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4 state lawmakers seek move to Congress

Congress Arizona Congressional District 1 Congressional District 2 Congressional District 3
In this April 29, 2021, file photo, the dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen through a glass ceiling in Washington. Four Arizona state lawmakers are vying for seats in Congress in the 2022 election and more are likely to run once the new boundaries for congressional districts are drawn. PHOTO BY AMANDA ANDRADE-RHOADES/ASSOCIATED PRESS

At least four Arizona lawmakers – three of them Democrats vying for the same open Tucson-area congressional seat – are running for Congress next year. 

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who has represented Legislative District 6 since 2019, is running to represent Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, a sprawling purple district covering most of rural northern and eastern Arizona currently represented by Democrat Tom O’Halleran, who is running for re-election. 

Further south, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s announcement that she doesn’t plan to run for another term has set off a scramble among Democrats looking to take her place representing the 2nd Congressional District, which covers the southeastern corner of the state and much of Tucson. Three Democratic state lawmakers have already declared – two of whom have a direct connection to the 2011 near-fatal shooting of the district’s former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. 

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, who was the trauma surgeon who treated Giffords, announced in March that he was running for Kirkpatrick’s seat. In mid-May Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, who was an intern for the former congresswoman and was there when she was shot and administered first aid to Giffords before paramedics arrived, announced was running as well. The third Democratic lawmaker seeking the seat is Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, an environmental law professor who served two terms in the state House before running for the Senate in 2020. 

“It occurs to me the Dem primary to hold Kirkpatrick’s seat guarantees at least three effective Dems won’t return to the state Legislature next year,” Democratic political operative Tony Cani tweeted when Hernandez announced. “They will be missed, but it’s a good chance to give the bench a boost. Plus, I’d be happy with any as a member of Congress.” 

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

However, the candidates won’t be running in exactly the same districts. Arizona did not, as was widely expected, pick up a tenth congressional district after the 2020 Census, complicating the plans of politicians who had hoped to move up to D.C. but are now fighting for one fewer seat. And they will be running on new, yet-to-be-drawn maps. 

CD2 has had roughly the same boundaries since 1980, and will likely stay mostly the same, and it has a history of being represented by moderates from both parties. The district could become slightly more Republican, but its western border is the 3rd Congressional District, and changing the boundaries of that majority-minority and heavily Democratic district too much could invite a lawsuit. With Mexico to the south and New Mexico to the east, most likely CD2 will be drawn to stretch further north into Oro Valley and Marana, Republican-leaning suburbs of Tucson that are more purple now than they were a decade ago. 

On paper, CD1 is the closest-divided district in Arizona, although the incumbent O’Halleran has outperformed the district’s partisanship in his last three elections. It voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and gave a one-point plurality to President Trump in 2016 – making it the only district in the state to vote for one party for president and another for Congress  but President Biden beat Trump in the district by 1.7% in 2020, according to the Cook Political Report. Kirkpatrick represented the district before O’Halleran. She stepped down to run for U.S. Senate in 2016, lost to John McCain and then ran for and won the 2nd District seat she currently holds. 

Daniel Hernandez
Daniel Hernandez

Barrett Marson, a Republican political consultant who has worked on campaigns in the district, said it’s a tough place for Republicans to win as the district is currently configured.  

Democrats have won the seat in the current boundaries in every election and it’s a battleground between the liberal areas of the north – the Flagstaff area and tribal areas – versus the more Republican areas of the south, making the result of each election dependent on turnout.  

“No Republican has yet been able to solve how to get more votes out of the tribal areas,” Marson said. “That’s something that Republicans have long attempted to figure out and haven’t done with success, really, and that has been a problem.” 

As currently drawn, CD2 is becoming more Democratic, although it’s not as overwhelmingly blue as either CD3 or the Democratic districts centered on Phoenix. Romney carried the district in 2012, and it was represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally from 2015 to 2019. However, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton beat Trump by almost 5 points in CD2 in 2016, and in 2020 Biden beat Trump by more than 10 points there. 

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

Hernandez, who worked for Everytown for Gun Safety from 2013 to 2015, cited Giffords as his inspiration in his announcement, while Friese, who was prompted to enter politics by the shooting, said when he announced his run that gun control would be one of his focuses. Hernandez and Friese both have a record of supporting tougher gun laws at the state level and have worked together on the issue in the Legislature, although their bills haven’t gotten very far in the Republican-controlled body. Meanwhile, Engel’s team includes several staffers who have worked with either Giffords or her husband, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly.  

Marson said he expects more Republicans to get into the 1st District race, with much depending on how the district lines are drawn. One possibility he mentioned is that Kingman could be added to the district, which might make it redder; another is that, depending on how things shake out, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, whose primary residence is in Flagstaff, could run in the new CD1 instead. Marson said it is early to handicap the race and factors such as voters’ views on Biden and Trump, the economy and some of O’Halleran’s congressional votes could all matter. 

“It’s again, solving the issue of how you either get more votes from the tribal nations or bringing out your voters from the more southern portion of the district, and so that’s just been something Republicans have

Randall Friese
Randall Friese

not been able to solve for five straight elections,” Marson said. “Certainly, it’s seen as a pickup area, a place to pick up a seat for the Republicans. We’ll see what happens in redistricting and we’ll see what happens with … Congress.” 

Several other candidates from both parties have filed statements of interest with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office to run for Congress in the 1st and 2nd districts. So far two of them – Republican John Moore in CD1 and Democrat Marcos Urrea in CD2 – have also filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission. 

Who will replace the four lawmakers in Phoenix? So far two Republicans, Ryan Cadigan and David Marshall Sr., have filed statements of interest to run for the state House in Blackman’s district. Democrat Akanni “Oye” Oyegbola, who is the acting mayor of South Tucson, is running for the House in Hernandez’s district, and Libertarian Jaime Ortega has also filed a statement of interest. 

Democrats Christopher Mathis and Ryan Shead have filed to run in Friese’s district, while so far two Republicans, Sherrylyn Young and Justine Wadsack, who ran for the seat last year, have filed statements of interest to run for Engel’s Senate seat. 

Yellow Sheet Report Editor Hank Stephenson contributed reporting. 

 

 

AZ GOP helps take control of U.S. House

Rep.-elect Eli Crane, R-Ariz., center, and his wife Jen Crane, right, arrive with newly-elected members of the House of Rep.-elect Eli Crane, R-Ariz., center, and his wife Jen Crane, right, arrive with newly elected members of the House of Representatives at the Capitol for an orientation program, in Washington on Nov. 14. Crane’s win over incumbent Democrat Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the 2nd Congressional District, and Republican Juan Ciscomani’s win over Democrat Kirsten Engel in the 6th Congressional District, gave Republicans control of the state’s congressional delegation, 6-3 and helped to tip the scales in the GOP’s favor in the U.S. House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans took control of Arizona’s formerly Democrat-led congressional delegation this week, contributing to flipping the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican Juan Ciscomani won his race against Democrat Kirsten Engel in the 6th Congressional District, and Democrat incumbent Tom O’Halleran lost his 2nd Congressional District race to Republican newcomer Eli Crane.

With Ciscomani and Crane’s wins, Republicans went from controlling four of Arizona’s nine House seats to six. After a close race in the 1st Congressional District, the other Arizona Republican representatives all kept their seats.

President Joe Biden has a low approval rating and is associated with skyrocketing inflation rates. Republicans hoped this dissatisfaction would garner support for a “red wave,” but were ultimately not as successful as they hoped to be. Their largest victory was in the United States House where Democrats currently have a small majority with 220 representatives.

As of November 16, Republicans secured the 218 seats they needed to control the House. Democrats had 211 seats, and races for six seats were still undecided.

Republicans took control of Arizona’s formerly Democrat-led congressional delegation this week, contributing to flipping the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republican Juan Ciscomani won his race against Democrat Kirsten Engel in the 6th Congressional District, and Democrat incumbent Tom O’Halleran lost his 2nd Congressional District race to Republican newcomer Eli Crane.

With Ciscomani and Crane’s wins, Republicans went from controlling four of Arizona’s nine House seats to six. After a close race in the 1st Congressional District, the other Arizona Republican representatives all kept their seats.

Rep.-elect Michael Lawler, R-N.Y., left, and Juan Ciscomani, Republican candidate in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, walk on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Joe Biden has a low approval rating and is associated with skyrocketing inflation rates. Republicans hoped this dissatisfaction would garner support for a “red wave,” but were ultimately not as successful as they hoped to be. Their largest victory was in the United States House where Democrats currently have a small majority with 220 representatives.

As of November 16, Republicans secured the 218 seats they needed to control the House. Democrats had 211 seats, and races for six seats were still undecided.

With control of the chamber, Republicans could stymy Biden’s and congressional Democrats’ agenda.

Republican consultant Daniel Scarpinato said of the new House majority, “Given how slim the majority will be, it remains to be seen how significant it truly will be. It is historically close, and in that respect, it will be a political science experience worth watching very closely. Given the divisions within the Republican Party, whether there is a ‘governing’ majority is unclear.”

Scarpinato works on Ciscomani’s campaign.

Arizona 5th Congressional District Rep. Andy Biggs made a bid for speaker of the House, but lost in a landslide to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is the current minority leader. The vote was 218-30 for McCarthy.

The success of McCarthy and Ciscomani echoes a trend in this year’s elections where “establishment” Republicans were far and away more successful than Republicans endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the general election, even though the opposite was largely true in the primaries.

Republican Differences

Ciscomani was the only Arizona Republican congressional candidate in the general election who did not seek or receive Trump’s endorsement. Ciscomani is a former member of Gov. Doug Ducey’s cabinet who did not deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election or push for abortion bans.

Andy Biggs

Biggs is the opposite candidate. “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander testified that he was in communication with Biggs before the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives Rusty Bowers testified to the January 6 House committee that Biggs called him on January 6 and asked him to sign a letter calling for the decertification of the election results. Biggs’ brothers William and David wrote to The Arizona Republic calling for Biggs’ removal from office, claiming that he was at least partly responsible for the attack.

Biggs denies any involvement in planning the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but he did ask for a presidential pardon for his involvement and denied the results of the 2020 election. He was endorsed early on by Trump and does not support limits on abortion bans. He also opposes same-sex marriage and said he doesn’t believe in climate change. These are views that “establishment” Republcains like Ciscomani are leaning away from.

Although Biggs was not drawn into a “competitive” district, he still got the narrowest win since he first became a congressman. He won with 56.7% of the vote over an independent and a candidate who didn’t accept any donations. Biggs raised $1,916,882 to Democrat challenger Javier Garcia Ramos’s $15,243.

Senate a Priority

In the midyear election, Democrats put most of their energy into the U.S. Senate race and left House candidates out of major events.

The Senate race and governor’s race were pushed heavily by the Arizona Democratic Party. Former President Barack Obama headlined a rally on November 3 to stir up support for the Democrat ticket. All but one of the statewide race candidates and Kelly spoke. Kelly spoke the longest apart from Obama and was praised most by the former president.

Obama, Biden, Kelly, Masters, election, ballots, results, Trump
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic rally in Phoenix on Nov. 2. U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly made a rare appearance with other Democratic candidates at that event when Obama was here to stump for the Democratic slate. (AP Photo/Alberto Mariani)

Democrats Jevin Hodge and Kirsten Engel ran in the most competitive congressional districts and did not speak. O’Halleran and fellow Democratic incumbent Greg Stanton also ran in semi-competitive districts and did not speak. None of the four Democrats were talked up by the other speakers either.

“It was disappointing. I wish he was able to speak. I think he could have made a difference,” Democrat consultant Steven Slugocki said of Hodge’s omission from the Obama lineup.

Democrat House candidates were left out of other events, like a panel with Planned Parenthood representatives on the importance of Democrats in elections where Hobbs, Mayes and Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, spoke.

Democrats across the country spent millions on Arizona’s congressional races, but it wasn’t enough.

New District Boundaries

Part of the Republicans’ success is attributable to redistricting. The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission drew Arizona’s nine new congressional districts in December of last year. Democrats accused the commission of stacking the 7th Congressional District with Republicans to make the 6th Congressional District harder for Democrats to win.

Most of CD6 was represented by Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, who did not run for re-election.

David Mehl, a Republican member of the redistricting commission, pushed for CD7’s line to move far east, keeping blue Tucson and the University of Arizona together in a single Democratic district. Mehl’s son donated to Ciscomani’s campaign and Ciscomani’s wife Laura Ciscomani nominated Mehl to the commission. Mehl denied accusations that he was making decisions in Ciscomani’s favor and disgruntled Democrats didn’t get their way. The district ended up highly competitive and leaning slightly to the right.

Tom O’Halleran

The Democrats’ second blow was the loss of CD2. O’Halleran was ousted by Trump-endorsee Crane after O’Halleran was drawn into a red district. Crane was ahead with 53.9% of the vote as of November 16.

The new CD2 was less competitive than CD6 and labeled “outside of competitive range.” In 2020, voters in the new CD2 voted 53.6% Republican and 46.4% Democrat, which was nearly identical to the election’s vote spread.

Incumbent Republican Rep. David Schweikert struggled to keep his seat but pulled through after the lead went back and forth a few times. Schweikert was endorsed by Trump late in the game, less than two months before the August primary election.

Trump and Schweikert kept one another at arm’s length and didn’t appear alongside one another this year. Schweikert voted to certify the results of the 2020 election on January 6, 2021.

Schweikert was convicted for 11 House ethics violations and was sued in the primary campaign for running an ad against fellow Republican Elijah Norton with the caption “Elijah Norton isn’t being straight with you” over an image of Elijah Norton with his arm around another man. As of November 16, Schweikert was ahead with just 50.4% of the vote.

Democratic consultant Slugocki said of CD1, “I’m very confident that this is going to be one of the most important districts in 2024 because of how close it was. He [Hodge] may not have got there this time, but we will in two years.”

Kelly’s Senate campaign was hugely emphasized by Democrats for the entire campaign season. Senators are more powerful because there are only 100 compared to the House’s 435 members, but apart from that Slugocki said he doesn’t know why the House races were not a priority of the Democratic Party.

 

Ban on evictions to end, COVID-19 cases spike

coronavirus

Gov. Doug Ducey won’t impose any new restrictions on individuals or businesses despite what appears to be a record number of daily COVID-19 cases and a trend that is pushing even higher.

And he has no plans to extend a moratorium on residential evictions once a federal ban on ousting tenants expires at the end of the month.

The Department of Health Services on Tuesday reported 12,314 new cases. That’s a figure that hasn’t been seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

There also were 23 more deaths, bringing the Arizona total to 6,973.

The numbers reflect what was reported to the agency on Monday, a figure that could include a spike in tests over the weekend. And with delays in those reports, the agency eventually sorts the tests based on the actual date the test is administered.

But what cannot be denied is that even the department’s own day-by-day delayed analysis, after sorting the numbers by actual test dates, shows there were a record 7,645 cases actually reported for Nov. 30. That compares with the June 29 peak of 5,452, the day that the governor concluded he had made a mistake in allowing bars, gyms, water parks and movie theaters to reopen.

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

“We’re fixing it,” Ducey said at the time when asked if he had screwed up in allowing bars to reopen six weeks earlier.

Since that time, though, the governor has relaxed his restrictions, allowing businesses to operate, abeit some at reduced capacity and if they promise to follow certain health protocols.

Those restrictions, though, appear to not be working.

It isn’t just that there are more people testing positive. That could be seen as a result of wider testing.

There’s also the fact that the percent of positive tests also is up — sharply.

For the current week, 23% of those who were checked out were found to have the virus. That compares with 18% the past week and 14% the week before.

The latest spike in positive tests could have repercussions down the road.

At last count there were 3,157 patients in Arizona hospitals with positive or suspected cases of COVID. The last time the figure was that high was July 17.

There also are 744 intensive care beds in use, also the highest since July. And while they represent just 43% of ICU capacity, the number of available beds, including people hospitalized for other reasons, dropped this week as low as 143, which is within 8% of total capacity.

Other indicators point to things getting worse absent some change in conduct.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is predicting an average of 55 deaths a day by the end of the year, eventually reaching 73 by the third week of January. That’s even with a rapid rollout of vaccine to the highest risk individuals.

Joe Gerald (Photo by Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences)
Joe Gerald (Photo by Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences)

In his latest forecast, Joe Gerald, a doctor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, predicted dire problems with access to critical care due to shortages of space, personnel and critical supplies.

“If not addressed within the next one to two weeks, this crisis will evolve into a humanitarian crisis leading to hundreds of preventable deaths,” he wrote. “At this point, only shelter-in-place restrictions are certain to quickly and sufficiently curtail viral transmission.”

And even the latest report about Arizona from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, one of the sources Ducey has said he has relied upon, urges Arizona to do more.

“Mitigation efforts must increase,” the report says. That includes “no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households.”

And Ducey’s reaction to all this?

“It’s clear the numbers are moving in the wrong direction and are having a tremendous impact on our health care system,” said press aide C.J. Karamargin. But he had no announcements of any changes in the current regulations.

Ducey does have other powers to deal with the pandemic above and beyond health precautions.

In March he imposed a moratorium on evictions of renters affected by COVID-19, whether due to themselves or a family member with the virus or simply by virtue of having lost a job because of the outbreak. He said this is health related because keeping people in their homes helps prevent the spread of the virus.

Ducey extended his order several times before allowing it to expire at the end of October. But the governor noted at that time there would be no immediate effect because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had imposed its own moratorium.

That federal bar itself self-destructs at the end of this month. And on Tuesday, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases and that Dec. 31 expiration, Democratic legislative leaders called on the governor to once again protect tenants from losing their homes and apartments.

But Karamargin sad the governor has no plans to step up, saying it’s a federal issue.

“This issues underscores the need for Congress to act,” he said.

Karamargin acknowledged, though, that the governor did not wait for federal action earlier this year. But he said Ducey believes that this should be part of the discussion going on in Washington about the next step in federal coronavirus relief.

But there was no commitment from Ducey to act if there is no new federal moratorium by the end of the year.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that makes no sense given that the governor has advised people that the safest place to be is at home.

“You can only stay home if you have a home,” she said.

The most recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows about 14 percent of Arizonans said they were caught up on their rent. And about 56,000 said they are very or somewhat likely to lose their homes or apartments in the next two months.

While Ducey is unwilling to react to the numbers, legislative Democrats have shown no such reticence.

Some of what they want is not new, like a statewide mask mandate.

Reginald Bolding
Reginald Bolding

Reginald Bolding, the incoming House minority leader, does not dispute the governor’s assertion that most of the state already is covered by local ordinances. But he said that’s not enough.

“We believe that more Arizonans will accept and take that responsibility for themselves and their neighbors,” Bolding said, saying the current situation creates “mixed messages.”

Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios wants an absolute ban on gatherings of more than 25. The current state restriction is at 50, but with a provision that allows for a local waiver.

Ducey did add a requirement last week for local authorities to demand and enforce mitigation measures on such gatherings like masks and social distancing.

Rios, however, said that’s not enough. And, unlike Ducey, she would have no exceptions for religious services, political gatherings and other activities that the governor has carved out as protected by the First Amendment.

“The reality of the situation is, we’re in a crisis,” Rios said. “And if everybody wants to pick and choose who they think should be exempt, then it doesn’t work.”

It’s not just Ducey who won’t recommend changes in what Arizona individuals and businesses should and should not be allowed to do.

“The number of cases added to the dashboard today is concerning but not unexpected,” said Health Director Cara Christ on Tuesday.

She said the agency anticipated an increase two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, the normal incubation period for the virus, as families gathered in increased numbers. In fact, in anticipation of another spike after the December holidays Christ is urging people to take additional precautions and limit contacts beyond their immediate families.

 

Bill to make primary elections earlier goes to governor

A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. Elections officials say 62 polling locations in the Phoenix area weren't operational when voting began in Arizona's primary. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A woman arrives to her polling station, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona voters may be on the verge of getting three more weeks of candidate speeches, robocalls, door hangars and mailers.

On a 24-2 vote May 16, the state Senate approved legislation moving the state’s primary up to the first Tuesday in August. Current law puts it on the last Tuesday. The measure, which got House approval on a 39-21 vote March 14, now goes to the governor.

Proponents say that will give county election officials more time between the primary and the general election, always the first Tuesday in November, to prepare the ballot.

But there’s also a political component: It gives wounds inflicted in divisive intraparty primaries more time to heal — and more time for the winner to reach out to those who were not supporters.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said he likes the idea.

“In the state of Arizona we have one of the shortest time periods between our primary election and our general elections,” he said.

That limited time to campaign after the primary, Bolding said, is not a problem in the majority of legislative districts one party has a huge edge in registered voters, as whoever wins the primary has a huge edge over the other party’s candidate.

“There’s other members that live in districts that are very competitive,” he said. “And they need time to not only run a competitive primary but also competitive general elections.”

Bolding said that’s also true with statewide elections.

“This will give statewide candidates (who win their primary elections) more time to travel the state, to have those conversations with constituents, more time for them to build support,” he said.

But Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, said that’s the last thing she and her colleagues should be doing. In giving more time for general election campaigning the legislation effectively pushes up the primary races so they, too, will start earlier.

“In my district, they do not want three more weeks of looking at signs on their roads,” she said.

“They do not want three more weeks of robocalls,” Osborne continued. They do not want three more weeks of beautiful, lovely fliers coming in their mailbox.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, had her own objections. She said that a primary in early August can disenfranchise college students who have registered to vote at their college addresses but may not be back at school by that time.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said lawmakers may be on the right track. But she suggested they were not being aggressive enough.

“There are more people in town in June,” she said, saying there are lots of states with primaries much earlier in the year.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports only six states have their primaries later than the end of August. By contrast, two have March primaries, 11 go to the polls in May and 17 states have June primaries.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include the state Senate’s final vote. 

Bill to restrict marijuana advertising dies in Senate

marijuana-620

State lawmakers refused Monday to place restrictions on advertising marijuana that don’t exist for liquor and, to a great extent, for tobacco products.

HB 2809 sought an absolute ban on billboards advertising the product, now legal for adult use since approval of Proposition 207, within 1,000 feet if in the line of sight of any child care center, church, public park or public or private school. And any billboard already up would have to come down within 30 days of the law taking effect.

But what upset several Democratic lawmakers was a proposed outright ban on marijuana retailers sponsoring any athletic, musical, artistic or “other social or cultural event.” Also forbidden would have been underwriting or sponsoring any entry fee or team in any event.

Put simply, it was designed to hide the visibility of one legal drug — in this case, marijuana — while allowing wholesale promotion of another, notably alcohol.

It did not escape foes that this came as people can attend rock concerts sponsored by Miller Light and Busch is the official beer of NASCAR.

The legislation cleared the House in February with only two dissenting votes. And on Monday, Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said she agrees.

“The school teacher in me absolutely has to vote ‘yes,’ ” she told colleagues. “We need to protect our kids.”

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the teacher in her agrees.

“However, the business woman in me also feels that it’s very unfair of this legislature to pick winner and losers,” she said.

Otondo said she has no problem with requirements for signage and labeling, such as warning that the drug should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and making it clear that anyone younger than 21 cannot purchase marijuana.

“We all want to protect our children,” she said. “But the minute we begin to say an industry cannot do sponsorships then we are picking winners and losers.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, had her own problems with the verbiage.

She said the language against selling marijuana to anyone who is “obviously intoxicated” could end up discriminating against those with disabilities.

And there’s something else.

HB 2190 would have made it illegal to actually show a picture of a marijuana leaf or bud.

“That’s regulating commercial speech,” Engel said. “And I’m not sure I see the rational relationship between the purposes of this bill and that kind of restriction.”

The measure actually got 18 votes in support.

But the Arizona Constitution says that anything approved by voters, as was recreational use of marijuana last year, can be amended only if it furthers the purpose of the original law — and only with a three-fourths vote. So it would have needed 23 votes in the 30-member Senate.

 

Bipartisan effort to ‘reform’ sentencing underway

Two state lawmakers hope to do what has proven politically impossible for decades: Convince colleagues to consider sentencing reform.

Reps. David Stringer, R-Prescott, and Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, are heading a group to look at why Arizona locks up a higher proportion of people than all but four other states.

“You have to go to the Deep South to find higher rates,” Stringer told Capitol Media Services. And Stringer, a former criminal defense attorney, questions whether having more than 42,000 people in state prisons is justified.

“People in Arizona are not that bad,” he said.

Part of the issue, Stringer said, is strictly financial: The budget this year for the state Department of Corrections alone tops $1 billion, more than 10 percent of total spending.

Rep. David Stringer
Rep. David Stringer

But Stringer said his experience makes him question whether many of the longer sentences imposed, particularly for non-violent crimes, do more harm than good.

If history is any indication, Stringer and Engel will get a fight from prosecutors.

Bill Konopnicki, a Safford Republican who was a state representative, worked for years more than a decade ago, saying the state could not afford the burgeoning costs of its prison system. His efforts included reclassifying some crimes now considered felonies to be misdemeanors.

That incurred the wrath of fellow Republicans, to the point where then-Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, used his position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that any such measures did not even get a hearing.

Former Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, had no better luck in 2010 with his own special legislative committee which also looked at sentencing reform. Prosecutors successfully blocked those from becoming law.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, from Stringer’s home county, said she is willing to listen.

“I am always interested in ideas on how to best protect the public from criminal offenders, ensuring safe and crime-free communities,” she said.

Bill Montgomery
Bill Montgomery

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the position he will take “depends on whether this is a data driven effort without faulty assumption or another preconceived, rhetoric driven effort.”

“It could be a chance to highlight what Arizona has been doing right and where we can and need to do better,” he said. Montgomery said he wants to focus on reducing recidivism, calling it “the most promising approach to evaluating options without jeopardizing public safety.”

But don’t look for Montgomery to support changes in sentencing.

“Those currently incarcerated are those who should be there,” he said. “There’s no objective data that establishes otherwise.”

Stringer said it may be true that people who commit certain crimes should go to prison.

“But almost all of them come home,” he said. “So when do they stop needing to be behind bars?”

He said lawmakers need to look at the sentences that judges are required to impose.

“Very young people are getting just horrendous sentences, 10-year sentences for fairly minor drug stuff, not heavy dealing,” he said.

“Anything more than two or three years in jail and you come out a changed man,” Stringer continued. “And it is completely self-defeating because we end up with a very high recidivism rate.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel
Rep. Kirsten Engel

So what are the options?

“I happen to be a big proponent of things like work release,” Stringer said.

“I don’t think people who break the law should get off scot free,” he said. “I think they ought to make it up in some way to the community.”

More specifically, he wants to ensure the focus is on rehabilitation.

“We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we are just locking people up,” Stringer said.

He said there’s no question but that crime is a social harm.

“But vengeance also carries a cost,” Stringer said, tying up resources “that should be going to other worthy causes.

Engel has her own perspective on what she sees as the negative consequences of the state’s high incarceration rate for non-violent offenders.

“Incarceration makes it harder to get and hold a job, impoverishes families and hurts the economic prospects of entire communities,” she said. “We can do better.”

The Sentencing Project lists Arizona’s incarceration rate at 596 people for every 100,000 residents. That compares with a nationwide figure of 458.

It lists only Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi with higher rates.

Stringer is careful to say that the focus of the committee will be on nonviolent offenders. And at least part of the reason for that is political: He believes it’s less likely to provoke a knee-jerk reaction against any proposals.

“That’s always how to crush reform,” Stringer said.

“They say, ‘What are you going to do, put criminals on the street, murderers and rapists on the street?” he continued. “No, we’re making it very, very clear that we’re only looking at non-violent offenders.”

He said it might just be that the only thing the panel can agree on is expansion for treatment of drug offenders.

Gov. Doug Ducey has avoided the potentially hot-button issue of sentencing reform.

But the governor has proven a stronger proponent of providing second chances to those who have done their time as a method of preventing recidivism.

Last year the governor expanded the concept of “community corrections,” adding a new facility in Maricopa County to deal with those who have been let out of prison but commit a minor breach of their release conditions. These facilities provide an alternative to being sent back to prison and even allow those offenders to keep their jobs.

More recently the governor enacted a “ban the box” policy for employment at state jobs, eliminating any questions on initial job applications about whether a person has a criminal record. The governor said that will help ensure that people are not eliminated from even being considered.

And he made a deal with Uber, a ride-sharing company, to help former inmates get to their jobs if public transit is not available. The company and the state each are putting up $5,000.

Bowers dissolves committee tasked with tackling criminal justice reform

Rep. David Stringer (R-Prescott)
Rep. David Stringer (R-Prescott)

House Speaker-elect Rusty Bowers has dissolved the House Sentencing and Recidivism Reform Committee that Rep. David Stringer was slated to chair.

Bowers, R-Mesa, said the House Judiciary Committee will now pick up those criminal justice reform efforts.

Bowers also appointed Rep.-elect Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, to replace Stringer, R-Prescott, as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee. Republican Rep.-elect Leo Biasiucci of Lake Havasu City will also replace Stringer on the House Education Committee.

Stringer remains on the House Government Committee.

Bowers’ decision to dissolve the reform committee carries implications beyond Stringer, who was forced out of chairmanship after making racially-charged comments. The path to criminal justice reform now goes through the same Judiciary Committee, where it was tackled in previous sessions with mixed results.

This is not the first time Stringer’s views on race and immigration have affected criminal justice reform efforts.

Stringer was serving as chairman of an ad hoc committee to study criminal justice reforms when a first round of controversial comments were made public in June. He had positioned himself to take on a leading role in those endeavors, which he would have as chairman of the reform committee as well as vice chair of judiciary. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, disbanded the ad hoc committee.

Mesnard feared Stringer’s comments would overshadow the committee’s work, even though its members continued their talks in a less public setting.

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, has now been charged with seeing that effort through.

“Speaker-elect Bowers has asked me to pick up the mantle of criminal justice reform in the Judiciary Committee, and I’m excited to do so,” Allen said in the House press release.

He’ll be joined by Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, who had been a ranking member of the now-defunct reform committee. Engel is the ranking Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee.

Candidates can start gathering signatures for state, federal office

Signatures1

Candidates for Congress and the state Legislature can now collect signatures for office using the current redistricting lines for the 2022 election 

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed SB1107 into law, a bill from Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard, which had an emergency clause attached, meaning it becomes law from the governor’s signature rather than on the state’s general effective date. Emergency Clause legislation requires two-thirds votes in both chambers; this bill passed through unanimously.  

Given the Census Bureau’s ongoing data delays, new maps with whatever the state’s 30 legislative districts and soon-to-be 10 Congressional districts look like is still unclear and won’t be known until the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission draws the new lines by January – the deadline for which IRC Chair Erika Neuberg said she was aiming. 

What this bill ultimately means is someone like Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson or Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake can collect signatures in their current congressional districts of two and one, respectively even though their residences might be drawn into completely different districts come next year.  

The Census data is now expected to arrive in August after being pushed back as far as September. Several candidates have already begun to file statements of interest – like Engel and Blackman – for congressional races as well as many who want to run for one of 90 open seats at the Arizona Legislature. They now can theoretically begin collecting those signatures from registered voters in those current districts starting today.  

A committee amendment was added to the bill to declare that County Boards of Supervisors – who also go through their own redistricting process, albeit not from the IRC – must determine their own lines by July 1, 2022. County supervisor seats are not on the ballot during the midterm elections, rather every four years that coincide with a presidential election. The bill gave the counties a seven-month extension.  

CD6 foes make false allegations against each other

From left are Kirsten Engel and Juan Ciscomani

Candidates in a competitive new congressional district are lobbing false allegations at one another in ads over abortion and police support.

Republican Juan Ciscomani claimed in an ad that his opponent, Democrat Kirsten Engel, wants to “defund the police,” which she denied. She claimed in an ad that Ciscomani wants an abortion ban with no exceptions, and wants to prosecute women who seek abortions, which Ciscomani denied.

After last year’s redistricting process, the new 6th Congressional District emerged in Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s district, but Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, isn’t running for re-election.

Without an incumbent running, the race between Ciscomani and Engel is neck-in neck.

“My opponent Kirsten Engel is lying to distract from her extreme record. Engel is supported by Nancy Pelosi, she’ll make inflation worse, defund the police and release criminals,” Ciscomani said in his ad titled “The Truth.”

Ciscomani’s campaign consultant Daniel Scarpinato said the basis for this claim is the fact that Engel is endorsed by the pro-abortion nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL tweeted last year that it wants to defund the police. Engel also used to work as an attorney for Earthjustice, which was then called the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Earthjustice said online that it supports some form of defunding the police in 2020.

“Kirsten Engel does not and has never supported defunding the police,” Engel’s campaign manager Sophia Brown said in an email. “With this ad, our Republican opponent is unfortunately continuing his pattern of lying to and misleading Arizona voters. Engel supports fully funding our police and ensuring law enforcement have the resources to keep our communities safe and secure our border. The Pima County Sheriff has endorsed Engel because he knows he can trust her to keep Arizona families safe.”

Engel issued a press release on September 29 claiming that Ciscomani was avoiding a debate with her because he didn’t want voters to know about his “extreme” abortion views. There was plenty of finger-pointing between the candidates on who is dodging a debate.

Ciscomani did not debate Engel on PBS and Engel did not appear to debate Ciscomani in an event hosted by the Casa Grande Dispatch. A debate tentatively scheduled for next week was cancelled by the moderator, Arizona Public Media, which did not respond to requests for comment.

In the press release, Engel accused Ciscomani of supporting Arizona’s territorial era near-total abortion ban.

“Ciscomani proudly supports extreme abortion bans like the near-total 1901 ban that just went into effect in our state, which has no exceptions for rape or incest,” the release said. “Extreme, dangerous Republicans like Ciscomani are completely out of step with the needs and values of Arizonans. Is Ciscomani hiding from the voters to avoid answering for his radical and unpopular views?”

Scarpinato responded quickly that Ciscomani wants exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother. Arizona’s 15-week abortion ban from this year and territorial-era ban both include exceptions for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest. As a result, Scarpinato said that Ciscomani doesn’t fully support them.

Ciscomani expressed the same stance weeks ago in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star.

“I’m also on record as [women] have to make these choices about their health to be able to offer the right exceptions for the terrible act of rape, or incest, or definitely the life of the mother. These are all exceptions that I’ve been on record as supporting,” Ciscomani told the Daily Star on September 8.

On September 9, Engel released an ad claiming that Ciscomani supports an abortion ban with no exceptions. The ad even claims Ciscomani is in favor of “locking up doctors and even trying them for murder.” Scarpinato said that is not true.

Brown said that Engel’s claim is based on comments Ciscomani made celebrating the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and refer abortion laws back to individual states. They did not provide evidence that Ciscomani supports a ban with “no exceptions.”

On October 3, Engel released another ad titled “Peas” in which she doubles down on her claims about Ciscomani’s abortion views. She further claims in the ad that Ciscomani wants to prosecute women who get abortions.

“Ciscomani would let states outlaw abortion. No exceptions. Making women and doctors criminals,” Engel said. Neither state law allows women to be prosecuted, only doctors.

Scarpinato said that Ciscomani does not want women to be prosecuted.

 

 

Clodfelter out, DeGrazia in for LD10 House

Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)
Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)

The single-shot strategy did not pay off for Republicans in the Legislative District 10 House race this year.

Early ballot results put Republican Rep. Todd Clodfelter in third right away, and he stayed there behind Democratic newcomer Domingo DeGrazia, a juvenile court trial attorney, and Democratic Rep. Kirsten Engel who got the most votes.

Clodfelter’s loss was not entirely shocking. The single-shot strategy paid off for him in 2016 when he was first elected, but the number of registered Republicans in the district has since shrunk. Democrats outnumber them by nearly 6,900 voters.

The district now returns to the status quo before 2016. Clodfelter lost election bids in 2014 and 2012 when the district was represented by two Democrats in the House.

DeGrazia was one of at least three Democratic newcomers who overcame Republican incumbents in the House. Jennifer Jermaine ousted Rep. Jill Norgaard in Legislative District 18, and Aaron Lieberman outdid Rep. Maria Syms in Legislative District 28. Those outcomes narrow the party split in that chamber to 32-28.

And Dems could gain a fourth seat. Rep. Jeff Weninger won his re-election bid in Legislative District 17, but the race for the second seat was too close to call. Weninger’s fellow Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik by 1 p.m. Wednesday, but just about 400 votes separated the two.

 

LD10 House by the numbers

Early votes

Republican

Todd Clodfelter 29 percent

Democrat

Kirsten Engel 35 percent

Domingo DeGrazia 30 percent

Green

Joshua Reilly 6 percent

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.”

Cook off the hook, ethics probe dropped – for now

David Cook
David Cook

The House Ethics Committee will not pursue any action against Rep. David Cook at least at this time, special chair Rep. John Allen announced in a letter July 8, essentially ending the months-long investigation into the embattled lawmaker without punishment.

“The complaints against … Cook raised serious allegations that this Committee was duty bound to investigate,” Allen, a Republican from Scottsdale, wrote, adding that the House’s “fair and judicious” investigation came up with findings that “are deeply troubling.” Still, Allen said Cook’s conduct doesn’t “unequivocally” amount to disorderly conduct that the House or Ethics Committee can punish.

“Therefore, at this time, I do not anticipate taking any further action on these complaints,” he wrote.

The investigation into Cook began in February, when the committee received a pair of complaints alleging that Cook had conducted a romantic affair with a lobbyist named AnnaMarie Knorr and helped secure her special favors with officials in Pinal County, namely Sheriff Mark Lamb. Those complaints surfaced after the Yellow Sheet Report published dozens of love letters that Cook authored to Knorr while she was in a medical facility.

The investigation resulted in a full report in June, followed by a series of notes and deposition transcripts that painted an unflattering portrait of Cook as an angry, emotionally volatile drinker whose legal team took multiple steps to make life harder for the investigators. And though some witnesses told investigators that Cook’s relationship with Knorr was improper, and that he very well may have convinced Lamb to call off a planned seizure of her business property, investigators were unable to definitively establish that Cook violated the House’s nebulous standards for ethics.

John Allen
John Allen

Cook, Knorr and Lamb have denied all allegations all along, and the lawmaker rejoiced at the news that he was free from the ordeal, though he complained that the stench of his public humiliation will be hard to wash off.

“I am glad it is over, but feel like the man who asked, ‘Now where do I go to get my reputation back?’” Cook wrote in a statement July 8. “I remain very upset that this process was concocted and then manipulated to try to do maximum damage to both me and my family and to AnnaMarie Knorr.”

Cook’s attorneys, Carmen Chenal Horne and Arizona GOP general counsel Dennis Wilenchik, have long maintained that the probe was a politically motivated fishing expedition, though they never fully explained what those supposed political motivations were. The investigative report in turn depicted Chenal Horne as uncooperative and slow to respond, even to a legislative subpoena.

“We are happy for Representative Cook that this charade has finally ended, but terribly upset that the committee went to so much trouble to prevent him from being able to publicly defend himself,” she wrote today. “As the various accused parties have repeatedly said, both verbally and in writing, there were no violations of any kind that took place, and a full and complete dismissal of the charges was incredibly long overdue.”

The committee’s Democrats, Reps. Kirsten Engel and Domingo Degrazia, both attorneys from Tucson, reacted to Allen’s decision with “anger and incredulity.”

“Dropping the Ethics Committee’s work at this time does a disservice to the people of Arizona who expect charges of this caliber levied against a member to be thoroughly investigated and resolved,” Degrazia said in a statement.

The pair wrote that they understood there would be further hearings to decide whether or not to take action on the complaints, which they felt to be legitimate.

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

“I cannot understand how Rep. Allen would make this decision without any input from the committee members, who left the last committee hearing with the understanding that the committee would reconvene and consider whether to take any action on the complaints,” Engel wrote. “Moreover, his conclusion that the evidence must be ‘unequivocal’ in order for the committee to continue its investigation is found nowhere in the committee rules or precedent. It seems the strategy of Rep. Cook’s defenders to pummel the Committee members with emails proclaiming his innocence has worked. The Chair is simply dropping the matter, demonstrating that he is completely incapable of policing the potential misconduct of members.”

Allen responded that he acted within his purview.

“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,” he said.

It’s important to note that even if Allen had chosen to recommend concrete action against Cook, there would likely have been no venue for the House to act upon that recommendation. Legislative leaders and the governor have shown little interest in calling a special session, where lawmakers could theoretically vote to expel Cook. Even if they do call a special session – or if they decided to raise the question in the next regular session – time is ticking until the August primary that will likely determine whether Cook returns to the Legislature. If the voters decide to send him back to the Capitol, overriding that popular mandate would be a difficult pill for the Legislature to swallow.

AnnaMarie Knorr
AnnaMarie Knorr

Although it ultimately let Cook off the hook, Allen’s nine-page letter doesn’t pull any punches. He points out that Cook and Knorr’s explanation of the letters – in which Cook refers to the lobbyist as his “love” and his “honey,” and in which he references the sin of coveting another man’s wife – “strain credulity” and are “implausible.” However, he wrote, without admission, it is nigh impossible to prove that an affair transpired.

“And even if such proof were available, this Committee’s role is not to monitor Representatives’ personal affairs, no matter how tawdry,” he wrote. Moreover, there’s no evidence that Cook’s relationship resulted in favorable treatment for bills that Knorr and her client – the Western Growers Association – supported. As for the allegation that Cook facilitated a bribe to Lamb in exchange for the halt of the planned seizure of Knorr’s farm in 2018, there is “no conclusive evidence of such bribery,” though there is “ample evidence that Representative Cook had intervened in the planned seizure, which was subsequently halted,” Allen’s concluding letter reads.

He called Cook’s involvement “irregular and inappropriate,” deriding his testimony as lacking credibility. However, Allen wrote, investigators could not conclude that Cook exerted pressure on county officials to save Knorr Farms.

