Senate leaders and Gov. Doug Ducey have agreed on a roughly $12.8 billion spending plan, including the state’s largest tax cut in recent memory – but the budget lacks the Republican votes it needs to pass in its current form.  

The budget proposes to cut nearly $3 billion in taxes over the next three years, mostly through collapsing income tax brackets to a single 2.5% rate in 2023. It would cut taxes for all Arizonans, though higher-income taxpayers would see significantly bigger benefits.  

“I like the tax cut and I like that it’s balanced,” said House Speaker pro tem Travis Grantham. “Those are my most important asks.” 

While legislative leaders and the governor have reached an agreement, rank-and-file Republicans are still viewing the budget plan with skepticism.  

“Do I think I will be on it in the end? Absolutely,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe. 

But for now, Cook said, he needs answers to a number of questions, including whether the state is spending enough to repair or demolish decrepit state buildings before he can accept the huge cuts to revenue included in the tax plan. 

He also wants to reach an agreement on increasing unemployment benefits and replenishing the state’s unemployment fund, one of his top priorities for the year that GOP leaders and the governor said needed to wait for budget negotiations.  

Cook’s seatmate, Sen. T.J. Shope of Coolidge, said he’s a “no” on the budget in its current form because it doesn’t include funding to widen I-10 between Casa Grande and Phoenix. He asked for $50 million for the project this year, but his bill stalled in the House and the money is not included in budget documents shared with Republican lawmakers and obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times 

Other Republicans are skeptical of just how much spending is included in the plan. Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he likes some of the new funding, including plans to spend $50 million annually on special education and new spending on universities, which will receive an ongoing $35 million as well as a one-time $30 million for university operations.  

 “There’s just a truckload of a lot of items that might be a million dollars here or there and it adds up,” he said. 

Mesnard is also skeptical of new tax credits proposed in the budget, arguing that they run counter to the goals of streamlining the state’s tax code by moving to a single income tax rate.  

Beginning in the 2022 tax year, the state would collapse its current four tax brackets to two brackets, one paying 2.55and the other paying 2.98%. Taxpayers now pay between 2.59% and 4.5%. The following year, all Arizonans would pay a single 2.5% rate. 

Some Arizonans would still end up paying more than 2.5% of their taxable income, but the plan also calls for a top marginal tax rate of 4.5% that would protect the wealthiest Arizonans from paying as much as they otherwise would have because of a new education surcharge of 3.5%. Instead of paying their full tax rate and the surcharge, wealthy Arizonans would be able to pay no more than 4.5% of their taxable income to the state each year, and the state would make up the missing education spending through its General Fund.   

The shift to a flat tax alone is expected to cost the state $1 billion in FY23 and $1.5 billion in FY24.  

That alone will prevent Republican leaders from getting any support from Democrats, said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix.  

“There are some good things in there, but overall the size of the tax cut as currently constituted, I don’t think any democrats could support that,” Bowie said.  

Without any support from Democrats, threadbare Republican majorities in the House and Senate require every Republican to vote for the budget proposal. Bowie said several of his Republican colleagues are opposed to the idea of a flat tax, which could reduce revenue received by cities and help wealthy urban Arizonans more than poorer rural residents.  

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, has led a charge over the past several weeks to amend the flat tax proposal to ensure cities see no cuts to funding. Arizona cities can’t enact local income taxes, and in return the state agreed to share 15% of state income tax revenues among cities and towns.  

Boyer proposed increasing that shared revenue to 20% if the Legislature insisted on moving to a single income tax rate, but other Republicans aren’t on board. Mesnard said doing so would result in people who live in unincorporated areas subsidizing cities.  

“If you are giving even more, a higher percentage to those cities, that’s even more these folks are paying into the cities they don’t live in,” he said.  

While there are some holdouts, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, insisted that most Republicans favor the plan to cut nearly $3 billion in taxes over the next three years.  

“The tax cut is well supported,” he said. “It’s a Republican thing to do. 

One challenge to passing a budget may come from a Republican senator who described the budget plan as “the last thing on (her) mind.” Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, has a single-minded focus on election security legislation she was stymied in passing earlier this year, and she said she won’t give Republican leaders a vote on a budget until her election bills get a vote. 

Townsend expects a vote in the House could happen as early as this week, but if it doesn’t happen and leaders try to push a budget through the House and Senate, they won’t have her vote.  

“I’m definitely not voting on the budget until my issues are taken care of, for sure,” Townsend said.  

  • Staff writers Dillon Rosenblatt and Nathan Brown contributed to this report  

Republicans sidestep expulsion vote of Rep. Stringer, ethics committee to probe allegations

David Stringer (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
David Stringer (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

House Republicans today bypassed a motion to expel Rep. David Stringer in favor of an ethics investigation of recent allegations against their colleague.

Rep. Reginald Bolding made the motion to expel Stringer, citing the Prescott Republican’s past racist comments – words unbecoming of a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Bolding said – and a report by the Phoenix New Times about charges for sex offenses in Stringer’s past.

Though Bolding, D-Laveen, acknowledged he did not know what had happened in 1983 that led to Stringer’s indictment on five sex offenses, Stringer had not been transparent with the House or voters about the allegations, Bolding said.

Instead of taking a vote on Bolding’s motion for expulsion, Republican lawmakers sidestepped the issue by voting to leave the floor of the House, a motion to recess. House Majority Leader Warren Petersen said that while even those representatives who voted to recess were horrified and shocked by the New Times report, the matter should be investigated by the Ethics Committee before members take action.

