Campaign launches to oppose recreational marijuana ballot measure

The ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana has an opposition campaign, but the advocates trying to legalize it say their opposition made a rookie mistake.

The opposition comes in the form of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, led by Lisa James, the former deputy chief of staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, which officially launched on March 17.

James, now of the Gordon C. James PR firm, said she is confident that the Smart & Safe Arizona Act will fail, despite pundits’ claims that recreational marijuana has only gained support since its narrow failure in 2016.

“There’s still a wide group of people who are interested in making sure that Arizona stays safe from this,” James said.

She said the committee already has some financial support, but she refused to say who was backing it.

“It’ll be out on our first report,” she said.

James had her own opposition in 2016 against what was known as Proposition 205 or Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. Her group was called Just Vote No on Prop 205, and according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s website only brought in $914, but the main opposition, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy raised more than $6 million.

Stacy Pearson, the spokeswoman for Smart & Safe Arizona, the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, was quick to point out that James and her team did not purchase their own domain names. Pearson said she owns several.

“The first rule of opposition 101 is to secure your domain name,” Pearson said.

Pearson owns, at a minimum, ArizonansForHealthAndPublicSafety.com, AZForHealthAndPublicSafety.com and AFHAPS.com, all of which redirect to the Center for Disease Control’s website on COVID-19.

She said people can visit those sites for “the biggest threat to health in Arizona.”

James owns the domain to AZHealthySafe.com and said the redirecting gimmick from pot proponents was “responsible on their part.”

As far as the announcement goes, Pearson said she was surprised it took this long for an opposition to form, but still criticized James for launching amid a pandemic.

“It’s not time for wild scare tactics about public health right now,” Pearson said. “They should be embarrassed by their sloppy, tone deaf, and ill-timed launch. Trying to scare people right now is shameful.”

James responded that there was nothing blatant about the time she announced her opposition and even did so somewhat quietly.

“The cycle is only so long and it wasn’t intended to be a big splash moment,” James said. “I would have thought [Smart & Safe] would have appreciated our quiet launch during this health crisis, not criticized it.”

The launch came in the form of a press release followed by a tweet.

That tweet was then immediately shared by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a marijuana prohibitionist who helped lead the opposition in 2016 and George Khalaf, the Data Orbital pollster. Khalaf’s dad, Youssef, is listed as the PAC’s treasurer.

Polk was one of the biggest contributors to the anti-205 campaign along with Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ducey has previously said his stances on legalizing marijuana remain the same.

“I don’t think any state ever got stronger by being stoned,” he said in June. “And we have existing laws that support medical marijuana.”

The chamber won’t take an official stance on Smart & Safe even after pouring in $1.5 million into the opposition in 2016, and some of the other big contributors of the anti campaign are either dead or in jail.

Bruce Halle, the former owner of Discount Tire, contributed roughly $1 million in opposition in 2016, but he has since passed away. Insys Therapeutics contributed $500,000 and its founder is now serving five years in prison for his role in contributing to the national opioid crisis.

Still, James says she is not worried.

Others who opposed the 2016 effort include Sheldon Adelson, the 87-year-old billionaire casino magnate in Las Vegas, who contributed around $500,000, and Randy Kendrick, wife of the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager, who contributed $100,000, among others.

Smart & Safe has already reached its 237,000 signature threshold and will likely make it onto the November ballot.

CD8 results give Democrats confidence for midterm elections

Hiral Tipirneni, Democratic candidate in the special election in Arizona's 8th Congressional District, greets supporters after polls closed in her run against Republican Debbie Lesko, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. Lesko won the election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Hiral Tipirneni, Democratic candidate in the special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, greets supporters after polls closed in her run against Republican Debbie Lesko, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. Lesko won the election. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The outlook of Democrats in the state got rosier on April 24 when the special election results in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District put the Republican candidate in the bright red district ahead by only 5 percentage points.

Or, at least, Democrats believed their outlook improved, and some political consultants and pollsters say that could be all it takes for the party to be energized enough to turn the tide.

Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko is heading to Congress now, but after a strong showing in the heavily conservative district, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni has already said she will run again in the general election in November. Lesko has also filed to defend her newly acquired seat.

Pollster George Khalaf said the election results indicate that about 15 percent of Republicans in the district voted for Tipirneni, a highly abnormal result in any district in Arizona, let alone CD8, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 77,653 registered voters. And 10 to 15 percent of independents went with the Democrat, another unusual result considering Arizona independents more typically lean toward the majority party in their geographic areas.