For what it’s worth, Cook is likely not out of the woods yet – after all, Allen only concluded that he would not be taking any further action “at this time.”

The originator of the Lamb complaint, a former campaign staffer for the sheriff named Kevin Cavanaugh, wrote in his initial letter to the committee that he believed there may be an ongoing criminal investigation into Cook and Lamb’s relationship. Allen said the committee could very well consider further evidence if this were to be proven true.

And through this process, Cook managed to alienate key political allies. Bas Aja, Knorr’s father and a powerful lobbyist for the cattle industry in his own right, was a key witness against the lawmaker, as was Patrick Bray, another cattle lobbyist who last week accused Cook of threatening him for cooperating with the investigation.

“The House Ethics Committee needs to take action and quit sitting on their hands and letting such things continue,” he said at the time. “Allowing behaviors like this to be a part of this institution will only further erode it.”

Dem House freshmen break tradition, turn up the ‘volume’

(Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
(Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Democratic Rep. Isela Blanc said before being sworn in to represent Tempe’s Legislative District 26, she got some questionable advice: “Sit back. Watch. Avoid talking.”

“I heard it more than once, and I’ve heard it more than once since,” Blanc said.

She didn’t take the advice very seriously though. She was elected to represent the needs of her constituents, she said, and the only power she has is her voice.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said during orientation, she was told to “trust the process” at the House.

“‘It’s very good. It works,’” she said staffers and other lawmakers told her.

But as a member of the minority party, Epstein said, the process doesn’t work if you don’t speak up.

Blanc and Epstein are two of the eight freshmen women Democrats in the House of Representatives.

The Arizona Legislature welcomed one of its largest freshman classes in 2017. More than one-third of the members of the House – 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans – were newly elected lawmakers, never having served as elected officials in any capacity.

But the lack of governmental or lawmaking experience hasn’t stopped the women from using this opportunity to speak out for causes that are important to them and for pushing for changes at the Legislature.

The group is outspoken, often questioning the status quo and challenging their Republican colleagues, many of whom have accused them of grandstanding on the House floor, activism and theatrics.

They are also very active on social media, engaging with constituents on Twitter and Facebook, posting photos and live streams of colleagues as they speak on the floor, and encouraging voters to reach out to lawmakers to demand changes.

It’s in sharp contrast to the attitude of freshmen in previous legislative sessions that have typically spent their first year or two listening and learning, said Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

“This is a really intelligent, assertive group of freshmen,” Rios said.

A different tactic

It’s also a different tactic than those used by more seasoned Democrats in the House and Senate, or Democrats in swing districts, who often vote alike with Republicans and for the most part keep quiet during debates on the floor and in committee.

And it’s a different approach than those used by freshmen Republicans who have an easier time bringing their issues to the forefront given that it’s a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Freshman Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, for example, said he’s more of a “sit back and watch approach kind of guy.” If he needs to push one of his measures through committee, he’ll reach out to the committee members first. If the bill gets to the floor, he’ll whip votes.

He said it’s rare for him to stand up to explain his vote on the floor, and usually he’ll only speak if he gets riled up.

“We are in the position as the majority party that we really don’t have to twist arms to the level they (Democrats) seem to have to,” he said.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, another freshman, said it’s easier for him and his GOP colleagues to debate issues that are important to them on the floor without having to go to the same lengths as Democrats.

“We can get our bills through committee, we can get our bills out on the floor, and we have a chance of voting them off the floor. That’s just the way it works,” he said.

However, despite being criticized by their Republican colleagues for what some see as antics on the floor, and efforts to prevent them from speaking up, the women said they won’t be stopped.

“Being quelled is just the best reason to speak up more,” Epstein said. “And I always think in terms of I’m here to represent other people. So somebody else tells me hush. What? You’re telling the 250,000 people I represent to hush? No.”

Fire to speak

Democratic lawmakers have long accepted that as the minority party, their bills typically won’t get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Legislature. After years of being bashed over the head with that notion, many have learned to “play the game,” and fall in line with the long-held traditions of the chamber.

But the freshmen Democrats have challenged the status quo these past two sessions. They stand by their convictions and values and won’t let other members roll them over.

“As a Democrat, we are not included in any policy discussion,” Blanc said. “As a Democrat, our voice is shut down, our bills are not heard, and that’s not OK. In previous years, maybe we’d say ‘This is how the game is played.’ Well guess what … the only thing I have is the power of my voice. The tool in my toolbox that I have to display on the floor is to speak authentically, to ask questions, to use my voice, and to exercise my freedom of speech.”

For many of the women, that fire to speak out comes from their previous line of work as lawyers, activists, and nonprofit workers.

Others have felt the need to challenge the status quo since they were teenagers.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said she became politically active in college, eventually lobbying for higher education funding, working on local and national public policy issues, and local election campaigns before running for office.

After President Trump was elected in 2016, Salman said she felt a same sense of urgency and a greater responsibility to act considering that she had also just been elected to the state House of Representatives. Her goal, she said, is to give a voice to those who typically haven’t had one.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She said she has always been naturally inquisitive, and takes nothing at face value.

“It has come in handy with this job,” she said.

Powers Hannley said before she was elected, she would attend community events in Tucson where her representatives would often say that because they were in the minority there was nothing they could do. She refused to believe that.

“The people back in Tucson, they expect me to speak up. That’s why I persist,” she said.

Epstein said when she was 16 years old she worked in a dress shop selling shoes. The store had a strict dress code policy – employees had to wear solid colors, no patterns. However, one day she decided to wear a brown dress with little flowers on it, which she thought was close enough.

One of the managers, she said, thought otherwise, and he reprimanded her for wearing the dress.

“And I’ll never forget him telling me with his nose raised in the air ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ And at the time I thought? “Why? Why not rock the boat? Maybe the boat needs to be rocked,’” she said.

She’s approached her job at the Legislature in a similar manner, she said. But it’s not just about rocking the boat, it’s about looking at how what they’re doing really impacts constituents’ lives.

And she said all of her colleagues should be doing the same thing.

“This should be normal. What we’re doing should be normal. Why isn’t everybody speaking up like that? That’s what surprises me,” she said. “We have to have the courage of our convictions to speak up.”

More to come

The women’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

On several occasions, Republicans have accused Democrats of political theater, grandstanding, and protesting rather than debating issues on the floor.

And Republicans have actively worked to shut down their efforts by refusing to answer questions during debates on the floor, or limiting the debate to one question. On several occasions, Republicans have called for a point of order to prevent Democrats from continuing with their line of questioning, arguing that their questions are irrelevant to the debate.

During a Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on March 12, Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria, shut down a lengthy debate on an insurance bill by calling for the question, meaning members would have to stop discussing the bill and instead vote on the measure, after Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, questioned the intent of the bill and grilled the expert witnesses.

The following day, during points of personal privilege, Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, criticized Democrats for what he perceived to be political theater on the floor.

In response, Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock, said if Democrats were included in discussions they wouldn’t have to speak out on the floor. However, as she tried to make her point, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, tried to end the discussion by calling a point of order.

On March 29, while debating a bill during Committee of the Whole, Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale, accused Blanc of impugning members and asked the chairman to force her to sit down. That move led other members to try to actively prevent the discussion on the bill from continuing.

But the women said they won’t be deterred.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said if Democrats were allowed to be a part of the process they wouldn’t have to go to these lengths.

“You don’t want to be seen as problematic and you don’t want to slow things down,” she said. “But on the other hand, you also want to make sure that people know what we’re thinking when we’re passing bills.”

Salman said she was elected to the Legislature just like every other member and it’s her duty to represent the needs of her constituents.

“We were elected to ask questions and to really do our due diligence and dig deeper into the policies that we’re trying to pass,” she said. “If they are concerned about the volume at which we’re speaking, then why do they shorten the process so much?”

For others, like Benally, their motivation is paving the way for future women lawmakers.

“Not only are we going to keep doing what we’re doing, there’s going to be more of us,” she said. “This class of freshmen women, if they think we’re difficult, wait for the women who will come after us because there will be more women coming into this chamber.”

Democratic lawmaker Kirsten Engel announces run for Congress

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Engel of Tucson announced Friday she’s running for Congress, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race to replace retiring Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.

Engel is an environmental law professor at University of Arizona. She was elected last year to her first term in the Arizona Senate following two terms in the House.

“I want to bring my experience as an attorney, legislator, woman, and mom to Washington to help southern AZ families and small businesses — to not only recover from the global pandemic, but to take that next step to building a sustainable economy with opportunities for all,” Engel wrote on Twitter.

Engel is likely to face a crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Her potential rivals include state Rep. Randy Friese, who wrote on Twitter this week that he and his wife are “carefully and thoughtfully” planning for their future, and Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz.
The 2nd Congressional District currently includes parts of Tucson and Southeastern Arizona, and is one of the most hotly contested in the state with races often decided by razor-thin margins. However, the boundaries will change due to redistricting ahead of the 2022 election.

Democrats kill bill to fund school supplies

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Democrats killed a bill March 11 that would have put money in the pockets of teachers.

Democrats and the Arizona Education Association said the proposal, which would have given each teacher in the state $200 to spend on school supplies, was not enough money and not a permanent solution to the state’s funding crisis.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said he thinks teachers are tired of fighting for crumbs.

Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas

“We didn’t walk out of our classrooms last year, which was incredibly hard for educators to do, we didn’t take that principled stand so someone would create a $200 grant reimbursement scheme. We took that stand so people in the state would understand that educators would take that greater risk to have fully-funded schools,” he said.

Under the bill, the Arizona Department of Education would have conducted a one‑year teacher school supplies pilot program.

A teacher who is employed by a school district or charter school and who provides classroom instruction for at least three hours during a regular school day would have received $200 to be used to purchase school supplies for use in the teacher’s classroom at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year.

The bill would have appropriated $12 million from the state General Fund in fiscal-year 2020 to the department.

The bill first failed on a 27-30 vote March 4 and was brought back for another vote on March 11, when it failed 29-31.

Twenty-five Democrats voted ‘no’ during the bill’s second House vote while four voted ‘yes.’ Twenty-five Republicans voted ‘yes’ while six voted ‘no.’

“My understanding for the second time around is that we had the votes to get it passed,” Rep Ben Toma, R-Peoria, the bill’s sponsor, said. “What I didn’t expect was that the Democratic leadership and specifically the Democratic staff would actually actively pressure their members on the floor while the vote board was open to try to get them to switch their votes so they could kill it.”

Toma said his bill was an opportunity to get 100 percent of the money into teachers’ hands.

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

“It’s just confusing to me that the Democratic caucus who say they’re for teacher pay would deliberately withhold $200 from every teacher,” Toma said.   

Rep Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, introduced similar legislation last year that got bipartisan support and passed out of the House Education Committee, but it died without making it to the floor for a vote.

Rep Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, voted against Toma’s bill. She said she thinks the legislature owes teachers more than $200 dollars and there’s very little legislation to increase funding for public education.

“We’ve definitely underfunded them for the past 20 years as we continue to cut taxes. We continue to fund things like charter schools with no reform where they’re spending taxpayer dollars with very little transparency and accountability, so you know we do have a revenue problem,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said those topics will have to be addressed.

“But we need to increase the revenue in schools,” Fernandez said. “Looking at tax credits that we continue to give out so we can adequately fund public schools.”

Fernandez said she doesn’t think these topics will be addressed this session or next session.

Fernandez said she is thankful that the governor gave a raise to teachers but added that Arizona is still 46th in the country for education performance.

“That’s not good enough,” Fernandez said. “You can’t just keep giving [teachers] a little piece of the bread. You need to give them the whole loaf.”

Rep Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, switched her vote the second time after originally voting for the bill.

“It was a really difficult decision, because I want to make sure that we get money to teachers, and I know that this is a big problem,” Butler said.

Butler said the money should be kept in the General Fund to use it more broadly to help all of the K-12 needs.

“The educators who I talked to thought that this was just a Band-Aid for a very big problem of teachers having to spend money out of their own pockets. There was the feeling that this would make it seem like that was okay if we passed this bill,” Butler said.

Butler said she thinks what needs to happen is fully funding K-12 education.

Thomas said he would prefer per-pupil funding.

“It’s about new revenue streams, dedicated permanent funding coming into our schools, going into our classrooms and supporting our educators and our students,” Thomas said.

 

Election challenges mount

Kris Mayes is asking a judge to toss a bid by her Republican foe to void the results of the election which shows her winning the race for attorney general.

In new legal papers, Dan Barr, Mayes’ attorney, said the lawsuit filed last week by Abe Hamadeh and the Republican National Committee is filled with various allegations ranging from poll worker misconduct to errors in duplicating ballots when the original could not be read by scanners.

“But their claims are based on no more than speculation and conjecture,” Barr told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Frank Moskowitz. “Plaintiffs offer little factual support for their claims.

Instead, he said, Hamadeh and the RNC are using the court “to engage in a fishing expedition to try to undermine Arizona’s election.”

And there’s something else.

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

Barr said even if everything Hamadeh alleged were true – a point he is not conceding – none of it matters. He said the GOP contender can’t prove any of this would have altered the outcome of the election or the final tally which showed Mayes winning by 510 votes.

Take, for example, the claim that votes were counted wrong when ballots were duplicated. Barr said the lawsuit does not identify a single voter who selected Hamadeh but had the vote wrongly counted for Mayes.

“It’s just as possible that correcting any ballot duplication efforts would lead only to more votes for Ms. Mayes,” he said.

Then there’s a claim that some early ballots were counted even when the signature on the envelope did not match what was on file in the person’s voter registration record. But here, too, Barr said, the claim “would still fail as a matter of law because he alleges no facts establishing that any illegal votes were sufficient to change the outcome of the election.”

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

And Barr told Moskowitz that some of what Hamadeh wants is beyond his ability to grant, such as allowing people who checked in at a voting center on Nov. 8 but did not get to cast a ballot to now have another chance to vote.

A hearing is set for Monday.

The lawsuit over the race for attorney general is the latest legal scrap in what continues to be a series of issues and questions about both how the general election was conducted and whether the results are accurate.

Unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial contender Kari Lake has filed her own lawsuit against Maricopa County.

But Lake, unlike Hamadeh, is not asking that a judge overturn the results showing Democrat Katie Hobbs winning the race by more than 17,000 votes statewide – at least not yet. Instead, she contends the county has failed to “promptly” respond to a Nov. 15 request for a series of documents related to what happened on Election Day.

“Given instances of misprinted ballots, the commingling of counted and uncounted ballots, and long lines discouraging people from voting … these records are necessary for plaintiff to determine the full extent of the problems identified and their impacts on electors,” wrote Tim La Sota, her attorney. He also alleged several violations of election laws, like mixing counted and uncounted ballots in the same container and failing to reconcile the number of ballots cast with the number of people who signed in at voting centers.

And Lake is doing more than hinting an election challenge based on what she learns.

Kari Lake, Arizona Republican candidate for governor, speaks to supporters at the Republican watch party in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“The law allows the public and plaintiff only a short period of time in the context of an election to seek relief from the court for violations of their rights,” La Sota said, saying the failure of the county to respond to her request for records “is preventing the courts from performing their duty.”

Lake, who trailed Hobbs in Maricopa County by more than 37,000 votes, wants an order for the county to give her the records sought prior to the returns being formally “canvassed.”

Only thing is, the county is set to do that at 9:30 a.m. Monday. And county offices have been closed since Wednesday afternoon.

The merits of Lake’s claim about public records aside, she is not likely to be the first in line to get her request answered.

More than a week ago, Attorney General Mark Brnovich submitted his own list of questions he wants the county to answer about what happened on Election Day. And these go beyond the highly publicized problems that some voters could not get their ballots immediately tallied at polling places because of the printer problems.

Jennifer Wright, the director of Brnovich’s Elections Integrity Unit, acknowledged that voters whose ballots were rejected by the counter had the option of simply dropping them into “door 3” to be tallied after the polls closed. But she said there is evidence that these were not handled properly.

Wright also wants answers to why some people who chose to go to a second location to vote were given “provisional ballots.” These were not counted because the records showed — inaccurately — that they had voted at the first site.

Overall, she said, statements by the county “appear to confirm potential statutory violations of Title 16,” the state Elections Code.

Wright wants answers by the 9:30 a.m. Monday canvass because “these issues relate to Maricopa County’s ability to lawfully certify election results.” But Wright gave no indication that anything her office ultimately finds or any conclusions reached will alter the outcome of the races.

A county spokesman said responding to the Attorney General’s Office will be a priority.

But that’s not the only thing that is pushing back any response from the county to Lake’s public records bid.

Townsend, ballot watchers, Clean Elections USA, Finchem, judge
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, has issued a subpoena with her own list of questions she wants answered – and also ahead of Monday’s county canvass. And many of these relate to the central question of why tabulators were not reading all the ballots printed out at vote centers.

The supervisors have scheduled an executive session with their attorneys ahead of canvassing the returns. But there appear to be the necessary votes on the board, which has a 4-1 Republican makeup, to declare the results accurate.

Any action Monday will come over the objection of the Maricopa County Republican Committee.

On Friday the organization asked the Republican-controlled board to delay certification until the county has “fully responded” both to Wright’s demand and its own public records request “providing critical information that Maricopa County voters were NOT disenfranchised by these failures to such a degree that it has had a material impact on the results of this election.”

Less clear is what will happen in Cochise County which faces the same Monday deadline.

The two Republican supervisors, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby, voted more than a week ago to delay their formal certification. They claimed the counting equipment had not be properly certified.

From left are Kirsten Engel and Juan Ciscomani

Since that time, state Elections Director Kori Lorick has written all three board members calling those claims “false.”

“These claims are derived from baseless conspiracies about Arizona’s equipment certification process,” she wrote. “Cochise County’s election equipment was properly certified and remains in compliance with state and federal requirements.”

And Lorick said if board fails to act, Lorick warned, the Secretary of State’s Office will sue. And she said that if there is no certification by that Dec. 5 state deadline, the canvass will proceed – without the county votes.

“Your refusal to certify will only serve to disenfranchise Cochise County voters,” Lorick said.

That, in turn, would mean the official statewide tally would not include the Cochise County votes, potentially changing the results of multiple elections.

One could be the race for Congress where final results showed Republican Juan Ciscomani outpolling Democrat Kirsten Engel by about 5,200 votes.

In Cochise County, Ciscomani had nearly 14,000 more votes than Engle. Leaving them out of the statewide total would make her the winner.

Separately, supervisors in Mohave County have so far refused to certify election results there, not because of any claim that the results there were inaccurate but more as a protest against the voting issues that arose in Maricopa County. But the canvass is on the Monday agenda.

Ethics panel dismisses complaint against Rogers

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A Senate panel voted along party lines Tuesday to dismiss an ethics complaint against a freshman Republican senator accused of mistreating her former assistant. 

Michael Polloni, who worked for Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, during her run for office and was hired as her legislative assistant in mid-December, said he was forced to resign on Jan. 14, three days into the legislative session, following an altercation in Rogers’ office. 

An investigative report released Monday corroborated some of Polloni’s complaints, including that Rogers yelled and swore at Polloni on Jan. 14, and that she sent him text messages about work while he was out sick with Covid. Other allegations, including that she berated him about his weight, sister’s sexuality and aunt’s political beliefs, stemmed from one-on-one conversations and Rogers and Polloni disagree on what happened. 

The three Republicans on the committee said nothing they saw met the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” required to move ahead with a hearing or disciplinary recommendations.   

“A hearing wouldn’t provide further investigation,” said Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa. “It would provide further cross-examination.”

Pace said Polloni is free to present his argument in a court, which has lower standards of evidence and could result in him receiving actual compensation. The ethics committee could only recommend disciplinary action up to and including expulsion, and Pace said nothing beyond a formal reprimand was ever on the table.

Polloni’s attorney, former lawmaker Adam Kwasman, said he will move ahead with legal action against the Senate and potentially Rogers as an individual. Polloni did not actually file a federal workplace discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, making it easier for his attorneys to file a notice of claim against the Senate without waiting for federal approval.

“What they just did was a political outcome,” Kwasman said. “We’ll be pursuing a legal outcome.” 

Democratic Sens. Victoria Steele and Kirsten Engel first sought to move ahead with a hearing and then to dismiss the complaint on the condition that Rogers take a four-hour course through the Arizona Department of Administration that is required for state employees in supervisory roles. 

Senate rules define unethical behavior in part as “improper conduct that adversely reflects upon the Senate.” Steele and Engel said some of Rogers’ alleged behavior, as supported by evidence, clearly meets that standard. 

“There are assistants, pages, other people in this building who are looking at what we do here,” Steele said. “We have evidence to support Mr. Polloni’s accusation that the senator yelled, that she saw him crying, that she swore at him. I don’t want assistants in this building thinking that it’s OK for them to be treated this way.”

Rogers, Polloni and another witness agreed that Rogers raised her voice at Polloni and swore at him on Jan. 14, when she pulled him into her office to discuss office decor. In her interview with the Senate’s investigator, Rogers said she told Polloni “I will talk down to you. You work for me.”

