At least 90 opinions of what are ‘must-pass’ bills


Some lobbyists and lawmakers have a pitch for legislative leaders dallying over plans to adjourn or resume the session – find a middle ground.

Friday, May 1, was once going to be the day lawmakers ended the session with a quick ceremonial adjournment, killing all remaining bills. But after rank-and-file Republicans revolted, leaders tossed those plans and reverted to the holding pattern they’ve been in since recessing in mid-March.

Now, lawmakers really only have two choices, longtime lobbyist Barry Aarons said. One option is to adjourn sine die and develop a list of essential bills and issues that must be taken care of in a special session. The other is to identify a date that will be safe to return to session as normal.

“I think if you asked each member one-on-one, I think the majority would say the first option is probably the most logical and reasonable solution,” Aarons said.

But with 90 elected lawmakers and many more people paid to lobby them around the Capitol in normal times, there are many more than 90 different opinions on what constitutes an “essential” bill.

Arizona schools want to see a few pieces of legislative business addressed before the next school year, either in a special session or a postponed return to regular session, said Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist Chris Kotterman. But lawmakers don’t have to return to the Capitol right now to address school needs, he stressed.

Chris Kotterman
Chris Kotterman

“We certainly wouldn’t want anybody to risk getting sick over a school issue,” Kotterman said. “Now that you have a senator who’s sick, it’s hard to say what their level of comfort is coming back to the Capitol.”

Before recessing, lawmakers passed bills to ensure that schools remained funded through the end of the current school year, regardless of whether they were able to physically reopen or were ordered to remain closed. But with the future of the pandemic uncertain and the possibility of a second wave hitting in the fall, even if COVID-19 rates fall off in the summer, schools don’t know how many students they’ll have on campus come August, or even if they’ll be cleared to resume in-person classes.

Even if schools return as normal, parents may insist on keeping students home. And because the state’s entire school funding model depends on how many students are in classrooms each day and how long they’re there, schools stand to lose out on funding next year.

School districts would like the option to receive funding either through the current-year funding model that’s been in place since the 2016-17 academic year, or through a pre-2016 funding formula based on the previous year’s average daily enrollment, Kotterman said.

The former, calculated based on how many students are enrolled on each day, up until the 100th day of the school year, could help schools that have more students attend. The latter could help schools that lose students during the year.

Another school-specific bill Kotterman said would need to pass before the next school year is a measure from Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, that would give schools an extra year to implement mandatory dyslexia screening requirements approved last year without funding, and modify the screening criteria so it can be included as part of a standard screening process.

“If they don’t change it, then schools will have to find a way to administer that little piece of the assessment,” Kotterman said.

Along with his dyslexia bill, Boyer said Senate staff are identifying a handful of other bills that should pass. One is school-related: an election law measure that contains provisions for school districts to cancel their elections.

Another on the Senate staff’s short list is the only bill Aarons is still pushing: Sen. Tyler Pace’s bill to allow cities or counties to form tourism marketing authorities funded by a new room tax.

The state’s tourism industry has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Aarons said, and Pace’s bill will help tourism bounce back.

Kevin DeMenna
Kevin DeMenna

Kevin DeMenna, another longtime lobbyist, said something like the Senate’s list could be done with bills that could form a consent calendar.

“Anything that’s passed a chamber and a half, a chamber and three-quarters, there are bills out there that equate to clerical processing.”

But while some may be easy to pass, he said there isn’t necessarily a list of anything — beyond budget issues — that need to be addressed this year.

“The urgency isn’t there. But taken as a whole, I think Arizona’s government is capable of rubbing its head and patting its stomach at the same time,” DeMenna said.

Any bill that doesn’t directly address the virus or the related economic fallout will have a hard time getting support from Democrats, especially in the short-term, said Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson.

“I’m sure there’s legislation that needs to be passed before next year, but I believe the only reason we should go back is to pass legislation dealing with this crisis,” he said.

Lisa Otondo, a Yuma Democrat on the Senate minority leadership team, said Senate Democrats likewise see no need to focus on any issues beyond COVID-19 and its economic impacts. Lawmakers can come back for a special session to deal with those issues, she said.

“Right now, the way that COVID-19 has affected the economy and workers, I think we need to focus on the problem at hand,” she said.

Friese mapped out three categories. The first includes policies that are necessary to immediately alleviate suffering. The second pertains to “repair and recovery,” such as efforts to waive late fees and interest on delinquent property tax payments, a popular proposal among some county treasurers in the state.

And the third includes plans for how the state can better respond to the next crisis. He would only consider returning to address legislation in the first category, while the rest can wait for a special session over the summer, he said.

Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist with the progressive firm Creosote Partners, agrees.

“As a lobbyist, I have pet issues and client issues that I would love to see get across the finish line,” she said. “But it would be selfish of me to try to push my own issues. Anything that was going to pass would have passed earlier on in the session. Anything that’s still active is not super critical.”

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

On this, there might be some bipartisan agreement. There are hundreds of bills that Republicans would like to see passed, ranging from nuts-and-bolts legislation concerning data collection on veterans’ suicides to controversial headline grabbers, said Rep. John Kavanagh.

But so long as Democrats insist on not returning to the Legislature — and so long as Boyer and fellow moderate Sen. Heather Carter keep their promise to only vote for COVID legislation — those bills won’t get heard before the end of the session, the Fountain Hills Republican said.

“This is the perfect storm for the mass death of bills,” Kavanagh said.

Even looking toward the end of the fiscal year, Kavanagh said his fellow lawmakers would be wise not to get too attached to any of their projects.

“The odds are slim we’re doing regular bills, though we’ll certainly deal with the budget,” he said.

Capitol reacts to allegations Rep. Shooter harassed women, fellow lawmakers

Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma)
Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma)

After seven women publicly accused Rep. Don Shooter of sexual harassment, the Capitol community has taken to social media to condemn – or defend – the Yuma Republican.

The accusers include Shooter’s fellow lawmakers Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe; and Rep. Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock; lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez; two unnamed lobbyists and former Arizona Capitol Times intern Kendra Penningroth, who was 19 at the time of the incident she reported. Their allegations against the 65-year-old Shooter range from sexually charged comments to unwanted touching.  

As of Friday afternoon, Shooter was suspended – not removed – from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee.

Also on Friday, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce joined calls for Shooter’s resignation.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, and Democrat David Garcia, both candidates for governor, made earlier calls for him to resign, as did the Arizona Democratic Party and House Democrats.