Khalaf said he had been bullish in his predictions for CD8, anticipating Lesko’s margin of victory would reach high single digits if not low doubles.

Appearing on Fox News April 24 as polls were just opening, Lesko said all eyes were on the CD8 election because it serves as a “bellwether” for the midterm elections.  

Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates her win with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer at her home, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. Lesko ran against Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni for Arizona's 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates her win with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer at her home, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. Lesko ran against Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)

But she didn’t win big – at least not by the same margins that President Trump or her predecessor Trent Franks enjoyed. Trump won CD8 by 21 points.

So, if CD8 really was a bellwether for the rest of the state, or the country, strategists say that doesn’t spell good news for the GOP.

Democratic consultant Chad Campbell said Tipirneni could pull off a win in November if she can keep attracting independents and crossover Republicans while amplifying the energy in her own party.

And if CD8 goes blue, he said that would come with “an unprecedented wave of Democratic pickups across the country.”

“Anybody from the GOP side trying to spin that this isn’t a big deal is doing just that – they’re spinning it,” Campbell said. “That district should never have had that much of a turnaround given the demographics there, especially considering how much money Republicans spent compared to the Democrats.”

But GOP consultant Lisa James was more focused on the ultimate result: that this was a “solid” Republican win.

“A win is a win is a win,” she said.

That’s not to say there are no lessons for Republicans in these results.

She said 2018 is not the time for her party to take anything for granted, including their own voters in traditionally red districts.

James has complete confidence in Lesko’s ability to hold onto the CD8 seat in November, but she said the party shouldn’t simply count on it.

And that’s because Democrats will see the special election results as a sign and use that to energize left-leaning voters.

“Democratic confidence has its own magic,” said Stan Barnes, a lobbyist and former Republican lawmaker.

Democrats believe there is a “blue wave” coming, he said, and because they do, stronger candidates with more money are going to see an opportunity in Arizona and across the country in 2018.

That’s something the Republicans are lacking, he said.

“Republicans feel like there’s everything to lose, and Democrats feel like there’s everything to win,” he said. “And they’ve tasted the confidence of believing that’s possible.”

Now that Tipirneni has put up a greater fight than expected in the heavily Republican district, the question is whether she’ll attract financial backing from national Democratic groups.

Campbell said Tipirneni has proven herself to be a strong candidate, and that now, more than ever, it’s clear many other districts could be more winnable.

“I just don’t know if this district is still just going to be a victim of being a bad geographic and demographic composition for a Democratic candidate to attract outside money,” Campbell said.

And even if national groups don’t spend directly in CD8, he said, their spending in support of other statewide candidates like U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is running for the U.S. Senate, could ultimately benefit Tipirneni and other Democratic candidates elsewhere in the state.

But Khalaf said it’s one thing if national Democrats spend in CD8 – it’s another thing entirely if it would help Tipirneni in November.

He cautioned that before national Democratic groups get heavily invested in CD8, they might want to ask whether the Republicans who may be willing to cross over to a Democrat want to be bombarded with messages from the likes of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“These Republicans may be giving their local person a chance, but it’s a whole other thing to be wrapped up with a national Democrat brand,” Khalaf said. “You’d be hard pressed to get 15 percent of Republicans in any district to align with that.”

Legalizing marijuana use will create jobs and new revenue


Guest columnist Lisa James’ fear-mongering commentary October 26 on why Proposition 207 is losing support has little basis in reality.

To date, 11 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis for adult use.

None of these states have ever repealed or even rolled back their policies.

That is because these legalization laws are operating largely as voters intended and that the public finds preferable to criminal prohibition.

In fact, public opinion nationwide in favor of marijuana legalization now stands at an all-time high — with two out of three Americans endorsing it.

Paul Armentano
Paul Armentano

Certainly, such support would be unthinkable if legalization, in practice, resulted in the sort of ‘sky is falling’ scenarios alleged by Ms. James and the No207az campaign she represents.

Marijuana law reform is sorely needed in Arizona. Currently, Arizona is the only state in the nation that classifies minor marijuana offenses as potential felonies. Those Arizonans arrested and convicted under the law must bear the stigma of a criminal record and the loss of professional and economic opportunities that come with it. These penalties are a disproportionate public-policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a matter of public health. But it should not be a criminal justice matter.