Text messages provided to the Senate’s attorney also illustrate that Rogers texted Polloni about work during eight of the 10 days he was out on sick leave with Covid, despite him sharing that his bosses told him not to work while on leave. 

“Rather than leave Mr. Polloni alone to get well, even after hearing that he was told not to work, Senator Rogers continued to ask him to do work,” Engel said. “At one point she berated him on a Sunday for not responding to her on a Saturday.” 

Engel said the least the committee could do was recommend Rogers take a course on how to supervise employees, but the three Republicans on the committee rejected that idea.

“It appears at least one senator on the committee appears again to want to mete out some kind of punishment,” said Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke. “That is not in the purview of the committee as far as I am aware.”

Fate of most 2020 bills met at Legislature’s deadline

Bills

Silent death has come for about two-thirds of the 1,707 bills and resolutions introduced this year in the Legislature.

A February 21 deadline for bills to be heard in their chambers of origin killed most of them, but other bills died primarily because of public outcry

Ideas contained in some of those dead bills could still be revived via amendments later in the legislative process, but their chances of success remain slim.

On February 20, mirror resolutions relating to a constitutional ban of sanctuary cities in the state both saw their demise after protests and controversy drew plenty of local and national attention. The measures were dubbed Gov. Doug Ducey’s “1070,” a reference to the divisive 2010 immigration bill SB1070, which sought to give the state more power to deal with the issue of illegal immigration.

Other notable legislation, including most of the measures in the House to revamp sentencing laws and any attempt to usurp the impending effort to legalize recreational marijuana, also hit a wall.

And Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, put a quick end to any sex education measures in that chamber – controversial or otherwise – after the first day of session.

Sex Ed

Sex education appeared poised to be one of the biggest fights of the session, after conservatives, including Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, took the position that sex ed is the school-sponsored sexualization of young children.

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

Before the session started, Allen drafted a bill that would ban schools from teaching sex education before seventh grade. The Snowflake Republican’s measure also appeared to ban any discussion of homosexuality during sex ed courses, bringing national attention to the state.

While Allen dismissed that reading of her bill and pledged to amend it, Senate President Karen Fann killed it quickly. Four of the seven bills Fann declined to assign to committees relate to sex education and depictions of homosexuality in instructional materials.

“I am looking at and reading carefully bills that could be highly controversial and whether they have a chance of passing or not,” Fann said.

House Republicans, including Rep. Leo Biasiucci of Lake Havasu and John Fillmore of Apache Junction, introduced their own bills to ban the teaching of sex ed for young students. Those measures also died without hearings, and the only bill related to sex ed that has continued its journey is an omnibus measure proposed by a governor’s task force that would require instruction on recognizing signs of child abuse.

Criminal Justice Change

Rep. Walter Blackman’s bill to establish and expand earned release credits for people incarcerated for non-violent crimes cleared an important hurdle in the House Judiciary Committee on February 20. and looks likely to pass the full House. But this came in spite of – or perhaps at the expense of – a flurry of other proposed changes to the criminal justice system from both caucuses.

The Snowflake Republican, who is at the spearhead of a movement to remake the criminal system, also proposed legislation to establish an oversight committee and ombudsman position to regulate and audit the oft-troubled Arizona Department of Corrections. That bill never got a hearing. Same with his bill to establish pre-arrest diversion and deflection programs that would allow officers to direct people they contact to social services, though a watered down version from Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, made it through the Judiciary Committee he chairs.

Additionally, his bill that would compel the department to offer free feminine hygiene products and provide extra services to pregnant women didn’t even get a committee assignment. Similar bills from Democrats like Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Kristen Engel, D-Tucson, were victims of the partisan process, never even making it across the starting line.

Allen is responsible for some of this. In a February Judiciary Committee hearing, he killed a series of bills that would bolster data collection and make other reforms to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, an apparent act of revenge against members of the committee he chairs who voted down one of his criminal justice bills.

Elections

A pair of House Republicans introduced election bills that stirred outcry at the Capitol this year — one that would bar college students from listing dormitories as an address on their voter registration and another that would allow law enforcement officers to be posted at all polling places throughout the state during primary and general elections.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

While these may not be considered the most controversial election bills, limiting how college students can vote is not a new idea, especially from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff.

Thorpe introduced his measure on two separate occasions. Once when it was assigned to the House Elections Committee, but never received a hearing, and another he wrote as a strike-everything amendment to a different bill of his assigned to the House Technology Committee, which he chairs. He ultimately did not give it a hearing, effectively killing it.

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, on the other hand, wanted police officers at every polling station in the state because of potential violence he thought could erupt due to the growing political divide in the country. But without a plan to fund this option, among other potential issues, the bill was never assigned to a committee.

Marijuana

Despite the likely-to-pass recreational marijuana initiative coming to the ballot this November, Democratic lawmakers still made attempts of their own to legalize the product without seeking voter approval.

Two attempts were virtually marked dead on arrival when Bowers and Fann confirmed that they wouldn’t hear any legislation to legalize recreational pot.

Isela Blanc
Isela Blanc

Democratic Reps. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, and Randy Friese, D-Tucson, came out with dueling proposals. Blanc’s was fueled by her criticism of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, a proposed ballot measure which she has said would create an oligopoly of powerful cannabis business interests at the expense of minority communities ravaged by the war on drugs. The act’s backers took note and made changes, but not enough to stave off her attempt, which never received a committee hearing.

Across the aisle, Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, lost his battle to pass legislation aiming to keep potentially dangerous pesticides of marijuana plants by requiring grow-ops to exclusively use pesticides exempt from federal regulations. But that bill went up in smoke. It needed three-fourths vote to amend the voter-approved law, but was killed when 10 Democrats voted in opposition.

Gender Identity

The Legislature made clear it had no appetite for bills that dealt with gender identity this session. Reps. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, and John Filllmore, R-Apache Junction, introduced opposing bills.

Gabaldon’s HB2075 would have added “nonbinary” as a third option for gender on state-issued driver’s licenses, something more than a dozen states already allow. It would also make that identity available for people who don’t drive.

Rosanna Gabaldon
Rosanna Gabaldon

“These individuals don’t recognize themselves as male or female,” Gabaldon said to Capitol Media Services in January. “I don’t see it as controversial.”

Fillmore’s HB2080 would prohibit any state agency, board, commission or department from issuing any document that lists any sex other that “male” or “female.” It would also require birth certificates to only use those options as well and stop schools from requiring teachers to use a sex or gender pronoun when discussing class material “other than the sex or gender pronoun that corresponds to the sex listed on the student’s birth certificate.”

Neither bill got a hearing.

Title Lending

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, arrived at the Capitol before dawn on the first day to pre-file bills, with a stack of measures to regulate the title lending industry in hand. But Farnsworth’s first bills of the session — just like the resolution Sen. Victoria Steele introduced early that same morning to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — died unheard.

One of Farnsworth’s bills aimed to prohibit title lenders, who offer short-term loans at high interest rates with a car as collateral, from making these loans to people who don’t actually own their car outright.

David Farnsworth
David Farnsworth

Two others were slightly differently worded attempts to cap annual interest rates for title loans at 36%. A 2020 ballot initiative dubbed the Arizona Fair Lending Act would have included both clauses, but supporters conceded that they could not gather the 237,645 valid signatures of registered voters required to make the ballot.

Farnsworth’s legislative measures, meanwhile, never received a hearing in Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s Senate Finance Committee. The Chandler Republican said he prefers that customers have the “freedom” to negotiate their own contracts without government interference.

Farnsworth lamented: “It looks like my whole summer was wasted! I guess I should’ve gone on vacation like everyone else.”

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that there have been 1842 bills and resolutions introduced in the 2020 legislative session. The actual number is 1,707

Fireworks allowed more days in Arizona under proposed law

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State lawmakers agreed Thursday that members of the Indian community should have the right to use sparklers and similar fireworks for the festival of Diwali the same as other Arizonans can for other holidays.

On a voice vote, the House gave preliminary approval to legislation which spells out that “consumer fireworks” can be sold around the time of the fall festival. Current law restricts their sale and use to the time around Independence Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

But it’s not just Diwali that is being recognized as a good time to light stuff up: For good measure, SB 1348 also would add the period around Cinco de Mayo as another time when Arizonans can buy and light fireworks. Diwali is a five-day festival of lights celebrated in India.

A final roll-call vote in the House will send the measure, which already has cleared the Senate, to the governor.

Thursday’s vote came with opposition of several Democrats who complained that these products give off toxic chemicals.

“Barium produces bright brilliant green colors even though it’s poisonous and, are you ready, radioactive,” complained Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe. And she cited other compounds that also are used in these products to produce different effects even though they can cause respiratory and other health problems.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said there’s a separate problem with particulates produced by consumer fireworks. She said Maricopa County is close to being declared a non-attainment area for certain kinds of fine dust, a situation that could result in sanctions by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, said it would be wrong to use those concerns as an excuse to kill this proposal.

“If we’re concerned about air quality, we could pave all the dirt roads in Maricopa County,” he said. And Weninger said if people are really worried about the health effects of fireworks on Diwali they could run legislation to repeal the ability of Arizonans to light up the devices “on our traditional holiday.”

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, told foes that their concerns about air pollution are overblown.

He pointed out that Arizona has restrictions on the types of fireworks that can be sold to consumers. That means no Roman candles or anything that can be shot in the air. In fact, actual firecrackers or things that blow up also are banned.

What that pretty much leaves are things like sparklers, ground spinners, smoke devices and cone fountains. And Shah said those in the small Indian community – about 1 percent of all Arizonans – should have the same ability as others to celebrate major holidays with fireworks as other state residents.

“Devali is a point of pride and probably is the biggest holiday for the Indian community,” he told colleagues.

“If you have the chance to go to Indian sometime you’ll know that during the celebration of Devali fireworks are very prominent,” Shah said. “It is like the tree to Christmas.”

The measure does add one new type of device to what would be legal to sell in Arizona during permitted periods: adult poppers. These were described as a beefed-up version of the toys used by children which explode when thrown onto a hard surface.

 

Friese plans to resign LD9 House seat

Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, speaks as lawmakers debate among three proposed laws that are designed to deal with distracted driving caused by cellphone use on the floor of the House of Representatives at the Arizona Capitol, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Friese confirmed Oct. 6, 2021, he plans to step down to refocus on medicine and family. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After seven years in the House, Randy Friese is stepping down. 

“I would say, (I’m) reprioritizing,” Friese, D-Tucson, said in a brief interview. “I’ve served seven years, a lot of my time in the Legislature, and I feel like I want to redirect my attention back to medicine and my family.” 

Friese said he is still working out when, but it will be before the next legislative session starts. His resignation will kick start the process to find a replacement. Legislative District 9’s Democratic precinct committeemen, if there are more than 30 of them, will recommend three potential replacements to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, who will pick Friese’s successor. If there aren’t enough precinct committeemen, supervisors will appoint a citizen committee to vet the applicants and recommend three. 

Friese said he has heard from a few people who are interested in his LD9 House seat. The Tucson Sentinel reported earlier this week that Matt Kopec, a former House member and current Ampitheater Public Schools board member, is one of the contenders. 

“I’m hopeful that the person who steps in here is energetic and passionate and tolerant,” Friese said.  

Friese, who was first elected in 2014 and would have been term-limited after 2022, ran earlier this year for the open congressional seat in whatever district will succeed Congressional District 2, but ended his bid a month ago, saying he was too busy with his work as a doctor due to the surge in the Covid delta variant. One of his claims to fame is that he is the surgeon who treated former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head in 2011. 

This year has seen a high amount of turnover – not including Friese, who hasn’t resigned yet, five House members and two senators have left their seats since the beginning of the 2021 session. Four House seats and one Senate seat are currently vacant. And there are numerous other lawmakers who have not announced any intent to resign but who are running for higher office. 

One of these vacancies is the Legislative District 10 Senate seat in Tucson – Kirsten Engel resigned from the seat earlier this year to focus on her CD2 run. The district’s Democratic precinct committeemen have recommended Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, former lawmaker Tom Chabin and local party official Larry Waggoner as potential replacements, with Stahl Hamilton receiving the most votes. Supervisors plan to vote on Oct. 19 on Engel’s replacement, and at least two supervisors indicated at a meeting earlier this week that they plan to vote for Stahl Hamilton. If she is appointed, LD10 Democrats will have to go through the process again to fill her House seat. 

Hearing on fetal resuscitation bill used to demonstrate ‘our different world views’

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A bill to repeal a 2017 law that put requirements on what doctors have to do if a baby is born alive during an abortion failed to pass out of the House Judiciary Committee today, an outcome predicted by the bill’s sponsor long before two hours of debate that she sought to avoid.

Rep. Raquel Terán’s House Bill 2696 failed with no members supporting it. Tucson Democrats Reps. Domingo DeGrazia and Kirsten Engel voted present in protest of the hearing.

Terán, D-Phoenix, sought to have the bill held from the committee hearing – which she was promised would be a “circus,” she said – after learning that the original language went far beyond her intent.

Committee Chairman Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, did not relent.

“The idea that you drop a bill and never want it to be heard is not lawmaking. It’s politics,” he said, adding he understood Terán made a mistake with the original language, but he objected to her bill in any case. “I’ve used it to demonstrate our different world views.”

Raquel Terán PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Raquel Terán
PHOTO BY KATIE CAMPBELL/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Terán had sought specifically to repeal a law that requires a physician performing an abortion to use any means necessary to keep alive a fetus that is delivered alive. She said the bill was personal, inspired by a miscarriage suffered by her sister at 24 weeks pregnant. The baby had no chance of survival when it was born, and died in her sister’s arms. But had the 2017 law been in place at the time, Terán said doctors would have had to take the baby from her sister to perform “hopeless medical procedures,” a notion Republicans disputed.

By introducing House Bill 2696, she said she intended to keep that decision between a mother and her doctor.

As she explained to the committee and to her Democratic colleagues in a letter ahead of the hearing, HB 2696 as originally written would have repealed an entire section of state statute from 1975 related to viable fetuses delivered during an abortion.

The 1975 law required any doctors in attendance of an abortion in which the baby is delivered alive to make sure that “all available means and medical skills are used to promote, preserve and maintain the life of such a fetus or embryo.”

The Legislature in 2017 added to the 1975 law a definition of  “delivered alive” and added a host of requirements on doctors and clinics.

“The responsibility for this mistake is mine, and I apologize to all of you for not reading it closer to ensure that my intent was clear,” Terán wrote in her letter to Democrats who co-sponsored the bill, which included all members of House minority leadership.

The committee did adopt an amendment to the bill from Engel, which she said returned the bill’s language to Terán’s original intent for the proposal.

Even with the amendment in place, Terán repeatedly reiterated that request during the hearing rather than continue with the debate and vote. She responded to several questions solely by asking that the bill be held until the committee opted to move on to another witness.

Both Terán and Engel argued it is custom to honor such requests from bill sponsors, but Allen countered that he was not required to do so.

Things may have gone differently if not for the bill’s 16 co-sponsors in addition to Terán.

“If she was the stand alone sponsor of this bill, I would have clearly let this go by,” Allen said. “This is a core value of a lot of members on the other side of the aisle who signed onto this bill.”

Republicans and supporters of the underlying law Terán’s bill targeted echoed the chairman’s sentiment, arguing the discussion was necessary to combat what one man described as the “slippery slope of infanticide.”

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said it was incumbent upon them to make sure people know bills like Terán’s are being brought to “whittle away at life.” She feared Terán’s bill went down that path even with Engel’s amendment.

Terán’s fellow freshman lawmaker Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, wanted to know why Terán had not sought the guidance of more senior members before introducing the bill. And while he understood that she made a mistake in the original language, he said he was still appalled by what he considered “a direct attack at the sanctity of life.”

The bill may not have ultimately won the support of Terán’s Democratic colleagues either, but they stood by her attempts to deny the bill a hearing to begin with.

“I don’t think we’ve really had a hearing,” Engel said, voting “present” in protest of what she viewed as Allen’s decision to make a show of Terán’s feelings.

Dozens of people packed the hearing room, and all who spoke to the committee spoke against the bill.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to provide background on the two laws referenced. 

House approves bill to allow loaded guns inside cars on school campuses

Rep. Regina Cobb (Capitol Media Services 2018 file photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Regina Cobb (Capitol Media Services 2018 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Calling it a matter of constitutional rights, the House of Representatives voted to allow parents and others to drive onto school campuses with loaded weapons in their cars.

The 31-27 party-line vote for HB2693 in the Republican-controlled chamber came amid pleas from some lawmakers, who said they feel safer for themselves and their children when dropping them off and picking them up. Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she can attest to that based on personal experience.

“I know that if others have felt that, where you felt harassment or you felt that others were going to violate their order of protection – you wanted to be able to protect yourself,” she said. “I was also that person that was dropping my kids off at school every day.”

Cobb pointed out that current law allows guns in vehicles on campus, but only if they’re not loaded.

“I would not have wanted to stop a block away, unload my gun, go on to the school grounds and then come back and reload it again,” she said. “Using guns for most of my life, I know that’s when accidents happen.”

That understanding was underlined by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who is a former police officer.

“Go to many police locker rooms and you’ll see holes in the lockers and the walls because of accidental discharges during loading and unloading,” he told colleagues.

And Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said the issue comes down to allowing parents to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

But Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said the Second Amendment is not absolute. And Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Goodyear, questioned the wisdom of people coming on to campus with loaded weapons.

“A lot of parents come to school when they are angry, irate, irrational, inebriated,” she said.

Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, D-Tucson, offered his own take on why the measure makes no sense.

“If you feel unsafe on school grounds without a weapon and you’re going to leave your children there, then perhaps there’s a bigger issue that we need to address with our broader community,” he said. And DeGrazia said if people cannot load or unload guns, or get a round in or out of the chamber, without endangering themselves or others, “then perhaps we need to look at more training for folks who do carry.”

But Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said that misses the point of the legislation.

She said the only people who are obeying the law right now and unloading their weapons before dropping off their children on school grounds are the ones who obey the law.

“And to assume the type of people who follow the current rules are the same people who would break a much larger rule, like murder or assault with a deadly weapon, is fairly ridiculous,” Udall said. “People who are affected by the current rules are not the people we need to be worried about.”

Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, lashed out at foes, saying they really are not looking at the actual issue.

“The votes against it would be against anything that had the word ‘gun,’ ‘firearm,’ ‘protection,’” he said. “In fact, children probably feel safer knowing their mom or dad is prepared to defend them against the evil-doer who comes on campus.”

Nothing in HB2693 permits guns, loaded or otherwise, into school buildings.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

House Democratic leadership calls for Lewis Prison whistleblower investigation

PHOTO COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
PHOTO COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey today calling for an investigation into allegations in a recent whistleblower report that administrators at a state prison suppressed evidence that hundreds of cell doors were broken or damaged. 

This marks the second time that lawmakers have called for corrective action at DOC in a year — a unit of the prison was already closed for repairs after similar allegations were made in media reports in the spring.

The whistleblower disclosure, which was filed on December 2, was written by an associate deputy warden at Arizona State Prison Complex – Lewis named Shaun Holland. In a letter to the governor and Department of Corrections Director David Shinn, Holland wrote that doors across the prison were failing “at an alarming rate,” and that the prison administration was hiding the disrepair by closing out repair orders without fixing any of the locks. 

Today’s letter, authored by Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, and Reps. Randall Friese D-Tucson, Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, and Athena Salman, D-Tempe, states that party leaders were optimistic that a sea change would come after the retirement of former director Charles Ryan, who helmed DOC for 10 years, but stepped down in August following growing criticism and media reports that he was aware of the extent of the dysfunction in Lewis Prison. However, the letter says that optimism was “premature.”

“It should go without saying that simply writing down that a broken door as ‘repaired’ without actually repairing it does not fix the problem and puts both Corrections Officers and inmates in danger,” the letter states. “ADW Holland has gone on the record to report an unacceptable lack of action to address known, documented hazards that put the lives of officers and inmates at risk every day. It is vital that you initiate an immediate investigation of ADW Holland’s allegations and, if verified, hold those responsible immediately accountable.”

Gov. Doug Ducey said he was aware of the letter and that fixing the locks is a “top priority,” and that the problems would be addressed with new doors and additional resources.

Ducey said he trusts the information he is getting from DOC.

“It’s deja vu all over again,” Fernandez said in an interview. “We’re talking about the people who work in our state, and any way you look at it, the inmates are under our care. We have a responsibility to make sure they’re safe as well.”

She said it’s urgent that the governor lays out a corrective course of action, and that while she trusts his judgment, Democrats will be vigilant in ensuring that changes are made quickly. That said, she said it’s important not to overreact, and that asking for the resignation of DOC officials would be premature.

In a statement provided to the Arizona Capitol Times, Rev. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said he will look into the issue.

“This is certainly an issue I will be looking into during this upcoming legislative session. I look forward to gathering accurate information on the allegations and taking any necessary steps to ensure that our prisons are secure and public safety is maintained,” Payne said.