“Rep. Shooter should resign immediately so the women who have come forward with details of his unwelcome sexual advances can avoid publicly reliving their traumas,” Farley tweeted on Wednesday evening, adding Shooter had disrespected Arizonans and disgraced the Legislature.

Garcia called for an end to the “‘good-old-boys’ club that tolerates the harassment and abuse of female legislators and staff.”

He also expressed outrage that Shooter attacked Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, after initially issuing an apology, calling his actions “unconscionable.”

After Ugenti-Rita named Shooter as one of her harassers during an interview with KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch on Tuesday, Shooter issued a written statement and said he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.”

However, later that same day, he retracted that statement, stating he had previously been told only that Ugenti-Rita was upset by comments he made but wasn’t given details.

“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me, and I have asked Speaker Mesnard to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee/Counsel,” he said. “At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”

Nathan Schneider, a Democratic candidate for the House in Shooter’s Legislative District 13, said the accusations were evidence of a “pattern of abuse and unprofessionalism.”

“When will Republicans join us in calling for Don Shooter’s resignation?” he added on Twitter.

Some Republicans have condemned Shooter’s actions, but unlike their colleagues across the aisle, none have yet publicly demanded his removal.

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, was one of the first to defend Ugenti-Rita after the KTVK report, and said the allegations must be investigated.

“Sexual harassment should never be tolerated … Lead by example!” he wrote on Twitter.

In a statement, Arizona Republican Party spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair acknowledged the allegations were serious and applauded the decision by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to open an investigation.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard addresses his decision to suspend his Republican colleague Rep. Don Shooter from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee on Nov. 10. Shooter's suspension came after several women publicly accused him of sexual harassment. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard addresses his decision to suspend his Republican colleague Rep. Don Shooter from his duties as chairman of the House Appropriations committee on Nov. 10. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

According to a statement from Mesnard on Friday announcing Shooter’s suspension, the House’s bipartisan team assembled to investigate the allegations decided to employ outside investigators as they move forward. The team is set to meet Monday to discuss next steps.

Gov. Doug Ducey joined the party in supporting Mesnard and broadly condemned sexual harassment at the Capitol, though he made no specific reference to Shooter.

In a press release, Shooter’s primary challenger for next year’s Senate race, Republican Brent Backus, said that “the House will have to seriously consider discharging Rep. Shooter from the Chamber” if the investigation finds that the allegations are true.

He also called for Shooter to withdraw from the LD13 Senate race if expelled from the House.

And his Democratic challenger, Michelle Harris, compared the Legislature’s response to Shooter’s alleged behavior to her experience with the “old boys club” during her time in the U.S. Air Force.

“The military is far from perfect in this respect, but what we had was accountability at every level of the chain of command.  So far, the Arizona Legislature has shown it has little appetite to police itself,” she said in a written statement Thursday afternoon.

Harris went on to say the only way to change the culture would be to “confront it head-on,” and she supported a call from Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, to codify Capitol sexual harassment policies.

Contrary to much of the outrage that followed the women’s public comments, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said she’d never experienced harassment since being elected in 2015 and hadn’t witnessed inappropriate behavior toward others at the Capitol either.

“I have been treated with the utmost respect. You’re in a man’s world, and there’s harassment, but the harassment you usually get is because of… not going along with your party line or something like that. It’s not necessarily because you’re a woman,” she said.

She added that she was surprised by the allegations against Shooter, the legislator she said she’s grown closest to during her time at the Legislature.

“I can make him blush telling him he’s got a nice suit,” she said. “So, for me, if those accusations are made, they better have something substantial to back them up. That could hurt somebody’s life personally and professionally.”

Cobb said Shooter is “a good guy,” and repeatedly commented that the women who have accused him of sexual harassment should be sure of their allegations.

“If it was truly something that you felt was strong and should have been brought out, bring it out. And I think it should be brought out when it happens,” she said, adding the allegations came up because of a “fish-finding expedition” by an unnamed party.

Commission begins discussion on criminal justice data

Close up view on conceptual keyboard - Law symbol (blue key)
Close up view on conceptual keyboard – Law symbol (blue key)

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission started work this week on developing a definitive set of data lawmakers can refer to while drafting changes to criminal justice policy, but advocates for reform fear the commission will do nothing more than slap a state logo on a faulty report long pushed by prosecutors.

Commission chairwoman and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said she saw a need for a “common data framework” when she and other commission members, most of whom are prosecutors or law enforcement officials, met with legislators who questioned why they saw such different reports from prosecutors and reform-minded groups. 

The authors of those reports and other advocates for changing Arizona’s criminal justice laws were not invited to participate in discussions about the data. By excluding them, the commission seems to be taking the position that only law enforcement officials and prosecutors should have a say in how the criminal justice system is set up, said Darrell Hill, American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona policy director. 

“It’s just a continuation of the closed-off tactics we’ve seen from ACJC and the criminal justice community,” Hill said. “Instead of having a conversation, they want to control the conversation.”

A five-hour commission meeting September 25 started with a presentation from Steve Twist, the architect of the state’s criminal justice code. Twist spent much of his nearly hour-long talk praising the code he drafted in the late 1970s, and later additions like the 1993 truth-in-sentencing law that requires inmates to serve 85% of their sentences before they become eligible for release. 

Lawmakers should avoid pursuing “reforms based on myths,” Twist said, adding that supporters of reform movements haven’t provided adequate proof of their claims that the justice system is broken.

“There are those who say we have a mass incarceration problem that does not contribute to public safety and that taxpayers can no longer afford,” Twist said. “There are claims that are worth studying, but they are claims. They are not conclusions.”

The meeting wasn’t intended to be a referendum on any sentencing reports, Polk said, but rather an opportunity to learn more about the data available. Still, she ended the meeting by indicating that she doesn’t believe all data is worth studying.

“The amount of data feels overwhelming to me,” Polk said. “Maybe there’s other data we should be collecting, but do we really want that data? Do we need more? What’s that snapshot at any given time that we should be looking at?” 

Polk is also the chairwoman of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council, which has produced four reports in the past decade concluding that the state’s criminal justice system correctly puts repeat and violent offenders behind bars. 

She suggested at the criminal justice commission’s July meeting that the commission’s Statistical Analysis Center, rather than the prosecutors’ council, produce future versions of that report, according to meeting minutes.

