After criticism from left, budget passes with bipartisan support

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

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

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

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

Warren Petersen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hobbs, Ducey, wildfires
 Gov. Katie Hobbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







Alston goes under the knife – of Friese

Rep. Lela Alston (D-Phoenix) (Cronkite News Service photo)
Rep. Lela Alston (D-Phoenix) (Cronkite News Service photo)

Arizona Rep. Lela Alston’s homecoming celebration at the University of Arizona was cut short by appendicitis.

The Phoenix Democrat checked into Banner – University Medical Center Tucson on Oct. 27 after spending several days at her alma mater. It was her 50th homecoming celebration, Alston said, but rather than get to watch the Wildcats football team take on Washington State, she spent Saturday, Oct. 28 in surgery with a colleague: Rep. Randy Friese, a trauma surgeon at the hospital.

“I got very lucky. I went in at midnight, and I got backed up behind some more severe cases,” Alston said. That meant that by the time she was able to have surgery Saturday morning, Friese, a Tucson Democrat, had checked in for his shift at the hospital.

Friese said he was initially skeptical when he saw Alston’s name on his surgical schedule.

“Certainly I saw a name I recognized, and I thought, ‘that can’t be the Lela I know,’” he said. “But then I walked through the ER and it was.”

Alston said the surgery was a success, though she’s pared down her schedule for the next few weeks as she recovers. And she hasn’t gotten over missing the University of Arizona homecoming game.

“I missed the ballgame! I’m so ticked off,” she said.


Bill to strengthen regulation of care facilities gets initial approval

This Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, photo shows Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix. The revelation that a Phoenix woman in a vegetative state recently gave birth has prompted Hacienda HealthCare CEO Bill Timmons to resign, putting a spotlight on the safety of long-term care settings for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
This Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, photo shows Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Senate took the first legislative step toward better protecting some of the state’s vulnerable adults today.

But even the sponsor of a bill designed to eliminate a key licensing carveout acknowledged there is much more that needs to be done.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously passed Sen. Heather Carter’s Senate Bill 1211 to eliminate a state law that allowed intermediate care facilities to operate without a state license since the 1990s. The carevout instead permitted centers like Hacienda HealthCare to obtain accreditation under federal regulations set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Hacienda was where an incapacitated patient was raped and in December gave birth.

Carter, R-Cave Creek, told the committee the thought in the ‘90s was that accreditation in lieu of a state license would allow for a higher standard of care. But that has severely limited the state’s ability to intervene when a center falls out of accreditation or out of CMS’ purview.

SB 1211 would require the state Department of Health Services to license centers like Hacienda, rather than simply accepting accreditation, and would bring in multiple state agencies to “put as many pieces of the puzzle together as we can in a way that respects patients,” Carter said. She said the bill accomplishes two goals by putting the oversight of physical settings under DHS and services provided under the state Department of Economic Security.

The committee also approved an amendment to the bill that Carter said tightened up language regarding additional background check requirements, namely to ensure people applying for work with children or vulnerable adults are not on the Adult Protective Services Registry.

“This is by no means one bill solving a larger problem, but this is a giant step forward,” Carter said, adding more legislative efforts are on their way.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order last week largely focused on training for facility staff and family members to receive training on how to recognize and report abuse. Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, sponsored SB 1384 to appropriate $3 million for 43 full-time positions at Adult Protective Services. And Alston’s seatmate in the House, Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, has introduced HB2665 and HB2666 to improve training and strengthen duty-to-report laws respectively.

Longdon has also called Carter’s proposal a “no-brainer” in the search for solutions.

But some of Carter’s colleagues in the Senate were not so sure SB1211 would do anything to prevent abuse in the disability community.

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, supported the bill, but said he was afraid they were focusing too much on the regulation of Hacienda without actually addressing the issue that led to the rape of one of the center’s patients.

“Whenever something bad happens, there comes an aggression of regulation,” he said.

Tucson Democrat Sen. Victoria Steele said it is the responsibility of the state to protect the people, but agreed that the bill doesn’t seem to solve the greater problem.

“Excuse my frankness: They had to wipe her several times a day,” Steele said, referring to the incapacitated victim in the Hacienda case. “I really feel this is on us, and it’s terrifying. … We have to take some responsibility.”

Carter’s bill is in line with recommendations from members and advocates of the disability community and a report from the governor’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. A report from the council released on Jan. 29 specifically included a recommendation that the licensing carveout be eliminated.

The council made six additional recommendations and laid out plans for additional work to be done in the future, such as efforts to prevent abuse of patients in tribal communities.

And Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, told the committee SB1211 is just one part of what needs to be done.

“Our state is defined best by how we treat our most vulnerable populations,” she said. “We’re not done.”

Bipartisan ‘political science experiment’ plays in Legislature

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, left, speaks with Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. This year’s Legislature has seen an uptick in bipartisanship. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, left, speaks with Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, during the opening of the Arizona Legislature at the state Capitol Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Phoenix. This year’s Legislature has seen an uptick in bipartisanship. PHOTO BY ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

On March 3, something very unusual happened in the Arizona House.

Usually, the Committee of the Whole, or full floor debate, follows a set script in both the House and Senate. Republicans move their bills and amendments. Democrats sometimes argue against them. A Republican chair declares that Republicans have the votes to pass or fail whatever they choose to pass or fail, even when there are clearly more Democrats in the room yelling “aye” or “nay.”

But on March 3, the roles were partially reversed. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, took the speaker’s dais as COW chair to oversee a calendar full of Democratic bills. Rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers stumbled over a bill script that they hear hundreds of times each year but rarely get to say themselves. 

It was a symbol of an unexpected bipartisanship that has emerged in the state House and Senate, even as high-profile partisan fights over elections, abortion and Covid draw most attention. Of the roughly 730 bills that had passed either the House or Senate at the beginning of this week, at least 67 — slightly less than 10%t — were sponsored by Democrats.

Usually, legislative Democrats are lucky if it takes two hands to count the number of bills they get signed into law. 

Former lawmaker and longtime GOP political consultant Stan Barnes said he hasn’t seen anything like this number of Democratic bills survive since he was first elected in 1988. It’s like watching a political science experiment play out in real time, he said. 

Historically, GOP leaders would be more likely to be punished than rewarded by their caucus for working with Democrats, Barnes said. But after the 2020 election, which ended in one-vote Republican majorities in both chambers, demonstrating bipartisanship might help. 

“In past years, rank-and-file Republicans might say ‘What the heck, Mr. Speaker, why is a Democratic bill moving? We’re in the majority, they’re not,’” he said. “But I think in 2021, on the heels of a very divided partisan election, there’s room for extending an olive branch.” 

Advancing Democratic bills could also help Republican leaders down the line, when they have to pass the state’s budget. Both House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann understand that their Republican majorities are thin and potentially fragile, and they may need Democratic help to fulfill the Legislature’s sole constitutional obligation of passing a budget. 

Lela Alston
Lela Alston

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, agreed that Republicans might be looking for Democratic support on a budget proposal. Four of Alston’s bills having to do with aging and foster care passed the Senate. 

“The majority might be thinking they will need Democratic votes to pass the budget, and they need some carrots,” she said. “It only takes one guy or one gal to hold out and say they’re not going to vote on the budget.” 

Any budget that would get Democratic support would lack the massive tax cuts Republican lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey want to pass this year. Multiple plans would result in tax cuts of more than $1 billion over the next few years, which Alston described as a “no-starter.” 

As far as her bills, Alston said she thinks her years of persistence finally paid off. One, which would double the $75 monthly stipend provided to relatives who take in children when their parents can’t care for them, passed the Senate 29-0 after years of effort.

“I’ve just been offering them for so many years that they finally caught on about what it is that I’m trying to do and the need,” Alston said. 

Other Democrats are used to seeing their bills pass — but only if they have a Republican sponsor. After Democrats pushed for years to allow consular IDs and repeal a 2006 voter-approved law that barred undocumented immigrants from receiving state aid and in-state tuition, that legislation finally passed the Senate this year — once Republican Paul Boyer of Glendale became the sponsor. 

Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, spent much of last year working on a bill to prevent fertility doctors from using their own sperm to impregnate women after learning from local media that a Tucson doctor had done that. Her bill passed the Senate, but under Republican Nancy Barto’s name after Barto copied the language. 

Another Steele bill, which would repeal rapists’ parental rights to their victims’ children, passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House. She estimates that she manages to pass about one bill each year, but in many cases she ends up finding a Republican who will take on the bill, thinking of a Harry Truman quote about how a person can accomplish a lot without caring who gets the credit. 

“In the past, I have gotten a lot done by doing a lot of work on a bill, wrapping it up with a nice little bow and handing it to a Republican,” Steele said. 

Steele said it’s possible legislative Democrats have gotten better at figuring out how to appeal to Republicans to get their bills heard. But it’s still demoralizing to be a Democrat in the Arizona Legislature. 

“Maybe we’re getting better at trying to figure out what might make it across the finish line, what might get some Republicans to work for us,” she said. “The reality is day after day, hour after hour, we lose. We lose the vote because we have one less person.”

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, speaks at a Feb. 19, 2020, in Scottsdale. Toma, the House Majority Leader, said Republican and Democratic leaders made a conscious decision to try to work together and avoid the rancorous fights that characterized recent years. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, speaks at a Feb. 19, 2020, in Scottsdale. Toma, the House Majority Leader, said Republican and Democratic leaders made a conscious decision to try to work together and avoid the rancorous fights that characterized recent years. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Across the mall, House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said Arizona’s purpling political hue has helped to foster more bipartisanship.

“One of the things we saw this past cycle was that voters, they sent legislators down here to the Capitol that … created a more purple state Legislature in the House and the Senate,” Bolding said. “We know that it’s been closer than it has been in a century. And my view is the bills that Democrats have been running are good policy for Arizona, and you have some chairmen looking at the policy and not the people that have been running the bills.”

But Bolding said it was too early to say whether there are any particular areas of public policy Democrats have been able to affect this session.

“Right now it’s a little too early to celebrate the passage of bills,” he said. “What we want to see is legislation that will ultimately be able to have to have a great impact for the people of Arizona.”

House Majority Leader Ben Toma said Republican and Democratic leaders made a conscious decision to try to work together and avoid the rancorous fights that characterized recent years. Asking Democratic lawmakers to serve as chairs of COW debates is a part of that, he said. 

So far, it seems to be working. While the House could barely make it a week in the past couple of years without at least one lawmaker accusing another of uncivil conduct — including one heated argument over whether Bowers impugned the full chamber by referring to himself as a “neanderthal” — the House has largely avoided those distractions this year. 

“There’s been a recognition in general that we are trying to be accommodating and respectful,” he said. “It’s a question of can this last to me, and I think it can, especially if the other side recognizes that we are acting in good faith.” 

As far as Toma can tell, committee chairs have chosen to hear bills based on policy, not the name or party attached to a measure. That organically results in more Democratic bills making it to the floor. 

“There hasn’t been any arm-twisting on our side to force chairs to hear bills or anything of that sort,” he said. “I think people are making decisions based on policy first and foremost.” 

Staff writer Nathan Brown contributed reporting.


Bowers, Fann retain leadership posts; Dems choose Bolding, Rios

From left are Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Republican lawmakers re-elected them to lead the legislative chambers in 2021.
From left are Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Republican lawmakers re-elected them to lead the legislative chambers in 2021.

Legislative Republican and Democratic caucuses met separately this and last week to select leadership following a topsy-turvy election that saw statewide Democrats succeed but the party’s legislative candidates flounder under the weight of expectation.

The GOP kept its top lawmakers in each chamber, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, retaining their positions. Bowers put down a challenge in the form of Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, the loudest in a cadre of Republicans who felt the current leadership to be aloof and too hesitant to push back against Gov. Doug Ducey, while Fann had no opponent.

Joining Bowers at the helm is Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who took the majority leader job over Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu, emerged as majority whip, taking the position from Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton. Rep. Travis Grantham, a Republican from Gilbert who often presided over contentious debates last session, will serve as speaker pro tempore.

“It is a humbling privilege to be asked by my colleagues to continue in their service as speaker of the House of Representatives,” Bowers said.

Nearly one-third of the caucus went for Finchem. But, as one Republican consultant pointed out on Twitter, Bowers’ pitch to lawmakers was likely helped by the election results, proving his ability to keep the fractious caucus together.

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, speaks on the opening day of the legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Bolding was named to lead House Democrats as minority leader, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this Jan. 13, 2020, file photo, Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, speaks on the opening day of the legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Bolding was named to lead House Democrats as minority leader, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

On the Democratic side, only Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, remains from last session’s team, replacing Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, as minority leader.

“I am honored to be chosen to lead this caucus and to work with this incredible team,” said Bolding. “What we’ve seen over this election cycle is that this state is more purple than red or blue, and we look forward to working together to put forth policies to benefit all Arizonans. We will continue to be champions for working families, for equality, for a strong economy and a strong Democracy.”

Fernandez announced November 7 that she would not seek re-election as House minority leader, a decision that came only a few days before the caucus meeting that she had once hoped would propel her to the speakership.

Even prior to her caucus’ failure to take over the House, and the defeat of her seatmate, Rep. Gerae Peten, D-Buckeye, some in the Democratic caucus had lost their confidence in Fernandez. Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, assembled an opposition leadership team and a slick website under the “Unity Caucus” name, but lost to Bolding, the whip under Fernandez, for the minority leader job by just one vote – the third time the margin has been that thin in as many years.

Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, who ran as an assistant minority leader under the opposition leadership slate of Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, will instead serve as Bolding’s assistant leader. Rep. Domingo Degrazia, D-Tucson, will serve as whip. The caucus voted not to elect two co-whips this year, as they did last session.

“We had a spirited debate and vote, but our caucus has come together unified from this moment to protect working families of this state,” Longdon said in a statement.

Fann will keep almost her entire leadership team next year, as Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, will continue as majority leader and whip, respectively.