DOC spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said in an email “the implementation of a long-term solution is currently underway.”

For criminal justice advocates, the persistence of the problems at Lewis – and further allegations of evidence suppression – mean that it’s time to take serious corrective action.

“This isn’t just about not fixing the locks,” said Donna Hamm, director of Middle Ground Prison Reform. “We knew that was going to be a project that took quite some time. What is most disturbing is that (Holland) is essentially reporting crimes – falsification of public records.”

She said that not only is an investigation necessary, it could be time for firings – either of lower administrators who hid evidence from Shinn that security problems persisted, or Shinn himself. 

In September, Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, wrote a letter to Ducey calling for the appointment of a citizens oversight board for the department and expressing that the resignation of Ryan presented a “historic opportunity” to reform the department. 

While she told the Capitol Times today that it may be too early to place the blame on Shinn, who is still early in his tenure, it is “unbelievably discouraging” that problems at Lewis have continued months after the regime change. 

“This still does not appear to be a high enough priority,” she said. 

Hamm, for what it’s worth, said that even a citizens oversight board would not be a sufficiently meaningful remedy. She is sending a letter to Ducey today to that effect, calling this a “litmus test” of his leadership and asking that an outside expert be hired to monitor operations at the prisons with near unlimited access. 

“Frankly, Middle Ground is disappointed in the seemingly lackluster beginnings made by Director Shinn, especially given the multiple crises impacting the Department,” a copy of her letter obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times states. “Whether anyone realizes it or not, there are most likely lawsuits on the horizon. This can all be avoided with decisive, focused and immediate actions.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Gov. Doug Ducey, Rep. Kevin Payne, and Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and the Department of Corrections. 

House passes bill to cut red tape on border wall construction on private land

In this April 5, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall  with Mexico in El Centro, Calif. A federal judge has denied a request by the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent President Donald Trump from tapping Defense Department money for a border wall with Mexico. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
In this April 5, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in El Centro, Calif. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Calling it a matter of property rights and security, the state House voted Thursday to let those living along the border to construct walls without first getting local permission or building permits.

The 31-29 party-line vote came a week after it fell one vote short when Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, refused to go along with the Republican majority. Rivero, who has led trade missions to Mexico and elsewhere, told Capitol Media Services at the time that he was “not sure this was the right way to go.”

Tony Rivero
Tony Rivero

On Thursday, Rivero did not explain his change of heart.

But Democrats, in opposing the measure, said HB 2084 sends precisely the wrong message as Arizona seeks to build ties with its southern neighbor.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, specifically mentioned a trip by state legislators to Guanajuato that Rivero recently organized.

“We were welcomed with open arms,” he said.

“We were treated with respect,” Rodriguez continued. “We were treated with friendship.”

This legislation, he said, does the exact opposite, sending the message “that we prefer a wall to friendship.”

But Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, had a different take.

“We respect our neighbors to the south,” she said.

“This is not about race,” Griffin said. And if there’s someone these walls are aimed at, she said, it is the drug cartels that operate along the border.

And she also said it has nothing to do with the wall being built by the federal government along stretches of the border, construction that already can take place without state or federal permission. What’s at issue, Griffin said, is what landowners living along the border build on their own property.

“This is an issue of private property and private money to move forward with safety of your property, of your and your family’s ability to keep people out,” she said.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said she has “a firm conviction” to protecting private property rights.

“I also have a firm belief that building permits help us to keep buildings safe, help us to make sure that a plan for a building is a safe building,” she said.

“It is about building anything safely and not going around the permitting process,” Epstein said. “If there’s going to be construction it needs to be safe construction.”

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said there’s a safety reason for exempting privately built border walls from local permitting. But she said it’s about the safety of local officials who, threatened by cartels that want open borders, would be loath to grant the necessary permits.

The proposal by Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, is in direct response to problems faced by We Build the Wall, a private group that accepts donations to build barriers on private land along the border in places where there is no federally constructed fence.

That group ran into problems last year while building a 1,500-foot fence on private property in Sunland Park, N.M., near El Paso, Tx., without first getting city permission. That brought construction to a halt until We Build the Wall agreed to comply with city ordinances.

HB 2084 is designed to eliminate that possibility from occurring here.

Facing questions about safety, Petersen did agree to language requiring that the property owner must provide the local government with a statement by a professional engineer that the wall “was built according to the plan and safety requirements.” That filing, however, does not need to come until two months after completion.

But Rep. Kristen Engel, D-Tucson, said this is less about security than politics.

“This is obviously an ideological bill,” she said. “It’s designed to reach out to the base, the base of the Republican Party on immigration issues.”

 

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 Republicans pass new minimum wage for young people

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Claiming voters intended higher minimum wages only for families, Republicans in the state House voted Wednesday to allow employers to pay less to some people younger than 22.

On paper, HB 2523, given preliminary approval on a party-line vote, does not amend what was approved at the 2016 election by a 2-1 margin. That initiative took the minimum wage from $8.05 an hour to $11 now, going to $12 next year.

Instead, the proposal by Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, would create a new category of “youth employment” in state labor laws. That would include anyone younger than 22 who also is a full-time student but works no more than 20 hours a week.

More to the point, the bill says that those who fit that new category are not covered by what voters approved. Instead, employers would be required to pay them only what is required by federal law, which is $7.25 an hour.

Rep. Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert)
Travis Grantham 

Grantham argued that means he’s not trying to alter the 2016 initiative – something that would require a three-fourths vote the GOP does not have – but instead doing this in the interests of youth.

“We have close to a 12 percent youth unemployment,” he said.

“Why do you not want young people to have a job?” Grantham continued. “Why are you against somebody who’s under 22 years old, who works less than 20 hours a week, who’s going to school full time, my child in high school, why are you against that person having a part-time job?”

Anyway, he contended, it was never the intent of voters to provide higher wages to part-time youth workers.

“Prop 206 was titled and advertised and got signatures based on the fact that it was for ‘healthy families,’ protecting our families, full-time individuals, working full time, earning the minimum wage, raising a family,” Grantham said.

That drew an angry reaction from Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson. And she used Grantham’s own argument that the bill was aimed at “healthy families” against him.

“Somebody under 22 could have a family,” she said. “People under 22 aren’t necessarily full-time college students who are laying around on their parents’ couch just working an odd job here and there.”

And she said there could be situations not only where someone as young as 17 is supporting a family but also teens who live with a single parent who has a part-time job to help pay the bills.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, warned of implications if the measure somehow gets enacted into law. Most significant, he said, is that the law would provide financial incentives for employers to replace the full-time employees they now have with younger part-time workers.

“I do not believe that will be the case,” Grantham responded.

Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, said went a step farther.

“Let’s call this bill what it actually is: discrimination,” he said.

That brought an accusation from Grantham who charged that Andrade was violating House rules which prohibit lawmakers from ascribing motives to each other’s actions.

“I’ve never done a discriminatory thing in my life,” he said. “That hurts.”

But Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, pointed out that the legislation would lead to the situation where two part-time workers who are 18 years old, with the same experience, doing the same job, could be paid two different wages solely because one is going to school full time.

“This bill almost rewards individuals for not going to school,” he said. “We should be wanting to promote education.”

Bolding also questioned whether employers could demand to see a student’s official schedule to determine whether they were actually carrying a full course load and would have to pay them the state-imposed minimum wage.

But Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said what’s in the legislation makes sense.

He told of learning that a third of the people who were working at a McDonalds in Globe are now out of work because of the higher wages the employer needs to pay its staff.

“And I think that’s tragic,” Finchem said. And he said that a lower wage for youths will help provide them the first opportunities to learn what work is all about and develop the right habits.

“We need to give our youth a foothold in the employment workplace,” he said. “This is one small move towards that.”

But Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said the median income in her district is $29,000. She said the youths living in her district are not working just to get experience or to be an apprentice.

“They’re working for survival,” she said.

“They’re working to provide the basic needs for themselves and their families,” Teran continued. “And the notion that these students are not part of the working families makes no sense to me.”

Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, said his support of the Grantham legislation was on a more visceral level, saying the whole conversation about a state-imposed minimum wage amounted to socialism.

“When the government can set minimum wages they can set maximum wages,” he said.

Fillmore, who owns a retail store in Mesa, also told colleagues that he does not have young people applying for jobs.

“And you know why?” he continued. “Because out there they know that they can go on a social welfare system and not have to work.”

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said the real “salt in the wound” of this legislation is that it would allow those in the new class of youth workers to be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and not the $8.05 that was the state minimum wage before the 2016 initiative.

Grantham’s argument that this does not alter or undermine what voters approved in 2016 got an argument from several Democrats.

They pointed out that the Arizona Constitution spells out that lawmakers cannot alter what voters have approved unless it “furthers the purpose” of the underlying bill. And even in that case — a point that the Democrats say is not the case — such changes require a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate, meaning 45 representatives and 23 senators.

But Republicans who hold just a 31-29 edge in the House refused to add that three-fourths requirement to HB 2523 based on Grantham’s contention that his legislation doesn’t affect the initiative.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, warned colleagues against approving the change.

“It is my opinion that the state will be sued, at considerable cost to the state,” said Engel who is an attorney.

The legislation needs a final roll-call vote before going to the Senate.

House, Senate discard mask requirement

Calling it a matter of personal freedom, Republican state senators voted Monday to allow themselves to take off their masks. 

“The last I remember, America was about the land of the free and allowing people to make decisions for themselves,” said Majority Leader Rick Gray of Sun City in voting for the change. 

But Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the new rules, approved on a party-line vote, should not be seen as a license for people to be irresponsible. In fact, the policy still says that anyone in the building is “encouraged” to wear facial protection. 

That did little to satisfy the 14 Senate Democrats, all of whom were in opposition. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, called the move premature, pointing out that fewer than one out of every five Arizonans is fully inoculated against Covid. 

An hour later, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, scrapped that chamber’s face mask policy. 

There, Democrats had no chance to object: Bowers is entitled to enact any policies he wants dealing with health regulations in that chamber. 

The moves come just days after Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded any remaining requirements for businesses to ensure that staff and customers are socially distanced or must wear masks. That did not impress several Democratic senators. 

“The medical doctors say we shouldn’t be letting our guard down to this virus,” said Sally Ann Gonzales of Tucson. 

“We are supposed to lead here,” added fellow Tucsonan Kirsten Engel. 

“We’re supposed to be models,” she continued. “And by us taking away the mask requirement which made perfect sense, without any kind of justification on public health grounds, I have to say it’s just irresponsible.” 

But Republican Nancy Barto of Phoenix called it “people doing what’s right for them.” 

Fann acknowledged that there are arguments that the move is premature. Aside from new strains of the virus appearing, there are younger Senate staffers who have not yet had the chance to get inoculated. 

“But there’s a lot of members that think it was a long time coming, too,” she told Capitol Media Services. 

Anyway, she noted, it’s not like the new policy requires everyone to remove a mask. 

In fact, lawmakers who are uncomfortable being on the floor or in committee with unmasked colleagues can continue to attend hearings online. And the building remains closed to virtually all visitors, with all testimony conducted through Zoom meetings. 

“I realize we’re not out of the woods yet,” Fann said. 

“But I’ve asked everybody to be totally respectful,” she continued. “If you are not wearing a mask, please keep your distance from those who are wearing a mask and be respectful of them.” 

And Fann is doing something else: Switching seats. 

Right now in the 30-member chamber all the Democrats sit on the east side of the floor with the Republicans on the west side, divided by an aisle. But given there are more Republicans than Democrats, that still leaves Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, deep in what could be considered Democratic territory. 

So Fann, who has an assigned seat on the GOP side of the room but who normally sits at the front of the chamber, is moving Kerr to her regular seat on the floor. That essentially leaves the Democrats to declare their side of the chamber as mask mandatory. 

And Fann said she will wear a mask if she’s on the floor amid the Democrats. 

Bowers said his decision to eliminate the mask mandate in the House is based on “the state’s robust rollout of vaccination resources and the governor’s decision to rescind many of the COVID-19 restrictions that went into place last year.” 

But an aide to Bowers said the clear acrylic barriers between the desks of representatives on the House floor will remain unless and until the lawmakers on each side of one of the dividers both agree to removal. There are no such barriers in the Senate, with more distance between desks. 

House, Senate panels pass wildfire relief amid debate on climate change

In this photo provided by Joseph Pacheco, a wildfire is seen burning in Globe, Ariz., on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Joseph Pacheco via AP)
In this photo provided by Joseph Pacheco, a wildfire is seen burning in Globe, Ariz., on Monday, June 7, 2021. (Joseph Pacheco via AP)

Legislative panels gave initial approval Wednesday to a $100 million plan for fighting fires and their effects, but not before the discussion strayed into the question of climate change and whether humans are responsible for the heat and drought conditions that result in huge blazes.

The measures approved by House and Senate committees on natural resources include $75 million to most immediately fight the dozen or so active fires and prepare for the aftermath, including flooding and repairs. The package also includes nearly $25 million for “wildfire mitigation,” most of that to create 72 crews, each of 10 inmates, who would go out and reduce hazardous vegetation, mostly in areas around communities.

David Tenney, the state forester and the agency’s director, told lawmakers the additional dollars would provide a five-fold increase in the state’s current ability to clear about 4,000 acres a year.

Tenney also briefed lawmakers on the prospects for 2021 becoming one of the worst fire seasons in state history, saying that 896 blazes so far this year have charred 289,000 acres.

Last year, at the same time, only about 62,000 acres were lost. Ultimately fires consumed 900,000 acres in 2020.

But Tenney sidestepped questions from Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, about how much of this he believes is due to climate change — particularly any caused by human activity.

“Obviously, there’s people with strong feelings on both sides of that issue,” he said.

“We recognize at our agency whether it’s man-caused or nature and not a lot we can do about it, bottom line is we’re in the middle of a really bad drought and things are drier than we’ve ever seen them,” Tenney continued. “So, conditions have changed.”

But he said it’s not just the heat. There’s also the drought.

“Then add in the population of Arizona has double or more in my lifetime, which means more people that want to get out of the heat and get into our forest, which means more people shooting at exploding targets and more people dragging chains and more people blowing tires and more people throwing out a cigarette butt or leaving a campfire unattended,” Tenney continued. Add to that the “timber wars” of decades earlier when there was no forest thinning

“So fire danger has increased for many reasons,” he said.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, told legislators they should not approve this funding without also dealing with the underlying issues of the climate. That includes reducing emissions, including those coming from gasoline-powered vehicles.

She said virtually all of Arizona is in a drought condition, with more than half of it classified as extreme drought. Last summer was the hottest on record, Bahr said, and Lake Mead is at the lowest level since it was initially filled.

“But there is complete inaction by the legislature and the governor,” she said.

That provoked a kickback from several Republican legislators.

Rep. Frank Carroll of Sun City said climate change is just something that happens over the eons. Sen. David Gowan of Sierra agreed.

“We have ups and downs and you see it through our history,” he said. And Gowan derided claims that the climate is warming, noting there were stories in news magazines in the 1970s mentioning “global cooling.”

“Since you can’t get it right, we call it ‘climate change’ now,” Gowan said.

“There’s no debate among scientists,” responded Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley.

“There might be some debate among maybe some politicians,” he continued. “But the notion that we don’t know that climate change is real, that Arizona isn’t the third warmingest state in the country, that Phoenix and Tucson aren’t in the Top Five, is really scary to hear because it completely flies in the face of science.”

And Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said it would be wrong for legislators to deal only with the the fires and the after-effects and then give up.

“I understand fires in the desert are no joke,” he said.

“And I truly believe making people whole after a fire is a laudable effort,” Mendez continued. “But if that’s all we do with this special session, then this whole endeavor will be a sad joke.”

Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he’s willing to consider where climate change fits in on the question of fires. But he said the causes and effects are not that simple, citing efforts by environmental groups to curtail cattle on public lands.

“Is there going to be an acknowledgment on the other side that things like grazing are a part of the answer to some of this stuff?” he asked. And Shope said that various environmental efforts that have curbed long-practiced policies of farmers, ranchers and others have simultaneously resulted in an “exponential rise” in fires.

One thing that could slow final approval when the measures go to the full House and Senate on Thursday has to do with the ability of ranchers to tap into the funds.

“It’s important to get cattle back on the land,” said Stephanie Smallhouse, a rancher and president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation. But she said that can’t happen if ranchers don’t have the money to restore burned fences and reconstruct water supplies.

But Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, pointed out that there is only so much money in the package, most immediately in responding to the fires and then to protect communities from future flooding.

“This bill is to address what is happening today and stop it, immediately, and get boots on the ground,” she said. It also can help advance dollars for communities that may eventually be able to get federal grants.

“I want to be sure that this doesn’t become a slush fund,” Otondo said. So the senator said she will seek a $10 million cap on how much cash can go to landowners.

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, whose family owns a dairy farm, told colleagues they should not minimize the effects of ranching on Arizona and Arizonans.

“Everything we eat comes from the land,” she said. “And the land depends on us.”

But there are others looking for a piece of the financial pie.

Chris Wanamaker, Pinal County manager, spoke about viewing the area east of Superior. He wants funding for a rain gauge and a stream flow gauge.

“That can give the town some advance warning when floods or rain starts coming,” he told lawmakers. Wanamaker said those devices can be set to send out warnings at pre-set levels, even sending out emails and text messages.

Then there’s the question of stopping some of the potential destruction when the monsoon rains come, carrying not just water but debris and ash into urban areas.

“They can take out power lines, take out sewer lines, water lines, any other kind of infrastructure,” said Tami Ryall, grants administrator for Pinal County.

House, Senate remain under Republican control — again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere, Democrats will look back at opportunities lost.

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

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

[divider]

The 54th Arizona Legislature will be a mix of old and new faces. The composition will include current lawmakers who cross the lawn at the Capitol to join the other chamber, 20 true freshman who won election to the Legislature for the first time, and former members who left office and will return.

Senate

Crossing over from House

Sally Ann Gonzales (D)

Vince Leach (R)

Eddie Farnsworth (R)

Heather Carter (R)

J.D. Mesnard (R)

Paul Boyer (R)

David Livingston (R)

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R)

Lela Alston (D)

Rebecca Rios (D)

Tony Navarrete (D)

 

Returning

Victoria Steele (D)

David Gowan (R)

 

True Freshman

Tyler Pace (R)

House

Crossing over from Senate

Warren Petersen (R)

Gail Griffin (R)

Nancy Barto (R)

John Kavanagh (R)

Robert Meza (D)

 

Returning

John Fillmore (R)

 

True Freshmen

Andres Cano (D)

Alma Hernandez (D)

Leo Biasiucci (R)

Walter Blackman (R)

Arlando Teller (D)

Myron Tsosie (D)

Domingo DeGrazia (D)

Bret Roberts (R)

Joanne Osborne (R)

Jennifer Pawlik (D)

Jennifer Jermaine (D)

Lorenzo Sierra (D)

Shawnna Bolick (R)

Frank Carroll (R)

Jennifer Longdon (D)

Amish Shah (D)

Diego Rodriguez (D)

Aaron Lieberman (D)

Raquel Teran (D)

Lawmaker: Virus makes need for change to sentencing laws greater than ever

Row of bars and American old prison cells

In the final meeting of Rep. Walter Blackman’s sentencing reform committee, a group assembled to craft and analyze policies to reduce the state’s bloated prison population and dial back on harsh sentencing laws, the Snowflake Republican had a simple message to his colleagues: If you can’t imagine voting for these bills, instead imagine yourself in prison.

Months later, the proposals that committee developed — namely one that provided for the early release of thousands of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses — are in limbo, sidelined by a pandemic that truncated the legislative session.

But as the COVID-19 virus spreads, Blackman said the need for those changes is greater than ever. And his core message hasn’t changed.

“To put yourself in the shoes of someone who is in that situation who is helpless…that has to be the most depressing feeling in the world,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Corrections Rehabilitation and Reentry has been the subject of a daily torrent of criticism over its handling of the virus from the media, from activists, from the families of incarcerated people and from lawmakers for weeks.

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

The criticisms have struck a similar tone: a widespread lack of transparency about who was being tested, uncertainty about adherence to social distancing and quarantine guidelines, reports of inadequate supplies of soap and paper products. In late March, a lieutenant filed a whistleblower report claiming that the department’s director, David Shinn, was banning guards from wearing protective masks for fear of spooking inmates.

“Like other places, the DOC suffers the lack of hand sanitizers, wipes and masks,” reads a letter sent to Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, by an individual with a relative who works for the department. “It is entirely possible that soon additional corrections officers will be infected and I worry that those who are not will be required to work overtime with thin staffing because there are no plans to deal with multiple infections and the resulting staff shortages.”

The department has responded to some concerns, in part thanks to court orders in an ongoing lawsuit over inadequate medical care in the system, Parsons v. Shinn. It waived copays for certain doctor visits, stopped charging for soap and ceased prisoner transfers. And eventually, it started releasing data about who it was testing.

So far, the department has said publicly that three inmates have tested positive — though only a fraction of the 500 inmates and staff the department is monitoring have been tested at all.