The prosecutors’ report is based on data provided by the Department of Corrections, which critics say doesn’t paint a full picture of sentencing policy. Among other criticisms, reform advocates say the report misleadingly conflates violent offenders and people with multiple convictions, putting murderers and petty criminals in the same box. 

Groups, such as the American Friends Service Committee, have done their own research on state sentencing laws, including a report that concluded that the state spends more than half a million dollars each day to incarcerate people whose only crime was drug possession.

Rebecca Fealk, a program coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee, told committee members she was surprised the organization wasn’t invited to talk when its reports were being questioned. Fealk had the five minutes afforded members of the public to speak, rather than the 30 minutes or more offered most presenters. 

The Quaker organization’s research shouldn’t be written off, Fealk said. 

“We don’t want to be discredited,” she said. “We want to help.”

The commission heard presentations from the Department of Corrections, adult probation services and court administrative offices, but not any of the organizations that have produced their own reports on criminal justice in Arizona. 

Commission members also missed an opportunity to hear from formerly incarcerated people and researchers in other states, said Hill, the ACLU policy director. Instead, a commission made up almost entirely of prosecutors and law enforcement officials heard presentations from the perspective of law enforcement, he said. 

The 1980s law that created the 19-member commission spells out specific roles each governor-appointed member must have – for instance, a police chief from a large county or former judge. It doesn’t include any defense attorneys, and legislative efforts to change the law to include public defenders repeatedly stalled. 

“They met on their own, in their own echo chamber, and painted a slanted picture of Arizona’s mass incarceration crisis,” Hill said. “The exact people who caused our prison population to explode are now trying to halt the bipartisan momentum for reform by presenting a skewed set of data and downplaying the severity of the crisis for Arizona families, communities and taxpayers.” 

Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist who works on criminal justice issues at the Capitol and sat through the meeting, said the commission appeared to show its hand by inviting Twist and not any of the groups that had their research called into question. 

“It’s frustrating that we had a conversation about data today where we didn’t actually talk about data,” Rodriguez said. “We just heard what we always hear from the same group or people, prosecutors and law enforcement.”

Liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning groups including the ACLU, FWD.us and Right on Crime all agree on what the data shows about the state’s criminal justice system, Rodriguez said. The only disagreement comes from the prosecutors on the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

It’s unlikely that the commission’s “common data framework” will come to any conclusions other than that prosecutors were right all along and there isn’t enough data for anything beyond that report, said Kyle Barry, senior legal counsel at the national Justice Collaborative. 

“If anything other than those two things come out of this ACJC hearing, I would be shocked,” he said.  

Compiling all the available data into a single source is a laudable goal, said Kurt Altman, Arizona and New Mexico director for the conservative reform group Right on Crime. But he said focusing too much on compiling data could distract from getting actual reform work done.  

“We don’t need any more data to say the No. 1 problem that leads to recidivism is the lack of jobs, No. 2 is the lack of housing,” Altman said. “Let’s look into that. We can do something about that.” 

Democrats irked at barefaced Republicans, don’t file complaints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia Shumway contributed to this report

GOP offers body cam support – Dems optimistic, but …

The Phoenix City Council in February approved a plan to pA Phoenix police officer displays a body camera. PHOTO BY BAYNE FRONEY/CRONKITE NEWS
The Phoenix City Council in February approved a plan to pA Phoenix police officer displays a body camera. PHOTO BY BAYNE FRONEY/CRONKITE NEWS

Arizona Republicans are continuing their push for wider body camera usage in the state — but advocates worry whether their efforts are enough to make meaningful change. 

This week, after COVID-19 “upended” Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan last legislative session to give a camera to every trooper in the Department of Public Safety, he announced that an unnamed private firm would supply the department with 150 cameras – about one for every five officers. 

“Our state troopers deserve every protection we can give them,” Ducey tweeted. “That’s why I intend to work with the Legislature next session to appropriate full funding to extend this worthwhile initiative agency-wide. I look forward to working with lawmakers toward that goal.” 

His proposal follows calls last week from Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, a fellow Republican, to outfit all law enforcement officers in the state with cameras. Republican lawmakers embraced her plan at the time — though none actually committed to funding cameras statewide. 

Ducey did not supply many specifics about the plan, other than that the “phased-in approach, which will begin rolling out over the coming months, will help the agency better determine the staffing, infrastructure and technological requirements of an agency-wide rollout,” and that the cameras would go to troopers in urban and rural areas. 

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

A spokesman for the governor said DPS “will be developing policy around the use of these cameras before they are rolled out.” The department is also still finalizing details around storage of the footage these cameras will produce, the spokesman, Patrick Ptak, said. 

Rep. Regina Cobb, the House Appropriations Committee chair, said Ducey’s staff had yet to reach out to discuss a funding plan for body cameras in the DPS, but that she believed it might have good odds this time. 

“If you’re going to some kind of reform, that might be something that both sides can accept,” she said.

Despite Ducey’s repeated commitments to funding body cameras for state police officers, advocates and progressive lawmakers view the recent Republican interest in police reform with some skepticism. 

“I am optimistic that there will be police reform and criminal justice reform only if we see new leadership at the Legislature,” said Rep. Reginald Bolding, a Democrat from Laveen, following Adel’s call last week for a statewide body camera mandate. 

Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, the House Public Safety Committee chair, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, and Ducey all put out statements at that time committing to funding and studying body cameras next session, though none explicitly promised to support a statewide body camera law. Payne could not be reached for additional comment September 30. 

Body cameras can pose significant long-term cost, depending on the needs for data storage, maintenance and personnel. And they have a mixed record of actually improving accountability and reducing violence, though they do frequently reduce the number of complaints a department receives. 

A 2014 Arizona State University study of a federally funded body camera program at the city of Phoenix found that, while complaints against police went down significantly after camera usage began, officers only recorded as many as 42% of incidents. Officers who used the cameras also made more arrests than those who didn’t. 

A newer ASU study of body camera usage among Tempe police officers, however, found that camera usage only reduced the frequency with which specialty units used force, though not for regular patrol officers. 

Reginald Bolding
Reginald Bolding

Bolding said the latest move represents a positive first step – unlike Ducey, however, he’s setting his sights beyond simply providing funding for body cameras at DPS.

Democrats authored a plan outlying a series of police reforms at the beginning of the summer, with Bolding as one of its most visible advocates. The plan included funding for body cameras statewide, as well as more training, limits to qualified immunity – which helps shield officers from legal liability – and a statewide officer discipline database. 