“There’s a lot of really horrible things that we’ve heard about, but there are also other sides of this story,” said Petersen, R-Gilbert.

Petersen’s motion passed by 31-28 party line vote over the protest of Bolding.

“We are enabling this behavior by voting to recess,” Bolding said. “We have the ability to move on to the pressing issues that matter in this state and get back to regular order.”

The ethics process has already begun.

Rep. Kelly Townsend
Rep. Kelly Townsend

Rep. Kelly Townsend filed an ethics complaint this afternoon, citing the report by the New Times, as well as an earlier report by the Arizona Daily Independent, as evidence that Stringer “has a potential criminal history involving child pornography.”

“By this conduct, if true, Representative Stringer has engaged in conduct that compromises the character of himself, members of the House and indeed holds the entire legislature up to contempt and condemnation,” Townsend, R-Mesa wrote in her complaint.

Townsend initially voted against Petersen’s effort to avoid an expulsion vote – it would’ve failed anyway, she said, since Bolding lacked the necessary two-thirds majority vote needed to oust Stringer.

She ultimately sided with her fellow Republicans after Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, urged her to reconsider.

Rep. Reginald Bolding
Rep. Reginald Bolding

In any case, Townsend stood against expulsion before allowing the Ethics Committee to investigate, and she expressed regret for having voted for the expulsion of former Rep. Don Shooter nearly one year ago before going through that process.

“I don’t want to continue to set the precedent… that if there’s something we don’t like about a member, it’s up to us to expel,” she said.

It was Townsend, then majority whip, who threatened to seek Shooter’s expulsion herself if he did not resign.

“In retrospect, it was the wrong process,” she said. “It should have gone through Ethics.”

Townsend said there are still questions, particularly regarding whether Stringer was required to disclose the charges while running for office, and the ethics investigation would give Stringer the time to make his case.

“[The allegations are] of such an egregious nature that it’s something that I feel needs to be known,” she said. “Whether it was expunged or not, whether it was a plea deal or not, I think… that it rises to the level that it needs to be referred to the Ethics Committee where these things need to go.”   

This may not be the last time the House is faced with a motion to expel Stringer, though.

Bolding did not immediately return a request for comment regarding if and when he might attempt to bring his motion back to his colleagues.


Roaming robots and dental therapists make it into law

A personal delivery device made by Starship Technologies is parked outside the Arizona Senate. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
A personal delivery device made by Starship Technologies is parked outside the Arizona Senate. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Coming soon to a sidewalk near you: 200 pound autonomous delivery robots.

Without comment, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Thursday authorizing these devices to use sidewalks. That in turn will pave the way for several companies to start rolling out the robots which they say can deliver everything from mail to hot pizza, all a lot cheaper than people driving cars and trucks.

The final version came after Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, was able to reinsert some protections and limits into her bill – things like that weight limit, minimum liability insurance and a requirement for brakes that the Senate had stripped out of the measure after it cleared the House. She insisted on that in the wake of the crash of an Uber in autonomous mode killing a pedestrian in Tempe.

But Townsend said she believes the new law – with those protections – is a good thing for Arizona.

Officially called “personal delivery devices,” Townsend said she first saw them on a trip to the nation’s capital. And the idea got a push when lobbyists from Estonia-based Starship Technologies sought permission to deploy them in Arizona.

Only thing is, current law prohibits motorized devices on sidewalks. So Townsend carved out a special exception, giving them the same rights and duties as pedestrians with whom they will share the sidewalks and crosswalks. That includes a mandate to follow all traffic and pedestrian-control signals.

“It has to obey the laws and it can’t be mowing people down, obviously,” Townsend explained earlier in the session. “I want them to have to abide by our laws so that they’re not just running amok.”

But Townsend put another qualifier into the measure: The permission of these devices to use Arizona sidewalks will self-destruct Sept. 1, 2020 unless lawmakers renew that authority.

Other bills signed by Ducey on Wednesday include:

– Requiring schools to have “reasonable and appropriate policies” to notify a student’s parent if anyone engages in threatening, harassing or intimidating conduct against that student;

– Creating a category of “dental therapist” and describing what kinds of things they can do and where they can practice;

– Making it a crime to knowingly flee from an unmarked police vehicle;

– Imposing stiffer criminal penalties on those who kill someone in an auto accident if they are violating other laws like running a stop sign or failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk;

– Adding a $4 surcharge to traffic tickets and the cost of attending defensive driving school to help police pay for new training equipment and software;

– Mandating that students and parents annually be informed on the risks of things like heat-related illness, sudden cardiac death and prescription opioid addiction before a student can participate in district-sponsored sports practice, games or other interscholastic athletic activities;

– Setting up a program, with financial incentives, to encourage food stamp recipients to purchase Arizona-grown fruits and vegetables;

– Requiring cities and counties to have public hearings before imposing new occupational licensing requirements on individuals and businesses.

Second ethics complaint filed against Stringer

Rep. David Stringer (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Rep. David Stringer (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Democrat Rep. Reginald Bolding is bringing his own House ethics complaint against Rep. David Stringer and dropping his push for an immediate vote to expel his Republican colleague.    

Bolding, D-Laveen, moved for a vote to expel Stringer, R-Prescott, on Jan. 28, an effort that failed as House Republicans opted instead for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee before determining how to move forward.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, filed the first ethics complaint the same day Bolding made his motion, asking that the “egregious” charges against Stringer be explored.