She also appointed Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, as president pro tempore, replacing retiring Sen. Eddie Farnsworth of Gilbert. As the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leach has spent the past two years in a de facto leadership role and is included in most meetings with Fann’s inner circle.

In this May 26, 2020, file photo, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, speaks during a state Senate legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Democrats unanimously picked Rios to lead members of the minority party in the Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
In this May 26, 2020, file photo, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, speaks during a state Senate legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Democrats unanimously picked Rios to lead members of the minority party in the Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, elected a potentially historic slate consisting entirely of people of color. Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, was unopposed in her bid for minority leader, after potential challengers in Phoenix Democrats Sean Bowie and Lela Alston bowed out of contention.

Rios was the House minority leader in 2017-18, and has served in other leadership roles over the three decades she has spent on and off in the Legislature.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, will reprise his role as assistant minority leader. Sens. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, and Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, will serve as co-whips.

“I’m so excited to be working with Martín as co-whip,” Steele said. “We make a great team, we work really well together and we complement each other.”

Steele, who is of Seneca/Mingo descent, said she was amazed after the vote by the racial demographics of the new Democratic leadership team — especially considering that next year’s Republican leaders are seven white men and one white woman. Rios, Contreras and Quezada are all Latino. And assuming Democrat Christine Marsh’s lead over Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee holds, four of the 14 members of the Senate Democratic caucus will be white while the remaining 10 are Latino or Native American.

The Senate Democratic team balances two of the chamber’s most outspoken progressive members, Steele and Quezada, with a duo in Rios and Contreras, who have shown a willingness to work with Republicans. In a tweet sharing the leadership announcement, Rios wrote that she was “honored and ready to work with Arizona Senate Democrats and Republicans.

“People will either try to peg me as too progressive if they’re trying to oppose me from the right,” Rios said before the vote. “People will try to peg me as too conservative if they’re trying to oppose me from the left. At the end of the day, I have represented districts ranging from south Phoenix, which is very blue, to Pinal County, which was a very conservative district, and I have a voting record that is often dead center right in the middle.”


Budget talks stall, lawmakers consider scaled-down option

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Legislative leadership is considering a “skinny budget” this year after struggling to get consensus on big projects. 

This would be a continuation of the baseline budget that the Legislature passed last year, meaning no funding would go into expensive new items that have been discussed like the border wall and an education package. 

“There are members that don’t want it. There are members that do want it. There are members that are hoping that we can get a regular budget done and they’re willing to continue a few conversations, but they’ve also expressed that if we can’t get it together, they don’t want to be here for another 171 days like last year,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said on Thursday. 

Karen Fann

The Senate GOP needs 16 votes to get a partisan budget through, but Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, is making that process difficult. He is not communicating with Fann and wants large investments into several projects. Rather than working with Boyer or the Democrats, Fann and Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, suggested that the chamber pass a condensed budget and go home early. 

Livingston addressed the Senate floor on Tuesday asking his colleagues to consider the idea in the name of mitigating inflation. Inflation isn’t the only driving factor behind this, however.  

For one thing, several lawmakers are in competitive races and want to get out to campaign for their upcoming primaries. 

Republicans seem to be doing very well in the early stages of campaigning, where Democrats couldn’t produce as many candidates as they did in 2020’s legislative races. This likely means a larger Republican majority next year. If the Senate passes a skinny budget now, a larger Republican body will have more money to play with next year. Fann said that’s another factor that has come up. 

Livingston said that because of the one person majorities in the House and Senate, each member thinks they can make demands, “Nobody is on the same page.”  Livingston wants members to respect the will of party leadership but says there’s no such consensus. “If you have consensus, you can do more things and more funding – that works too – but you have to have consensus.” 

Livingston commented on Boyer’s plan to create a new $900 million school funding project. 

“He doesn’t have 16 votes,” he said. “There’s no Senator that does, and that’s why you don’t do this by individuals.” 

Sean Bowie

Democrats including Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, and Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, predicted that the session will last into July. Bowie said that a holdup Republicans might have about an early sine die is that it gives the governor the power to call legislators back into a special session against their will. Another is that they might not have the votes to do it. Bowie for his part, doesn’t want to throw in the towel and pass a skinny budget. He is one of the only Democrats Republicans are willing to negotiate with and is willing to compromise on a big budget.  

Let’s all hold hands and go out on a high note,” he said. 

Some of the bills that Republicans still need to move out of the Legislature are the Prop 400 transportation tax extension, homelessness mitigation bills and legislation authorizing the expansion of I-10. 

For the past two weeks the Senate has not been able to vote on any partisan bills because various members have been absent. Boyer left the Senate floor on Monday and hasn’t been seen since, blocking the legislature from getting through their bill agendas or passing a Republican budget anytime soon. 

Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman CJ Karamargin suggested that a skinny budget wouldn’t be the governor’s favorite option, asking, “Do you think it’s likely that a skinny budget is even going to happen?” In January, Ducey spoke about investing $1 billion for a new water authority agency and other smaller items. 

Senate President Karen Fann brought up the possibility of a special session two weeks ago, but since then only Livingston has advocated for it in the Senate. Republican Senators Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Paul Boyer R-Glendale and T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge are some of the members who have said they don’t want to end early.  

Democrats are also wary of passing a skinny budget in a year with such narrow margins where they could potentially get some small projects approved. Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Tempe, said that it would be a failure of Fann’s leadership. 

Ugenti-Rita argued that the “skinny budget” under consideration is a misrepresentation of what is a bloated baseline budget from last year.  

“There’s no way I’m going to vote that budget out without dealing with the $5 billion carry forward balance we have,” she said on Wednesday. “It’s our job to provide significant tax relief. … It would be irresponsible to leave that money on the table.”  

Senators aren’t the only legislators who feel this way, Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, also said he opposes passing a “skinny budget.” 

“We don’t need to push our work off,” Cook said. “We don’t need to jump through hoops or try to out-maneuver during the budget cycle. What we need to do is sit down and get the work done and have what I call clean, open, honest conversations,” about the budget. 

David Cook

Cook said his budget priorities include paying down the state’s pension debt and a six-month suspension of the state’s 18-cents per gallon gas tax, which he said would give immediate relief to Arizonans struggling with rising prices. This idea has support in Arizona from both some federal and state lawmakers; U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly has introduced a bill to suspend the federal tax, and a few Arizona lawmakers, including Sens. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, and Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, have, like Cook, said they want to suspend the state’s. However, Ducey has said he opposes it. 

“There are a lot of things to address in the state’s budget this year that can be addressed and should be addressed, and I have faith in leadership at the Legislature and the governor to put together a comprehensive overall budget,” Cook said. “I am looking forward to reviewing whatever proposal they come up with. My personal priorities are in current legislative bills. My funding priorities are well known, and the continued reduction of state debt remains one of my top issues. And the idea of suspending the gas tax, under what I’ve suggested, would put $800 million into the people, small businesses and our economy over the next six months.” 

Some of the potential budget items that are too controversial for other Senators to get on board with include appropriating millions of dollars for a border wall, a flat tax cut, and a universal expansion of empowerment scholarship accounts, or ESAs. 

Bowie said he is willing to support a budget that includes ESA expansion, but not the border wall appropriation. Other than that, his demands have bipartisan support including a bill for earned income tax credits, which he is sponsoring, and the governor supports. 

The House Rules Committee voted on April 11 to allow for the introduction of budget bills whenever they are ready, but House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, and Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, didn’t say when they expect a budget to be introduced. It didn’t happen this week – the House adjourned for the week after its floor session Tuesday. House Republican spokesman Andrew Wilder said he doesn’t know what will happen when the House reconvenes on Monday; only a few mostly noncontroversial floor votes and a conference committee meeting have been scheduled so far. 

Toma didn’t return a call from the Capitol Times on Thursday, but he told the Arizona Republic earlier this week that there have been talks there of passing a baseline budget and addressing other issues such as tax cuts, empowerment scholarship accounts and water later. He also said any deal to increase public school funding would include ESA expansion for all students, with more for poorer students and the amounts students would get staggered based on family income. 

Fann said on Thursday that although Arizona has a relatively large pool of money to draw from, only a small amount of that is “ongoing funding” which many lawmakers want to use for their projects.  

“Our dilemma right now is we have a couple of our members that are asking for a lot of ongoing money that pretty well, between them and the governor, pretty well eats up all of the ongoing money, which leaves nothing left for anybody else,” she said. One time funding can be used for one-time fixes like highway infrastructure projects, but ongoing funding is needed to give raises to people like public safety officers, which some members want. Fann said there is about $1.3 billion in ongoing funding to parcel out and with everyone making demands, that’s relatively little. “We’ve got to be able to sit down and talk through this because everybody is going to want something,” she said. 

Capitol Times Reporters Nathan Brown and Nick Phillips contributed. 

Election measures keep moving along partisan lines

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

With most headline-grabbing election measures dead, numerous others that pit arguments of voter integrity against voter suppression are working their way through the Legislature.

The basic contours of the debate aren’t new. For years, Democrats have generally supported making it easier to vote while Republicans have been more likely to focus on preventing illegal voting. 

However, this year’s session has the added dimension of coming just after a contentious presidential election that many Republicans say they believe was stolen by fraud. It was an election in which Arizona, for years considered a safe Republican state, narrowly gave its 11 electoral votes to the Democrat for the first time in decades.

Partisanship was apparent on March 10, when the House Government and Elections Committee voted 7-6 along party lines to advance SB1485, which would remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they miss four elections in a row and then don’t respond to a mailed notice asking if they would like to remain on the list. 

The bill’s supporters characterized it as a simple housekeeping measure that would prevent at least some fraud. 

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he doesn’t know how much fraud there is, but referred to the “pyramid of crime” he teaches about in his criminal justice class, with the bottom being the total number of crimes committed and the top being crimes that are recorded in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.

“Crimes that we actually know are the tiny tip of a massive iceberg of criminal activity in this country, and I suspect the same is true of election fraud,” he said. “You just don’t get it all. So I don’t know what the number is, but it’s there.”

The bill’s opponents said it would disproportionately make things more difficult for people serving in the military or on missions, independent voters (who could be taken off the list after skipping two general elections), senior citizens, Latinos and Native Americans and could result in taking 143,000 people off the list. 

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said if the bill had been passed in 2019, it could have resulted in removing 50,000 Latinos who voted in 2020 from the list, more than enough to have changed the outcome given Joe Biden’s 12,000-vote victory in the state.

“This is not housekeeping,” she said. “This is the tip of a pyramid of a massive voter suppression campaign to make it harder for you to vote. … We’re seeing it in state legislatures across the country. And especially in a state like Arizona, it makes all the difference.”

As Salman said, Arizona is not the only state where Republican lawmakers are responding to concerns about fraud by pushing laws that critics say will make it harder to vote. Lawmakers in Georgia, the other longtime Republican state to narrowly flip to Biden, are considering bills to restrict ballot drop boxes, increase absentee voting restrictions and limit early voting, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported last week. 

The Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive law and public policy institute, said a month ago that restrictive voting bills are being introduced this year at a far faster clip than last year, and Arizona is leading the way. As of early February, lawmakers in 33 states had introduced a total of more than 165 such bills, compared to 35 in 15 states the same time in 2020, and 19 of those 165 bills were in Arizona.

The debate was much the same March 3 and 4, when the House spent much of its time on election-related bills. Voting was along party lines to ban same-day voter registration and to bar counties from accepting private money to help fund elections, like the grants nine Arizona counties received last year from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which gets much of its funding from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 

The next day, the House passed bills to let the attorney general issue subpoenas in voter fraud investigations, ban automatic vote-by-mail and voter registration and bar elections officials from modifying any voting deadlines set in statute.

“It’s bills like this that serve the purpose of continuing ‘the big lie,’” Salman said, using the term Democrats have embraced to describe claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

Salman said repeated lawsuits challenging the results of the election have failed, and audits of the vote have shown no irregularities, but that “if you repeat a lie over and over and over again, you get justices on the highest court of the land using (the lie) … to undermine the voting rights of particularly people of color in this country.”

While arguing against HB2811, which bans same-day registration, Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, similarly pointed to the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court just a couple days before in challenges to two Arizona laws that critics claim make it harder to vote. Under questioning from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Arizona GOP lawyer Michael Carvin said striking down the laws would “put (Republicans) at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.”

“Keeping eligible voters (from voting) has nothing to do with integrity,” Terán said. “It just has to do with winning and holding onto power, whether you enjoy majority support or not.”

Same-day registration isn’t allowed in Arizona now, but HB2811 would cement this as law and make it a crime to register someone to vote on Election Day. Kavanagh, who heads the House’s Government and Elections Committee, which has heard most of the election-related bills, said one of the ways the Tammany Hall machine in 19th-century New York City stayed in power was using police to register people to vote and bring them to the polls. He raised the specter of same-day registration leading to similar corruption if it were to be allowed, and said people already have ample opportunity to register to vote.

“That’s exactly the type of corruption this same-day registration of voting can bring back, and we don’t need (that) anymore,” he said.

In November, Joe Biden became only the third Democrat to carry Arizona in a presidential election since World War II, and with Mark Kelly’s victory, Democrats ended up holding both of Arizona’s U.S. Senate seats for the first time since Barry Goldwater unseated Ernest McFarland in 1952.

Bills that would have let the Legislature appoint presidential electors or override the certification of the electoral vote were introduced this year and drew national attention but appear to be dead for the session. The battle over the 2020 results does continue to play out more explicitly in the Senate, which won a court case in late February to get access to Maricopa County’s ballots and has said it plans to conduct an audit of them. 

Meanwhile, bills to change election procedures are moving forward in both chambers of the Legislature. On March 8, the Senate voted 16-14 to pass a bill requiring more identification to vote early, during a contentious floor session in which Democrats said the measure would have a disparate impact on minority voting rights and Republicans recoiled at accusations of racism. Also pending in the Senate is SB1593, which would reduce the time people have to vote early and require ballots to be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day.