Proposition 207 will disrupt the illicit market, end low-level marijuana arrests, create jobs and new revenue. It will not jeopardize public safety, but rather it will strengthen public safety by redirecting criminal justice resources away from marijuana possession enforcement and toward more serious criminal investigations, while simultaneously providing oversight and regulations to the marijuana marketplace. A “yes” vote is the right vote for Arizona.

Paul Armentano is deputy director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] or (703) 606-7539.

Lesko, Montenegro take spending lead in CD8 GOP primary

Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro, both former state senators, are the frontrunners in the special election for Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro, both former state senators, are the front runners in the special election for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.

While a dozen Republicans are on the ballot for the special election primary in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, campaign spending shows the field of viable candidates is far less crowded.

Former state Sens. Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro have essentially ignored the other candidates, exchanging fire only with each other and dominating the spending game.

And with the February 27 special election less than two weeks away, Republican consultant Matthew Benson said he hasn’t seen an indication that someone will upset what is now a two-person race.

According to records filed with the Federal Election Commission as of February 15, about $50,000 has been pumped into independent expenditures in Lesko’s favor.

More than four times that amount was spent in support of Montenegro. Ads supporting his candidacy have surpassed $230,000. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s Jobs, Freedom and Security PAC alone has contributed $150,000 of that total with ads touting Montenegro as “the son of immigrants who came here legally” and a conservative U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want in Congress.

Lesko campaign spokesman Barrett Marson said Cruz’s support is cause for concern, “but it’ll take a lot more messaging to overcome (Montenegro’s) deficiencies.”

More than $80,000 has also been spent in opposition to Montenegro, three times more than was spent on negative IEs aimed at Lesko.

The pro-Lesko Defend US PAC has funded that front, attacking Montenegro for his support of a national popular vote and for supporting a pardon for a pastor in the country illegally.

“If how well you’re doing is measured by how many bullets they’re shooting atcha… then I guess he’s doing all right,” said Montenegro’s spokesman Constantin Querard.

And he’s not convinced ads questioning Montenegro’s stance on border security and immigration will convince anyone.

“Voters are a lot smarter than some consultants think they are. At least, that’s my hope,” Querard said.

Both candidates have also pulled ahead of the pack in terms of their own spending.

According to records filed with the Federal Communications Commission as of February 15, Lesko has spent nearly $70,000 on cable ads, with Montenegro trailing at about $30,000.

Auto-dial polls have put them within shouting distance of each other, but consultant Lisa James said the polling doesn’t matter in this election. Having operated under a short time frame, the candidates should focus instead on just getting their voters to show up, she said.

James has her money on Lesko, who she said will be rewarded for being bold at the state Legislature. She also predicted this would be “the year of the woman.”

Lesko is the only woman running in the CD8 race, and though James said that alone won’t win it for her, it’s not “a detriment to her by any stretch of the imagination.”

Consultant Chris Baker, who’s working with pro-Montenegro group National Horizon, said that’s a simplistic view of voters.

“To come to that conclusion, you have to assume that those voters are single-issue voters that are not swayed by anything,” he said. “There’s no indication that’s really a thing with voters.”

He, of course, said Montenegro stands a good chance of winning, and the negative ads coming out of the Lesko campaign are his proof.

“Two weeks out, that’s probably a good indication that something has to change in the race,” he said. “If she was leading the race running positive, my guess is she would stay positive.”

The underdogs

Former Rep. Phil Lovas and former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump were counted among the early front runners but have since fallen behind.

According to FEC records as of February 15, no independent expenditures have been reported in support of or opposition to either of them.

Bob Stump
Bob Stump

Stump this week was under no illusions about his chances of pulling off a win, and acknowledged that the odds are better for Lesko and Montenegro.

“I’m a realist,” he said repeatedly. “They’re both better financially endowed, I suspect, than other candidates in the race. And if you follow the feeds on Twitter, most of the vitriol from other candidates and between candidates is focused upon the two of them.”

He said he knew he was at a disadvantage from the start, having been out of office for a year and absent from ballots since 2012.

“As the son of a therapist, I try not to be in denial,” he said. “The polls are what they are.”

Stump said he’ll keep up the campaign until the end, taking the opportunity to talk to voters about issues that are important to him, most notably his gospel on the country’s need to protect the electrical grid.