This is all frustrating for Blackman, one of many Arizona lawmakers who over the years have sought to amend the state’s sentencing laws — some of the strictest in the country — and improve prison conditions, mostly to no avail. Of course, there are the humanitarian concerns. But more than that, Blackman feels he could have played some role in stopping this from happening.

One of the handful of bills designed to revamp the system that he proposed this session was H2894, legislation that would have established an Office of the Independent Corrections Ombudsman, a position with duties that include monitoring the conditions of confinement and establishing a uniform data reporting system for complaints against the department. It was one of three similar proposals this session — two from Blackman and one from Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, a Democrat who serves on the House Judiciary Committee with Blackman.

“If that bill was passed when I pushed it, then we would not be having these sorts of problems in ADC,” he said.

The point of the bill was to make a good-faith effort to help the department overcome these challenges — criticisms of the agency’s transparency go back long before the days of COVID-19. It would have created an 11-person committee to help provide oversight and appoint that ombudsman, given the office the authority to investigate inmate complaints, conduct annual reports of prison conditions and so on. But the bill was never heard in committee.

Molly Gill
Molly Gill

“I don’t think the ADC is beyond help, I think it’s in desperate need of help,” said Molly Gill, vice president of policy for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a non-profit advocacy group. “A lot of the proposals would have provided the kind of help that the ADC needs. Oversight, for example…this whole crisis is an illustration of why we need an oversight body.”

But the bill never got off the ground. Even if it had, it likely would have been subject to vociferous resistance from the corrections system, prosecutors and other key figures in the debate to remake the criminal justice system — the same resistance that’s doomed efforts year after year, including a suite of similar Blackman bills from last session.

One of those bills was an effort to offer earned release credits for a large group of non-violent offenders, offering them a day or a day and a half off their sentence for every six days served, provided they complete some programming inside of the prison system. It’s the signature issue for the Legislature’s change-minded caucus, and it would deal at least a glancing blow to the state’s truth-in-sentencing laws, which require people to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

He renewed his effort this year, and this time found success. The bill passed out of the House on a unanimous vote shortly after it found a path through the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale — an occasional foe and sometimes friend to the sentencing change movement.

“We wouldn’t be so worried about COVID-19 in our prisons if they weren’t overcrowded,” said Gill. “What the … crisis is going to reveal to us is we put too many people in prison for too long and there are a lot of people in prison who don’t need to be there.”

The earn-release bill was supposed to help, with the added benefit of saving the state money that could instead be reinvested in helping the prison system respond to the virus, Blackman suggested.

But by the time the Legislature suspended its session so lawmakers could weather the storm in their districts, the bill hadn’t moved in the Senate, where it was stuck in that chamber’s Judiciary committee.

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

“It’s one committee and one guy,” Blackman said, referencing Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who chairs the committee and who change advocates regularly deride as a gatekeeper.

Even after its passage from the House, there were lingering doubts about the bill, which was softer than last year’s version and would have required the department to provide re-entry services it may not have the resources to offer. But it would have been a step in the right direction, supporters say.

“Now what we’re seeing is a potential death sentence for people,” said Rebecca Fealk, a program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee of Arizona. “Here’s an entire chunk of the Arizona population who are now in a fertile environment for an outbreak and who have been set aside by our lawmakers.”

Arizona’s case is not unique, and in many ways could be worse off. Cook County Jail in Illinois is home to the country’s largest cluster of cases — 401, as of the most recent count. Still, other states have taken more decisive action.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear plans to release more than 900 people from the prison system, commuting the sentences of 186 low-level felons and streamlining the release of 743 people nearing the end of their sentences.

Gov. Doug Ducey, meanwhile, has only commuted the sentences for three inmates, all of whom were terminally ill. And Arizona is one of the few states in the country with no medical parole, despite occasional efforts by lawmakers to create such a program — including by another change-minded Republican, then-Rep. Cecil Ash of Mesa, in 2010

Blackman’s hope is that the virus could provide the momentum needed to get at least some of his bills across the finish line if and when the Legislature returns. Allen, the House Judiciary Chair, isn’t so sure.

“You have to calculate this 10 different ways depending on what happens,” Allen said.

But he’s still optimistic that an earned-release bill will pass next year — by which time Farnsworth will be retired — if not later this one. By then, however, it may be too late.

“Because of the closed environment, if that thing gets into the prison system, it’s going to spread like wildfire,” Blackman said.

Lawmaker: ‘Almonds do not lactate’

After the cows are milked at Jim Boyle Dairy in Mesa, the cows head to the feeding line. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)
After the cows are milked at Jim Boyle Dairy in Mesa, the cows head to the feeding line. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)

State lawmakers voted Wednesday to prohibit the sale of “almond milk” in Arizona for the simple reason that almonds don’t lactate.

Consumers could still buy that product. But under the terms of HB 2604 it would have to be labeled as “fake milk” or “alternative milk.” And there would have to be a “prominent statement” on the package that the product is made from plants, grown in a laboratory or other similar disclosure.

The legislation also imposes a similar restriction on the word “meat,” saying that word could be used only if what is in the package came from what had once been a living, breathing animal.

But Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, insisted it would not stop people from selling “veggie burgers,” as that would be clear to any buyer that what is and is not in them. Instead, he said it is aimed at efforts to create animal cells in a laboratory that, once they prove commercially viable, could be marketed to consumers.

Cook, who is a rancher, made no secret of his desire to protect his industry against those who would seek to replace something from a steer with something from a test tube. He said ranchers have done a great job of promoting beef as what’s for dinner.

“I believe these people want to tie themselves to our products that have been rigorously tested through the Food and Drug Administration and say that they’re safe and something that they’re not,” he told colleagues. He called HB 2604, mirrored after what has been enacted in some other states, a preemptive strike ahead of these products winding up on store shelves or refrigerator cases.

But he said the bottom line for both the meat and dairy sections of the legislation is simple.

“I believe that words matter,” Cook said.

“All I’m saying is when you walk up and use simple words like ‘milk,’ we should know what that’s from,” he explained. “Almonds do not lactate.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, suggested that Cook was being too literal.

“Have you ever heard of coconut milk?” she asked.

“It could be coconut beverage,” he responded.

Engle wondered out loud exactly how far down the linguistic rabbit hole this was going to go. Consider peanut butter.

“Is that a misleading label?” she asked.

“Butter comes from cows, but this is peanuts?” Engel continued. “That would seem to violate this law.”

But her concerns went deeper, questioning how far a state can go in telling businesses what they can and cannot say on labels.

Cook was undeterred, saying that Arizona has a legitimate governmental interest in ensuring that its residents know what they are buying.

“It’s about consumer safety and knowing what you are consuming and your children are consuming, your grandparents are consuming,” he said.

The measure, which gained preliminary approval, still needs a roll-call vote before going to the Senate.

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 jockey for leadership roles in House, Senate

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

The day after the November 6 election will be followed by another kind of vote, as elected Arizona senators and representatives will meet with their fellow Republicans and Democrats to choose leaders for their respective parties.

Some of those leadership races are all but decided, but others may hinge on who gets elected, and who doesn’t, when voters head to the polls.

Those elected leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate will be responsible for shepherding policies through the Legislature in 2019, and just as importantly, will have the power to block the passage of bills they oppose. The House speaker and Senate president are responsible for assigning bills to committees and scheduling bills for votes on the floor of each chamber.

And caucus leaders help set agendas for Republicans and Democrats, while also serving as a unifying force to keep their respective party members working in concert to back those agendas.

Republican and Democratic caucuses in both chambers will cast leadership votes on November 7, less than 24 hours after polls close on election night.

Arizona House of Representatives
Arizona House of Representatives

House GOP

Rep. Rusty Bowers of Mesa is considered a shoo-in to serve as the next House speaker, though he’s not running unopposed. Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley claims he’s one of the “serious contenders,” while Rep. Noel Campbell of Prescott has flirted with running for the post.

Rep. Anthony Kern of Glendale is locked in a two-way race to serve as the GOP majority leader against Sen. Warren Petersen of Gilbert, who’s running for the House this election while also seeking a leadership post. Kern claims to have 18 votes in his favor, enough to win the chamber assuming the 35 member Republican Caucus doesn’t grow in size.

Reps. David Cook of Globe and Becky Nutt of Clifton are the two Republicans running to serve as majority whip. Sen. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican running for the House, recently dropped out of the race for whip and threw his support behind Cook.

House Democrats

Reps. Reginald Bolding of Phoenix and Charlene Fernandez of Yuma are locked in a battle to lead the House Democratic Caucus. Bolding can boast of a slate of supporters, having teamed up with Rep. Diego Espinoza of Tolleson, who would serve as assistant minority leader, and Rep. Kirsten Engel of Tucson, who would serve as whip. Fernandez, the current whip, has the mutual support of Rep. Randy Friese, who would like to continue to serve as assistant minority leader.

Reps. Athena Salman of Tempe and Richard Andrade of Glendale are also running for whip, though Fernandez has not endorsed either candidate.

Fernandez said she’s expecting more legislative success from Democrats in the next session: “We had like six bills that went to the Governor’s Office, which is ridiculous. We have great ideas and we represent more than 40 percent of Arizona,” she said.

Bolding said the Democrats are assured a greater voice next session because they’ll have a larger caucus.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that we pick up seats in the House. The question is how many,” he said.

Senate-2Senate GOP

The only contested leadership race among Senate Republicans is perhaps the closest of the year. Sen. Karen Fann of Prescott said the race for president is too close to call, especially considering several Senate races in traditionally Republican districts may be closer than usual. Her opponent in the leadership race, House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, is by his own words “running scared” to get elected to the Senate in Legislative District 17.

Assuming both are elected to the Senate, the winner may be decided by comparing the number of re-elected senators to the number of House members crossing over. Fann would presumably have the upper hand attracting votes from senators she served with the past two years, while Mesnard may have the loyalty of representatives who served under his leadership in the House.

Fann said it’s a “shame” Mesnard decided to run for leadership at all, noting that a freshman senator has never served as president, but Mesnard argued he’s the best choice because of his experience leading the House. He also cites his prior work as a Senate research staffer.

“This is a historically unique situation happening in the Senate, which makes it all the more important for someone who has both leadership experience at the highest level and intimate familiarity with the Senate… to step in,” Mesnard said.

As for the other GOP leadership posts, Sen. Rick Gray of Peoria is running unopposed to serve as majority leader, while Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City is the lone candidate for whip.

Senate Democrats

Sens. David Bradley of Tucson and Martin Quezada of Glendale would like to lead the Democrats, but both are preparing for an even better outcome for the traditionally minority party in the Senate – the possibility of a split chamber, or perhaps the Democrats winning enough seats to hold a majority.

Bradley’s pitched himself as a seasoned legislator about to serve his last term in office, offering his guidance in a letter sent to all Democrats, and independents, running for the Senate. Quezada, who served as co-whip the past two sessions, said he’s “in great shape” to step up and serve as minority leader, though he’s also focused on how to negotiate a split chamber.

While Bradley acknowledged that he’d be happy to serve as Senate president, Quezada said he’s focused on other positions of power.

“My ultimate goal is a fair and equal division of power,” Quezada. “I don’t think the Senate president has to be a Democrat. It could be a Republican. But I think a Democrat should have a powerful chairmanship if that were the case.”

Rounding out the field of leadership candidates are Sen. Lupe Contreras of Avondale, who serves as co-whip with Quezada, and Rep. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix, who’s running for her second stint in the Senate. Those two would occupy the positions of assistant minority leader and whip, though it’s unclear who’d serve in which capacity.

Legislation to immunize well owners becomes law

water well (Deposit Photos)
water well (Deposit Photos)

A new law signed Thursday by Gov. Doug Ducey is designed to provide legal protections to those who drill wells into underground streams they are not legally entitled to tap.

The measure repeals existing laws that make it a crime when a well owner “uses water to which another is entitled.” That law, until now, has subjected violators to up to four months in jail and a $750 fine.

Now, that criminal penalty will be available only when someone knew they were breaking the law.

But that exception bothered several lawmakers.

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he has no problem immunizing those who already have put wells into the ground, only to find out that they have dipped into a subsurface flow that doesn’t belong to them.

Campbell, however, said he wanted a provision included in the legislation to tell those who have yet to drill a well that they would be subject to criminal penalties if they ended up tapping into someone else’s water. It was not included.

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, said she fears the new law will create a loophole for the unscrupulous.

She pointed out that it would be a defense to criminal charges that the well was drilled without knowledge that it was actually taking water from a subsurface flow.

“That would make it very easy for certain groups or organizations or people to do something unethically and get away with it,” Blanc said, by claiming “I didn’t know this was against the law.”

And Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said the law “undercuts private property rights.”

The legislation was pushed by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. He argued that those who drill wells don’t – and can’t – know whether they’ve actually tapped into a subsurface flow. And that water, like surface water, is allocated not based on who owns the land but on different laws about who has the right to use it.

Bowers said the state is still trying to determine who has the rights to certain surface and subsurface waters.

He said some of the water rights at issue actually could turn out to belong to tribes. Bowers said there’s no reason to subject well drillers to criminal liability if it turns out that what they’re pumping “contains one molecule of subflow.”

That includes Bowers himself who said he drilled a new well two years ago.

“We don’t know where that water comes from,” he testified during hearings earlier this year. “It could be coming from the river, being forced up by capillary action.”

But Bowers said there are “tens of thousands of people” who face similar risk, especially in the Verde Valley and the San Pedro watershed.

Number of lawmakers who didn’t miss a vote, day of work up from 2018

legislature

Throughout the 135 days of the 2019 legislative session, 31 lawmakers made it to every required work day and cast a vote for everything that made it to the floor, which is up from 19 lawmakers last session.

Among the 31 were Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa.

The lawmaker who missed the most votes was Rep. Myron Tsosie, D-Chinle, who missed 25 percent, or 129, of the 517 votes the House had this year. Sens. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, both missed 12 percent of their chamber’s votes this session, tied for the worst record in the Senate.

The most missed days goes to Boyer, who registered his attendance on 81 percent of the required days.

Boyer said the bulk of his missed days was because of his teaching schedule. He said when attendance was taken at 10 a.m. he could not register because his class ends at 10:15, and even if he was only a minute late, he would be marked absent for missing the window.

“I’d have to quit my job to have perfect attendance,” Boyer said, adding that his percentage would be closer to 99 percent if the Senate started at 1:30 every day.

Boyer said he also missed a week of legislative business for the birth of his first born child.

There were 10 House lawmakers who had perfect attendance, but did not have a perfect voting record. The Senate, on the other hand, only had one lawmaker, Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who was present on all required days but did not vote every time.

Lawmakers may be present when they gavel in for the day’s attendance, but sometimes leave before all voting has finished for the day, causing the difference in numbers. There are often days with more than one vote, and some days with no votes at all.

Six senators voted 100 percent of the time, but did not maintain a perfect attendance record. In the House, eight lawmakers placed every vote but did not maintain a perfect attendance record.

This year marks the first year without former Senate President Steve Yarbrough, who spent 16 years in the Legislature and only missed two days. He went nine straight years without missing a day before his retirement in 2018.

The House had a better average of both attendance and voting, with lawmakers voting 99 percent of the time and being present 98 percent of the time. Senators voted 97 percent of the time and were present 94 percent of the time. 

GOP lawmakers were more likely to vote this session, with an average of 99 percent, while Democrats voted 97 percent of the time. Democrats and Republicans tied for attendance record with 97 percent.

Correction: The original version of this story  erroneously reported the following: Only eight lawmakers had perfect attendance and voted on every bill that reached the floor. There were 34 House lawmakers who had perfect attendance, but not a perfect voting record. Seven senators voted 100 percent of the time, but did not maintain a perfect attendance. The House had 98 percent of lawmakers present and voting 100 percent of the time. And GOP lawmakers voted 98 percent of the time and Democrats attended 96 percent of the time. The errors were the result of a data-entry error in the Legislative On Line Arizona system. The error was everyone who voted “no” on HB2618 was erroneously marked as a “Not Voting.” 

Lawmakers with perfect attendance and voting records: 

Sen. Karen Fann

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro

Sen. Sine Kerr

Sen. David Farnsworth

 Rep. Andres Cano

Rep. Charlene Fernandez

Rep. Gerae Peten

Rep. Regina Cobb

Rep. Leo Biasiucci

Rep. Randall Friese

Rep. Kirsten Engel

Rep. Bret Roberts

Rep. Warren Peterson

Rep. Travis Grantham

 Rep. Tim Dunn

 Rep. Joanne Osborne

 Rep. Becky Nutt 

Rep. Nancy Barto 

Rep. Mitzi Epstein 

Rep. Jennifer Jermaine 

Rep. Anthony Kern

 Rep. Ben Toma 

Rep. Frank Carrol 

Rep. Jennifer Longdon 

Rep. Amish Shah

 Rep. Michelle Udall 

Rep. Rusty Bowers 

Rep. Athena Salman 

Rep. Diego Rodriguez 

Rep. Raquel Terán 

Rep. Walt Blackman

Players in movement to remake Arizona’s criminal justice system

(AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

Since conservatives got on board with revamping Arizona’s sentencing laws, bills to do that no longer lay unheard, not considered. And as the movement has taken hold over the past few years, a host of groups and people have made their presence known at the Legislature. Following are some of them.

John Allen
John Allen

Rep. John Allen

John Allen, R-Scottsdale, chairs the House Judiciary Committee, so he’ll have a say on whether any bills that propose changes to the sentencing laws.

Allen has exercised that power by giving a hearing to only two of 13 bills sponsored by Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, that proposed changes to the criminal justice system. He allowed a hearing on Blackman’s bill that allows nonviolent prisoners to earn credit to be released at a faster pace, but on the condition an amendment he proposed be attached.

In an act of political retaliation on February 5, Allen held a slate of criminal justice bills and said they would likely never be heard when Blackman joined Democrats on the committee to vote to hold one of Allen’s bills. Although two of the bills he held were his own, Tucson Democrat Rep. Kirsten Engel’s proposal to expand the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission was a casualty.

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Americans for Prosperity

With chapters throughout the country, Americans for Prosperity is a conservative libertarian political advocacy group working to build grassroots campaigns, work with coalitions and put policy first. Their national efforts include expanding educational opportunities, implementing discretionary and mandatory spending to reverse the debt crisis, reform current immigration policy and more. In Arizona, the mission is more direct – restore all human dignity and work with legislators who align with the values of the organization.

This year, the group has focused their lobbying efforts on remaking criminal justice at the local level. They have worked closely with Blackman to ensure that their policies provide long-term solutions, like removing barriers for individuals post-release and determining which programs are actually attainable.

While Americans for Prosperity has a specific slant, the group cares more about the position of legislation and initiatives than the position of whoever proposed it.

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American Friends Service Committee

Founded more than 100 years ago, the American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization working for peace and social justice as a practical expression of faith. They have volunteers in states all over the country who advocate for international peace building, inclusivity, immigrant rights, economic justice and ending mass incarceration.

Arizona’s chapter is based in Tucson where they challenge criminalization, oppose prison expansion and are constantly working to change public opinion. In 2012, the Tucson staff published an in-depth critical analysis of the for-profit prison industry in Arizona. The report claimed the state was wasting money on prison privatization and the prison corporations were buying influence in Arizona government.

Today, the group is educating people on the law that requires Arizona inmates to serve at least 85% of their sentence. They also submitted a proposal this session, reflected in HB2069, that would create a Citizens’ Oversight Committee to hold the Department of Corrections accountable.

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

Rep. Walt Blackman

Walt Blackman, who represents Snowflake in the House, has made the remaking of the state’s sentencing laws his signature issue this session, working with several lobbyists and across party lines to propose a host of bills that would ease access to prison data, provide specific definitions and ranges for punishment and change health care options within correctional facilities.

He even turned down entreaties from the National Republican Congressional Committee to run in the swing 1st Congressional District because he wanted more time in the Legislature to work on criminal justice issues, and he spent the summer leading an ad hoc committee focused on changing how Arizona sentences prisoners.

As the deadline neared for bills to be heard in their chamber of origin, only two of his 13 proposals have gotten a hearing. Blackman has spoken boldly as he’s gone about his crusade, saying he doesn’t answer to influential people at the Capitol who might stand in his way. For instance, when Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery was the Maricopa County attorney he wielded a lot of power at the Legislature and was a barrier to many proposed criminal justice changes, but that only seemed to spark Blackman’s fighting spirit.

“I do not need Mr. Montgomery’s permission to do what I plan to do,” he said in August, before Montgomery’s appointment to the high court.

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Creosote Partners

As a progressive lobbying firm that supplies Arizona organizations with money, advice and direct legislative action, Creosote Partners wants to ensure that the politics and legislation reflect the changing diversity of the state. Some of their clients include the American Friends Service Committee, CHISPA, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Arizona School Counselors Association and more.

The organization works with other lobbying groups to create a coalition that builds “consensus” policy that aids both political parties, said Marilyn Rodriguez, one of the four main Creosote lobbyists.