While Townsend’s complaint focuses on the most recent allegations against Stringer reported by the Phoenix New Times, Bolding added emphasis to racially charged comments Stringer made on at least two occasions last year.

“His conduct undermines the public’s confidence in this institution and violates the order and decorum necessary to complete the people’s work in this state,” he wrote.

The New Times story, based on a court records, alleged Stringer was indicted in 1983 on multiple sex offenses, including child pornography.

Stringer acknowledged to Capitol Media Services that he accepted a plea bargain in which

prosecutors offered him something called “probation before judgment” on two misdemeanors. That is not a conviction, with the records expunged after the probationary period ended.

Bolding said he filed his own complaint because his is very different from Townsend’s in what the two direct the committee to look in to, broadening the scope of the ethics investigation.

“If you ask 59 members here what issues they should bring up with regard to Rep. Stringer, you’d get 59 different complaints, 59 different issues to highlight and focus on,” he said.

But Bolding’s motion to expel is still on the table.

He told reporters that he intends to hold his motion until the investigation is completed and the committee makes its recommendations, and that Democrats and Republicans alike have said they will move forward with expulsion if the allegations against Stringer are true.

But Bolding could bring the motion back sooner than the investigation can be completed. If he finds that the investigation is just wasting time, he said he may move forward.

Senate approves measure to curb governor’s emergency powers

 Gov. Doug Ducey and Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, answer questions at a press conference today in which Ducey announced a state of emergency to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona. PHOTO BY PIPER HANSEN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Gov. Doug Ducey and Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, answer questions at a press conference March 11 in which Ducey announced a state of emergency to combat the spread of Covid in Arizona. PHOTO BY PIPER HANSEN/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Republican senators voted Wednesday to curb the emergency powers of the governor, but do it in a way he can’t veto.

SCR 1003, approved on a party-line 16-14 vote, would terminate any emergency declared by the governor in 30 days unless both the House and Senate agreed to an extension. And any extension could be for no more than 30 days, though there could be continued reauthorization.

The proposal now goes to the House.

Nothing in the measure would affect the current emergency that Gov. Doug Ducey declared in March.

That’s because the legislation requires voter approval. Sending it to the ballot skirts the normal requirement for gubernatorial approval.

But lawmakers may yet get a chance to pull the plug on the current emergency. SCR 1001, which would do just that, already has cleared two Senate committees and awaits floor debate.

Wednesday’s vote comes following months of complaints by many GOP lawmakers that the Republican governor has used his emergency powers to infringe on individual rights. That has included the closure of businesses he has declared to be “non-essential,” a moratorium on evictions, and what amounted to a stay-at-home order for people who do not need to be out.

Most of those are gone. But his orders still keep bars closed unless they operate like restaurants, with sit-down food service and no dancing. And restaurants can operate with only limited seating capacity.

Warren Petersen
Warren Petersen

“My constituents were banging down my door wanting me to do something and take action,” said Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who crafted the plan.

Existing law does allow the legislature to terminate an emergency order with a simple majority vote.

Only thing is, with the legislature not in session, there was no way for lawmakers to do that. And with Ducey unwilling to call them into a special session to override his order, that left only the option for lawmakers to call themselves in. That, however, takes a two-thirds vote, which the Republicans did not have.

Petersen said this measure, if approved by voters, ensures that the governor has to work with lawmakers if he wants his emergency powers extended.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, was blunter in her belief that there needs to be legislative oversight and input, even in the case of a deadly disease.

“I hope we never again see something so fearsome that we give all power and control to one person and his bureaucrats who cannot be held accountable by the public,” she said. “There are severe consequences when we place that much power in the hands of one person indefinitely.”

Senate Democrats, who generally believe the governor has done too little with his emergency powers to curb the spread of the pandemic and its effects, found themselves in the curious position of defending the current law and speaking against efforts to allow curbs.

“The whole purpose is an attempt to remove politics from action during an emergency so that we can act swiftly to save lives,” said Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe. And he suggested Republicans were making far too much out of the gubernatorial powers.

“This isn’t Star Wars,” he said. “The Senate didn’t turn Ducey into an emperor.”

Mendez said that now that legislators are back in session, there are things they should be doing, like dealing with housing and child-care issues of those who have been affected, whether physically or financially, by the virus, “instead of taking advantage of lathered-up constituents and their fears.”

If approved by the House, the measure will be on the 2022 general election ballot.


Senate committee subpoenas Maricopa County BOS

In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid. (Photo by Associated Press)

The head of the Senate Government Committee said Monday she is ordering Maricopa County officials to show up next week to explain why they aren’t providing documents demanded by Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

And the issue is the contention by an outside expert with ties to the “Stop the Steal” movement that more than 200,000 early ballots had signatures that did not match — far more than the county’s own estimates.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, noted that it has been several weeks since Jennifer Wright, one of Brnovich’s assistants, sent a third request for public information. To date, Townsend said, there has been no response.

Kelly Townsend

So Townsend, who has questioned the results of the 2020 election, is using the legislative right of subpoena to tell the supervisors or their representatives to show March 28 “and explain to us why they are not producing the information requested by the attorney general.”

But Townsend made it clear she wants that same information turned over to her and the Republican-controlled committee she chairs.

“If they cannot produce that information to us they are going to produce an explanation as to why they are not producing that to us or to the attorney general,” she said.