“My hope is the governor will continue to follow the lead of myself, the community and others who have been pushing for reform for years,” Bolding said. “Next session, we can lead the nation in real reform that includes changing the use of force justification statues, tackling qualified immunity, creating a police officer database and more.” 

Whether that hope comes to pass is a separate question, and reformers have reason to be skittish, said Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for the progressive firm Creosote Partners. 

“Any promises made by candidates for office, I would encourage people to take with a grain of salt,” she said, referring to Adel. 

After all, Adel has reason to appeal to public sentiment, as she invited a flood of scrutiny after she declined to charge the Department of Public Safety trooper who shot and killed Dion Johnson in a gore point on Loop 101. 

Adel’s opponent, Democrat Julie Gunnigle, released a statement in which she attacked Adel for bandying promises of reform only when perception demanded it.  

“Everyone knows that body-worn cameras for law enforcement is a smart policy decision that keeps us safe and makes our criminal justice system more transparent,” Gunnigle said. “Unfortunately, this is little more than a political stunt that contradicts Adel’s previous stances just over 40 days away from the general election.”  

Adel has had many chances to vocalize her support on the issue, Gunnigle said – when she was sworn in, when the Legislature convened in January, when legislation was introduced to fund body cameras for DPS or when Democrats requested a special session in June to reform police departments. But she waited until September, Gunnigle said. 

(Photo courtesy of Arizona Department of Public Safety)
(Photo courtesy of Arizona Department of Public Safety)

One reason for skepticism is that county attorneys – including Adel – often ask courts to seal body camera footage in criminal investigations, circumventing public records law, said Jared Keenan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the president of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.

Additionally, he said that without a policy in place to ensure that officers actually keep their cameras on, simply providing the funds for more cameras may not be effective. This was an issue that Bolding and his colleagues had with Ducey’s original proposal back in January, as it offered no assurance to that effect. Democrats also wanted to ensure that the public would be able to view body camera footage – something Republicans had previously attempted to restrict

In 2015, then-Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who sponsored that effort, said it was necessary to limit the public’s access to body camera footage in order to protect the privacy of those pictured, police and civilian alike. 

But Keenan of ACLU said, “Most times when people start introducing body cameras, they’re throwing more money at police instead of fixing the problems of police.” Keenan also noted that Adel declined charges against the Tempe cop who shot 14-year-old Antonio Arce in the back on January 15, 2019, despite body camera footage showing the killing.

Benjamin Taylor, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney based in Phoenix – who, incidentally, is representing the family of Angel Benitez, the 21-year-old who Mesa police shot dead September 25 – said that he view’s Ducey’s announcement as a positive first step.

“I think it’s a good decision to have required body cameras on all law enforcement officers throughout the state,” Taylor said. “Body cameras protect citizens, and they also protect the officers from being accused of wrongdoing.” 

When police use force, there are often no other witnesses aside from the officer and civilian directly involved, Taylor said. Body cameras, if officers actually turn them on, provide an alternate, theoretically objective version of events.  

However, giving a camera to every cop in every county would still be an incomplete solution, Taylor said, unless lawmakers ensure that officers use their cameras and pass other changes, like limiting qualified immunity. 

“That would be a complete victory,” he said. 


House begins probes into sexual harassment claims against Rep. Shooter

Yuma Republican Sen. Don Shooter explains that one of his bills that went into effect July 20 — which prohibits requiring businesses to negotiate with union organizations in city contracts — is not “anti-union,” but is “pro-freedom.” (File Photo)
Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

“Multiple investigations” are underway at the Arizona House as Speaker J.D. Mesnard and staff members respond to a growing list of sexual harassment accusations lodged against GOP Rep. Don Shooter.

A bipartisan group of House staffers will conduct the investigations. Their interviews with individuals involved in the complaints against Shooter, and the Yuma Republican’s own accusations against a colleague, could begin as early as next week. Mesnard said staff is currently scheduling those interviews.

The investigations were spurred by media reports about Shooter, who has for years chaired budget committees in the House, and in the Senate where he served from 2011 to 2015.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, was the first to publicly accuse Shooter of sexual harassment, allegations Shooter vehemently denied. Since then, two other lawmakers have come forward with their own claims about Shooter, as have other women.

Mesnard said House staff would look at each allegation individually. Any allegation against a lawmaker will be investigated, including accusations made by lobbyists and others, he said.

“Anything that I become aware of, either because someone tells me, which is not what’s happening, or because I find out in the media, which is what’s happening, we’ll do an investigation,” Mesnard said. That may include allegations made by women in an Arizona Capitol Times report posted on November 8.

For example, Democratic lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez, who alleged Shooter inappropriately touched her, confirmed she’s been contacted by House staff to schedule an interview.

“Anyone who has an accusation, we’ll investigate, whether they’re a legislator or somebody else bringing something – anything that’s against a legislator,” he said. “We’ll treat them all separately unless they have to do with the same kind of thing.”

The House would follow the path set forward in the draft sexual harassment policy Mesnard issued last week in response to Ugenti-Rita’s initial claims on October 20 about being a victim of sexual harassment at the Capitol. Though the policy is new in form, it does incorporate some internal guidelines for dealing with reports of harassment, including steps for investigating those allegations.

While that step-by-step process is “malleable” to fit the needs of individual investigations, according to the policy, it does detail a few steps that should be considered, the first of which is appointing an investigative team.

That bipartisan team consists of Tim Fleming, House rules attorney; Jim Drake, chief clerk; Josh Kredit, general counsel for the GOP majority; Christine Marsh, associate general counsel for the GOP; Rhonda Barnes, general counsel for House Democrats; Amilyn Pierce, deputy chief of staff for the GOP; and Cynthia Aragon, House Democrats’ chief of staff.

Though some of the allegations against Shooter date back to his time in the state Senate, Senate GOP Spokesman Mike Philipsen said the Senate has no immediate plans to conduct its own investigation. With Shooter now in the House, that chamber has jurisdiction – the Senate would have no ability to sanction a representative, he said.

Senate staff said they’ll cooperate with the House investigation as needed.

Depending on the investigations’ findings, there are a number of methods state legislators can take to reprimand a fellow lawmaker. House rules detail the chamber’s ability to censure representatives who have breached House rules, and per the Arizona Constitution, each chamber can, by a two-thirds vote, choose to expel a legislator.

Mesnard left open the possibility of using any number of punitive options.