Few contested primaries for independents to influence

From left are Nancy Barto and Heather Carter
From left are Nancy Barto and Heather Carter

Independent voters don’t have many contested races in Maricopa County in which they can sway the outcome with Arizona primary elections roughly two months away.

With every hot race like Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, versus Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, there are at least a dozen or so uncontested primaries on both the Democratic and Republican ballots this year in Maricopa County.

In the state Senate there are only five districts with a primary challenge, including the Barto and Carter race in Legislative District 15. Legislative District 22, on the Republican side, has Sen. David Livingston, the incumbent, against two opponents – Van Dicarlo and Hop Nguyen. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita will face Alexander Kolodin in the Legislative District 23 Republican primary. On the Democratic side, Sen. Lela Alston faces Ryan Starzyk in Legislative District 24 and Sen. Juan Mendez will be challenged by Jana Lynn Granillo in Legislative District 26.

election-logo-2020The remaining Senate races either have candidates set to win the seat come November (barring a write-in campaign) or a one-on-one race that won’t matter for the primary.

In the House, 12 of the 20 districts in Maricopa County have a contested primary, meaning more than two candidates per party, and Legislative District 29 has contested primaries for both the Republicans and Democrats. Nine races are on the Republican side and the remaining four are for Democrats.

Both Legislative districts 1 and 15 will fill two vacancies as those current representatives either are termed out or retiring and several others have one open seat.

There are positives and negatives in not having a primary challenge as seen when Fred DuVal ran for governor in 2014, but there aren’t any races of that magnitude this election cycle.

Typically, the positives of no primary challenge is the ability to save money and resources for the general election race, but the negatives, if there is a competitive primary for the opposing party, are that all the attention will be on the opposing party’s ballot instead.

Independent voters can select which ballot they want to vote on during the primaries instead of having to re-register for a specific party like they would in a Presidential Preference Election. Currently, there are 1,249,379 registered voters listed under the “other” category according to April numbers from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Looking at other races on the August primary ballot, there is not a contested statewide contest, after four Republican candidates who intended to run for the Arizona Corporation Commission are no longer on the ballot. That leaves just two on the ballot with two others hoping for a write-in bid. For Democrats, only three are running for three seats.

The next major race in Maricopa County on the Democratic side is the primary for county attorney.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, was the last Democrat to run for that seat, losing to now-Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery by the slimmest margin in years for that office.

Three Democrats are running to unseat Allister Adel, the Republican who the County Board of Supervisors appointed to replace Montgomery last fall. Adel does not face a primary challenger.

Republican county candidates see challenges in the race for county assessor, county treasurer, county recorder and county sheriff, and among the few races for constable and justice of the peace. Whereas Democrats only have challenges for justice of the peace races in the Maryvale and Moon Valley precincts.

Federal races are a different story.

Arizona currently has nine congressional districts and all but the 2nd Congressional District touches Maricopa County, and of those eight the 7th Congressional District is the only one without a primary challenge for either party.

The most-discussed challenges for Congress in Arizona are the Democrats in the 6th Congressional District to see who will take on Rep. David Schweikert, who has been drowning in legal fees over what he called “an accounting error.” Dr. Hiral Tipirneni leads that pack with the most fundraising of any congressional challenger in the state, and one of the top nationwide.

She lost twice to Rep. Debbie Lesko in the 2018 8th Congressional District special and general elections. Now Tipirneni will see Anita Malik, the CD6 Democratic nominee in 2018, and relative newcomers Stephanie Rimmer and Karl Gentles.

In the 1st Congressional District, Rep. Tom O’Halleran is being challenged by the more progressive Eva Putzova, and the Republican race is between Tiffany Shedd and Nolan Reidhead.

Rep. Paul Gosar, in the 4th Congressional District, is the only remaining incumbent facing a primary challenge in Anne Marie Ward.

Then there’s the most talked about race nationwide between likely foes U.S. Sen. Martha McSally and Mark Kelly.

McSally will see a Republican challenger who has failed to raise significant money and show up in any polls nationwide. Whereas Kelly is only looking at a write-in candidate who goes by “Heir Hawkeye.”

House advances resolution to increase representation

Arizona voters could have a say in how many lawmakers there are to represent them at the Capitol.

Warren Petersen
Sen. Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert)

A resolution sponsored by Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, would increase the number of state senators and representatives in Arizona by putting a cap on the population of legislative districts.

Petersen said the measure would ensure that Arizonans have their best interests appropriately represented. To accomplish that, he wants the Arizona  Independent Redistricting Commission to divide the state’s population by 220,000 — the size of legislative districts by population during the last redistricting process — every 10 years. The IRC would then redraw legislative district boundaries in a way that ensures no district has more than 220,000 residents.

Arizona’s booming population growth means legislators will represent larger districts following the next redistricting process, which begins in 2021. That’s the year the IRC would have to do the math, and every decade after that.

Left untouched, Arizona’s legislative districts would exceed 233,000 residents per district, according to the latest available U.S. Census data.

With more Arizonans to represent, lawmakers won’t be able to serve their constituents as well, Petersen said.

“Arizona is, according to (the National Conference of State Legislatures), we have the third most populated House Districts. We each average close to 220,000 people per district,” Petersen told the House Appropriations Committee on March 28. “There is a principle of representing the people, being accessible, being close to the people, and I’m sure we’ve all failed it.”

There are currently more than 7 million people in Arizona. By applying Petersen’s math and dividing that number by 220,000 residents, Arizona would split into 32 legislative districts, two more than there are now.

That would mean another four representatives, two per district, and two state senators at the Capitol.

That was cause for concern among Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, where the bill was approved on a 7-3 party line vote last week. Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, questioned if Arizona’s Capitol buildings had the capacity for another four representatives and two senators. Alston called the proposal impractical.

Rep. Ken Clark (D-Phoenix)
Rep. Ken Clark (D-Phoenix)

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, voted against the resolution after arguing it didn’t go far enough. Making the cap on the population size of legislative districts even smaller would provide more focused representation, and it would also have the benefit of forcing the House and Senate to outgrow their current office space.

“My goal here is to have enough members so we can tear down these old buildings and have something nicer,” Clark quipped.

Clark also warned his Republican colleague that the measure would likely benefit Democrats. Urban population centers would likely be split into even more districts, meaning those new representatives and senators would likely vote with the minority party.

Republicans countered that the measure would also be popular for rural voters who feel like their districts are stretched too far and wide. Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, noted that “right now my district is exactly eight hours from top to bottom.”

The measure still needs a vote in the House, where Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he hasn’t decided if he’ll let the resolution advance.

If approved by the House, it would take another vote in the Senate to send the resolution to the ballot, where voters would get the final say over the proposed Constitutional change.

Housing panel recommends zoning law changes

New homes are under construction at the new master-planned community Reserve at Red Rock in Mesa on Nov. 30. Housing affordability has fallen to its lowest level in 33 years, and mortgage and home prices have surged. (Photo by: Alexandra Buxbaum/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

The chairman of the Housing Supply Study Committee is proposing to alter zoning laws and permanently fund the Housing Trust Fund to create more affordable housing in the state.  

Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, made those recommendations and others in the committee’s final meeting Dec. 20.  

Kaiser concluded that Arizona lacks housing data, zoning is a primary barrier to affordable housing, the building process should be sped up and there is too much NIMBYism blocking development. 

Committee members sent recommendations to Kaiser, which he considered and approved certain ones. 

Rep. Steve Kaiser, House, affordable housing
Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix

The most ambitious recommendation and the one Kaiser has spoken about the most is altering zoning rules. Kaiser recommends reducing redundancies in the general plan and zoning codes, reducing the need for rezoning, expediting zoning applications, reconsidering whether city councils need to hear every rezoning request, establishing a rural community infrastructure grant plan and allowing developers to go through an appeals process if the city council rejects their proposal. Kaiser said he’s not sure who the developer would appeal to. 

Last session, Kaiser sponsored a bill that would have made some of these changes, but it was transformed into the bill that created the Housing Supply Study Committee instead. 

Following zoning changes, Kaiser recommended making it easier to build properties that are larger than single family homes but smaller than huge multifamily developments, such as duplexes and quadruplexes.  

As he has suggested several times, Kaiser said he supports allowing people to build small affordable units (like mother-in-law suites and living spaces in remodeled garages). He also recommends limiting “discretionary review of design standards” to allow more housing options and styles, including manufactured homes. 

Kaiser also recommended creating a housing data clearinghouse and charge the Arizona Department of Housing and the Arizona Commerce Authority with creating a housing needs assessment. Next, Kaiser wants to reconvene the State Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness.  

Keeping the senior population in mind, Kaiser called for allowing more small homes to be built, waiving parking space restrictions, funding senior homeless shelters and permanently funding the Housing Trust Fund.  

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, has been trying to pass a law to establish permanent housing trust fund monies for years, but she hasn’t been able to get enough support from Republicans.  

Lela Alston

Last year, Alston and some allies got more money put into the Housing Trust Fund, but not the amount she hoped for, and that Kaiser seems to be suggesting again. The two Democrats on the Housing Committee are Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, and Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, but neither of them is returning to the Legislature next session. Quezada said Alston might be interested in supporting some of Kaiser’s plans and she responded positively to his Housing Trust Fund proposal on Dec. 20. 

Going forward, Kaiser said he’s already working on housing legislation and will continue the stakeholder outreach process.  

Some of the other committee members’ suggestions that Kaiser did not support include changes to the landlord-tenant agreement to further protect renters and letting school districts build teacher housing on their land. 

Another issue that Kaiser didn’t mention is tackling the source of income-based discrimination. The Legislature recently passed a law that allows landlords to discriminate based on the source of income which Tucson and some of the housing supply committee members don’t agree with. 

Several of Kaiser’s recommendations do align with Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs’s extensive housing plan and he expects to see bipartisan support for some proposals from her as well as other Democrat legislators. 

Senate President-elect Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, issued an economic plan recently that also incorporates some elements of Kaiser and Hobbs’ ideas. Petersen and Kaiser have been communicating on the topic. 

The committee met 12 times since the Legislature adjourned, heard from more than 70 presenters, and traveled across the state to learn about housing needs. 

About 300 people move to Arizona every day, but the housing supply is down an estimated 270,000 homes according to the Department of Housing. 

Last session, bills that aimed to address the housing supply had little success but going into this upcoming session there is interest from lawmakers in both parties and chambers.  

Impact of student population in downtown nil at ballot

ASU students prepare to cross the street to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in downtown Phoenix, where roughly 13,000 students attend satellite campuses of the state's three universities. (Photo by Andrew Howard/Arizona Capitol Times)
ASU students prepare to cross the street to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in downtown Phoenix, where roughly 13,000 students attend satellite campuses of the state’s three universities. (Photo by Andrew Howard/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona-based universities have increasingly focused on downtown Phoenix in the past decade, with all three state universities bringing satellite campuses to the area between Roosevelt and Van Buren streets.

Their presence has changed the neighborhood as roughly 13,000 students, ranging from undergrad to medical and law, moved to the area. Housing, restaurants, parking and shopping all sprung up since the introduction of the universities.

But one thing has not changed, at least not drastically – voting.

Paul Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy for HighGround Public Affairs Consulting, said there has been an increase in voter registration in the precincts surrounding the area, but the outcomes remained the same.

The area surrounding the universities is made up of three precincts, McDowell, Westward Ho and Edison.

Since the 2018 election, each of those precincts has seen a rise in registered voters, according to data from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office that Bentz compiled.

In the McDowell precinct, there was a 17.4 percent increase in voter registration, while in Westward Ho the increase was 26.6 percent and in Edison it was 23.2 percent.

“I don’t know what’s driving that, but there is an uptick in voter registration in all of those areas,” he said.

Even with the rise in registration, Bentz said it is difficult to credit the universities for the increase.

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

Participation among younger voters is still relatively low statewide, and college students often stay registered in their home state instead of voting where they attend school, Bentz said.

“They don’t vote,” he said. Statewide, he said people age 29 and under only made up 11.5 percent of the vote in 2018, which is twice the percentage of 2014, but still relatively small.

Despite their possible low voting participation, Bentz said they have played a big role in the changing community.

He said the number of stores, restaurants and housing complexes in the community has clearly increased since the introduction of the universities.

“They have a greater impact on the life of the community than in electoral participation,” he said.

He also said it is hard to look to the legislative districts to say if there has been a political impact. The schools are all located in Legislative District 24, but because the district stretches far outside the reach of the schools it is hard to come to any conclusion about their impact.

Bentz said there is very little Republican participation in those areas.

“These are all heavy Democrat districts to begin with, but there is an under-participation when it comes to independent voters,” he said.

Democrats made up 51.2 percent of registered voters in the McDowell precinct, compared to 11.7 percent for Republicans. In Westward Ho, 48.1 percent are Democrats and 13.5 percent are Republicans.

In Edison, Democrats represent 48.6 percent, and only 8.8 percent are registered with the GOP. The remaining voters are either independent or affiliated with other political parties.

A Valley Metro light rail train passes the Sun Devil Fitness Complex at First Avenue and Polk Street on July 10, 2019. The complex is one of several buildings in downtown Phoenix that house satellite campuses for ASU, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University where roughly 13,000 students attend. PHOTO BY ANDREW HOWARD/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
A Valley Metro light rail train passes the Sun Devil Fitness Complex at First Avenue and Polk Street on July 10, 2019. The complex is one of several buildings in downtown Phoenix that house satellite campuses for ASU, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University where roughly 13,000 students attend.

He said Democratic participation has remained steady in the precincts, but the percentage of GOP participation has fallen from about 16 percent to between 8 and 12 percent now.

ASU downtown has roughly 12,000 students, UofA has 761 and NAU has 394.

David Wells, a senior lecturer at the ASU downtown campus who teaches political science, said students may have some political impact, but that the downtown area is large and it has historically been Democratic.