A county spokesman said the supervisors had just received the subpoena from Townsend.

But there was no immediate response to questions about why the county has not fully provided the attorney general with the information requested. And a spokeswoman for Brnovich said that, as of late Monday, the documents have yet to be provided.

Part of the request from Wright is technical.

For example, she said, an earlier production of records referred to certain policies. But Wright said what was missing are the actual policies.

All this comes as Republican lawmakers insist that changes are needed in how elections are run to protect against fraud.

In fact, the Government Committee which Townsend chairs also was hearing evidence late Monday about whether to make changes in existing election laws, ranging from outlawing unmonitored drop boxes for ballots to eliminating virtually all early voting in future elections and requiring ballots be counted by hand.

The subpoena, however, is different.

It goes to theories about the election having been stolen from Donald Trump, theories that will not die despite court rulings, random hand counts, and the lack of any hard evidence to support them.

And it specifically raises questions about how Maricopa County verified the signatures on the envelopes for early ballots cast in the 2020 general election and how election workers decided which match and can be counted, and which do not.

There were more than 1.9 million early ballots cast in Maricopa County in the last election.

Townsend said the county said no more than 25,000 of these ballots had apparent signature mismatches that required further review or “curing,” where voters explain to election officials why a signature may not match what is on file. After that, she said, 587 were confirmed signature mismatches and the votes not counted.

But Townsend is relying on research done by Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, an MIT lecturer who has espoused various election conspiracy theories and criticized Covid vaccines. He contends that county officials counted ballots that were questionable at best.

She said that he brought together three experts and three novices to review a random sample of 499 ballots, comparing the signatures on envelopes with other signatures that are publicly available, like mortgage documents that are on file at county offices. And Townsend said those six people concluded 60 of the 499 were mismatches, or 12%.

“Based on that study, if you extrapolate that, over 204,430 should have been cured, versus 25,000 the county disallowed,” she said.

“The question is how does this happen, why wasn’t this cured,” Townsend said. “And so there’s a lot of unanswered questions that the attorney general would need to be able to answer but cannot because of the obstruction coming from the board of supervisors.”

All this is occurring as the audit ordered by Senate President Karen Fann, R-Phoenix, of the Maricopa County election returns has yet to be completed. While a hand count of the ballots showed that Trump, indeed, lost Maricopa County, Fann is awaiting reports about the tabulation machines and whether there is evidence they were hooked up to the internet and whether the results were altered.


Senate panel chair hot seat in 2022

Phoenix, AZ – Nov. 30, 2019: The State Senate building is directly beside the Arizona State Capitol building. (Stock/Deposit Photo

One of the most high-profile committee chairmanships in the Legislature is up for grabs. 

Senate Government Committee Chairwoman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, created the vacancy when she resigned from the committee September 30. She has a record of sponsoring Republican election legislation, but she has also publicly criticized the Senate’s partisan audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, and it’s the committee that will likely be taking up legislation arising from the audit.  

 As of October 7, Senate President Karen Fann had yet to announce who she will appoint to the committee in Ugenti-Rita’s place and who the next chairman will be. Whoever it is, they will be in the spotlight in 2022. With some GOP lawmakers calling for changes to voting laws and election procedures in response to the audit report, next year’s session, like this year’s, could be marked by bitter partisan battles over measures that Republicans say will help safeguard against fraud, but Democrats view as attempts to make it harder to vote and put the Legislature’s thumb on the scale in the wake of President Biden’s narrow win in Arizona. 

Kelly Townsend

Some conservatives who want to see the Legislature take a harder line on these issues are hoping Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who is the Government Committee’s vice chairwoman, be appointed to lead it, and pro-audit social media accounts have been urging their followers to email Fann to support Townsend. 

“Sen. Kelly Townsend has the most experience in election integrity and the most knowledgeable in Arizona’s election procedures,” said a message on the Telegram account of EZAZ, a conservative group founded by former Phoenix mayoral candidate Merissa Hamilton. “She has a great relationship with the County Recorders and is best positioned to serve the people as Chair of the Government and Elections Committee.” 

Townsend didn’t directly answer when asked if she wants the job. 

“I honestly haven’t heard anything about who is going to be filling that position,” she said in a text message. “I am sure Senate President Fann will find the appropriate person.” 

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he hasn’t heard anything about who will be appointed in Ugenti-Rita’s place or who the next chairman might be. He said he isn’t interested in a spot on the committee, and doesn’t know why Ugenti-Rita stepped down, beyond what was in her two-paragraph letter. 

And while Ugenti-Rita gave no reasons in writing to Fann for her departure from the committee, her views on the audit could make her a lightning rod of controversy as she runs for the GOP nomination for secretary of state. Supporters of former President Trump, who typically support the audit, also booed her off the stage at a July 24 Trump rally. The other GOP candidates for secretary of state include Reps. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, and Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, both of whom supported the audit. Trump has endorsed Finchem for the position. 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

“My longstanding commitment to advancing real election integrity legislation is what drives me,” Ugenti-Rita wrote to Fann. “As always, I stand ready and committed to achieving success in reforming our election system and having a productive 2022 legislative session.” 

Ugenti-Rita was the chairwoman of the House Elections and Government committees during much of her tenure in that chamber, prior to her election to the Senate in 2018. This year, she was the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 1485, a bill to remove some voters from the Active (formerly called the Permanent) Early Voting List. Democrats strongly opposed SB1485, which ended up being one of the few major pieces of election-related legislation to pass this year. 