“I think sexual harassment can mean a lot of different things. Are there certain situations that would warrant severe penalties? That’s possible,” Mesnard said. “It’s a big continuum of what constitutes sexual harassment and what evidence is in play.”

House panel approves bill to crack down on rioters

 In this June 9, 2020 file photo, protesters rally in Mesa, Ariz. demanding police reform.  (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In this June 9, 2020 file photo, protesters rally in Mesa, Ariz. demanding police reform. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

A bill to create a new felony offense to crack down on people who take part in violent protests passed out of committee on a party-line vote Monday.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said HB2309, which would create a new class 6 felony crime of violent or disorderly assembly, would protect the free speech rights of peaceful protesters by cracking down on violent protesters trying to hijack lawful assemblies. 

“I don’t see how innocent people are going to be caught up in this,” Kavanagh said. “If you stay at an unlawful assembly or a riot, you’re not an innocent person. You’re someone breaking the law.”

Opponents said law enforcement could use it to go after people whose speech they disagree with, pointing to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office recent attempt to charge 18 people arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest in October with being in a criminal street gang. The charges were dropped last week.

“What this committee is proposing would put even more power in the hands of police and prosecutors to target speech they find objectionable,” lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez, speaking on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told the House Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee.6

However, another measure that would have cut state funding for cities or counties that cut their police budgets by more than 10%, appears to be dead. HB2310 did make it out of committee Monday, but with a “strike everything” amendment proposed by its sponsor, Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, that turns it into a completely different bill. It now gives the Legislative Council the power to review presidential executive orders and refer them to the Attorney General’s office for an opinion on their constitutionality.

Roberts introduced both bills, with the co-sponsorship of most of the House Republican caucus, during the first week of the session. Democrats and Republicans have been polarized in their responses to the protests that engulfed the country last spring in response to the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed black men at the hands of police, with many Republicans pushing back against proposals to “defund the police” and calling for a tough response to protests that result in violence or property damage.

Meanwhile, some Democrats have been pushing measures to increase police oversight or put more limits on their powers. Two such bills — one to ban police from using “no-knock warrants,” one to require an outside agency to investigate cases where a police officer uses deadly force — are scheduled for hearings in the House Criminal Justice Reform Committee Wednesday.

HB2309 also says someone arrested for violent or disorderly assembly cannot be released from custody for at least 12 hours “unless a magistrate finds that the person is not likely to immediately resume the criminal behavior.” It would reclassify assaulting a peace officer while violating this law as a class 6 felony and require at least 6 months in jail for anyone convicted. And, it would raise obstructing a highway, public nuisance, shining a laser pointer at a police officer or recklessly damaging property worth between $250 and $1,000 from a misdemeanor to a class 6 felony if done in the course of committing violent or disorderly assembly.

As originally written, HB2309 would bar people convicted of violent or disorderly from public employment or receiving public benefits in the future. Roberts said he plans to offer a floor amendment “in the interests of criminal justice reform” to remove this, saying he supports punishing people who break the law but also believes they should have the chance to redeem themselves.

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.”

Lobbyists take leap of faith to open progressive firm in red state

Marilyn Rodriguez and Sam Richard have taken the risky step of opening a lobbying firm that caters to progressive interests in a state in which the GOP dominates. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)
Marilyn Rodriguez and Sam Richard have taken the risky step of opening a lobbying firm that caters to progressive interests in a state in which the GOP dominates. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

No one is required to work for anyone, and lobbyists are no exception. The firms that consult, advocate and lobby at the Capitol can pick and choose their clients as they see fit.

But no firm in Arizona is as blunt about the process of vetting clients as Creosote Partners, launched this week by lobbyists Marilyn Rodriguez and Sam Richard.

In founding their firm, the two announced a mission to represent clients pushing progressive causes and no others. By wearing their selectiveness on their sleeve, Rodriguez and Richard acknowledge they’re taking a leap of faith, but say that there’s plenty of business to be had that meets their criteria.

“We are running the risk of pigeonholing ourselves, so to speak, but we think that it’s a great risk to take because of all the organizations that are out there that have decided to not engage in the Legislature because they haven’t been able to find representation that is wholly consistent with their goals,” Rodriguez said. “You’d be surprised how much it means for an organization for you to label yourselves as one of them.”

But in a state as conservative as Arizona, where all statewide offices are occupied by Republicans and both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by the GOP, the progressive label may only get them so far as a business. Progressive values are often thought of as liberal values, and by aligning themselves with a particular set of issues, Rodriguez and Richard are de facto defining themselves politically, said lobbyist Gibson McKay.

McKay, who serves clients of both political persuasions, said life at the Capitol is difficult if you’re thought of as friendly to one side of the aisle or the other. And for an upstart lobbying firm, saying “no” to anyone is difficult, he added.

Progressivism doesn’t have to be a solely Democratic or Republican issue, Rodriguez said. There are some issues that defy the barriers between the two dominant political parties.

Some, but not all, other lobbyists said.

“Sometimes it’s altruistic to say you’re going to limit yourself in some way, shape or form, because not all issues cut across party lines,” McKay said.

Progressive in a red state

While lobbying to advance progressive causes seems counterintuitive in a red state, progressivism, which shaped American politics in the late 19th century and through the first few decades of the 20th century, is very much rooted in Arizona’s history, and many of its most substantive expressions have permeated the Arizona Constitution.

David Berman of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy said the Arizona Constitution was “highly progressive by contemporary standards because it was shaped by progressive/labor-friendly Democrats…”

And constitutional lawyer Paul Eckstein also said the state Constitution was drafted at the height of the progressive movement, which emphasized good government issues like initiative, referendum, recall, direct election of senators, and women’s suffrage.

Today, progressive agendas don’t traditionally mesh well with conservative goals at the Arizona Legislature – that’s why such a lobbying firm hasn’t been attempted for years. Barry Dill, a partner at First Strategic, can’t recall another firm in recent memory that’s been exclusive to progressive causes.

“I have to think a long, long time ago when there was a lobbying firm that just focused on more progressive, left-leaning issues since Arizona turned from Democrat to Republican back in the 1980s,” said Dill.

That’s what makes the decision to go progressive-only so unique. Arizona was then and continues to be dominated by Republicans in higher officer. That leaves Rodriguez and Richard facing a political reality – nothing can be accomplished in Arizona with Democrats alone.

It’s impossible to get a bill out of either the House of Representatives or the Senate, let alone both chambers and across the governor’s desk, with only Democrat votes.