He said the population of the area has grown and that portion of that growth has been the universities, but the shift in voter registration is tied to the growth of the whole area.

Wells said that students at the schools may have had a “modest” impact since they came to the area, but he pointed out that the areas have always been heavily Democrat.

“There is not a change in preference, just more voters,” Wells said.

In the 2008 general election, all three precincts voted largely in favor of Barack Obama for president, and all three had significantly fewer registered voters than they do today, according to data from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

In the 2016 general election, each of the precincts voted more than 75 percent for Hilary Clinton, similar to the 2008 margins, but registration had increased significantly.

Both years had relatively similar overall turnouts, with 77.69 percent of registered voters casting their ballot in 2008, and 74.17 in 2016, according to the Secretary of State’s Office website.

The only Republican to win in the three precincts in 2016 was County Assessor Paul Peterson, who ran unopposed.

Westward Ho, the precinct that contains the universities, had the highest increase in voter registration since the 2008 election.

Wells said he has seen the shift in ideology through his class’s enthusiasm about presidential candidates. He said that his class was far more enthusiastic about Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, than they were about former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in 2016.

“Students, they’ve always been Democratic,” he said. “But they keep getting more and more Democratic.”

He said although his students often disagree about Democrats, almost none of his students support the current president.

“It’s hard to find students with an affinity to Donald Trump,” he said.

Wells said he expects young voters to turn out even more in the 2020 general election after a strong showing in the 2018 midterms.

“Everyone has experienced four years of Trump, so I anticipate their motivations will be much higher,” he said.

Wells said many out of state students do not re-register in Arizona, but added that many students from California may register in Arizona because their vote may have a bigger impact here than in California, where Democrats are heavily favored.

Campaigning in the area is not always easy, either.

Lela Alston
Lela Alston

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, who represents the downtown area that includes the universities, said it can be hard to campaign near the campus because campaigners are not allowed into the dorms or apartment complexes in the area.

Alston said to combat that issue, the campaign tries to send emails and reach out in other ways.

Despite the difficulties for campaigning in the area, she said that if she is asked to participate with students for classes or speak to the student government she will make the time to do so.

“It’s not so much saying ‘vote for me,’ but talking about government and the importance of voting,” Alston said.

Alston said she tries to be as involved as possible with students and young people because of the role they will play in the future.

Student leaders are aware of the low voter turnout in their population, and Victoria Grijalva Ochoa, an ASU student and president of Vote Everywhere ASU, is trying to change the culture.

Grijalva Ochoa said that in order to get students to register to vote, they need to be comfortable.

Grijalva Ochoa said the voter group, which she ran for two years and worked on for three before her graduation, works to break down the barriers students face when registering to vote for the first time.

The group focuses on explaining the voter registration form, bringing in lawmakers to speak and explaining the democratic process, Ochoa said.

Grijalva Ochoa said the group isn’t solely focused on getting students to register in Arizona. She said the priority is just to get students registered, and that if they feel more comfortable voting in their home state, they should.

“Voting in general is our biggest priority,” Grijalva Ochoa said. “We let them know what they can impact voting in Arizona and in their home state.”

Grijalva Ochoa said the club aims to find out what prevents students from voting, and what the club can do to fix it.

“It’s important to ask students ‘why haven’t you voted?’ and ‘what’s stopping you from voting,’” she said.

Incoming lawmakers, governor-elect aim to tackle housing

New homes are under construction at the new master-planned community Reserve at Red Rock sits in Mesa, Arizona USA on November 30, 2022. Housing affordability has fallen to its lowest level in 33 years, and mortgage and home prices have surged. (Photo by: Alexandra Buxbaum/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Republicans and Democrats want to address housing in the upcoming legislative session, and some of their proposals overlap.

Everyone in and around the Capitol is aware of the housing shortage regardless of political affiliation but agreeing on solutions is a tricky issue that pits state and local control against one another.

Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a Housing Supply Study Committee that has been meeting for the past several months to learn about Arizona’s lack of affordable housing.

The committee members are now preparing documents on the issue and how they want to address it.

Rep. Steve Kaiser, House, affordable housing
Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix

Committee chair Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, will present the report within the next two weeks or so. He will also likely sponsor some legislation that will come out of the committee as he did last year.

Democrat Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs has a very detailed housing plan that includes several proposed bills. She is a former social worker and legislator with an interest in housing problems.

Land costs and building costs have increased, more people are moving into Arizona, inexpensive housing is decreasing, and new housing isn’t being built as quickly as it did in previous years, but lawmakers already have possible solutions on the table.

Lifting Zoning Restrictions

Jake Hinman, Arizona Multihousing Association director of government affairs, said, “Zoning has made it extraordinarily difficult to get through the process. NIMBYISM is a result of zoning.”

He accused cities like Scottsdale of being “downright hostile” toward affordable housing while other cities like Tempe are taking the issue full-on and ending up housing the workforce and low-income residents.

Perhaps the most commonly repeated theme in the Housing Supply Study Committee is the need to cut back on zoning “red tape” that discourages developers from wanting to build homes in Arizona.

“Twenty years ago, you could take a property from dirt and build a house within six months,” Senate President-elect Warren Petersen said in an economic proposal he released earlier this year. “Those days are long gone as a litany of hurdles have been placed in obtaining approvals for land development and housing. Now, it can take as long as four years! Let’s increase the housing supply by shortening this window. One way to accomplish this is through administrative approvals for all projects that meet existing laws and requirements.”

Kaiser has made repealing zoning restrictions a priority over the past several meetings of the Housing Supply Study Committee, but the question that remains to be tackled is which zoning regulations must go.

This is not necessarily a partisan issue.

Hobbs offers some specific deregulation proposals in her housing plan.

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

“Examples of zoning changes that lead to more housing inventory include: building an additional dwelling unit, an accessory unit or a single-room occupancy unit on a residential lot; allowing higher density zoning that can accommodate more development of moderate-income housing; permitting higher density residential projects in or near commercial and mixed-use zones, major transit investment corridors, or employment centers; reducing restrictive requirements for affordable housing projects, such as minimum parking spaces, minimum unit sizes, or common area requirements; and providing zoning and financial incentives to developers who dedicate a certain percentage of units to market or below market rate housing,” she wrote.

Increasing density and allowing non-traditional homes also came up several times in the Housing Supply Study Committee.

Inclusionary Zoning

Inclusionary zoning requires developers to devote a certain percentage of the units in a project to affordable housing and it’s banned in Arizona. Theile included the idea as a recommendation to the committee and was met with pushback from Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

Kamps argued that inclusionary housing essentially taxes the very developers who are trying to create needed housing. He asked where in the United States inclusionary housing has been able to fix a housing shortage, and his question wasn’t answered. Kaiser said he’s not convinced inclusionary housing can do enough to help Arizona.

The idea got a more positive reception from Tempe Mayor Corey Woods who said, “I do think an inclusionary zoning policy would be tremendously helpful.”

Glendale Community Services Director Jean Moreno asked whether inclusionary zoning funded by low-income tax credits could be a solution that keeps developers incentivized and affordable housing coming in.

In this Dec. 4, 2019, photo, the main entrance is seen of a new apartment building opened for a ceremony at the Native American Connections Urban Living on Fillmore affordable housing unit in Phoenix. Republicans and Democrats want to address housing in the upcoming legislative session and some of their proposals overlap. The legislature approved a Housing Supply Study Committee in the most recent session that has been meeting for several months to learn about Arizona’s lack of affordable housing. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Tax Increment Financing

Several states use tax increment financing or TIF, which incentivizes developers. A city sets aside the area to be developed and when property taxes in the region increase, the added revenue – separate from the base revenue stream – is diverted to the developer as a subsidy.

Arizona allows some forms of TIF but bans others. This issue has come up several times in the Legislature and is usually pushed by cities and towns that would get the benefit of more control over development.

Income Discrimination

In Arizona, developments often don’t allow people who use housing vouchers to rent at their properties. Tucson tried to stop developers from discriminating on income source, and it is now the subject of an investigation.

Speaker of the House-elect Ben Toma, R-Peoria, filed a complaint against Tucson on Nov. 16 for blocking income source-based discrimination, which he says violates state law.

“The Arizona Legislature … has explicitly prohibited municipalities from wielding their fair housing codes to continually exact more regulatory burdens on rental property owners,” Toma wrote. State law does ban municipalities with large populations from adopting fair housing ordinances.

Moreno, of Glendale, said discrimination is a problem because vouchers allow mixed income housing and so many communities won’t accept the vouchers. Cities only get a limited number of vouchers and a tight budget for them. Residents must be at the “very low” income level to qualify for them.

Blocking income source discrimination would be a good move in her opinion. “This would provide an opportunity to support households that are at a very low income,” she said.

Housing Trust Fund

Several legislators, including Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, and Kaiser have sponsored legislation to fund the Housing Trust Fund with the Arizona Department of Housing, which can be used for projects like homeless shelters. The HTF got a significant allocation in last year’s budget, but Hobbs wants to increase it even more – as does Alston.  




Lawmakers look to 2020 as ink dries on this year’s bills

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)

The legislative session wasn’t even done before lawmakers started announcing bills they planned to introduce next session.

In addition to pledging to continue working on major pieces of legislation that didn’t pass this year, lawmakers promised to tackle a host of new items, from making it easier to build a border wall to banning corporal punishment.

Here’s a look at some of the bills legislators have already promised to introduce:


Shortly after the Legislature adjourned, a GoFundMe-account-turned-nonprofit organization that’s trying to build sections of a fence along the U.S.- Mexico border hit a bureaucratic wall in New Mexico. Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he was troubled by headlines about the city of Sunland Park, New Mexico, forcing the organization to halt construction because it didn’t have the necessary city permits.

Construction has since resumed on the New Mexico wall, and no one’s yet trying to build a wall on private border property in Arizona — where most border land is owned by state, federal or tribal governments.

But Petersen wants to make sure any construction in Arizona could move forward unimpeded by local zoning rules. He announced on Twitter that he plans to introduce a bill next session to make sure the organization, We Build the Wall, can construct one here.

“Hard to imagine government stopping people who simply want to be safe in their persons and property,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times in a text message.

Petersen added that he’s still working on language for the bill, but he believes the best path forward is a zoning pre-emption bill or a state general permit for private border wall construction.


Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Window Rock, announced on Twitter that she’ll be an Arizona sponsor of the Veterans Bill of Rights, a piece of model legislation drafted by the liberal advocacy organization Future Now for lawmakers across the country to introduce in 2020.

The model bill calls for awarding college credit for relevant military experience, giving veterans more flexibility in registering for and attending college and expanding their access to health care.

Peshlakai, an Army veteran who served during the Persian Gulf War, said in a statement she plans to work throughout the interim to modify the bill so it meets the needs of Arizona’s veterans.

“By participating in this national effort, I hope to show other states how Arizona delivers on the promise to give veterans and their families the very best,” she said.


This year’s session ended with a hard-fought battle over expanding opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sens. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, secured a permanent 10-year increase in the age by which abuse survivors must file suit and a temporary window for older survivors to sue.

Before the ink of Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature was dry, Boyer and Carter were already thinking about what could be done next session to further help survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Creating a permanent window for older survivors to sue is a “no-brainer,” Boyer said.

Other revisions to law would result from a statewide task force Ducey plans to work on childhood sexual abuse.

“The good news is that there’s enough time for the task force to do its work to come up with legislative proposals that we can look at next year, and that is well before the window expires,” Carter said.


The April death of former state Sen. Stan Furman reminded his former colleague, Sen. Lela Alston, of a piece of unfinished business Furman left behind when his Senate service ended in 1995. Furman tried unsuccessfully to ban corporal punishment in schools, and that’s a ban Alston, D-Phoenix, said she’ll bring up next year.

Arizona is one of 15 states, almost entirely in the South, that still explicitly permits teachers to strike students. But actual cases of corporal punishment are rare. In the 2013-14 academic year, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Education has data, Arizona schools reported hitting six students.

Still, Alston said she wanted to get the law on the books in Furman’s memory.

“My pledge to Stan and the family is to introduce that bill next year and hopefully we’ll do away with corporal punishment in schools,” she said.

Lawmakers seek additional funding for child welfare programs

Woman and daughter standing inside their home

At least two state senators want Gov. Doug Ducey to call a special session to address child welfare issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comments by Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Democratic Sen. Lela Alston — who represent adjoining Phoenix districts — during separate interviews with the Arizona Capitol Times this week come as the House moves forward with one other item on a child welfare advocacy group’s COVID-19 policy wish-list: appropriating $88 million in federal aid for child care centers.

The fate of that bill is unclear, as the Senate already signaled its intent to formally adjourn as soon as the House agrees. But a desire to help children in and out of foster care who are affected by the pandemic could lead to a special session targeted specifically at child welfare as it relates to COVID-19, said Brophy McGee, who expects lawmakers to return for several special sessions this year.

“It looks like the child welfare conversation has gotten up to the top of the pile because, honest to gosh, I’ve never seen so many issues come to the forefront,” she said.

One of several items on a policy wish-list circulated by the Children’s Action Alliance, a nonpartisan organization that lobbies for child welfare, resembles a bill Brophy McGee authored that passed unanimously out of the Senate before the pandemic struck. That bill, SB1323, would ensure that family members caring for children who have been removed from their biological parents are able to access cash payments through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

As pressing as the bill was during the halcyon pre-COVID-19 days, it’s even more urgent now, Brophy McGee said.

Kate Brophy-McGee
Kate Brophy-McGee

“We’ve got to help the people who are taking care of these kids,” she said.

Alston sponsored another stalled bill that would have helped kinship foster families, and that child welfare advocates say is even more critical in the current environment. Her SB1315 would have increased the stipend for relatives who take in related foster children to $250 a month from $75. Non-relative foster families now receive $600 monthly.