But Lovas’ campaign still wants more than the chance to just talk to voters.

Campaign consultant Brian Seitchik said he thinks Lovas still has a shot at representing them.

Despite what the numbers might say, Seitchik said it’s not accurate to call this a race between Lesko and Montenegro alone.

“The conventional wisdom said that Hillary Clinton was going to get elected president, and the experts were pretty clear about that,” he said. “Thankfully, we see how they were all wrong.”

He said that the roughly 34,000 ballots that have been cast so far suggest a much higher turnout “than so-called experts have predicted,” and he expects that will bode well for Lovas.

He predicted that voters who were previously “dormant” in the political process but inspired by President Trump would turn out in Lovas’ favor.

Rep. Phil Lovas (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Phil Lovas (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Lovas was the first state legislator to endorse Trump for the presidency and served as his statewide campaign chairman. He left his seat at the House in April to join the Trump administration in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy.

Now, Seitchik said he’s “making it clear that he’s going to be working hand-in-hand with the Trump administration” for CD8, “and he’s the only one with the credibility to do that.”

If Seitchik is right about higher than expected turnout in the primary, Benson, the GOP consultant, said that could introduce “a brand new ballgame” in Lovas’ favor. But he also wondered if Seitchik offered any evidence demonstrating that advantage.

“Ordinarily, in a campaign like this where there’s a conventional wisdom that it’s between two candidates, if you’re not one of those two but you’ve got polling suggesting that you’re more competitive than people think you are, you want to get that out,” Benson said. “I’d be shouting from the rooftops… and we haven’t seen that.”

Marijuana initiative can stay on ballot, court rules


Voters who signed petitions to legalize the recreational use of marijuana were not misled, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled late Friday, and the measure can be on the ballot.

In a 15-page ruling, Smith, a Gov. Doug Ducey appointee, rejected claims by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy that the 100-word summary on the initiative omitted principal provisions and was misleading.

“At 100 words, the summary also cannot include everything,” he wrote. “that is why the full initiative must accompany the petition.”

And Smith chided foes for suggesting that voters might not understand all the implications of what the measure would do, things like changing laws on advertising and altering laws on driving under the influence of drugs.

James Smith
James Smith

“This initiative is plain: It wants to legalize recreational marijuana,” the judge wrote.

“That is the principal provision,” he continued, the key thing that has to be in the description. “It is unlikely electors signing these petitions would be surprised by cascading effects of legalizing a formerly illegal substance.”

Lisa James, who chairs the group trying to keep the measure off the November ballot, said an appeal is likely.

The measure would allow adults to possess up to an once of marijuana or 12 plants. It would impose a 16% tax on sales that supporters say would generate about $300 million a year for community colleges, public safety, health programs and for road construction and repair of roads.

But James said the summary does not provide some crucial details, like the fact it would legalize not just marijuana in its leafy form but also more concentrated resins.

Smith, however, pointed out that resin is part of the marijuana plant under Arizona law, saying he doubts that voters are likely to be confused since resin is legal under the state’s existing medical marijuana law.

James also said it’s not made clear that if the measure becomes law that people could legally drive with metabolites of marijuana in their system, with the test being whether they were “impaired to the slightest degree.” Foes said that fails to disclose that people actually would be able to drive legally with metabolites of marijuana in their body, essentially what’s produced by the body as the chemical breaks down.

Smith called that irrelevant, pointing out court cases which already say that medical marijuana patients with metabolites in their blood, evidence of earlier usage, can’t be convicted of driving under the influence of drugs absent a showing of impairment.

“An elector signing a petition to legalize recreational marijuana would more likely be surprised if the initiative did not decriminalize driving with any amount of metabolite in one’s system,” Smith wrote, just as people can’t be convicted of drunk driving simply because there are metabolites of alcohol in their blood.

Smith was no more impressed by arguments that legalizing marijuana for adult use might result in minors being exposed to advertising for the drug.

“Voters will not be surprised that sellers may advertise a now-legal product if the initiative passes,” the judge said. He said that’s no different than other adult products, “from medical marijuana billboards to condom commercial to ubiquitous beer advertisements.”

Anyway, Smith said, sales to minors would be prohibited and the initiative bars selling or advertising marijuana products that imitate children’s food or drink brands.

The judge stressed that it is not his job to decide whether the initiative is good or bad. And he said many of the objections of foes are “policy issue best left for voters or elected representatives.”