And at the launch of their firm, Rodriguez and Richard have tied themselves to causes that, more often than not, are considered left-leaning ones, lobbyists said.

By aligning themselves with progressive issues, McKay said that Creosote Partners has in essence defined themselves politically as left-leaning.

“It’s one of the problems in American politics today, when you start defining yourself through issues. The other side has very valid points,” McKay said.

He later added: “It’s not bad to have a philosophy, but if you can’t play devil’s advocate, it’s a difficult position.”

Simple math shows that it will take some Republicans for Creosote Partner to get some wins at the Capitol. Even to kill a bill, which for some progressive causes can be considered a win when they’re trying to stop legislation, it will take some Republican help.

There is room to maneuver in such a way to find those wins, according to Dill, who pointed to a recent event: Two Republicans serving on the House Health Committee held a press conference to oppose GOP-pushed health care bills in Congress.

“It depends upon what the issue is, but there are coalitions to be made with a majority of Democrats and some like-minded Republicans on policy issues,” he said.

“In the lobbying game, the whole game is to win on behalf of your clients, whomever they may be,” Dill continued. “I wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed just to represent one group or one philosophy as far as a values proposition from a business perspective. But I give them a great deal of credit for jumping into the fray and hopefully being successful on advancing some progressive issues.”

It won’t be easy

Richard acknowledged that championing progressive causes in a red state like Arizona won’t always be easy.

“We will always have to compromise on issues,” he said. “We’re not like purists in that ideological or theological kind of way. But we never want to be in a position where we feel like we’re compromising on clients. And we want to be able to put our stake in the ground on the idea of, the clients we represent are fighting for equity, they’re fighting for positive change in the state.”

Rodriguez said the firm hopes its experience at the Capitol will open doors with both Republicans and Democrats, even if a cause they’re pushing might align more naturally with one party or the other.

But progressivism shouldn’t be considered strictly a liberals-only vehicle – there’s a history of Republicans pushing progressive agendas, she said.

“Progressivism is something we’ve been talking about in America since well before many of us were born,” Rodriguez said. “We have Teddy Roosevelt quoting the need for progressivism, Eleanor Roosevelt, all the way to Marilyn and Sam in 2017, a hundred years later. So it’s not a new concept. It’s just equity, equality, access to basic needs like health care and a decent living.”

The niche Creosote Partners wants to carve out for themselves in Arizona has less to do with party politics than it does a value set that reflects those of the firms’ founders, Richard said.

“What I think kind of drives Marilyn and me is that progressive values have historically been nonpartisan and can be again,” he said. “But we don’t want to be necessarily known as the Republican firm or the Democratic firm. That’s not the niche that we’re going for. We want to be the progressive firm,” he said.

Rodriguez compared her selectiveness in clientele to her time at Veridus, the lobbying and public affairs firm where she worked since 2011. At Veridus, clients could be turned away if, for whatever reason, the issue that needed advocacy wasn’t consistent with a particular lobbyist’s values, she said.

However, such decisions were made quietly and internally. “It wasn’t something they wore on their sleeve, but it was definitely a consideration each time,” Rodriguez said.

Being upfront about their intentions avoids that process.

“For Sam and I, it’s more of a thing where we don’t want to be distracted by anything other than progressive issues.”

Finding the right issues

There are already some clients who’ve chosen to work with Creosote Partners – the firm announced three partners at its launch.

Success lobbying for those clients will mean proving that they are not bound to one party’s political persuasions over another, according to Barry Aarons, a lobbyist who has worked in Arizona politics for decades.

“They’re going to have to find those issues where there is a natural divide, because if it’s just progressives going after progressive votes to promote progressive issues, they will go just so far, and then they’re going to have to drag across a few recalcitrant Republicans, and that’s no easy task,” Aarons said.

Lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs said it will be crucial that while staying true to their own values, Rodriguez and Richard must allow the lawmakers whose votes they’ll be lobbying for to do the same.

“If they understand some of the things they’re hoping to accomplish are consistent with Republican principles, then I think they can be successful,” Jacobs said. “But it’s hard to just come in with a philosophy that may be inconsistent with everybody in leadership.”

Lobbyists can’t take meetings and expect a lawmaker to vote for something that’s inconsistent with their principles, Jacobs said.

“Help lawmakers understand where their principles and (your) interests align” she said.

Aarons and Creosote Partners now share a client, the American Friends and Service Committee, where it’s now the duty of Creosote Partners to manage a far-ranging coalition of groups advocating for criminal justice reform, Aarons said. The issue is a perfect example of one that crosses party lines and gives Rodriguez and Richard an opportunity to prove their bona fides to Republicans and Democrats alike.

The coalition includes organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, but also conservative groups like the Goldwater Institute and Right on Crime.

“Everyone in that group looks at Marilyn and says, ‘You’re a talent and you know what you’re doing, so the fact that you’re progressive doesn’t concern anybody,” Aarons said.

Rodriguez and Richard are also betting there’s enough potential business in Arizona, particularly in the nonprofit community, to make launching a progressive-only lobbying firm a reality.

Rodriguez said that she frequently ran into nonprofit activist groups at the Legislature that were “kind of floundering,” organizations that had “a noble cause but doesn’t really know what they’re doing. And when we started to talk to some of these organizations, we asked them why is it that you don’t just contract with someone. And they say, ‘Well there isn’t someone who works on our issues.’”

As it stands, it’s difficult to say if there are enough such organizations in Arizona to make a go of it, Dill said.

“Arizona has not been at the forefront of progressive issues in the past, and I don’t know what their business model is, but maybe they found a new groundswell of progressive money that would dictate a business model that would allow them to operate in a state like Arizona,” Dill said.

If not now, there’s potential for a brighter future for Creosote Partners, and they could be ahead of the game. Dill said the firm’s best chance of success is if there are more progressive lawmakers in higher office, but that gerrymandered districts won’t make that easy to change in the next few years.

Four or six years from now, though, and Arizona could look plenty different.

“I give them credit for thinking ahead,” Dill said. “They may feel that there’s an opportunity, maybe not in 2018, maybe not even in 2020, but after redistricting, maybe 2022, it might lend itself to more progressive candidates winning office. And I’m only speculating.”