Before coronavirus decimated the state’s budget, Gov. Doug Ducey supported doubling the stipend for kinship foster parents, and some increase appeared likely to make it into the budget. And while the budgetary hit is relatively small, lawmakers looking to make up an estimated $1.1 billion deficit aren’t eager to spend more than the bare minimum on anything.

Alston said she worries that families providing kinship care, already in tenuous conditions, will be hit hard by the pandemic and economic slowdown.

“With the mass unemployment, I don’t know specifically family by family, but these kinship care families will be affected as much as the general population and maybe more,” Alston said. “Something has gone on in that family that causes the children to be cared for by grandmas, aunts, uncles or even good friends. It just stands to reason that there’s more drama, trauma in those families.”

Other lawmakers, including Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, have spent the legislative recess working on ways to curtail child abuse during the shutdown. With schools across the state closed since mid-March and the prospect of reopening in person next fall still in question, children are no longer around the teachers, nurses and school staff who are mandatory reporters for child

Police jurisdictions around Arizona reported sharp declines in reports of child abuse in April, even as child welfare advocates expect incidents of abuse to become more common as families experience pandemic-related

Steele worked with the Pima County Attorney’s Office, the Children’s Action Alliance and other groups on circulating fliers and getting cards placed in grocery store bags with information about abuse, including hotlines for neighbors and children. It’s intended to connect callers who suspect something’s wrong next door but don’t know whether to call the police or the Department of Child Safety, which has trained counselors who can help guide them.

Siman Qaasim
Siman Qaasim

The Children’s Action Alliance is also seeking to extend a moratorium on young adults aging out of foster care until six months after the pandemic ends. Currently, youths can opt to leave the system at 18, or continue receiving extended foster care resources until age 21 by participating in secondary education or job training or working at least 80 hours a month.

The child welfare group would like to extend that moratorium and loosen requirements around employment and education during the state of emergency, Children’s Action Alliance President Siman Qaasim said.

“Instead of exiting and saying ‘OK, good luck, we’ve got an unprecedented world crisis,’ we think they should extend that moratorium,” Qaasim said.

Based on some back-of-the-envelope calculations, Qaasim said extending the moratorium through the end of the year would cost the state between $250,000 and $350,000.

Another action, which would cost the state nothing because the money comes from the federal government, is appropriating $88 million in federal funding for child care.

Child care centers already operate on extremely thin profit margins. While parents routinely pay between 10% and 20% of their income toward child care, workers typically make barely more than minimum wage.

Right now, most child care centers are closed because of the shutdown. And without assistance, many will remain closed, Qaasim said.

“This is a sector in crisis,” she said. “From what we can tell from surveys and talking to providers, many of those will stay closed.”

The Children’s Action Alliance is urging the state to use its federal influx to help with expenses to reopen child care centers and waive licensing fees, and to keep a commitment to so-called enrichment centers, which have provided child care during the pandemic to health care workers, first responders and essential workers including grocery store clerks.

A late-breaking bill introduced May 19 by Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, would appropriate $85 million of the available $88 million for the Department of Economic Security to offer forgivable loans to licensed child care facilities. The remaining $3 million would go to the Department of Health Services to use to waive license renewal fees.

“The bill will appropriate that money and will allow child care centers to receive money so they can reopen … and remain open,” Udall said. “That money will flow to the centers. In order for people to get back to work, it’s essential that they have somewhere safe where their children can go.”

— Staff writer Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report.

Legislative Democrats unveil ‘the people’s’ budget proposal


Democrats in the House and Senate released their $12.5 billion budget proposal Monday morning, insisting that it’s not too late for the minority party to get a seat at the negotiating table even as crossover week approaches. 

The “people’s budget,” as it’s been dubbed by House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, assumes an increase in revenue despite not levying new taxes due to a proposed repeal of tax credits for private school tuition organizations and the hiring of more tax collectors at the Department of Revenue. 

The budget uses this extra windfall in order to afford significant spending on schools, housing and infrastructure. But while it spends more than any Republican spending plan and lacks the tens of millions of dollars in tax cuts included in each GOP proposal, the Democratic plan does overlap with each Republican plan in key areas like infrastructure and education spending. 

Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)
Charlene Fernandez (Photo by Dillon Rosenblatt/Arizona Capitol Times)

“There is common ground in all the Republican plans we’ve seen,” Fernandez said. “I sincerely hope that the governor and the Republican leaders, I hope they’re listening right now and that they will sit down with us and work together with us. Arizona can’t reach its full potential as a land of opportunity until all sides are at the table.”

Among other priorities, Democrats want to spend heavily on both K-12 and post-secondary education. Like proposals from across the aisle, Democrats would restore district additional assistance and carry out the final round of teacher pay raises. 

But the minority would also add $85 million to the Arizona Financial Aid Trust to help students pay for college. And it would spend an extra $15 million in ongoing funds to expand the scope of the Arizona Teachers Academy to include school counselors and social workers. Under the Democratic plan, community colleges would also come out ahead, netting almost $20 million for scholarships and $17.6 million for workforce development programs. 

The Democratic budget also calls for spending more than four times as much to aid homeless Arizonans as preliminary spending plans put forth by Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Democrats would appropriate an ongoing $40 million to the Housing Trust Fund, plus another $6 million to help low-income seniors afford to stay in the homes they own.

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Republicans in both chambers proposed adding a one-time $10 million to the Housing Trust Fund, though Senate President Karen Fann said she and others in the Senate Republican caucus are interested in doing more if the money is available. Ducey’s budget adds nothing to the fund.

The Democratic proposal also seeks greater funding for administration of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program than any of the Republican budgets. It calls for $3.2 million in ongoing funds for the Arizona Department of Education to administer the program, matching the agency’s request. Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget appropriates only $961,000, while the two Republican legislative proposals call for $1 million. Up to 5% of the ESA fund can be used for administrative costs — 4% to the Education Department and the remaining percent to the Treasurer’s Office. 

Despite repeated requests and the growing size of the voucher program, the department has never gotten the full appropriation. This has made for a useful rebuttal by Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat who has faced accusations from the right that she’s seeking to undermine the voucher system — especially after her department improperly redacted and released a database of each voucher account to the media. 

Democratic leaders boasted that their budget did not rely on any tax increases, though repealing School Tuition Organization tax credits would result in a $110 million increase in revenue this year and up to $164 million in additional revenue by 2023. Thanks to a 1992 constitutional amendment, any attempt to raise taxes or repeal tax credits requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

The budget also calls for the elimination of results-based school funding that awards state dollars based on performance on standardized tests — another way to free up funds. 

“They would be revenue-increasing, but I see that as more of a reallocation,” House Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese said of repealing tax credits. “That program was designed to help families that have less means get to a private school, but that’s not what that program is doing.” 

Other big spends include $60 million, $80 million and then $120 million over the next three years for pay increases for those who care for Arizonans with developmental disabilities. Caretakers of the elderly and physically disabled would also see pay boosts under the budget, as would caseworkers in the Department of Child Safety. 

Republicans in the House and Senate proposed allocating an extra $15 million this year to provide 3% pay raises to caretakers for Arizonans with disabilities. But Democrats including Sen. Lela Alston, the Phoenix Democrat who serves as the ranking minority member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the state needs to do more. 

“It is a sad state of affairs when these providers are competing for and losing employees to McDonald’s and to Burger King, and this must change,” Alston said.

David Bradley
David Bradley

Friese and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said Republican leaders have a good idea of Democratic priorities, even if they didn’t share their line-item budget with Republicans until after announcing it publicly. There’s still plenty of time to add Democratic spending priorities to the eventual legislative budget, said Bradley, D-Tucson. 

“We’ll go lengthy into the night, night after night after night after night, as long as it takes to get it done. So, yeah, we’re confident that there’s time,” Bradley said.

Republican leaders in both chambers are still working toward finalizing a legislative budget proposal by the end of crossover week, one week from Friday, said Fann, R-Prescott. As of Monday afternoon, she had not seen the Democratic proposal, and she said she was disappointed Democrats shared their spending plan publicly before sharing it with her because she’s been asking for it for weeks. 

“We are all working on this diligently, and it would be nice to know what the Democrats want sooner rather than later,” she said. 

Lobbyists navigate lawmakers’ bad behavior, professional relationships


In 2018, at the height of the Me Too movement, investigators for the House of Representatives dismissed a lobbyist’s allegations of harassment against a state representative because the lobbyist sent friendly text messages after the alleged incident occurred.

The mental calculations she described in a sworn deposition made public earlier this month are all too familiar: Looking past an offensive comment or off-color joke, because the fight wasn’t worth it. Pretending an unwanted romantic advance never happened. Marshalling colleagues and meeting in public places to avoid being alone.

At the Capitol, where relationships are everything and the caprice of a single lawmaker can derail months of policy work, lobbyists must balance representing clients and fighting for policy positions with the costs of not calling out bad behavior.

And as women at the Capitol and across the country grow more empowered to speak out about behavior that would have been ignored in years past, some male lawmakers have responded by doubling down on a boys’ club mentality, granting greater access to male lobbyists than their female counterparts out of a stated wish to avoid even a whiff of impropriety.

Tory Roberg
Tory Roberg

In some instances, lobbyist Tory Roberg said, lobbying for issues she cares about means putting up with a lot in the hopes that it will someday get a bill across the finish line.

“In order to serve our clients, we have to build up relationships,” Roberg said. “I have to weigh whether keeping this relationship is worth it to pass a bill.”

Mental math

Not only lobbyists but also female lawmakers have to manage balancing acts.

Other representatives often don’t listen to Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, when she speaks on the floor of the House. On the evening of February 26, a few of her Republican colleagues went further than simply ignoring her, instead joking and guffawing over a sexual innuendo they perceived in her remarks.

Blanc ignored them and continued speaking. She said later that it was another example of an uneven power dynamic she can’t stop thinking about.

“I’m continuously reminded that it’s a power dynamic, and my colleagues across the aisle have all the power,” she said. “If I feel this way and I’m an equal, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a lobbyist — a female or a male lobbyist — in this power dynamic.”

Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist at the progressive firm Creosote Partners, said she thinks often of a piece of advice Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shared: It helps sometimes to be a little deaf.

Ginsburg’s mother-in-law advised her on her wedding day to tune out small thoughtless or unkind words, and it’s a strategy she used in the workplace as well. Tuning out offensive jokes and comments helps at the Capitol, Rodriguez said.

“There are definitely things that I don’t laugh off, but that I have to pretend not to hear,” she said.

For lobbyists representing clients whose issues don’t align with the prevailing view at the Capitol, finding votes often means putting up with unacceptable behavior, Roberg said. Roberg represents the Secular Coalition of Arizona and often advocates for issues unpopular with the GOP majority.

“It’s just really hard when you’re already the underdog in a fight,” she said. “If you have an opportunity to get into someone’s office, you have to take it.”

“I’ve never crossed any lines,” she quickly added.

Blurred lines

High-profile scandals involving lawmakers and lobbyists — from the seemingly consensual relationship between Rep. David Cook and an agricultural industry lobbyist who supported his bills, to accusations of harassment levied against Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and former Rep. Don Shooter — draw attention to the uneven power dynamic between lobbyists who push for bills and the lawmakers who control their fate.

Barry Aarons, the de facto dean of the Arizona lobbying corps, said those incidents are the exception, not the rule.

“Every year or couple of years, there’s an incident or two that pops up unfortunately and all of us [lobbyists] tend to take the spatter on it,” he said. “Basically, the ethical level of the Arizona Legislature and all of us involved in it is relatively high, with the exception of a couple of lapses that have occurred over time.”

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

Aarons said he teaches his staff to be “extremely cautious when socializing” with lawmakers and their staff, and prohibits romantic relationships between his employees and lawmakers. The employees also aren’t allowed to drink with lawmakers “on company time,” he said, but he rejected a suggestion that lobbyists stop buying drinks for lawmakers.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we think that we can’t have a casual meal and refreshments,” Aarons said. “If you want to ban [drinking], ban it. It’s not a lobbying technique.”

Complicating matters is a lack of clear, industrywide ethical standards for lobbyists, paired with the Legislature’s lack of a formal code of conduct.

The American League of Lobbyists has a code of ethics it urges members to comply with, but the code doesn’t get into murky matters like relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists. Other states, including Colorado, have their own professional lobbyist associations that regulate lobbying ethics and seek to prevent harassment at state capitols.

Matt Benson, a former Arizona Republic reporter who now lobbies for Veridus, said lobbyists and reporters have similar difficulties navigating ethical boundaries with lawmakers. Both reporters and lobbyists operate more casually than people in most jobs, he said.

Reporters have relationships with sources they talk to during regular business hours and after hours over dinner or drinks, he said.

“Being a lobbyist isn’t so much different,” Benson said. “Lobbyists interact with other lobbyists, with staff members, and with legislators during the day and sometimes off hours, and there’s nothing inappropriate about that, provided that you stay between the bright lines.”

Veridus follows a code of common sense, Benson said, adding that formal enforced ethical guidelines regulating lawmaker-lobbyist relationships are hard to imagine. And trying to craft rules will only muddy waters, he said.

“What would that look like? One drink is OK, but three and you cross the line?” he said.

If anyone on his team feels uncomfortable with a specific lawmaker they have to meet, another employee will tag along, Benson said.

“Clearly there have been some incidents that have come to light – not just this session, but in past sessions. I don’t know that that necessarily means the system is broken. What it speaks to is the fact that we’re dealing with human beings and they make mistakes and I don’t know that you eliminate that by putting a set of rules on paper.”

Former Republican lawmaker Maria Syms acknowledges people are flawed and said doing nothing about it at all won’t solve the problem. When Syms was in the House, she was one of the most outspoken members calling for a formal code of conduct in the wake of Shooter’s expulsion and asking to “get the frat house out of the state House.”

Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Maria Syms

Syms said she even provided examples from another state legislature that could be used as a starting point, but nothing ever happened.