Recreational pot struggles in polls, low on funds

In this Nov. 4, 2010, file photo, a marijuana user poses a joint over some ground marijuana in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona voters will decide whether the state joins nearly a dozen others across the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana when they head to the polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this Nov. 4, 2010, file photo, a marijuana user poses a joint over some ground marijuana in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona voters will decide whether the state joins nearly a dozen others across the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana when they head to the polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Polling data and an expensive media market paint a gloomy picture for legalizing recreational marijuana at the ballot this year. 

What seemed like a sure thing months ago, may not be so as voters are already filling out ballots at a record pace. Arizona narrowly defeated an effort to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, but that effort even had ardent supporters against it. Four years later, the backers covered all their tracks, began collecting support months earlier than usual and were raking in millions of dollars from medical marijuana dispensaries to get the Smart and Safe Arizona Act on the ballot. 

After more than 420,000 signatures – and the impact of a pandemic – it survived two court challenges and became one of two ballot propositions voters have the opportunity to approve or shoot down. Proposition 207, as it’s now known, would allow adults 21 years old and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate up to six plants per home and would create a path for record expunging charges of marijuana possession. It also comes with an excise tax of 16% that would go to funding various areas. But for some reason, advertising has been dormant for the effort. 

The post-primary election campaign finance report indicates Smart and Safe Arizona was left with only $16,000 on hand after spending millions of dollars to get on the ballot. 

The highest fundraising mark came between January 1 and March 31 – more than $1 million dollars almost entirely from the dispensaries. 

But now with Arizona being a battleground state for the U.S. Senate and presidential races, the price to buy a TV ad has skyrocketed. 

Phoenix alone makes up for a high percentage of the state’s electorate, inside of Maricopa County, which accounts for roughly 60% of the vote, and the city is considered the most expensive media market in the entire country. 

In an average election cycle, Phoenix’s market would be between $700 and $800 in cost per point (how television advertising is measured). Right now, it’s skyrocketed to $2,053 cost per point. Campaigns would need to spend about $4 million for prime spots. 

While the 2016 effort had a well-funded opposition campaign due in part to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the chamber as well as other top contributors are no longer a factor this time around. The Ducey and the chamber still oppose the effort, but it will not put any money into the campaign. Instead it’s working to defeat Proposition 208, a proposal to tax the state’s highest earners, and to keep the Legislature in Republican control. 

Smart and Safe’s only opposition comes in the form of Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, a weak-funded effort spearheaded by the Center for Arizona Policy and chaired by Republican consultant Lisa James. 

The political action committee was left with roughly $21,000 on hand after the August primary. Neither campaign had third quarter numbers available in time for this report. 

Even without the spending, Smart and Safe has not been able to even rely on polling in its favor with most polls showing it under 50% support, something that is usually worrisome for campaigns this close to an election on a “yes” or “no” question.

Recreational marijuana lost with 48.7% of the vote in 2016. 

Polls are not the end-all-be-all for political campaigns, but a recent survey shows Prop. 207 gaining support. 

A new Monmouth poll released on October 15 shows increased support for legalization at a margin of 56% in favor to 36% opposed. A September Monmouth poll had 51% in favor, 41% opposed and 8% undecided. 

The first poll came out before Arizonans began to receive their ballots, but at the time of the poll James was delighted at the results.

“I would definitely be concerned if the yes campaign was over 60 at this point, but they are not,” she said. James thinks the dwindling support for legalizing weed is due to people paying attention to “what’s in all 17 pages” of the proposal and understanding that if approved, it’s virtually untouchable.

She was referring to the Voter Protection Act, which prevents any amendments or modifications from the Legislature –– unless they further the intent of the initiative, and any changes would need to have three-fourths support in both chambers, which becomes more rare as politics becomes more divisive.

“With voter protection, we’ll be locked into this for the foreseeable future and these guys have just gone, once again, a step too far,” James said.

Stacy Pearson, who is running the Smart and Safe campaign, said she was not worried, adding that the campaign’s internal polling has been in the high 50% range for almost two years. 

“We’re confident that the number is higher than 51. It is a relatively small sample size and I don’t know how it’s weighted,” she said. “But certainly Monmouth’s got a great reputation so we’re taking a close look at it.” 