Players in movement to remake Arizona’s criminal justice system

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

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

John Allen
John Allen

Rep. John Allen

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

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

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


Americans for Prosperity

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

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

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


American Friends Service Committee

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

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

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

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

Rep. Walt Blackman

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

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

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

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


Creosote Partners

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

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

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

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

Kirsten Engel
Kirsten Engel

Rep. Kirsten Engel

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

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

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

Eddie Farnsworth
Eddie Farnsworth

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth

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

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

Donna Hamm
Donna Hamm

Middle Ground Prison Reform

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

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

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

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

Sheila Polk
Sheila Polk

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk

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

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

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

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

Kurt Altman
Kurt Altman

Right on Crime

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

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

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

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

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

Rep. Ben Toma

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporter Julia Shumway contributed to this report. 

Rep. Shooter accused of repeated sexual harassment of Capitol women

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Seven women at the Arizona Capitol, including three legislators, say a prominent Republican state lawmaker has harassed them.

The allegations against 65-year-old Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, range from sexually charged comments to unwanted touching.

The women decided to publicly discuss the incidents after reporting from various news outlets, led by The New York Times and New Yorker, broke open sexual harassment claims from numerous women against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, women in various industries have gone public with stories about men in their businesses who have harassed them.

The topic of harassment at the Arizona Capitol came to the forefront on Oct. 20 after Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she had been sexually harassed at the statehouse for years since taking office in 2011. Ugenti-Rita made her accusation more specific on Tuesday, when she told a local TV station one of the men who harassed her was Shooter.

Several women have since come forward with stories of unwanted comments and touching from Shooter.

Marilyn Rodriguez
Marilyn Rodriguez

One instance occurred off of Capitol grounds in 2013, said Democratic lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said she was trying to lobby then-Sen. Shooter, who was the chair of the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the chamber, on a budget issue in his office at the Capitol. He wasn’t listening, which she blamed on her newness as a lobbyist. He suggested they meet that evening at a restaurant, Windsor, in Phoenix.

Rodriguez brought another female lobbyist, who she declined to name, with her. After about two hours attempting to talk about the budget issue, the other lobbyist had to leave, leaving Rodriguez and Shooter together. Rodriguez said she decided to stay to continue lobbying him.

Shortly after the other lobbyist left, Shooter put his hand on Rodriguez’s knee, she said. She moved away from him and left as soon as she could after that, she said, adding that she felt paralyzed and overwhelmed.

Rodriguez hasn’t met with him in the two years since then, which she said makes it more difficult to work as a lobbyist given his prominent role in the budget process. Shooter now is the chair of the House appropriations committee.

“I don’t feel comfortable meeting with him. Every time I see him, I think about that moment. I still to this day feel incredibly ashamed about it,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez hasn’t publicly told the story before and and she said she still feels leery about discussing it, though she now owns her own lobbying firm. It’s a tough spot for lobbyists, who need to maintain relationships with lawmakers in order to advance their clients’ agendas, she said.

“It’s entirely possible there’s a chance for retribution, and I don’t know what to do about it,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez pointed to comments made by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard last week, after Ugenti-Rita publicly said she had been harassed at the Capitol. Mesnard noted that it’s especially hard for lobbyists to seek recourse for inappropriate treatment at the Capitol, saying one of their only options is to make a public statement.

“I agree. I don’t know if, at the end of this, my stories and the other women’s stories that come out are going to do anything. I don’t know if next session he’s still going to be chairman of the appropriations committee. That’s out of my control,” Rodriguez said.

In a statement sent through attorney Melissa Ho, Shooter would not comment on the allegations by Ugenti-Rita nor the women who spoke to the Arizona Capitol Times for this story, saying only that he had requested an investigation by the House.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, confirmed to KTVK (Channel 3) political reporter Dennis Welch on Nov. 7 that Shooter was one of the men who harassed her at the Capitol. She said he asked about her chest in her office once and came uninvited to her room with beer at a work conference, where she didn’t answer the door.

Ugenti-Rita also detailed a June 2011 encounter where he told her he was in love with her and said he wanted to have a relationship. She wrote a memo about that incident, and said she told Republican leadership, but nothing was done.

“He tells me that he loves me and asks if there’s an opportunity for us to be together in the future,” she read to KTVK from the June 2011 memo. “Just then, he bursts out, ‘I have been married for 32 years and have never done anything.’”

Ugenti-Rita said she’s worried about retaliation now that she’s named Shooter.

Initially, according to the Nov. 7 KTVK report, Shooter issued a written statement and said he “apparently said things that were insensitive and not taken well.”

However, later on Nov. 7, he retracted that statement, stating he had previously been told only that Ugenti-Rita was upset by comments he made but wasn’t given details.

“I’ve been happily married for 41 years, I’ve never cheated on my wife and there isn’t a woman on this planet I would leave my wife for,” he wrote.

Shooter went on to blame the trouble between him and Ugenti-Rita on “how she has conducted herself personally, with staff and later with legislation,” including “a very public affair.”

“Ms. Ugenti is lying about me, and I have asked Speaker Mesnard to have the entire matter investigated by the House Ethics Committee/Counsel,” he said. “At the conclusion of their work, I will consider taking further legal action in this matter.”

Ugenti-Rita has called attention to the lack of policies and procedures to investigate harassment among the elected members of the legislature, which resulted in a new policy.

Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)
Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe)

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, recalled her first interaction with Shooter. During the first week of the legislative session this year, another representative introduced Shooter to her.

Salman said Shooter told her: “You’ll be a nice view to look at.”

She found the comment on her appearance unprofessional, she said.

Rep. Wenona Benally (D-Window Rock)
Rep. Wenona Benally (D-Window Rock)

Another lawmaker, Democrat Rep. Wenona Benally of Window Rock, said she heard Shooter use “suggestive and sexually inappropriate language” during the 2017 legislative session. While bills were being debated on the House floor, Benally was in the member’s lounge when Shooter sat across from her. Another male colleague joined him.

“They engaged in a joking but graphic conversation in front of me in which Rep. Shooter repeatedly referred to his male genitalia as a ‘gun.’ The conversation made me extremely uncomfortable,” Benally said in a statement.

She reported the incident to Democratic leadership, who reported it to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.

In another instance, Shooter bear-hugged a 19-year-old Capitol Times intern at a company awards event earlier this year.

The intern, Kendra Penningroth, said Shooter, who she had never met, came up to her at the Best of the Capitol event in June and wrapped her in a long hug, then ran his hands down her back.

Shooter held onto her as he told another intern, who had a camera, not to take any photos of him, Penningroth said.