Townsend has criticized Ugenti-Rita for blocking some of her election bills this year, and the session ended with Townsend and Ugenti-Rita killing bills of each other’s that the rest of the Senate’s Republicans supported.  


Senate panel moves to block private funds for elections

In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Raising the specter of Mark Zuckerberg influencing who holds office in Arizona, Republican lawmakers moved Monday to block counties from taking money from any private source to help run future elections.

The party-line vote by the Senate Government Committee on HB2569 follows the disclosure that nine Arizona counties got more than $6 million last year from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. Jennifer  Marson, executive director for the Arizona Association of Counties, said the grants were to help defray some of the costs of running an election during the Covid pandemic.

Marson pointed out to legislators that the four of the nine counties had Republican majorities, four had more Democrats and voter registration is close to evenly split in Maricopa County. And in each case, she said, the grants, including how the money would be spent, were approved by county supervisors.

But Scott Walter, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush who now heads the Capital Research Center, said that doesn’t prove anything.

Walter, whose organization that says it studies unions, environmental groups and nonprofit and “activist” groups, said Republicans did better in turnout in 2020 than prior years in the six counties which didn’t get CTCL grants.

“But in funded counties, Democratic turnout rocketed upward,” he said. “Funding a county helps Democrats almost twice as much as it helps Republicans.”

More to the point, he said in those nine funded counties, Democrats beat Republicans by close to 122,000 votes, far more than the 10,457-vote edge that Joe Biden had statewide over Donald Trump.

But in the nine counties that got the money, Democrat turnout in 2020 “rocketed” to far higher levels than what they were in prior election cycles.

“And that’s not just the case here,” Walter said, saying that counties in other states where CTCL grants were given “miraculously performed enormously better for Democrats than counties that did not receive funding.”

Aimee Yentes, lobbyist for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which tends to support Republican causes, said that’s no accident: CTCL reported that $400 million came from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

“There’s no mystery about his political leanings,” she said. “We’ve seen these biases infiltrate his social media platform and the curation of content, in filtering of conservative messages and outright bans of individuals with opposing political opinions.”

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said the grants in each case were aimed at funding election administration. For example, he said, CTCL said it was financing drop bosses, drive-through voting, renting and cleaning new polling places and equipment for handling mail-in ballots.

“They aren’t saying, ‘You should vote one way or the other,’ ” Quezada said. “They aren’t saying that one group is correct, one group is not.”

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he’s surprised that Democrats are OK with these outside grants.

“If this model of influence sort of works out in one party’s favor in one instance, the other party’s going to be right back at it the next time using the same tools,” he said. “And this will cascade into a brand new way that outside influence, particularly from extremely wealthy people, can very covertly, influence our elections.”

Quezada said the real story is more complex.

He said it starts with the lies that are told about how the election was mishandled, how the election was “stolen” and how they can’t be administered fairly.

“And then we turned around and denied that funding to our local governments,” Quezada said.

But he did say that the supporters of the legislation are right on one point: More money on voter education does influence turnout.

“When more people vote, the people with weak policy arguments lose,” Quezada said.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said there are larger issues here.

“Would we be OK if that money came from Russia or any other hostile country, or not hostile?” she asked, such as Canada. “If we wouldn’t be OK with international contributions to our elections, why should we be OK if it’s a millionaire or a billionaire?”

The measure, which already has cleared the House, now goes to the full Senate.

This isn’t the first time Republican interests have argued that Zuckerberg influenced the results of the 2020 election.

A lawsuit filed last December in Maricopa County Superior Court challenged the results of the presidential election saying the money from the Facebook billionaire deliberately skewed the vote here for Biden.

Attorney David Spilsbury, representing four Arizona residents who identified themselves as members of something called the Arizona Election Integrity Association, said Zuckerberg’s money was designed to create a “two-tiered treatment of the American voter,” putting funds into “progressive strongholds” to turn out more voters.

But Spilsbury dropped the lawsuit after the Secretary of State’s office said the lawsuit was without legal merit and threatened to pursue legal fees and sanctions against him.

Senate passes critical race theory ban for public employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This bill, Quezada said, is a step backwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Some lawmakers want to eliminate voting machines

Arizona Senate Election Audit
A contractor working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, yawns as Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted on May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Some Arizona lawmakers are floating the idea of doing away with voting machines and using exclusively hand counts in future elections. PHOTO BY MATT YORK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some Republican lawmakers are considering long-term changes to how Arizonans’ votes are counted as the hand recount of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots drags on at Veterans Memorial Coliseum more than six months after the election. 

One proposal is nixing voting machine use altogether and switching to hand counting ballots in an effort to avoid unfounded vulnerabilities these lawmakers see with the machines, particularly Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion has faced unproven allegations since the election that its hardware and software were either programmed or hacked to switch Donald Trump votes to Joe Biden 

“I know the grassroots wants that,” state Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said. “There’s a lot of push nationally to get rid of the machines because people feel like they can be manipulated.” 

The idea is one in a long list of proposed unusual tweaks to how Arizona does elections, from Rep. Mark Finchem’s push for adding UV-light activated watermarks to ballots to Townsend’s calling for all voting equipment and materials to be made in America. 

Proponents of getting rid of voting machines want volunteers at the precinct level to hand count ballots on Election Day. 

Townsend said she hadn’t heard as much interest in ditching voting machine use at the Capitol, and she said she’ll need to do more research before she’s fully onboard. However, she and some of her colleagues have voiced support for the idea online. 