 Monmouth’s new poll surveyed 502 likely voters that identified more heavily as independent followed by Republican and then Democrat, which could have affected its results. It also had a plus-minus 4.4% margin of error. Monmouth adjusts the results for a low and high turnout predictor putting the support between 54 and 56%. 

 Other polls, like Suffolk University/USA TODAY had Smart and Safe with just 45.6% in support compared to 34.2% opposed, but it’s undecided voters were at an unusually high 19%. 



Still no budget 2 weeks after mass veto

 In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question during a news conference in Phoenix. A new voter-approved tax on high-earning Arizonans that will boost education spending is firmly in Gov. Doug Ducey's crosshairs, with the Republican vowing Friday, March 19, 2021, to see Proposition 208's new tax cancelled either through the courts or the GOP-controlled Legislature. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)
In this Dec. 2, 2020, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey answers a question during a news conference in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey’s veto of 22 bills on May 28 to spur the Legislature into passing a budget before the fiscal year ends may have backfired. 

Ducey still thinks he made the right decision even though the Republican-controlled Legislature still does not have the required 31 and 16 votes to put the budget on the governor’s desk, the governor’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin said.  

“Negotiations are still underway,” Karamargin said. “We’re confident that the budget we have on the table is a good budget, talks continue, and we remain hopeful.” 

But time is winding down to pass a budget before the fiscal year ends on June 30, with Republican holdouts in the House and Senate not willing to budge.  

Ducey told Capitol Media Services he is open to gaining some Democratic support, but that support appears to be off the table under the current budget proposal, which includes Ducey’s pet project of a massive tax cut that benefits mostly the wealthy. 

And on June 10, Ducey announced he’s calling a special session to address the wildfires that are destroying land and homes around the state.  

Republican strategist Lisa James said she thinks Ducey’s veto tactic didn’t work out the way he wanted, but stopped short of saying it was the wrong decision. 

“It doesn’t seem to have done the job,” James said about the veto decision. “Although, I mean, they have to work on [the budget] now, so I don’t see them sending anything else [to Ducey], so things are stalled.”  

James said it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ducey resorted to mass vetoes given that he used the same tactic in 2018. 

“It was a signal that he was pretty focused on getting things done and they should do the same,” she said, adding that the narrow GOP margins in both chambers make things more challenging as has been the case over 150-plus days of the session.  

She likened it to a game of tug-of-war where Ducey’s office and the Legislature are seeing how long the other side can hold out, adding that “there is business to get done.” 

“Either they’re gonna figure it out, or somebody is going to end up in the mud,” she said.  

Ducey received harsh criticism nationally over some specific bills he vetoed. Former President Trump sent out a press release chiding the governor. 

“Incredible to see that RINO Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona just vetoed a bill that would have outlawed Critical Race Theory training for State employees, and another that would have banned the mailing of ballots to citizens who never requested them,” Trump said in the statement. 

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also had some choice words for Ducey over those same bills, SB1074 and HB2792, both of which have been reintroduced and originally passed along party lines.  

Huckabee mostly parroted Trump’s thoughts and comments from Sen. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, who called out Ducey for vetoing a bill of his among the 22.  

Navarrete said Ducey’s decision was a “public temper tantrum fit for a toddler.” 

Progressive lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez said the veto sent the wrong message to Republicans and Democrats alike.  

“I think it 100% backfired,” she said, adding that it left a lot of people scratching their heads at the decision.  

“It doesn’t seem to be conducive toward building bridges,” Rodriguez said.  “All he ended up doing was pissing off Republicans and Democrats that he probably needs to get a budget deal done so I don’t quite understand the wisdom of what he did.” 

Rodriguez said although she’s happy Ducey vetoed some bills she was against, there were also bills she supported and that received bipartisan votes that he just decided to send back in his ultimatum.  

“It just really seems like he chose the option that would maximize making the most people pissed off as possible,” she said.  

Since Ducey’s mega veto, the Legislature continued its quasi-vacation until the House came back on June 7 to get all 60 lawmakers on the record where they stand on the budget. 

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, was the sole GOP holdout, which he had made evidently clear days leading up to the budget votes. He was there despite his home on the verge of being engulfed in flames from the Telegraph Fire, because he thought he owed it to his constituents.  

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, is the main Republican holdout in that chamber.  

Both chambers briefly returned to work on June 10, but did not address the budget before adjourning through the weekend, giving them a little more than two weeks before having to face a potential government shutdown.