“The advocacy community has done a great job at making sure [criminal justice policy] doesn’t become too political,” Rodriguez said. “By the sheer magnitude of the problem, we cannot be partisan.”

Rodriguez pointed out a disconnect between criminal justice change and immigration policy in Arizona, saying that “immigration policies are criminal justice reform” and she took a long pause before saying that it is “difficult to point to public policy” that has been good for the criminal justice system in Arizona.

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

Rep. Kirsten Engel

Democrats have long sought changes to Arizona’s criminal code, but their bills – even in this era with a conservative push to revamp the criminal justice laws – have been left to die without a committee hearing. And although Engel’s bills this year were killed by Allen as the House Judiciary Committee he chairs was about to hear them, she’s still the voice of the Democrats on the matter.

The Tucson lawmaker said she was not optimistic about what the incident with Allen may mean for the rest of the criminal justice change agenda from the Democratic caucus or Republicans who are also in favor of revamping the criminal justice laws, at least in the House.

“We haven’t seen any of the reform bills that we have introduced or we’re supporting that are being introduced by Republicans,” Engel said.

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth

Eddie Farnsworth, the Gilbert Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, is perhaps the ultimate committee gatekeeper, and many criminal justice bills die without hearings in his committee. He’s also, ironically, the legislator with the best track record when it comes to passing bills to change the criminal justice system. The only criminal justice reform bill to pass in 2019 was a Farnsworth measure to allow certain people convicted of low-level drug offenses to earn time off their sentences by completing treatment programs. He also championed legislation to overhaul the state’s civil asset forfeiture statutes in 2017.

Farnsworth enjoys a cozy relationship with Montgomery and the two men share a skepticism of sweeping changes to the criminal justice system. But in his last term before retirement from the Legislature, Farnsworth has relinquished his iron grip a little, voting on the floor for bills he may have opposed in previous sessions and joking about “senioritis.” He agreed to hear one Senate criminal justice bill — a proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to require counties to report sentencing data — and hasn’t entirely ruled out entertaining House bills that make it his way.

Donna Hamm
Donna Hamm

Middle Ground Prison Reform

By working with public education, legislative advocacy and litigation, Middle Ground Prison Reform uses volunteers to address issues that concern prisoners and their families. They highlight that Arizona has a harsh criminal code with a lack of medical care, negligent treatment of the mentally ill, overuse of solitary confinement and a shortage of adequate rehabilitative opportunities.

Last year, the group was the only prisoner rights advocacy group to support SB1310, which passed, requiring the Department of Corrections to notify prisoners of the credits they earned that could lead to their early release.

The organization has taken a position on 25-30 bills that were introduced this session and has worked closely with Blackman on revamping sentencing laws.

The director, Donna Leone Hamm, has been appointed to two committees within the Department of Corrections that are now inactive. The department “didn’t appreciate input [from constituents] so meetings stopped,” Hamm said. Hamm said that it was “unfortunate” that the department is still not receptive to constructive criticism and only responds to litigation.

Sheila Polk
Sheila Polk

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk

Even though Montgomery’s influence on criminal justice policy diminished at the Legislature because of his new role on the Supreme Court, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is still around and not shy about sharing their opinions with lawmakers.

Polk, who has held office since 2001, has long been an ardent opponent of legalized marijuana – medicinal and recreational – and uses hardline policies in enforcing drug laws.

She was also instrumental in 2019 in the passage of a bill that aimed to stop prosecutors from using enhanced sentences intended for repeat offenders on people who don’t have previous convictions. Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed the bill after Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Montgomery bent his ear.

This year Polk persuaded Senate President Karen Fann to introduce legislation to require mandatory five-year prison sentences for people selling even small amounts of fentanyl.

Kurt Altman
Kurt Altman

Right on Crime

Emphasizing cost effective ways to approach enhancing public safety, Right on Crime works with several states and their conservative caucuses to pass juvenile justice reform bills, close prisons and establish committees that oversee the use of taxpayer dollars when it comes to state corrections.

The organization says the ideal criminal justice system works to rehabilitate for reentry into society.

Kurt Altman, whose career includes stints as a federal and county prosecutor and with the Goldwater Institute, is the Arizona director for Right on Crime. He promotes the organization’s positions in the Arizona and New Mexico legislatures while simultaneously running a law firm that defends criminals of all types.

Altman has published several articles, all about the organization’s values applied to policy in Arizona. In a recent article, Altman suggested that Phoenix jails should follow the models in Tucson and Pima County by reducing jail populations to save tax dollars.

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

Rep. Ben Toma

Ben Toma, R-Peoria, made his criminal justice debut last year as he shepherded to passage a bill that aimed to stop prosecutors from using enhanced sentences intended for repeat offenders on people who don’t have previous convictions. Toma made changes to the bill to appease county attorneys and get them to accept the legislation even though they weren’t in full support. But Ducey vetoed the bill after top prosecutors in Arizona’s largest counties turned around and lobbied him for the veto.

The problem when someone doesn’t keep their word is that you can’t trust them anymore,” Toma said at the time. “I don’t know where we go from here if someone has no honor.”

Toma said Blackman’s plan to go around Allen’s committee is good, but Toma tried the same last year with then-House Speaker Mesnard’s help. It appeared to work until Ducey vetoed the measure. Toma feels there is enough support for revamping criminal justice in both parties, but sometimes things don’t always make it “across the finish line.”

This year, one of his proposals, HB2359, would prohibit state agencies from denying an occupational license to any qualified applicant who happens to have a past drug offense. The bill has the OK from the House Rules Committee, so far.

Toma also proposes an expungement bill that would allow courts to seal arrest and conviction records, although it hadn’t received a committee hearing.

“From a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to have people stigmatized forever,” Toma said.

Reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this report. 

Prosecutors, some GOP lawmakers join Dems to kill forfeiture bill

From left, Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. (Photos by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
From left, Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. (Photos by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth is blaming Attorney General Mark Brnovich for the failure of his legislation to preclude prosecutors from seizing property without first getting a criminal conviction.

The Gilbert Republican told Capitol Media Services he warned Brnovich and others three years ago of his intent to limit their ability to take homes, cars and cash. He said that was designed to give them time to wean themselves off of their reliance on the proceeds to run their agencies.

What happened, Farnsworth said, is that Brnovich and prosecutors waited until this year to start raising objections. And he said that’s because they were simply trying to hang on to the cash — cash he contends is being taken improperly from Arizonans.

“He gets to spend it how he wants, bypassing the legislature, bypassing appropriations (process), bypassing the criminal prosecution,” Farnsworth said of Brnovich. “Talk about creating a fiefdom and being able to self-fund by stealing property from the citizens of Arizona.”

David Cook
David Cook

Brnovich aide Ryan Anderson said his boss has no problem with the basic premise of linking property seizures to criminal convictions..

But he said there are technical problems with the bill as it was unanimously approved by the Senate, problems that Anderson said would have been corrected had the House had full-scale hearings and review.

All that, he said, got shoved aside when lawmakers took an extended recess due to the COVID-19 outbreak. So instead, Farnsworth pushed ahead with the original version, saying any issues can be addressed in a future legislative session.

“A pandemic is not an excuse to ram through poorly constructed policy with the hope or promise that maybe the substantive programs can be fixed in the future,” Anderson said.

Central to the debate is the ability of prosecutors to seize property if they can get a judge to rule there is “clear and convincing evidence” it is tied to a crime.

The problem, said Farnsworth, is that nothing actually requires prosecutors to convict the property owner of a crime — or even charge that person with criminal activity. He called that “legal theft.”

Anderson, however, said the bill does far more than simply require a criminal conviction.

“We do complex and white-collar crime and drug organizations,” he said.

“This bill would have prohibited us from even putting a lien on property in order to secure assets in case (there would be) a conviction,” Anderson said. Those assets, he said can be used to reimburse victims of crimes.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

All that, Anderson said, would change had Farnsworth’s measure been approved.

“What would have happened is that white-collar criminals, after they have been indicted, would have free rein to liquidate their assets and transfer their assets,” he said. “And by the time you actually got around to a conviction, there would be no money left.”

Farnsworth, however, said his legislation would still allow liens to be placed on property. But prosecutors would first have to show that it actually is evidence in a pending criminal case.

But Farnsworth said this really isn’t about recovering money from drug kingpins and white-collar criminals. He said three-fourths of the forfeiture cases filed by state and county prosecutors statewide were for amounts of less than $10,000.

“It’s money,” he said. “And they’re trying to protect that direct revenue source that they get.”

From his perspective, Farnsworth said the attorney general shouldn’t even be involved in the debate.

“Brnovich has an incredible conflict of interest because he gets to take property without even filing” criminal charges, he said, much less actually have to get a conviction.

Anderson conceded that money is an issue. But he said if lawmakers want to remove the $1.43 million the office now gets from seized property and not replace it with something else, they need to understand the implications.

“This bill would punitively have cut funding for our criminal division without the makeup in appropriations, which would have resulted in the laying off of 11 employees in our criminal division,” Anderson said. “And these are people who work on everything from white-collar crime to public corruption and child exploitation cases.”

He said Farnsworth is simply looking for someone to blame for the defeat of the measure.

“It is intellectually dishonest to dismiss legitimate concerns that were presented by law enforcement at the beginning,” Anderson said.

The bill would not have died had Farnsworth been able to marshal the support of all 31 Republicans in the House. But eight of them joined with the 29 Democrats who were united in opposition.

“The counties that I represent are not using it for a cash cow,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe. And he said county attorneys have the discretion to decide when to try to seize property and when not.

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

Anyway, Cook said, prosecutors can’t simply take items or cash but must first get approval from a judge.

But Cook also echoed Brnovich’s complaint.

“What my county attorneys tell me is that their input into this bill was completely ignored, that what they wanted to see in this bill was not taken into account,” he said.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, had similar concerns, saying the measure “needs additional work.”

Farnsworth refused to name names. But he said that, in some cases, there’s politics involved.

“They’re trying to get re-elected and they think that they need the county attorneys, etcetera., supporting them,” Farnsworth said. “Then it becomes putting their own preservation above what’s good for Arizona.”

Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said Democrats understand the issue.

“We all think there needs to be reform in this area,” she said. But Engel said Democrats had questions that they could not get answered because of how quickly the measure was pushed through the House.

“Is this the best bill we can get?” she asked. “We’re not going to shove this through without checking it out.”

 

Push to remake criminal justice laws hits snag in House

legislation

Several bills to revamp criminal justice in Arizona appear to be on life support after the Republican House Judiciary chair decided to hold a trio of bills in retaliation to his own bill being held.

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, was not pleased when his bill, which requires local law enforcement agencies to share data with the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, was held by the committee’s Democrats and Vice Chair Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake.

After a lengthy debate where the Democrats wanted more specificity for the data the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission would receive, conversations started to get heated. Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, proposed a striker amendment to that effect, which did not pass and the committee eventually voted to hold Allen’s bill, who then held all other commission bills for the day.

Blackman and Allen then exchanged words in loud tones, asking each other if they had a problem or if they needed to settle their differences in private.

The testy exchange was over Blackman’s concerns that Allen was reacting to the fact that he was voting with Democrats. Allen dismissed Blackman’s concerns, causing Blackman to “excuse” himself from the room and letting the door slam behind him.

Blackman said on February 6 in a press conference he is willing to go around Allen if necessary, but was quick to point out that as a military guy he doesn’t just “jump the chain of command.”

“I’m not saying they’re part of the chain of command, but there is a procedure, but if something needs to be done, I’m going to do it,” Blackman said.

He announced his earned-release credit bill he hopes will go through the House Public Safety Committee rather than let Allen make the decisions that are “bigger” than any lawmaker.

Blackman introduced the bill, HB2808, on February 6. Deriving from work that Blackman’s ad hoc committee on sentencing reform conducted over the interim, the legislation would give eligible prisoners six days off their sentence for every one day served. Prisoners who have no conviction for a violent or aggravated felony on their record and who complete a “drug treatment…or other major self-improvement program” are eligible for one and-a-half days off their sentence for every six days served.

The bill is co-sponsored by several Republicans, many of whom have expressed their support for criminal justice changes in the past, such as Reps. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa. Others, such as Rep. Jay Lawrence, a Scottsdale Republican on the House Judiciary Committee who is often skeptical of sentencing changes, are more surprising.

But despite Blackman’s bullishness, the dissent in Judiciary may set back revamping sentencing laws.

Engel told Arizona Capitol Times she was not optimistic about what this may mean for the rest of the criminal justice change agenda from the Democratic caucus or Republicans who are also in favor of revamping the criminal justice laws, at least in the House.

“We really did have a problem with that amendment language,” Engel said referring to Allen’s HB 2227. And looking forward, Engel said she’s “not too optimistic” other criminal justice change bills will be heard in committee given how quickly Allen flipped out over holding his bill.

“We haven’t seen any of the reform bills that we have introduced or we’re supporting that are being introduced by Republicans,” she said.

Engel remains hopeful for one bill in the Senate.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is sponsoring an effort similar to the House that would require detailed sentencing reports from every county attorney and he is continuing to hold meetings with prosecutors and criminal justice advocates to improve his bill, something he said should help when he asks Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, the House Judiciary chair, to hear it.

“I can tell you that at least on the surface, both sides are interested in data,” Mesnard said.

He tried to include reporting requirements in a bill he and Toma worked on last year to prevent prosecutors from charging as repeat offenders people who hadn’t previously been sentenced, but removed those requirements when prosecutors protested.

“They’ve been at the table talking about reporting,” Mesnard said. “They weren’t necessarily opposed to the concept. They just wanted more time to think about it.”

Toma said Blackman’s plan to go around Allen’s committee is good, but Toma tried the same last year (with Mesnard’s help) and it appeared to work until Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed the measure. He feels there is enough support for revamping criminal justice in both parties, but sometimes things don’t always make it “across the finish line.”

One thing not in the mix this session is the appearance of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office not having a presence at the Capitol. Former County Attorney Bill Montgomery is now on the Arizona Supreme Court, and Allister Adel, the new chief prosecutor, has said on several occasions that her priorities are to work on the office ahead of any legislation.

Montgomery had a heavy presence in the past on the opposite side of Toma and Blackman, while Adel has shown some promise to push a pro-criminal justice change agenda by including Blackman on her transition team.

In the Senate, President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she believed her chamber was willing to let the House take the lead on criminal justice issues.

“We know that Representative Blackman and those guys, that this is kind of their baby,” Fann said.  “That’s one of the reasons why you have not seen senators drop a bunch of bills, because we know that they’re talking about that over there and  they’ve been working on it really hard.”

Fann, who serves on the board of directors of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, added that more Republicans are willing to get on board with changing the criminal justice system because ALEC has pushed such measures, particularly as they relate to nonviolent drug users.

“Nobody wants to be soft on crime, but I think people are finally saying, you know what, perhaps because of drug problems or something else these guys are nonviolent,” she said. “They never would have been shoplifting or have robbed a house or whatever they did if it weren’t for their drug habit.”

Along with Reps. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, and Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, Fann also introduced legislation at the behest of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to require mandatory five-year prison sentences for people selling even small amounts of fentanyl. She said there’s no contradiction between that bill and a push to help, rather than incarcerate, people who are addicted, though even House Judiciary members who voted for the bill said they feared it could catch people who sell drugs to support their own habit.

Democrats believe that bill won’t be heard in the full House, and it’s up to Allen and Farnsworth to dictate how everything else will go.

Sen. Engel resigns, runs for Congress

Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)
Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)

Democratic state Sen. Kirsten Engel resigned September 8 to focus on her congressional campaign in an open southern Arizona seat. 

Engel, D-Tucson, is expected to face fellow Democratic lawmaker Daniel Hernandez in the 2022 primary, depending on how new congressional districts take shape. A third legislator, Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, ended his campaign for the seat last week, saying he wasn’t ready to give up his work as a doctor.  

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., who represents Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, is not running for re-election. 

Engel told the Arizona Capitol Times she’s been thinking about resigning for a while and decided to end her run in the Senate to give her legislative district and the Pima County Board of Supervisors enough time to appoint a replacement – and give that replacement enough time to get to know the job – before the next legislative session begins in January. 

“I want to make sure the constituents of LD10 have a good, committed senator,” she said.  

Engel was elected to the Senate last year, replacing term-limited Senate Minority Leader David Bradley. She previously served two terms in the state House.  

Engel and Rep. Domingo DeGrazia said their third seatmate, freshman Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, is interested in the Senate appointment. Stahl Hamilton, who did not return a phone call, already filed to run for Senate next year anticipating Engel’s absence. 

DeGrazia announced last week that he will not seek re-election, and he said he isn’t interested in moving to the Senate.  

Two Democrats, Morgan Abraham and Charles “Charlie” Verdin, have already filed statements of interest to run in LD10, and DeGrazia said he has heard from a few other Democrats who are interested in running. 

“There’s kind of a lot of paperwork in assembling campaign committees, and your team and all that stuff, and because the district lines are not set yet, or at least not known, I think some folks are just waiting,” DeGrazia said. 

Provided LD10 still has at least 30 elected Democratic precinct committeemen, that group of party faithful will pick three top candidates and forward them to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. The board will then pick a candidate to replace Engel.  

The same process would repeat for a House seat if Stahl Hamilton receives the appointment. While appointments take place during a matter of days during the legislative session, the process can take close to a month in the interim.  

 Engel said she hopes her successor will continue her work on climate bills, which she couldn’t get through the Legislature. 

“I really would have liked to have made more progress on water and addressing the climate crisis,” she said. 

Several other lawmakers, most of them Democrats, are expected to resign before the end of the year to focus on campaigning for higher office.  

  • Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting. 

 

Senate bill to outlaw certain abortions gets tentative approval

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

State senators voted Wednesday to make abortions illegal if the woman is seeking to terminate the pregnancy because of a genetic abnormality of the fetus.

The preliminary approval of SB1457 came over objections from some legislators who said the state provides little support for women who decide to maintain their pregnancy even after learning that information. And Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, pointed out that even the Senate attorney said the measure is unconstitutional.

But Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said the issue for her is even more basic.

“As a woman, as a mom of five daughters and the grandmother of 10 young ladies I’m extremely opposed to anyone of us legislators really imposing our faiths on everybody else and on my family,” she said.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who is sponsoring the legislation, said she believes her bill will protect women.

“What we’re doing here by not addressing this issue is we’re hurting the most vulnerable among us and making a judgment that they are unworthy to live,” she said.

At the heart of SB1457 is a legislative declaration that Arizona laws recognize that an unborn child has “all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state.” The only limits would be the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

Efforts by Barto and allies to outlaw abortion entirely have been thwarted by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the high court and its successor rulings which say, in essence, that women have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy prior to a fetus becoming viable. So Barto is focused on a narrow subset of abortions: those done by a woman who is carrying a child with a genetic abnormality.

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said Barto appears to be using this specifically tailored legislation to get a test case about the limits of Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court. But she said lawmakers need to think about more than the constitutional issues.

“Abortion is clearly a very personal issue,” Engel said. “It’s a complex decision and so much more so when a family receives the diagnosis from a doctor that the child may have a genetic abnormality.”

Some of those abnormalities, she said, are “incredibly serious,” with a fetus dying in the womb or shortly after birth, and potentially even endangering a woman’s health.

Yet SB 1457 would make it a Class 3 felony for a doctor to terminate such a pregnancy, a crime that carries a presumptive 3.5 years in prison for a first-time offense.

Quezada said that still leaves the legal issues.

“This is a clearly and obviously a blatantly unconstitutional bill,” he said, citing the legal opinion of the Senate attorney that the measure runs afoul of current court rulings and legal precedents.

Barto, however, said lawmakers in Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee have enacted similar laws and all remain on the books. None of those statutes, however, have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The measure also would outlaw the use of telemedicine for medical abortions, precluding women from getting abortion-inducing pills through the mail. It also would require that any aborted fetus be either buried or cremated and impose new restrictions on public educational institutions from counseling or referring a woman for an abortion other than to save her life.

A final roll-call vote is needed before the measure goes to the House.

 

 

Senate mulls next step in auditing 2.1M ballots

These are the 2.1 million ballots cast in November in Maricopa County, loaded onto a truck and ready for delivery to the Senate -- which may not be able to handle them. PHOTO COURTESY MARICOPA COUNTY
These are the 2.1 million ballots cast in November in Maricopa County, loaded onto a truck and ready for delivery to the Senate — which may not be able to handle them. PHOTO COURTESY MARICOPA COUNTY

Pallets of ballots sit on trucks in Phoenix as senators figure out what to do next, three months after they declared they wanted their own audit of the presidential election.

The 28 tons of paper packed in hundreds of neatly stacked boxes with nowhere to go serve as a visual representation of the Senate’s audit attempt, which has been full of setbacks and false starts since it began. Republican senators have alternately plunged ahead — drafting a resolution to arrest the Maricopa County supervisors who blocked their way and announcing they hired an auditor — and fallen back, losing a vote on their contempt resolution and denying they ever selected an auditor after public pressure.

The Senate won a court battle February 26, after a Maricopa County judge found  its subpoenas could be enforced. 