“Can we get something besides Dominion Voting Systems?” Townsend asked on Twitter on May 20. “Better yet, how about we go back to hand counts at the precinct level and ditch the machines altogether?” 

State Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, also supports the idea. 

“Elections should be held on election day only and we should use only paper ballots. No machines!” Rogers tweeted May 21. 

Rogers was at the Coliseum June 2 with a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers considering taking a page from the Arizona playbook back to the Keystone state. Pennsylvania state senators Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush and state Rep. Rob Kauffman have been outspoken critics of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results, claiming widespread fraud. 

After the tour, Rogers tweeted again about moving to a hand count as one of her overall Cyber Ninjas CEO observations. She wrote that Americans understand how to count and that counting should be done “at the local community level” with paper ballots only. 

“We should declare voting day a national holiday, so everyone can vote and participate in the counting,” she wrote. 

State Rep. Mark Finchem, who’s running for Arizona secretary of state in 2022, is fully behind getting rid of voting machines, claiming the “immense cost” of the Senate audit and the original cost of the machines suggests it would be more cost effective to pay people to hand count the votes. 

“Many Arizonans are now calling for an end to machine tabulation, and a return to the hand tabulation of ballots,” Finchem wrote in his newsletter last week.  

The Senate is paying contractor Cyber Ninjas $150,000 to conduct its review, though it’s unclear how much is being spent beyond that and who’s footing the bill, as the auditors collect donations from a 501 (c) (4), which keeps donors’ identities secret. 

Arizona already has a statutory requirement for a hand count of 2% of ballots cast on Election Day and 1% of early ballots. Bipartisan audit boards with members selected by the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian party chairs found no variances between the hand count and voting machine results for the 2020 general, primary and presidential preference elections. 

The Senate’s recount, originally expected to take roughly three weeks, has already taken five, with a weeklong pause for high schools to use the Coliseum for a string of graduations in May. 

The counters are roughly halfway done, according to the audit team. 

“Audit update: As of June 1st, we have surpassed counting 1.2 million ballots. Thank you to all our AZ volunteers!” the @ArizonaAudit Twitter account tweeted June 1. 

Republican chair of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission Amy Chan pointed to the slow-going of the activities at the Coliseum as an example of why moving exclusively to a hand count would be difficult and create problems. Chan was former Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s elections director. Bennett is one of the Senate’s volunteer audit liaisons. 

“You’ve seen how long it’s taken them to count 2.1 million, and we don’t know how accurate their count’s going to be at the Coliseum, and they’re still not done,” Chan said “I think anyone can see that the problem with doing away with machines entirely would be accuracy and speed, among other things.” 

Chan said that risk-limiting audits conducted after elections are important parts of the process, and she said she believes the sample hand counts and logic and accuracy tests are needed. 

“They ensure that the machines are doing what we want them to accurately calculate the election results,” she said. 

Townsend said she doesn’t think that’s good enough, and she doesn’t think time is of the essence either. 

“Do we want instant results, and we don’t mind if there’s insecurity and we have hackers telling us, ‘Your machines are lame,’ and we don’t care because we want the results that night?” she asked. “Or do we want to know that the results are accurate, and we’re willing to wait a little bit longer? How long are we willing to wait? No one really knows those answers yet, so we have to explore that.” 

She said she’s looking ahead for other steps to take when it comes to future elections, including holding a national convention in September to discuss election issues with legislators in other states. 

“One of the topics I would like us to address in a bipartisan way is how do we get our people confident in their voting system. What’s it going to take?” she said. 

Townsend chaired the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention in 2017 when delegates from 19 states met at the Arizona Capitol to begin preparations for a constitutional convention to curb federal spending through a balanced budget amendment. That convention was the first national convention in more than 150 years. 


Some Republicans stay silent, others push for probe

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, a tactical team with ATF gathers in the Rotunda to provide security for the continuation of the joint session of the House and Senate to count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, a tactical team with ATF gathers in the Rotunda to provide security for the continuation of the joint session of the House and Senate to count the Electoral College votes cast in November’s election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With few exceptions, Arizona Republicans have stayed silent or actively joined in attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, even as many of their national colleagues began speaking up.

After a small group of U.S. senators and representatives announced plans to challenge the electoral votes of several states, including Arizona, many Republican leaders unequivocally stated that President Donald Trump lost his bid for re-election. In a fiery speech late January 6 after armed insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol and federal lawmakers continued to challenge Arizona’s electoral votes, Utah Sen. and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney urged his colleagues to give up their attempts to overturn the election.

“No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters, especially when the president will continue to claim the election was stolen,” he said. “The best way we can show respect to the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.”

But at the state level, influential Republicans continue pushing for another investigation that they say — or at least their supporters say — could prove that Trump really won, despite all evidence to the contrary. Nine separate lawsuits in Arizona, and at least 60 across the nation, have been dismissed or withdrawn with no evidence of fraud or irregularities that could have changed the outcome of the presidential election. 

Rep. John Kavanagh, the Fountain Hills Republican who chairs the House Government and Elections Committee, said he believes those lawsuits lacked evidence because Republican attorneys didn’t have access to voting equipment for a full forensic audit.

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

He won’t concede that Joe Biden won the election until lawmakers succeed in their quest to perform a thorough audit of the voting equipment used in Maricopa County. (The county already audited its machines in front of partisan observers three times, both before and after the election, and each audit returned completely accurate results.) 