“It wasn’t like a colleague, side hug. It was like a bear hug. He pushed my face into his chest, which was weird, and then he continued to talk to me about how private his life is and how I know that he doesn’t like when people take pictures of him. But I had never met him before. Ever,” she said.

Another woman had a similar experience with Shooter. At a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference in Tucson in 2015, the woman, a city employee who did not want her name or city identified, was at an after-hours event when Shooter arrived.

She said she greeted him and he wrapped his arms around her, then slid his hands down and grabbed her buttocks. She pulled away and pushed him back, she said. She walked away and was talking to coworkers, but Shooter came up behind her and began waving his hands and mimicking what she was saying.

She looked at him and told him to stop being creepy. He responded that he didn’t know if he could, she said.

She said she doesn’t think he remembers her or the incident because she saw him a year later and he came up to her and attempted to hug her again. She told him no, saying that the hugs with him never end well, she said.

Another woman who was at the conference confirmed to the Capitol Times that the city employee told her the same story immediately after it happened.

In another incident, at an education event at the Phoenix Public Market during the 2017 legislative session, Shooter made inappropriate sexual comments to two female lobbyists, who did not want to be named. A male lobbyist who witnessed the interaction, Geoff Esposito, recounted what happened, and one of the female lobbyists confirmed the account.

The lobbyists did not want to detail on the record exactly what was said for fear of retribution, but said the comments were extreme and sexual in nature.

Esposito, then a lobbyist at the statehouse, said he was keeping an eye on the conversation Shooter was having with the young female lobbyists. Esposito eventually received text messages from one of the lobbyists saying “SOS,” indicating that he should intervene.

He walked up to Shooter to try to interrupt, but Shooter physically pushed Esposito out of the way and said: “‘I’m working on something here, buddy,’” Esposito said. The female lobbyist confirmed Esposito’s account.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the House will be investigating all claims of harassment as they become aware of them.

“Anything that becomes public or that is personally requested to investigate, either way, that’s what I’m going to pursue. … We are going to be very thorough,” Mesnard said.

The investigation will be conducted by a bipartisan group, and could include outside attorneys and specialists, if needed, he said. He added that the House will investigate any claims that come up, regardless of who the claims are against.

As to whether Shooter will remain as appropriations chair, Mesnard said he didn’t want to speculate, instead preferring to take the investigative process one step at a time.

The stories about Shooter and other members that Mesnard has heard in recent weeks are concerning, and he’s not trying to minimize the claims any women have made, but he wants to thoroughly investigate the issues through the proper channels, he said.

“We have a cultural problem we have to fix, and this is even bigger than Mr. Shooter,” he said.

Due to a transcription error, a previous version of this story included the wrong year for an incident. The alleged incident involving Marilyn Rodriguez and Rep. Don Shooter happened in 2013.


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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. 

Voter Protection Act blocking bipartisan bill

police cop ticket traffic 620

Rep. Leo Biasiucci was waiting his turn to fight a parking ticket in court when the idea came to him.

As the Lake Havasu City Republican watched people ahead of him tell the judge they couldn’t afford to pay their tickets, he wondered why there wasn’t a way to lift the financial burden. Payment plans weren’t an option; an additional fee is required to start one, he said.

Biasiucci’s HB2110, first introduced as HB2055 in 2020, proposes that judges could order people to do community service, valued at $12 an hour, as payment for their tickets rather than money.

Lawmakers like the idea — it’s criminal justice reform that both helps those in need and serves the community — but stakeholders raised the prospect that voter protection laws and the 13th Amendment, which bans involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime, could stop the bill in its tracks.

Opponents of the bill said that the Voter Protection Act applies to the bill because it could cut funding to the voter-approved Clean Elections Commission.

If the bill were subject to the VPA, the Legislature would be required to show the bill furthers the purpose of the Clean Elections Commission and have a three-fourths vote to approve it. 

Leo Biasiucci
Leo Biasiucci

Biasiucci said while he recognizes the Clean Elections Commission is funded by traffic tickets, there are 17 or 18 other agencies also funded by those tickets, and he didn’t want to pick just one agency to be exempt from the bill. 

“I don’t like the fact that you have organizations that are being funded solely from tickets,” he said. “That, to me, is ridiculous that we’re banking on speeding tickets to fund certain groups, whether it’s approved by the voters or not.”

However, Joel Edman, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network, said there is no need for Biasiucci to choose which agencies could receive funds from tickets because the VPA should already exempt the Clean Elections Commission from funding cuts by the bill.

“The Clean Elections program is voter-protected, right, and a lot of the other agencies that receive those funds … are not,” Edman said. “You don’t have to do any picking and choosing – the Arizona Constitution does that for you.”

Out of the almost $7 million the state collects yearly from speeding tickets, Biasiucci said $70,000 was a reasonable estimate of how much money the Clean Elections Committee could lose as a result of the bill, assuming judges ordered around 10% of people with speeding tickets to do community service instead of pay a fine.

Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, said while Biasiucci’s estimates for the bill’s cost were reassuring, he was unsure whether the 10% of revenue from tickets allocated to the Clean Elections Commission would still apply to community service because the bill values it at $12 an hour.

Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, also has greater concerns than the bill’s potential financial impact. 

“The damage caused by the potential legal problem is not the question,” Collins said. “The question is whether or not this is presented in a proper format, and it’s not.” 

Lobbyists said the bill was a slippery slope in both directions — that without the option for community service, people accrue even larger fines, and that taking money from Clean Elections could strip the state of crucial voter education resources.

Michael Infanzon, a motorcycle rights lobbyist, said a motorcyclist he supports got a ticket for not signaling and was fined because he couldn’t take time off of work to fight the ticket. When he was late on a payment for the fine, his license was suspended.

“The next time he got pulled over for the suspended license, because he was the owner of a motorcycle club, he got a gang enhancement charge on it, which was three years in prison for not being able to pay a traffic ticket,” Infanzon said.

Although he agrees with the intent of the bill, Edman said in a time rife with misinformation and disinformation about voting, it is critical to protect funding for voter education.  

“I wish that there were other funding sources for Clean Elections,” Edman said. “There used to be, but the Legislature has chipped away at them until leaving this as essentially the main funding source left for Clean Elections work.” 

Lobbyist Marilyn Rodriguez, on behalf of LUCHA, said when Biasiucci introduced the bill last year, her group offered to work with him to amend it so it wouldn’t be struck down in court, and hoped he would take them up on the offer this time.

“It’s a really good idea that will really help people if we get it right,” she said.