Now, Republican senators are like a dog that caught the car it chased and doesn’t know what to do, said Democratic Sen. Martín Quezada. 

“I think from the very beginning this was all a big soapbox they were standing on just trying to make noise,” he said. “I don’t think they ever expected this was actually going to happen, but now they have it, and they don’t know what to do. And literally what are they gonna do? If I was the Senate president, I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with [2.1 million ballots].”

Subpoenas 

Subpoenas the Senate filed in December and January make clear that the ballots and election equipment must be delivered to the Capitol. Accordingly, the county loaded ballots onto trucks March 1 with the intention of delivering them to the Senate, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers wrote in a letter to each senator March 3. 

Instead, Sellers wrote, Senate attorney Kory Langhofer — who also represented the Trump campaign in a lawsuit to challenge the administration of the election — sent the county an email at 5:08 p.m. March 1 saying the Senate was unprepared to receive any of the ballots. The county then learned from a statement the Senate GOP spokesman gave a reporter that the Senate claimed there was an “understanding” that the county would let the audit occur in the county’s election facilities – an understanding the county did not share.

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.
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.

These back-and-forth letters between the clashing parties now raises the question of whether the Senate Republicans will even push forward with its own audit – something they have fought over for nearly four months. Municipal elections are ongoing and the county’s buildings are occupied, Sellers wrote.

“Please advise us when the Senate is ready to receive the subpoenaed materials and where they should be delivered. If the Senate no longer wants the materials delivered, the county stands ready to discuss next steps,” Sellers said. 

Senate President Karen Fann could not be reached for comment, but the Senate said in a press release that the “best way to maintain the security of machines and ballots was to leave them at the county and have the independent auditors come to them, as was done with the first two audits.” 

Of course, the county, not the Senate, conducted those two other audits. And Gilbert Republican Warren Petersen, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who signed the subpoenas alongside Fann, disputes whether the county’s audits were even audits.

Hobbs’ Advice

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote a letter to county election officials and senators on the evening of March 3, instructing them how to best proceed with the audit – should it happen – and reminding them of her concern over this entire debacle. 

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“As you know, there is no credible evidence for any of the conspiracy theories that have abounded about the 2020 General Election, including those made by associates of Allied Systems Operations Group,” Hobbs wrote, urging Senate Republicans “not to waste taxpayer resources chasing false claims of fraud that will only further erode public confidence in our election processes and elected officials.”

But she still laid out what she views as a transparent and bipartisan process to audit the 2.1 million ballots from the county. Most of which are related to provisions in the Elections Procedures Manual.

Hobbs wrote that the senators need oversight, potentially from her office, the Governor’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office. Hobbs advised: Make sure the process is open, safe and secure; that senators they follow the law and suggest they only use red pens to mark ballots so as to not alter or add anything that could have the appearance of changing votes. And that should be done with a bipartisan group on live video feed, which should be retained for 24 months. 

She made it clear again that she is not in favor of the audit and disagrees that it will help people “trust” the election results, after all this time.

“I believe we can agree that proceeding without clear procedures for the security of the ballots and election equipment when they are in your custody, and clear procedures to ensure the integrity, independence, and transparency of the audit itself and the auditors selected, will only open the door to more conspiracy theories and further erosion of voters’ confidence in Arizona’s elections processes,” Hobbs wrote.

Not in Our House

Maricopa County spokesman Fields Moseley said supervisors had no intention of allowing senators to use their facilities for an audit they never supported in the first place. 

Fields Moseley
Fields Moseley

As Moseley sees it, the February 26 court ruling, which states that the Senate has broad constitutional power to oversee elections, would allow Republican senators to share ballots and equipment with anybody they deem fit – including Rudy Giuliani, as AZGOP Chair Kelli Ward said the Senate plans to do. 

“We have to give them everything,” Moseley said “We don’t have any control.”

Giuliani was former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and spent the weeks after the election holding unofficial hearings, including in Arizona on November 30, trying to prove Trump won the election. Handing materials over to him would likely mean Trump and his campaign team would have access to millions of Arizonans ballots.

County elections spokeswoman Megan Gilbertson saw it differently. 

“There are many laws around the security and secrecy of ballots. Arizona’s Constitution mandates that the secrecy in voting be preserved,” she said, adding that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office included some statutes in its legal briefings. 

It’s illegal for anyone other than an election official, postal worker or the voter’s family or caregiver to possess someone else’s early ballot, and it’s illegal to show your completed ballot to anyone else — though “ballot selfies” are allowed. 

Still up in the air are details such as when the Senate will get the materials, where Senate leaders plan to conduct the audit and what, exactly, those auditors will focus on – or who for that matter will even conduct the audit. 

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks at a hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Policy Committee, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks at a hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Policy Committee, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

At the end of January, the Senate Republican caucus announced that it had selected an “independent, qualified, forensic auditing firm” to analyze the 2020 election results, but it didn’t name the firm in the announcement.

On February 2, the Senate’s attorney, Langhofer, informed Maricopa County’s attorneys via email that the Senate had selected Allied Special Operations Group, the firm that employs the “military intelligence expert” formerly known as Spyder. 

Allied Special Operations Group has made a host of inaccurate claims, including mixing up voting precincts in Michigan and Minnesota, and pushed debunked conspiracies, such as claiming Detroit had a turnout of 139%.

Fann later said she did not plan to hire the group. She further denied picking an auditor in the first place, even when shown the Senate press release that says she hired one.

Langhofer said he expected the number of vendors with access to the ballots to be “very limited” and that the Senate is still working out logistics of where ballots will be stored and how many of the 2.1 million ballots will be reviewed. He said the Senate wants “a truly independent review of the election results in order to assess how well the processes in Arizona work” – and wasn’t planning to share the materials with Giuliani. 

Langhofer said the Senate is still considering proposals from potential auditors and he had received several calls on the subject March 2.

“I expect they’ll have a firm plan soon, but as of now, nothing’s finalized,” he said.

County officials and Senate Democrats are hesitant to believe there will be a nonpartisan independent audit, saying the best firms have already conducted an audit through the county and came back with no evidence of fraud. 

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said she had not heard from either Fann or Petersen on whether Senate Democrats, or at least the Judiciary Committee, of which she is a member, would have any involvement in the auditing process. She said she would like to be involved, to make sure ballots and election equipment stay secure and there is oversight of the process. 

“They certainly aren’t conducting themselves in a manner indicating that they have much of a plan,” she said. “But this isn’t a game. What’s at stake is the integrity of the very evidence of how thousands of voters voted in our 2020 election, so we need to take the subpoena seriously and figure out a plan as to how the audit can actually be conducted in a safe, secure and accurate manner.”

Arizona Capitol Times reporter Kyra Haas contributed to this report. 

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that attorney Kory Langhofer represented President Trump in a lawsuit attempting to prove voter fraud. Actually, they lawsuit did not involve voter fraud. 

 

 

Senate passes voucher expansion bill

education-funding-620

Republican senators gave the go-ahead Monday for what could be a huge expansion in the use of tax dollars to send children to private and parochial schools.

The 16-14 party-line vote advances SB1452, which Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, bills as a measure targeted at giving new educational opportunities to students living in poverty. He said it is designed to ensure these children are not effectively trapped in neighborhood public schools that do not meet their needs.

It even allows parents to use their voucher dollars to finance transportation to get their youngsters to schools which are not nearby, including options like taxis and rideshare services.

And Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said there is a particular need in the wake of Covid, which has resulted in the closure of many public schools.

He said that has sent many parents looking for private schools that do have in-person instruction. What SB 1452 does, Petersen said, is make that a more realistic option for families who cannot otherwise afford it.

But Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, urged lawmakers to take a closer look.

“We’re going to do this under the guise of helping poor children and children of color,” she said. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said there are ways to “game” the system of vouchers, formally known as “empowerment scholarship accounts.”

She pointed out that eligibility extends to any student attending schools which have enough poor students to classify them as eligible for federal Title I funds. The income of any given child is irrelevant.

That potentially makes more than 700,000 students eligible for the vouchers out of the 1.1 million youngsters in public schools.

And she said it’s even worse than that

Engel pointed out that Boyer’s bill says that a student need be in a Title I school for just 30 days to qualify. And given Arizona’s open enrollment policies, she said, a parent of means who wants a voucher could put a child into a Title I school for a month, meet the requirement, and then be eligible for those state dollars to send the youngster to a private or parochial school.

The debate on the bill, which now goes to the House, took on racial overtones.

“This 100% furthers de facto, if not de jure, segregation,” said Sen. Martin Quezada.

That drew an angry reaction from Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. He pointed out that civil rights leader H.K. Matthews is a supporter of the bill and the whole concept of vouchers.

“If the system is failing a low-income child, you are not allowed to fund your system off the back of that child and cry ‘racism’ if the child has an opportunity to leave,” he quoted Matthews. “School choice is an extension of the civil rights movement because it gives parents, especially low-income and minority parents, the rights and resources to choose any school their child needs.”

Boyer put a finer point on it.

“A family choosing for themselves to be in any school that works best for their child?” he said. “That’s not segregation. That’s freedom.”

Rios, however, said the vouchers of about $6,400 are not enough to help those truly in need as it does not cover the full cost of tuition at a private or parochial school. The result, she said is that only the families who can afford the difference will be able to take advantage of this.

And Rios said no one is trapped in poorly performing schools. She noted that existing law makes vouchers available to any student in a school rated D or F.

Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, a former teacher of the year, said she could support the concept. But that, she told colleagues, remains impossible until there are enough dollars for all education, including public schools.

Sen. Tony Navarrette, D-Phoenix, had a slightly different take. He said state lawmakers, in declining to add needed dollars, had created “a manufactured crisis” in public schools to then use as an excuse to say that students need vouchers of public funds to go elsewhere.

If the party-line stance in favor of expansion holds, the measure should clear the House where Republicans have a 31-29 edge. And Gov. Doug Ducey has signed other voucher bills that have reached his desk.

But the last time GOP lawmakers sought to expand eligibility foes gathered enough signatures on petitions to send the issue directly to voters. And they overrode the legislative decision by a 2-1 margin.

There also has been some discussion about a legal challenge should the measure become law. That is because Boyer’s legislation would divert money from the Classroom Site Fund, financed by a voter-approved 0.6-cent sales tax, into the voucher fund.

 

 

 

Senate revives failed abortion bill

Tyler Pace
Tyler Pace

A sweeping anti-abortion bill will get another chance to pass the Arizona Legislature, after Senate Republicans used a convoluted series of motions to override their own rules and send the bill back for amendments.  

SB1457, which would criminalize abortions based on genetic abnormalities, appeared dead last week, after Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, voted against it on Wednesday and bill sponsor Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, let the deadline to ask for a reconsideration pass.  

But Republican senators, including Pace, today took four votes to waive portions of their rules and send the bill to a conference committee. There, lawmakers from both the House and Senate will work on amendments that could bring Pace on board. 

Senate Democrats pushed for roll-call votes on every motion, all of which passed on 15-14 party line votes. And they decried the steps the majority party took to revive the bill. 

“If you’re in the majority party and you don’t like the way a vote goes, you just change the rules,” said Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tuscon. “That doesn’t seem fair.” 

After Pace voted “no” on the bill last week, abortion rights advocates and opponents stepped up efforts to persuade him to stand his ground or revive the bill. The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List announced it would “mobilize activists” in his district, and Planned Parenthood and other groups that advocate for abortion rights sent regular reminders to supporters to call Pace. 

“Many people have emailed, called me, left lovely messages all the way from wishing harm on me and my children to thanking me for voting no,” Pace said. 

He thanked Barto and Senate President Karen Fann for speaking to him – he was meeting with Fann when he responded “I’m running away” to an attempt from the Arizona Capitol Times to ask him questions about an unrelated bill on Thursday – and said a conference committee could give an opportunity to resolve the issues he has with the bill. 

Whatever amendments the conference committee ends up approving will be returned to both chambers for a final vote. 

As it stands now, SB1457 bans all abortions based on genetic abnormalities, unless a doctor determines that the fetus has a severe abnormality that is “incompatible with life.” The bill also has language stating that unborn children at all stages of development should have the same rights and privileges as every living U.S. citizen.  

Pace’s issues include a lack of clarity about the meaning of “reasonable medical judgment” and “incompatible with life,” which he said would leave juries to determine whether a physician on trial for performing an abortion exercised reasonable judgment.  

Pace also worried that doctors could be prosecuted if they agreed to perform an elective abortion and then the doctor and patient discover a genetic abnormality.  

A conference committee will allow him to work on those issues and make a better bill, he said. But Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, countered that the right time to fix this bill is during the next legislative session. Instead, she argued, Republicans are acting like sore losers to revive a dead bill.  

“It’s like kids being involved in a board game, one kid starts to win and the other kids all say ‘let’s get together and change the rules,'” she said. 

 

 

Several lawmakers weighing resignation

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

Competitive races are already filling the entire 2022 ballot with roughly a year to go before the primary election on August 2, and several state lawmakers are planning to resign from their $24,000 a year jobs to focus on full-time campaigning. 

There are at least 13 legislators who are either running for higher office or have been rumored to do so and half of them are apparently planning to call it quits from the Legislature. Most of them are Democrats.  

On the top of the ticket is Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, who is seeking the governor nomination. He is planning to resign before the year is out, but sources within Legislative District 28 say there’s a push for him to resign immediately and some within the district are already seeking his replacement.  

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Rep. Shawanna Bolick’s campaign put to rest rumors she was going to jump ship to focus on a challenging four-way primary with two other lawmakers and an advertising executive for secretary of state.  

“She has no intention of resigning a position that ensures the work of the people gets done and as Chair of Ways and Means she plans on continuing to put the interests of the taxpayer over special interest lobbyists,” campaign spokesman George Khalaf said.  

And it’s the same with Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, the House Appropriations Committee chair who is seeking the GOP nomination for state treasurer.  

Her spokesman Ryan O’Daniel said Cobb is fully capable of multitasking as a lawmaker and a candidate for statewide office. 

“Quit? No chance,” O’Daniel said. “She has a record of fighting for the taxpayer, small business owners, and families, and will continue to do so as Appropriations chair because that’s why the hardworking people in Mohave and La Paz County sent her to the Capitol.”  

O’Daniel added that she isn’t running for treasurer to “add to her resume.” 

But a trio of Democratic lawmakers ready to battle it out for the open congressional seat in southern Arizona are all likely to resign, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers. 

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, would not confirm or deny the rumors. Neither would Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson. Neither Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, nor his campaign provided comment.  

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, is also rumored to resign while he is seeking the nomination to take on Congressman Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, or whatever it becomes after redistricting.  

State lawmakers are not required to resign-to-run as they were in the past. 

Geoff Esposito, a Democratic lobbyist and consultant, said resigning and campaigning full time is the right decision for a candidate who is not viewed as an early front runner and needs to raise a lot of money.  

“For someone like Lieberman, or some of these others, they’re having to play catch up on opponents who have a larger war chest,” he said.  

It doesn’t apply to candidates who are running with clean elections money, Esposito noted.  

Regina Cobb
Regina Cobb

Plus, when Democrats aren’t in the majority, the chances of them making a difference legislatively are always slim, especially when politics is as polarized as it is.  

Esposito said that could weigh into the decision to tap out.  

“I think somebody described this coming legislative session as second semester of senior year,” he said, adding that roughly half of the Democratic caucus potentially not sticking around the Legislature after next year. 

That same reason could be an argument for Republicans to stay in their elected positions and campaign while building on their experience – especially if races are wide open with no dominant front runner or prolific fundraiser in these down ballot races.  

Esposito also said that when lawmakers resign, it could potentially be an advantage for whomever gets the appointment if they get a year of experience to use on keeping the seat during the 2022 election.  

How well someone utilizes that incumbency advantage and the relationships that they’d be able to build at the Capitol to come back there are important, he said.  

“I think we’ve seen instances of both being an advantage for somebody in a future primary and we’ve seen it fall flat. As much as legislators like to believe nobody really knows who they are or cares – especially if you’re appointed, voters don’t really feel a loyalty to you,” Esposito said.  

“Where the advantage comes in is if you’re able to turn that into institutional support, build the relationships with the people who play in those races, and show that you care about progressive values, and are willing to fight the good fight.” 

What’s really key in the district Lieberman is leaving where Democrats flipped a House seat in 2018 and a Senate seat in 2020, is someone who can represent not just Democrats but many Republicans and independents as well. And with redistricting, whatever LD28 becomes will be smaller than what it is currently and the entire makeup could be changed by the next election.  

A 4-1 split in favor of Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will decide who will be appointed to any vacancy from a district within the county lines, so the chances of a super progressive compared to someone more moderate could also play into that future decision. Two Republican supervisors live in LD28, too. 

 

Stringer continues criminal justice reform effort amid controversy

Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, answers questions Wednesday about his comments which were interpreted by some as racist. Stringer said he was not a racist but simply was detailing his views on the effects of rapid immigration on the country. With him is the Rev. Jarrett Maupin who agreed to let Stringer explain his comments to leaders of the African-American community in Phoenix. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

At a meeting with a group of African Americans last month, Rep. David Stringer didn’t exactly apologize for his remarks that immigration is “an existential threat” to the United States.

An apology is not what Renee Huff wanted to hear from the Prescott Republican.

“I didn’t come here just because I was offended. I came here because I want to know what comes next,” Huff told Stringer on June 27. “And the judicial system and the criminal justice system is very important, and yes, it is overloaded with people of color.”

Stringer would like to keep working to improve outcomes in the judicial system. That day, he promised that he would continue efforts behind the scenes to advocate for criminal justice reforms at the Legislature.

As the chairman of an ad hoc committee formed to study that very topic, Stringer was poised to have a leading role in that endeavor. That committee was disbanded following news of Stringer’s remarks on immigration, as House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, feared Stringer’s comments would overshadow the committee’s work.

Stringer and the committee are still moving forward, although in a less public setting.

Reps. Tony Rivero, Ben Toma, Kirsten Engel and Tony Navarrete met with Stringer and representatives from various organizations advocating for criminal justice reform on June 26, to plan how to keep studying the issues they would have tackled as an ad hoc committee.

Sam Richard, a lobbyist for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, arrived at the June 26 meeting expecting an apology and for Stringer to step away from the conversation. Instead, Stringer expressed regret that his comments affected the committee’s agenda, and announced he’ll continue to be a part of discussions going forward.

That arrangement is disappointing to the American Friends Service Committee, which works closely with other groups advocating for criminal justice reform, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice on the left, and Americans For Prosperity and Right on Crime, more right-leaning organizations.

“His comments were deeply and gravely offensive to many of the people that we are in that room on behalf of,” Richard said. “So his continued presence is a distraction, both from a political perspective but also from a policy perspective, because it’s hard to divorce the two during an election year.”

“Mr. Stringer’s public involvement in the conversations at any level is a distraction to meaningful progress on these issues,” he added.

Stringer declined to comment, citing a desire to avoid hurting the committee’s effort, and referred questions to Rivero.

Rivero, a Peoria Republican, acknowledged that he’d been asked to be “somewhat of a spokesperson,” the public face of the group’s work, rather than Stringer.

The arrangement was struck as lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, try to find a way to keep the conversation moving forward.

Engel, a Tucson Democrat, said, “We all continue to think, especially Tony (Navarrete) and I and others, the work on criminal justice has to continue. And that’s really the most important thing to do. What we have done is committed to continue to meet.”

As for Stringer’s involvement, Engel said, “I think it’s up to him if he’ll continue attending the meetings… It’s fine so far as he’s not the face of this group.”

Rivero said he wasn’t aware that any organizations were concerned by Stringer’s continued presence in conversations about criminal justice reform, but said he’s happy to sit down and talk about any concerns.

“But as far as David Stringer goes, I don’t agree with his opinion or his comments, but the reality is he’s still a legislator. And if he’s re-elected, he’s one vote that’s needed on this specific issue,” Rivero said.

Kurt Altman, a lobbyist for Right on Crime in Arizona, said Stringer has a passion for criminal justice reform, and some insight. Stringer has boasted of pro bono work he did as a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., and was the one who advocated for the creation of a committee to study the issue this summer.

And Stringer isn’t naive about the spotlight he’s placed on himself, and indirectly, the committee’s mission, Altman said. That’s why he’s stepping back a bit to allow someone else to address questions about the committee’s work.

“He’s a smart guy when it comes to these issues,” Altman said. “People might not agree with his views on all issues regarding criminal justice, but he has some insight, and I think his input is good.”

As an advocate for criminal justice reform, Altman said organizations have to make the best of their situation – in this case, like any other issue at the Capitol, that means working with whoever is in office and has the power to pass laws.

“We don’t get to make the choices on who’s driving policy. It’s a good policy. So whoever’s at the table, I would sit at the table with him,” Altman said.

Despite their disappointment with Stringer, the American Friends Service Committee will also take that approach, Richard said.

“If there is a conversation happening about criminal justice reform at the Capitol, we feel like it is our duty to be a part of that conversation,” he said.