“There’s been a lot of lawsuits in Arizona that failed, and I think they failed mainly because we haven’t gotten access to the equipment to see if there’s evidence there that would convince the judge,” Kavanagh said. “So I want to see the evidence and if there is fraud, then we would take legal steps to or to reverse the electors.”

Incoming Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said that only a full forensic audit — with special attention paid to ballots cast by so-called federal-only voters who don’t present the proof of citizenship required to vote in state elections — would convince her that the election results were accurate. 

“I think the vast majority of reasonable people, after seeing a fair, full, forensic independent audit come back clean will be satisfied,” she said. “I will be. I will be asking everybody to move forward and to trust the process if that’s the outcome of the audit.”

In the meantime, Townsend has introduced legislation to retroactively replace Arizona’s slate of Democratic electors with the electors who would have voted for Trump. Congress this week certified the Electoral College results, and Biden will be inaugurated on January 20.

Other lawmakers, including Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, have remained quiet about the electoral results, refusing to comment on whether they have faith in the election. Mesnard, who is running legislation to expand recount opportunities, said his focus is on improving future elections, not changing the outcome of the last one.

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

“I’m reserving judgment on whether or not I thought it was good, bad or ugly until I get more information,” he said. “I think we need that information at this point for purposes of developing public policy moving forward and making sure that the integrity of our election system is protected and confidence is restored as much as possible.”

He said he has received thousands of emails, most of which express frustration that he is not declaring the 2020 election fraudulent. Others, including people who voted for him, are upset that he hasn’t publicly defended the election.

One email that Legislative District 18 precinct committeewoman Carrie Heikkala sent to every Republican lawmaker daily between December 30 and January 6 ordered them to declare the election fraudulent and appoint Trump’s electors or risk primary challenges. Legislative attorneys advised House and Senate leaders that they forfeited the ability to name electors on their own when they passed a law dictating that the winner of the state’s popular vote will receive Arizona’s electoral votes.

Heikkala wrote: “If you won’t do this, you WILL be primaried, I am a PC and I am going to recruit every conservative I know to join our PC ranks and we’re going to take you out in the next primary!”

Trey Terry, a West Valley conservative who ran for the state House on a ticket with current Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, and has been a vocal critic of state Republicans who encouraged talk of election conspiracies, said current officials fear challenges from fellow Republicans. After legislative and congressional redistricting this year, even incumbent Republicans will no longer be in safe districts. 

“Several of them have told me that the base is angry, and that they basically are looking to become leaders of whatever movement follows Trump,” Terry said. “And then as far as ones that are being quiet, I think it’s for the same reason, that they fear their next primary election.” 

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, has been one of the few elected state Republicans to speak out in favor of accepting the election results. He said he hasn’t seen much blowback from his own constituents, though people from other states have threatened his political career. (A Phoenix City Council candidate also responded by calling him a “weak beta male” and “ignorant swamp creature” and criticized his bow tie.)

“I get a lot of people from California and throughout the country that tell me they’re going to primary me,” Boyer said. “It’s funny. I mean like, oh gosh, I’ve lost a Chicago voter, a California voter, a Virginia voter.” 

 Shortly after the election, Boyer signed on to one letter circulated by Townsend urging a delay in appointing Arizona’s electors as court cases challenging the election proceeded. But now that all of those cases have been dismissed, he said Trump needs to tell his supporters that he lost the election and it’s time for a peaceful transition. Trump on January 7 stated that he will leave office January 20, while still insisting the election was stolen.

 “At some point, I think reality sets in,” Boyer said. “You have to realize that we haven’t won at the legal level, and it is time to move on. We have to follow the law and the Constitution.” 



Special session push exposes legislative discord


An outgoing House Republican’s effort to call the Legislature into a special session is driving a wedge in an already factional caucus. 

Rep. Kelly Townsend’s petition for the Legislature to call its own special session – something that hasn’t happened since 1981 – has provoked accusations from colleagues within the party that she’s only trying to raise her profile. 

After all, it’s a difficult task – two-thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers need to agree, something that would require a level of planning and bipartisan cooperation nearly unheard of in this era. 

“I stood with ALL House Republicans in voting to stay in session and I support going back in IF we can get conservative bills passed,” Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, tweeted this week. “Right now, there just isn’t support outside of House Republicans to do that, and Democrats have no interest in helping us reopen AZ and get people back to work.” 

Democrats want a special session, and have been crafting legislation with stakeholders since the last legislative session adjourned on issues ranging from evictions to police violence, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez. But they believe that the path to success goes up to the Ninth Floor of the Executive Tower – the fear being that without guardrails from Gov. Doug Ducey, a special session would mean a torrent of Republican legislation. 

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Ducey has shown no interest in a special session, however, which has only intensified Townsend’s conviction that the Legislature must act. 

Her petition now has 24 signatures, including her own, from members of both chambers, dividing the Legislature into “those who are for the Constitution” and those “who don’t want to displease the king,” she tweeted this week. 

People like Toma, she said, are in the latter camp. 

“It’s worrisome that they don’t understand why it’s so important for us to come back into session, and that they think it’s self serving,” Townsend said. “It does not behoove me to do this. I don’t have a choice, because it’s not being done otherwise.”  

Townsend has two main arguments: Ducey has for months acted without official input from lawmakers, which she believes necessitates legislation to rein in emergency declarations; and secondly, business owners need help from lawmakers. 