Syms said the longer the rules governing relationships, which need to be as objective and ethical as possible, continue to be vague or non-existent, the worse the problem could get.

“Lawmakers and lobbyists are saying we can self-regulate, but that’s not enough,” Syms said. “It’s a lot easier to not have a code of conduct for that when these things come up because you can pick and choose whose actions and what actions are appropriate or inappropriate depending on the political climate at the time. These scandals keep coming up and we have some work to do.”

The Pence policy

Longshot Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster found an Arizona fan in Sen. Vince Leach last summer, when Foster told a female reporter she couldn’t accompany him on a day of campaign events unless she brought along a male colleague.

“I’m not going to ever put myself in a position where a female could come back and say that I made advances on her, I tried to assault her and there’s no witness there to say that did not happen,” Foster told NPR.

Leach shared a version of the story on his campaign Facebook page, adding that he agreed totally with Foster’s position.

“This has been my policy going back probably 20 years,” Leach said via text. “Have forgotten the mentor that gave me this advice. Same policy for constituents and lobbyists and others I meet with. It seems to have worked well so far and see no reason to change.”

Foster and Leach follow the “Billy Graham rule,” named for the late evangelical preacher, which prohibits spending time alone with anyone of the opposite gender other than a spouse. Another notable adherent is Vice President Mike Pence, who refuses to dine alone with a woman or attend events with alcohol unless his wife is with him.

Leach’s announcement last summer surprised some of his female colleagues and lobbyists, who couldn’t recall if they had met alone with him. And knowing that a male lawmaker treats women differently because of their gender is really uncomfortable, Rodriguez said.

“Now every time I see him I wonder, ‘how do you view me?’” Rodriguez said.

Leach is far from alone in refusing to meet alone with female lobbyists, Senate President Karen Fann said. She even had a male representative, who she declined to name, who turned down a woman who asked to catch a ride with him to Tucson but told Fann he would have readily agreed if a man had asked him.

Other male lawmakers make sure to have an assistant come in to meetings with female lobbyists, or keep the door open during those conversations out of “self-preservation,” Fann said.

“It is sad that we have gone so far with trying to be careful about not being perceived as anything that, yes I do believe that some of the female lobbyists are unfortunately not getting the same equal (treatment) as a male because of the fact they are female,” she said.

Slow changes

Discussions of sexual harassment at the Legislature, as in the nation at large, reveal generational differences between the Baby Boomers and older Gen-Xers who entered a male-dominated arena and the younger women who expected a more equal playing field. Fann, who also owns a highway construction business, noted that she has been dealing in a male-dominated world her entire life.

“You just get in and you roll up your sleeves and you do it,” Fann said. “Those of us in our generation, our whole lives we’ve had to work a little harder just to show that women can do as good a job — if not better — than men in some areas.”

When Stacey Morley started working as an intern at the Senate in the mid-90s, there was an unwritten rule that female interns shouldn’t go into certain male members’ offices alone.

“We all knew what happened, but no one ever really said anything,” she said. “And there were a lot more affairs between lobbyists and members. All that kind of stuff used to be a lot more common and accepted, whereas now it’s very hush hush.”

Morley, now the government affairs director for Stand for Children, said she has never been put in a position where she felt harassed — something she attributes in large part to her own brash personality and inappropriate sense of humor. For instance, Morley said, she loved Shooter, the former lawmaker who was ejected from office.

“He was like a dirty old man,” Morley said. “He never made me feel uncomfortable, but that’s probably because my standards are way lower than most people.”

She said she could see where younger or more sheltered lobbyists, who come from a different background than she did, could feel very uncomfortable at the Legislature.

“Not to say that I haven’t flirted with members to get my bills passed, but I never felt like anything was expected of me,” she said. “I’ve just had a different experience about it.”

Lela Alston
Lela Alston

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said she’s dismayed that the Legislature hasn’t yet solved the problem of sexual harassment. Everyone at the Capitol should be able to do their jobs without fear, she said.

“Whether you’re a lobbyist or a reporter or you’re a page or you’re a staffer, you should be able to pursue your careers free from any kind of that expectation and you should have no concerns about members’ behavior,” Alston said. “I’m particularly offended if young women are compromised in their ability to do their jobs, perfect their professional skills, be able to rise to their highest level of potential in their chosen career. That should not be hampered by gender.”

After the AzScam scandal in 1991, the Legislature brought a nationally recognized expert on ethics to train lawmakers on ethical behavior. It might be time to do that again, Alston said, or at least adopt and enforce a code of conduct.

“We’re not a court of law by any stretch of the imagination, but we do have the ability to say what should and should not go on in our own little realm right here,” Alston said. “And we should all have the expectation that those rules of conduct should be maintained, that there’s no wink-wink, nod-nod going on, that we have these rules but we don’t really mean it.”

Prescription Drug Solutions Overdue, Sinema and Kelly Must Act

During my time as an elected official in Arizona, I have heard anecdotes about impossible decisions families are forced to make due to out-of-control prescription drug costs. Horrible choices like deciding to buy critical medications or paying the rent, buying groceries, or paying the utility bill. This is a choice no one living in a country as prosperous as American should ever have to make.   

Here in the Arizona Senate, Democrats have worked to come up with solutions to give relief to patients. But our families, seniors and small businesses — struggling under the cost of medications — also need significant solutions that can only be delivered at the federal level. This is why we need our representatives in Congress, particularly Sens. Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly, to stand up to the powerful influence of pharmaceutical companies and pass reforms that will tackle the crisis of prescription drug affordability and give Arizonans much need help.  

Lela Alston

In January 2021, drug makers hiked prices on 822 brand name prescription drugs. Six months later, in July 2021, an additional 67 brand name prescription drugs increased their price. A recent report from AARP Public Policy Institute showed that between 2015 and 2019, on average 90 percent of the top 50 most popular drugs among Medicare Part D beneficiaries increased their price at rates higher than the rate of inflation. These targeted price hikes affect my district immensely as 10.6 percent of my constituents are age 65 or over. And the repercussions are felt across the state as we have over 1.3 million Medicare beneficiaries across Arizona.   

The pharmaceutical industry argues that their pricing practices are necessary to support the development of new medicines and claim solutions to lower drug prices would put innovation at risk. But earlier this year, a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found investments made in research and development for a drug ultimately have no impact on how drug companies determine its price.  

In particular, Congress should place a cap on out-of-pocket spending for seniors, stop drug makers from increasing drug prices at rates higher than inflation and deter price-gouging by giving drug makers significant cost sharing responsibilities for seniors who reach the most expensive tier of coverage under the Part D program. These solutions have already won enough support in the U.S. House to advance — the impetus is now on the Senate to act.   

I am urging Senators Sinema and Kelly to join the growing majority of Americans who support immediate action to hold brand name drug companies accountable and lower prices on life-saving medications. Sinema and Kelly have promised results on this issue. Congress must address the cost of prescription drugs.   

Over my tenure in the Arizona Legislature, I have seen few problems so devastating to our communities as out-of-control drug prices. It is time for our elected officials in Congress to ensure this problem is addressed this year, so families no longer have to make impossible decisions just to line pharmaceutical executives’ pockets. It’s time to reject the branded drug industry’s misleading rhetoric. Arizonans need results on drug pricing solutions now.    

Lela Alston is an Arizona State Senator who represents District 24.  



Rosy state revenues belie need for recovery package


The COVID-19 virus might not have dissipated over the summer, but the specter of a billion-dollar deficit and draconian budget cuts not seen since the Great Recession certainly did.

The latest estimates from Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee — the number crunchers who predicted a deficit ranging from $600 million to $1.6 billion just a few months ago — show Arizona sitting on a projected $411 million surplus by next July. 

But rosy state revenues belie ongoing economic turmoil, particularly for lower-income Arizonans who have been disproportionately affected by job losses and wage cuts. And parts of rural Arizona, which rely heavily on revenue from tourism, are likely to continue to struggle.

That all points to the need for additional economic stimulus to help lower-wage workers, economist Jim Rounds said during a Finance Advisory Committee meeting last week. 

“We need a legit recovery package,” Rounds said. 

Getting a recovery package through the Legislature, where many lawmakers are leery about spending too much after a year of yoyo-ing state finances, could prove difficult. 

Jim Rounds
Jim Rounds

Republicans who control both chambers and the Governor’s Office are still taking victory laps over the reversal in state revenues, crediting their own conservative budgeting for Arizona’s higher-than-expected revenue growth. In particular, Senate President Karen Fann cited the “skinny” budget lawmakers passed in March as proof of Republican fiscal responsibility bringing good results. 

“We’ve been through a lot during this pandemic, with small businesses closed and many people out of work,” Fann said in a written statement. “Those first projections in late spring were chilling, but these latest numbers show we have weathered much of the storm and are in a strong position to bounce back.”

The full picture is a bit more complicated. The state’s budget was bolstered by the federal CARES Act, which gave the state $1.86 billion in direct appropriations, and provided indirect funding through a $1,200 stimulus check sent to most adults and a temporary extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits. Extra cash helped sales tax revenue bounce back as the state began to reopen – while restaurant sales still lag 2019 figures, sales tax revenue in most other areas is higher than 2019. 

A budgeting gimmick from the Governor’s Office resulted in more cash in the General Fund. Ducey had significant leeway in how he spent much of Arizona’s CARES Act funding, and at least $300 million of that funding went to day-to-day operations for state agencies. With federal money paying for most of their spring expenses, those agencies were able to return previously-allocated state funds to the state’s General Fund.  

Unemployed workers still had income tax withheld from their benefit checks – that, plus the concentration of layoffs and job cuts in low-wage industries as most white-collar workers shifted to remote work with limited salary cuts meant income tax withholding remained relatively stable. The average wage for leisure and hospitality workers is about half the average wage for all Arizona workers, and lower-wage workers pay less in income taxes than their higher-paid counterparts.

“They weren’t making a big contribution in the overall scheme of things,” said Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix. “And unfortunately, those are the people that are hardest hit, and that should transfer into higher costs and payments in the unemployment insurance area. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Alston, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she’ll push hard for increases to the state’s second-lowest-in-the-nation unemployment benefits, and she expects her Democratic colleagues will as well. But most other economic recovery packages will have to come from the federal government, she said.

Lela Alston
Lela Alston

“We need to keep the pressure on our federal representatives to get some additional funding in for stimulus checks and for small businesses,” she said.

Sen. Sean Bowie, a Phoenix Democrat who also serves on the Appropriations Committee, said that increasing the state’s unemployment benefits — even just on a temporary basis — remains a top priority. Expanding rental assistance is also critical, he said.

A statewide eviction ban is in place through the end of the month, though tenants have still found themselves on the streets. And rental assistance has been slow to get to landlords. 

 Overall, Bowie said, state lawmakers can’t count on Congress to act. The U.S. House and Senate and President Trump have been at a stalemate for nearly six months, and there are no indications that they’ll reach a deal any time soon.  

“We don’t know what they’re going to do in their lame duck session, depending on what happens in the election in a couple of weeks, so I don’t think we can count on Congress,” Bowie said. “I think we have to be more active at the state level and get some of these things funded and use the resources that we have.” 

House Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb, likewise, said she would expect future stimulus packages to come from the state, not Congress. Expecting Congress to act is “speculative at best,” the Kingman Republican said.

But it’s too early to propose a state spending package, as state finances remain uncertain, Cobb said.

“We’re much better than we expected to be,” she said. “But we’re still not out of the woods, and we still don’t know quite where we’re at.” 

Senate calls it quits, leaves House to decide what’s next

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita makes a point May 8 during a Senate session to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.

The Senate notified the House early Friday afternoon that it had ended its legislative work, ending the session and killing hundreds of bills. The lower chamber has yet to accede to the request, leaving senators in an indefinite recess.

Senators sat in an unusually empty chamber, surrounded by a smaller-than-usual crew of mask-wearing staff and a larger-than-usual group of reporters. There were no lobbyists, no traditional ice cream in the members’ lounge, no mad dashes between buildings to rush last-minute bills, just an ultimately vain attempt by a small cadre of Republicans to forestall the inevitable motion to recess.

And instead of leaving in triumph, the 24 senators who voted for adjourning sine die walked into a parking lot full of protesters, who jeered and shouted into the senators’ car windows as they slowly pulled out. 

But it also isn’t really the end. Because the state constitution and legislative rules don’t permit either chamber to adjourn for more than three days without the other, the Senate now stands at recess. Lawmakers will have to come back once more to adjourn, Senate President Karen Fann said.

“We’re sending a message to the House,” Fann said. “We can’t keep going round and round and round.”

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks during May 7 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, speaks May 8 as the Senate prepares to sine die. (Photo by Andrew Nicla/Arizona Capitol Times)

Fann said the lawmakers in the lower chamber need more time to learn how government works and come to a consensus. When the House does, she said, the Senate will be there ready to accept a sine die motion or pass two or three COVID-19-related bills. 

“They need more time over there to be able to come to a consensus, which we have tried to do for the last four or five weeks,” she said. “This is our way of saying, ‘We still want to work with you, but we are putting the ball in your court.’”

House leadership, for the most, support ending the session, but not if it means working with Democrats. Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, promised earlier this week to bring the chamber back into session Friday at 1 p.m. But late Thursday,  after a bruising Zoom call with his colleagues, Bowers went back on the plan, explaining in a statement that members “of the House Republican Caucus believe that there is important work for us to do on behalf of the people of Arizona. “

On that call, many members expressed frustration with both executive and legislative leadership, insisting that a return to work was the only path forward — in part to keep a check on the Governor, who some in the caucus want to override through a concurrent resolution that would terminate the statewide declaration of emergency. 

On one hand, they say that the stay-at-home order has devastated their local economies. On the other, their pushback is personal.

“What’s happened is, by and large, the Legislature feels that the governor has ignored us and never really paid any attention to us, and probably doesn’t respect us very much,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. “All of a sudden, our leadership wanted to sine die. The members feel that if we were to sine die, it would make us look like we’re impotent.”

In the Senate, six verbose Republican holdouts caused Friday’s floor session — which Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said he expected would take only a few minutes — to drag on for three hours. 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican who pushed hard to leave the Legislature at recess to maintain the ability to come back to the floor as needed, said adjourning sends a bad message to the people of Arizona.

He pointed out that lawmakers took heat two years ago, during the Red for Ed movement, when they adjourned normally on a Thursday to come back on a Monday as they normally do, because teachers thought their representatives were skipping town. This is much worse, he said. 

“We shouldn’t shut down our work before the people of Arizona can get back to work,” Mesnard said. 

Sen. Dave Farnsworth, R-Mesa, took it a step further, saying it would be selfish to adjourn sine die and equated  ending the session to deserting the military. 

“How could we even consider walking away?” he asked. “If we were on the battlefield and we walked away, we could be shot for desertion.” 

Farnsworth, and fellow Republican Sen. David Livingston, insisted that the most important thing for Arizona now is to get everyone back to work. The more important thing is staying alive, retorted Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.

Alston, 77, is the Senate’s oldest member. She addressed most of her comments to fellow older Arizonans who she described as being in the “special class” of individuals most susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19. 

“Please, let’s sine die, let’s stay home, stay healthy,” she said. “We’ve done a good job of social distancing. Let’s keep it up a little longer until we have data we need to make sound decisions that are good for our small businesses, people and economy.”

While every Democratic senator and all Senate employees kept masks on for the entire session, only two Republicans with health backgrounds did: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who heads the health and human services committee, and Sen. Tyler Pace, a Mesa Republican who serves on the committee and owns a medical supply business. Mesnard had a mask on intermittently, Buckeye Republican Sine Kerr had one around her neck, and Sen. Heather Carter, who began practicing physical distancing a week before the rest of the chamber, watched from her office.

If Republican lawmakers can’t even agree to wear masks to the Senate floor for sine die, they definitely can’t resume the session, said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale. Quezada, who has Type 1 Diabetes, tore into his colleagues and the protesters outside, speaking so animatedly that his own mask repeatedly slipped below his nose.

Republicans talked a lot about personal responsibility, he said, but they weren’t demonstrating it. 

“You could have been exposed, and now you’re impacting me,” he said. “That’s exactly why we need a heavy hand of government, because that lack of personal responsibility is affecting people like me.”

While a bipartisan coalition of senators elected to end the session, Senate GOP leaders insist their work is far from done. Fann plans to begin work Monday on plans for a special session to address COVID-19 issues, and she plans to form task forces after the August primary.

And come October, Fann said, she plans to ask legislative council to redraft bills that stalled during the 2020 session. If she’s still Senate President, she’ll ask committee chairs to hear those bills and finish them during the first two weeks of session. 

And for now, Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said, constituents need lawmakers to be helping with unemployment issues and connecting them with government services, not on the floor passing bills.

“We don’t have to be really on the floor to help solve those constituents’ problems. We can be recessed, we can be adjourned, and we still continue to work to protect and help anyone in our district. As far as I’m concerned, the workload that we have since we’ve been recessed has been tremendous.”


  • Staff writer Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report

Senate leadership scramble, 3 eye presidency

From left are Sens. David Gowan, J.D. Mesnard, Warren Petersen

The Senate is preparing to select new leadership next year in both parties, and three Republicans seem confident that they can win the presidency.

Sens. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, have started campaigning for the position of Senate president.

President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, has held the position since 2019, but she is retiring after this year. Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, is also retiring, leaving a large opening in leadership.

On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, and Senate Assistant Minority Assistant Leader Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, are also leaving the Senate after this session.

The Republicans are a little further ahead in selecting new leadership. Gowan, Mesnard, and Petersen each say they are feeling good about their prospects, with Gowan and Mesnard both implying they’ve taken the lead.

Of the current 16 Republican senators, only eight besides Gowan, Mesnard and Petersen are running for their Senate seats again. At most, seven will return as Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, will run against each other in the Legislative District 7 Republican primary.

Gowan, Mesnard and Petersen are all Senate and House veterans who currently chair committees. Gowan chairs Appropriations, Mesnard chairs Commerce and Petersen chairs Judiciary. Gowan and Mesnard have also each served as speaker of the House, but none of the three have had leadership roles in the Senate yet.

Of the senators who hope to return to the chamber next year, no one will say who they are supporting in the race yet.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, are both interested in being majority whip next session. Borrelli has held that title for the past four years and said on April 20 that he should have the votes. “I don’t know if Senator Kerr would want to give up the chairmanship,” Borrelli said, referring to Kerr’s role as chair of the Natural Resources Energy and Water Committee. Kerr is also the chair of the Ethics Committee, but it rarely meets. Usually, senators in leadership roles don’t chair committees, but there is no rule against it.

The Senate president has control over Senate proceedings, decorum and the signing of, “All acts, addresses, joint resolutions, writs, warrants and subpoenas issued by order of the Senate, and decide all questions of order.” The president also assigns members to committees, determines who chairs those committees and can cancel or reschedule the meetings. They also appoint their own “president pro tempore” who serves in the president’s place if need be.

Current pro tem Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tuscon, is gunning for majority Leader next year. Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, is leaving the Legislature after this session.

No one has announced an interest in being pro tem, but that’s a good incentive that candidates for president can offer to members for their votes. As is the promise of committee chairmanships.

The Democrats haven’t gotten far in the discussion of Minority leadership, but eight Democratic senators will run for re-election. Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Tempe, is leaving but said that the Senate Democrats want a veteran in leadership, and not an incoming freshman.

Sens. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, and Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said they want to be in Senate leadership next year, but not necessarily in the role of minority leader.

In addition to the positions of minority leader and assistant minority leader, minority whip is also opening up. None of the other Democratic senators have voiced an interest in leadership or an endorsement of other senators who are interested.


Senate votes to add county supervisors in Maricopa, Pima

Deposit Photo
Deposit Photo

Residents of the state’s two largest counties could find themselves with more people to call when something goes wrong.

But it will cost them.

On a 15-13 margin the Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to expanding the size of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors from five to nine. SB 1498 also would boost the size of the Pima board, but only to seven.

The move came over the objection of several Democrat lawmakers who said the board members in the two affected counties are opposed. Sen. Victoria Steele of Tucson said the issue for the supervisors in her county is, at least in part, cost.

They figure the cost of operating an office, including salaries and equipment, is about $500,000. So two new supervisors will increase public spending by $1 million, what she called an “unfunded mandate.”

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said there were similar objections from the Maricopa supervisors.

But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the two counties have grown so large that individual supervisors can no longer adequately represent their constituents.

He said the situation is particularly pronounced in Maricopa County where each of the five supervisors represents close to 900,000 residents. Adding four more board members would cut that to about 635,000 per district.

It’s not quite as severe in Pima County where a supervisory district now consists of about 200,000 residents. Going to seven would cut that to about 150,000.

Still, Mesnard defended extending his legislation to Pima County. He said it’s a “similar principle though obviously not as extreme.”

The idea of linking the number of supervisors to population is not new.

Arizona law already says that once a county hits 175,000 the size of the board has to go from three to five.

Mesnard’s bill simply adds two new thresholds.

At a million, the minimum becomes seven. And at three million, that requires nine.

“There comes a point in time when trying to represent a very large number of people is difficult,” Mesnard said. In fact, he said, at 900,000 the size of Maricopa County districts is larger than any of the state’s congressional districts.

Steele does not dispute that number.

But she said that most county residents actually live within the incorporated limits of a city.

In Pima County, the most recent estimates show just 35 percent of the population is in an unincorporated area. It’s even more pronounced in Maricopa County where just 7 percent of residents don’t live within a city.

And Steele said that means they are more likely to call a council member with a problem than a supervisor.

Mesnard said that may be true. But he said it doesn’t make them any less important.

“They’re still elected officials who have a constituency,” he said. “I am a believer in the idea that the smaller the constituency that you represent, the more tailored, the more focused, the better representation you get.”

Mesnard said that it is “absolutely true” that a government can be more efficient when there are fewer people in charge. But he said that doesn’t tell the whole story.

“They would be very efficient having single persons governing everything,” Mesnard said. “But we all know that’s not a good principle.”

The measure still needs a final roll-call vote in the Senate before going to the House.






Shelter for seniors, seriously mentally ill top advocates’ wish list


After a one-time windfall from the Legislature, affordable housing supporters who’ve advocated for restoring the State Housing Trust Fund to pre-recession levels are looking at how to best stretch the new money and make the case for more.

This year’s budget appropriated $15 million to the fund, reversing a nearly decade-long trend of capping it at $2.5 million annually.

As the Arizona Department of Housing finishes collecting public comments about what to do with the additional funds, it’s hearing a few common themes – older adults increasingly experience homelessness; renters need protection from evictions; families of people with severe mental illness are desperate for secure living situations for their relatives, and $15 million is nowhere near enough.

Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said, “I’m really excited that we got what we got, and I’m really hopeful that we’ll get more next year as people seem to realize what a desperate problem this is. It’s not just homelessness but low-income housing and workforce housing as well.”

The fund

The State Housing Trust Fund, created in 1988, is funded through the sale of unclaimed property. Prior to the recession, it contained more than $30 million and the Department of Housing was able to use those funds as a match to leverage more than $350 million in federal funds, according to the Arizona Housing Coalition.

But in 2010, as part of statewide budget cuts caused by the Great Recession, the Legislature capped the State Housing Trust Fund at $2.5 million per year. Building affordable housing typically takes multiple different grants, low-interest loans, tax breaks and donations, but having less money available from one source can have a domino effect on others.

“When you create affordable housing, the amount of different funding streams that are necessary to create affordable housing projects, it’s almost mind-numbing,” said Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition. “The housing trust fund has historically served as gap financing for the creation of affordable housing.”

In addition to being used to get more federal funding, the State Housing Trust Fund can be more flexible than federal funding streams, Serviss said. For instance, she said she knew of one family in the eastern part of the state that was able to use housing trust fund money to help pay for an extended pantry connecting their home to an outhouse on the property, making it easier for the older family members to remain living in their family home.

“You can sprinkle housing trust fund dollars on a house and make it more accessible for seniors to age in place, create wheelchair ramps, that kind of thing,” she said.

Also unlike federal grants that are restricted to helping families earning a certain percentage of their area’s median income, the housing trust fund can be used in other areas. The Department of Housing focuses on extremely low-income households and cost-burdened households where residents pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, Serviss said.

Earlier this year, the department used money from the Housing Trust Fund to launch a pilot program to help low-income renters in some parts of the state by providing emergency grants and case management to families who receive eviction notices for unpaid rent. By intervening before families are evicted, the department hopes to prevent them from falling into a spiral of unstable housing.

“Once you get evicted, it’s that much harder,” Serviss said. “It becomes a black mark.”

Senior homelessness

A theme reflected in public comments at a packed public meeting the Department of Housing held June 21 was the need for support for older adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about the need for shelters for the older population that have unique medical needs that the typical shelter can’t provide,” Serviss said.

Representatives from Arizona AARP became aware of the meeting after touring Central Arizona Shelter Services and learning that 31 percent of the people staying there are seniors, Arizona AARP Director Dana Kennedy said.

Kennedy said she learned that some seniors are discharged from the hospital directly to the shelter, but it’s not designed for older adults.

“We advocated to look into the potential of providing a shelter specifically for seniors,” she said. “Once there, they can get connected to services and case management and back into housing.”

Rep. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, said he was pleased with the additional money obtained for the State Housing Trust Fund this legislative session, but he already has his eyes on next year.

He noted more and more elderly residents of Maricopa County in particular are being priced out of their homes, a trend he called “the silver tsunami.” He described grandmas and grandpas forced to move in with their children and grandchildren, or wind up on the street.

They’re on fixed incomes and unable to keep up with a housing market that is increasingly in demand, Meza said.

And, Kennedy said, seniors who still can afford to live in their homes may do so at the cost of other necessities. She said she can’t stop thinking about the death of Stephanie Pullman, a 72-year-old Sun City West woman who died from heat last September after Arizona Public Service turned off her electricity for not paying her bill in full.

As baby boomers get older, Kennedy said they’ll need more help. More older adults will face chronic health conditions and dwindling savings, making it harder for them to continue to afford housing or other basic needs.

“Your Social Security is only going to go so far and your savings are only going to last for so long,” she said.

Homes for the seriously mentally ill

This year’s $15 million appropriation to the State Housing Trust Fund contains a stipulation that $3.5 million be set aside for beds for housing people who are seriously mentally ill and resist treatment. It stems from a separate bill supported by the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill.

Laurie Goldstein, the association’s vice president, is seeking state funding for a program like the one that ultimately helped her son. He was diagnosed schizoaffective, and spent years cycling between homelessness, apartments his parents rented for him and short stays in hospitals.

Finally, his parents were able to have him held in a state mental hospital until he reached a level of stability. Now, he stays at a community home, where he’s still supervised.

“The system right now, there’s a gap in the care and folks like that are being thrown out of programs,” Goldstein said. “What they don’t need is short seven-day stays in psychiatric hospitals.”

The model she wants to see is similar to the community living center where her son now lives. Residents would be ordered there by the courts, and they could end up staying for months or more than a year, with an ultimate goal of learning how to live independently.

“It’s not a forever home,” Goldstein said. “It’s not like the old asylum where you get in and don’t get out.”

Alston said she supports additional housing for the seriously mentally ill population, but she’s concerned about how the money was set aside this year. Lawmakers shouldn’t be able to earmark specific projects, she said.

“We’re not the experts, and by doing it once, that opens it up to the other 89 (legislators) to find their little special housing project to earmark, and that’s wrong,” Alston said. “We should leave it to the experts.”