People are hurting, Townsend said, and it’s urgent to get back to the Legislature to “return the balance of power for many reasons.”

 Republicans agree. But outside of the 24 on Townsend’s petition, they don’t see a need to address these issues now – House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, has hinted that he’d be interested in legislation to limit Ducey’s emergency powers, though likely not until next session. They’re also concerned that a lack of a pre-ordained plan or arrangement would lead to chaos, and don’t appear to be interested in creating such a plan. 

Competitive leadership races and long-standing frustration with Bowers by the caucus’ most ideological conservatives have already created discord within the party, and Townsend’s petition is in part an extension of that sentiment.  

She sent a letter to legislative leadership this week to request “an update as to what the Legislature is planning on doing to address the ongoing crisis in Arizona,” according to a copy of the letter she shared on Facebook.  

“We have half of the caucus that have signed the petition to call ourselves back into session to address the unfinished business of the Legislature, as well as the various problems brought about by the pandemic,” she said. “I have made it very well clear that I am not comfortable with having the executive branch having sole control over the situation, using executive orders to govern, ignoring the House and the Senate.”  

Townsend wrote that legislative leadership has offered her “literally zero” communication on the status of her inquiry – a claim that a spokesman for Bowers denied. 

Her frustration has grown to the point that she has actively (though unsuccessfully) courted Democrats to sign onto her petition, and said that some have expressed support privately. 

“We could work in a bipartisan way with the Democrats,” she said. “If there’s so much dysfunction that prevents that from happening, maybe we need new leadership.” 

Bowers said this month in a Clean Elections Commission debate that he has requested a special session from Ducey, though it doesn’t appear that he moved the needle. 

“As recently as last week, I’ve made known to the governor that I would like to come in … and review the powers and authorities of the governor’s executive orders to see how we could get a broader influence by the legislative body as we move into larger policy issues relevant to COVID,” he said. 

State leaders converge on Arizona House to plan constitutional convention

Republican State Senators Steve Smith of Maricopa, left, and Sylvia Allen of Snowflake watch as delegates from 19 states deliberate rules and procedures for a hypothetical convention of the states. (Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
Republican State Senators Steve Smith of Maricopa, left, and Sylvia Allen of Snowflake watch as delegates from 19 states deliberate rules and procedures for a hypothetical convention of the states. (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

State leaders who descended on Arizona’s Capitol to make plans for a potential convention of the states hope that their meeting of the minds helps legitimize their effort to amend the U.S. Constitution.

The Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention, a gathering of 73 delegates sent by 19 states, including Arizona, is the precursor to the real deal: A convention of the states provided for through Article V of the U.S. Constitution, with the intention of limiting federal spending by way of a balanced budget amendment.

Two-thirds of the states must call for such a convention to occur, and so far, lawmakers in 27 states have passed resolutions doing just that, according to the national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. With seven states to go, hosting a planning convention helps validate the effort and educate the public and other lawmakers, said Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, an alternate Arizona delegate.

“This is really more of an introduction to people, to understand the history of conventions,” said Thorpe.

Alabama GOP Sen. Arthur Orr, the lone delegate from his state, said the movement to call for a balanced budget convention is gathering steam. There have been many meetings in anticipation of a bona fide convention of the states, including a mock convention held last fall in Williamsburg, Virginia. But the purpose of the planning convention, hosted by Arizona at the House of Representatives through September 15, is important to show that lawmakers who call for an Article V Convention are committed to the cause, Orr said.

“We’re just one of 50, but everyone that shows up gives greater momentum in this regard to the seriousness of our needing to address the federal deficit,” Orr said.

Broadly, the planning convention serves as a time to debate rules and procedures that the delegates propose to use during a convention of the states, and to recommend to Congress a way to determine the date, time and location of a convention of states.

However, they’ll first need to convince seven more states to call for a convention. The national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force is targeting nine states in 2017-2018, including some blue states like Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina and Virginia, according to its website.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)
Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

In the meantime, delegates delved into a 13-page draft of rules, written by delegates from Tennessee, in sometimes excruciating detail. When asked about some of the minutiae that has crept up in subcommittee discussions, such as a roughly 25-minute debate over the words “delegate” and “commissioner,” Rep. Kelly Townsend, elected by the delegations as president of the planning convention, rolled her eyes and smiled.

“That’s a legislator for you. Wordsmiths,” she quipped.

Townsend, R-Mesa, acknowledged some concern that getting bogged down in the details was hindering the work of the convention, but called it “a lesson learned.”

“One of the good things about doing this is, we are currently writing a love letter to the next convention. Whoever those delegates are, we’re going to say, this is what we did wrong, and this is what we thought went well. You can do yourselves a favor if you don’t repeat our mistakes,” Townsend said. “I wish somebody had written us a love letter, but we’re figuring it out on our own.”

Simply hosting the planning convention showed that, as Townsend put it, the effort to hold a convention of states is “starting to get real.” By showing up to make plans in Arizona, those interested in a convention of states are taking ownership of the effort, she said, while in the past, such efforts have been led not by legislators, but private interest groups like the National balanced Budget Amendment Task Force and the Convention of States Project.

“We’re very grateful to the various groups, the interest groups that want to see this happen as well. And we’re thankful to that. But I think it’s time now where we’ve graduated from, those who’ve known about it, we’re the ones who should’ve known about it and been pushing this, we as legislators,” Townsend said. “We have now in our hands the ability to organize and move forward and not needing the interest groups.”