And she noted that the state already has a separate housing trust fund for the seriously mentally ill, under the direction of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

“They know that population much better than the housing people do, so I think it would have made a lot more sense to put that money directly into AHCCCS, who’s doing the work already and know what they’re doing,” Alston said. “I basically trust most of our people in state government to do a good job and to be the experts in whatever that field happens to be.”

Reporter Katie Campbell contributed to this article.

Speaker, some lawmakers resistant to Ducey’s push to end legislative immunity

Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, during a traffic stop in La Paz County March 27, in which he allegedly was clocked driving at 97 MPH in a 55 mph zone. The text is a transcription of the audio from the body cam video of the deputy.
Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, during a traffic stop in La Paz County March 27, in which he allegedly was clocked driving at 97 MPH in a 55 mph zone. The text is a transcription of the audio from the body cam video of the deputy.

A proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey to abolish so-called legislative immunity is getting some negative reaction from some lawmakers who enjoy its protections — and would have to vote to put it on the ballot for voters to repeal.

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

“It was put here for a reason, by the people, in the constitution,” said House Speaker Rusty Bowers.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez said there are legitimate reasons that lawmakers need protections from being arrested in certain circumstances.

Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the few lawmakers who have abused the immunity have paid the price.

And Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, who has been at the Capitol longer than anyone else, said Ducey’s call to repeal the provision reflects a misunderstanding of exactly what it says — a misunderstanding she said is apparently shared by some legislators who have tried to claim it.

“They think they have carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted,” Alston said.

That occurred last year when Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, claimed legislative immunity when he was stopped for speeding. The deputy even has videotape of Mosley claiming he has driven as fast as 140 miles an hour because his legislative immunity allows him to do that.

Not true, said Alston, first elected to the Legislature in 1976.

What it actually says is that lawmakers cannot be arrested during the legislative session or in the 15 days leading up to the session unless they are charged with treason, a felony or “breach of the peace.” Nothing immunizes them from being arrested and prosecuted after the session is over.

The same provision also says lawmakers are not subject to “civil process” during the same period.

Ducey, in his State of the State speech Monday, referred to the provision as “legislative immunity.”

He said one reason people hold members of Congress in contempt is that they exempt themselves from many of the laws they pass.

“Let’s show the people of Arizona that their elected leaders will live under the same laws as every man and woman in this state,” the governor said.

Bowers, however, said he sees no reason to repeal the protection simply because some lawmakers have acted badly and then sought to escape being held accountable.

Leach said the whole idea of the protection is to keep a police officer or sheriff’s deputy from detaining one or two lawmakers whose votes are needed.

“You could render it nonfunctional,” he said of the Legislature if a member were kept away.

Anyway, he said, those who have abused the immunity have paid the price in bad publicity — and more.

“One member didn’t return,” he said, referring to Mosley who lost his re-election bid last year.

Fernandez agreed that the purpose of the provision is to ensure that lawmakers can get to the Capitol without being delayed.

“It wasn’t for me to get out of running a stop sign,” she said. And Fernandez said the fact that a few people have sought to misuse it is insufficient reason to eliminate the protection entirely.

Some lawmakers, however, side with Ducey.

“We’re no better than any of our constituents,” said Senate President Karen Fann.

She said that at one time — anywhere from 50 to 100 years ago — there were “games” played where a legislator might be stopped en route to a vote.

“I don’t think that’s an issue any more,” Fann said. “So it’s about time we got rid of all that.”

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, agreed, saying the days are long past when law enforcement would try to block a lawmaker from coming to the Capitol.

The issue of legislative immunity comes up from time to time.

Rep. David Cook
Rep. David Cook

In December, Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, stopped for drunk driving, gave police his House ID card rather than his driver’s license. But there is no indication that Cook claimed he could not be arrested.

Cook later apologized on his Facebook page. And Bowers sanctioned him by abolishing the newly created County Infrastructure Committee that Cook was to chair.

Cook couldn’t say whether he would be comfortable losing legislative immunity.

“I really don’t understand what that legal term means because I wouldn’t, I just don’t know,” Cook said. “I’ll study it a little bit.”

In 2012, Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, claimed legislative immunity to avoid facing charges of domestic violence. He ended up resigning as it appeared his colleagues were going to have him ousted.

A year earlier, Scott Bundgaard, then a Republican state senator from Glendale, was seen by police fighting physically with his girlfriend alongside a Phoenix freeway. When police sought to arrest both, Bundgaard claimed legislative immunity from arrest, allowing him to avoid jail while his companion was locked up for 14 hours.

Before she was governor, Jan Brewer, then a state lawmaker, escaped being charged with drunk driving in 1988 after the vehicle she was driving rear-ended a van on the freeway. While police reports say she failed the field sobriety test, she was not given a breath test after a DPS officer concluded she was entitled to immunity.

In 1995, then state Rep. Phil Hubbard, D-Tucson, argued he was entitled not to be ticketed for driving 14 miles per hour over the speed limit on Interstate 10 because he was en route to a legislative hearing.

And eight years earlier, then Rep. Bill English, R-Sierra Vista, was arrested on a charge of drunken driving. English initially claimed immunity but eventually dropped that defense, was convicted, and paid a $373 fine.

State to reopen closed prison to house booming female population

The Department of Corrections will reopen a shuttered prison in Douglas to deal with the fact that women are being locked up at a higher rate.

“We’re simply out of beds,” David Shinn, director of the Department of Corrections told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. He said the unit at the state prison at Perryville, the only one that houses women, has 67 more inmates than operating capacity.

“Our only option is putting people on the floor,” Shinn said. “That simply is inhumane.”

But Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said it’s not that simple. She said what Shinn wants to do − and the committee gave him the go-ahead on − ignores the fact that the women who would be housed in the facility, which could hold up to 340, would be separated from family.

“I’d rather sleep on the floor and see my kids rather than be isolated in Douglas,” Alston said.

David Shinn
David Shinn

And even Shinn conceded that reopening and staffing the facility may be difficult, as his agency already has more than 1,300 positions it cannot fill in the entire system.

At the root of the problem has been an increase in the rate of women prisoners.

Two years ago the Department of Corrections reported it was adding women at the rate of about five a month. For the most recent budget year the figure is 11.

The result is that there are 4,422 women at Perryville. It is rated for 4,214 beds with another 141 temporary beds added.

What that leaves is the Papago Unit, what had originally been a motel on the west side of Douglas that the state purchased in 1987.

It had been used as a facility for convicted drunk drivers but closed in 2017. Legislative staffers said the state put the walled property up for sale in early 2018 for $560,000 but has so far failed to find any takers.

Now, with the boost in incarcerated women, Shinn wants to reopen it. He figures the minimum security facility has the capacity for 250 permanent beds and 90 temporary beds.

The underlying cause of more women being locked up left House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez with questions. The Yuma Democrat said lawmakers have been told by corrections officials that overall prison population is leveling off.

Shinn had no specific answer to the question of the increasing female population. More to the point, he said, it’s something over which he has no control.

“The people who could best address that are our county attorneys,” he said.

But Shinn agreed to try to populate the facility with women who are from Southern Arizona who might find Douglas closer to family.

“It is certainly something that is important to all of us,” he said.


The committee 7-5 party-line vote came after Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who chairs the committee, refused to allow public comment. Several individuals had signed up to speak, including Kara Williams of the American Civil Liberties Union who wanted to talk about alternatives to incarceration including rehabilitation programs.

That annoyed Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, who said there were people in the audience who might have some solutions to prison crowding other than simply making more beds available.

Issues of effects on inmates of being sent to Douglas aside, Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, asked Shinn if he actually has the people necessary to reopen and staff the facility.

“From a realistic perspective, no,” he responded. But Shinn said the agency will “find a way to get it done.”

That question of staffing is not simply an issue surrounding Douglas.

In a separate report to the committee, Shinn said that one out of every five positions he is authorized are unfilled. And the biggest problem appears to be at prisons outside urban areas.

Leading the vacancy rate is the Eyeman Prison, one of the facilities at Florence, where there are 642 filled positions and 411 vacant ones. The separate Florence Prison is not much better, with just 505 of 760 positions staffed.

And the prisons at Buckeye and Winslow all have vacancy rates higher than 20 percent.

One interesting exception appears to be the prison in Yuma where only eight of 728 slots are vacant.

The way the agency is dealing with it is overtime. That concerned Friese who said 13 percent of corrections officers were working more than 70 hours a week.

“I’m wondering about someone’s ability to function at 90 hours a week, their alertness, their judgment,” he said.

“It’s a concern,” Shinn conceded, relating the story of one officer he came across who had worked a 16-hour shift the night before, driven 90 minutes home and another 90 minutes back.

“(He) was almost asleep on his feet,” the director said. “I sent him outside to take a break and get some fresh air.”

Shinn said his agency is “really, truly strapped” at the prisons with high vacancy rates.

“And were it not for the dedication of these young men and women being willing to do that, we would be in far worse shape,” he said.

Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said the staffing situation appears to be improving a bit, with the vacancy ratios down a bit from the same time three months earlier. Lawmakers approved a pay hike earlier this year as well as allowing the agency to hire corrections officers at young as 18.

But Friese pointed out that the Department of Corrections has a stated goal of a net gain of 812 officers by June 2020 over the same period last year.

“Are you confident that on this current trajectory, the next three quarters will have 812 new COs?” he asked Shinn.

“No, I’m not,” he responded. “We need to do more.”

One option, Shinn said, might be to hire people who want to work only on a part-time basis.

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, suggested requiring those who are hired and trained at state expense to sign some sort of commitment agreeing to stay for a certain number of years. The report to lawmakers found starting salaries for the state below not just what is paid by Pima and Maricopa counties to their corrections officers but also less than the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private prisons operated by CoreCivic.

Veteran senator keeps win streak alive

American vote buttons illustration

Sen. Lela Alston continues a  four-decade streak of never losing legislative races, easily fending off a Democratic primary challenge in Legislative District 24  from an opponent who sought to make the race about her age.

Alston leads Phoenix Pride vice president Ryan Starzyk with 64 percent of the vote in LD24. 

Alston, a retired teacher, has been a fixture in Central Phoenix politics for decades. She represented the area in the state Senate from 1976 to 1995, returning to the state House in 2013 before again winning election to the Senate in 2018. Her distinctive campaign signs — a cartoon donkey surrounded by a circular green border — are unavoidable in yards all over central Phoenix.

Starzyk, an Air Force veteran, moved to Phoenix in 2012 after completing his bachelor’s degree and threw himself into community service with Phoenix Pride a few years later. His style of campaigning has raised eyebrows, mainly because of the tenor of his attacks on Alston and his response to criticism.

Last week, Starzyk obtained a restraining order against a would-be constituent who contacted him through social media and email with questions about his policies. The LD24 Democratic Party condemned his actions in a Friday letter shared with the Arizona Capitol Times

In one since-deleted tweet, Starzyk referred to Alston as “expired.” His campaign focused largely on their age differences — he’s 38; Alston is 77 — to make the case that the incumbent is out of touch with her district. 

Voters send some candidates from ‘varsity’ to the bench

Rep. Ken Clark
Rep. Ken Clark

To stand up against legislative heavy hitters like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard or Sen. John Kavanagh, you need the varsity squad, Rep. Ken Clark told voters during a debate.

“You don’t put your junior varsity team in against the college team,” he said, asking that voters support him and John Glenn in the seven-way Democratic primary for the two House seats in Legislative District 24.

His remarks were met with audible booing from people in the audience, and struck a nerve with some voters who took Clark’s varsity comment to mean they should elect the establishment.

Results in the August 28 primary showed experience isn’t everything.

Two political newcomers, Amish Shah and Jennifer Longdon, defeated Clark, a two-term lawmaker, in the Democratic primary in LD24. Unofficial results show that Clark fell short of the second spot in the Democratic primary by 703 votes.

Glenn, Clark’s running mate, said he and Clark were dumbfounded by the Democratic primary results. The duo ran on a slate with Rep. Lela Alston, a longtime Phoenix legislator running for the state Senate.

Based on data he received over the past six weeks, Glenn said he and Clark felt confident they would be able to secure the top two Democratic spots.

Then Glenn came in fifth place, with just 9 percent of the vote.

“We’re kind of scratching our heads, to be honest,” he said, adding that it was “certainly an introspective moment.”

Sen. Katie Hobbs, who represents LD24, said a unique election environment this year played to the advantage of new candidates, not incumbents.

Glenn acknowledged that by positioning the slate as established, known quantities in this year’s political climate may have hampered their efforts. Nationwide trends have shown that some voters are more interested in new blood than experience.

“Ken and I both positioned ourselves on a message of experience because that’s factually true,” Glenn said. “Historically, this is a district that does appreciate experienced lawmakers and people who can actually move the needle at the Capitol – that’s not to say Shah and Longdon won’t do that, but that’s not what we saw this year.”

Put another way, Glenn hitched his wagon to Clark and Alston. And by doing so, voters viewed him as an establishment candidate despite the fact that he has never served as a legislator, Hobbs said.

A similar situation played out in Legislative District 3, where first-time candidates Andres Cano and Alma Hernandez beat out Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford in the Democratic primary, ending the Cajero dynasty in the Arizona Legislature after more than 40 years.

“In a normal election year, I would’ve said there’s no problem (for Clark) – incumbency matters and it carries more weight than anything else,” Hobbs said. “But this is anything but a normal election year, and our district is very diverse. I think folks stood up and said, ‘We want representation that matches our district.’”

Former Rep. Chad Campbell, a Democrat, isn’t convinced that there was any sort of anti-establishment trend that affected the LD24 race. There were plenty of incumbents who were re-elected across the state, and no one even bothered to run against Alston, who has served as a legislator for decades.

Campbell credited the upset to well-run campaigns by Shah and Longdon, and the unique dynamic of running in a race with so many candidates.

“When you have multiple candidates, especially this many candidates in an open race, anything can happen,” Campbell said.