AG questions cities and towns about opposition to Prop 127

(Deposit Photos/Tasha Tuvango)
(Deposit Photos/Tasha Tuvango)

Six Arizona counties and towns appear to have broken the law by adopting resolutions opposing a ballot measure to boost the use of renewable energy in the state, according to letters sent Thursday by the Attorney General’s Office.

The letters state that evidence provided in a complaint by Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix “appear to show” that officials in the six counties and towns violated an explicit ban on the use of public resources to influence elections.

Those six municipalities — the Chino Valley Town Council, the Pinetop-Lakeside Town Council, the Snowflake Town Council, and the Gila, Greenlee and Navajo County boards of supervisors — adopted resolutions opposing Proposition 127, which would constitutionally require most Arizona utility providers to generate 50 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Rep. Ken Clark
Rep. Ken Clark

The complaint followed a report by the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewable energy organization, that detailed a campaign by Arizona Public Service and its backers to urge counties and towns across Arizona to pass similar resolutions.

Gila, Greenlee and Navajo Counties, and the town of Snowflake, adopted resolutions that explicitly “urge residents to vote no on the initiative.”

Pinetop officials, apparently wary of violating state law, skirted the issue by adopting a resolution opposing the initiative but omitting language explicitly advocating residents to vote yes or no, according to the report by the Energy and Policy Institute.

Those resolutions and others were later touted by Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, the political action committee funded by APS’s parent company.

Citing the Institute’s reporting, Clark wrote to Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Oct. 23, saying that officials with APS “have been badgering county and local officials and their staff with requests to adopt a formal resolution opposing Prop 127… by adopting resolutions opposing the ballot measure, those jurisdictions have used taxpayer dollars to weigh in on a political fight, which is clearly against state laws.”

State attorneys seem to agree, as the letters sent to those six counties and towns request information about the resolutions adopted by the municipalities, and “reasons why the (county or town’s) actions should not be considered a violation of ARS 11-410.”

The letters, sent by the Attorney General’s Government Accountability, Special Litigation and Antitrust section, request a response by Nov. 8, two days after the General Election.

If found in violation of the law, the respective elected officials in the counties and towns, and perhaps some county and town employees, could be assessed civil penalties of up to $5,000, the letters warn.

Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, said the law is being twisted in this instance by supporters of the failing Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona campaign. The ban on use of public resources in electioneering is intended to prevent elected officials from spending public dollars in an effort to advance a political campaign, he said.

There was no public expense to the taxpayers when the local governing boards passed the resolutions. The elected officials from these localities were just trying to inform their constituents on an issue that would affect their community, Benson said.

“This is a complete perversion of what the law is intended to prevent,” he said.

The municipalities aren’t the only ones under the Attorney General’s scrutiny. Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin was sent a similar letter questioning a press release Tobin released with a statement in his official capacity as a commissioner opposing Prop. 127.

Kory Langhofer, an elections attorney, said the email sent via the Corporation Commission’s formal communications channels likely used a trivial amount of public resources, and wouldn’t warrant any action under law.

Clark’s complaint urged the AG’s Office to investigate not just the counties and towns, but also APS officials “who put pressure on local public employees to use public resources to promote the private interests of APS regarding Prop. 127 in violation of state law.”

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the letters are the first step in a fact finding, and declined to speculate if state attorneys would pursue any action against APS.

As for the timing of the allowable time for response — county and town officials don’t have to respond until after the election — Anderson said two weeks notice is a standard time given to individuals subject to their investigations.

Staff writer Carmen Forman contributed to this report.

This story was updated from it’s original version to include information about a similar focus by the Attorney General’s Office on Arizona Corporation Commission member Andy Tobin. 

Camps gear up to put title loans on the ballot

Finance Company That Makes Loans on Car Titles
Finance Company That Makes Loans on Car Titles

More than a decade after Arizona voters rejected an attempt by the payday lending industry to make permanent a law allowing high-interest loans, city streets are still littered with garish signs promising fast cash with no credit checks required.

And Arizonans still can take out small loans with interest rates in the triple digits; they’re just coming from auto title lenders instead of payday lenders. Efforts to regulate the title loan industry are ramping up as supporters gather signatures to put an initiative on the 2020 ballot, while the industry weighs how best to fight the initiative.

Supporters of the initiative, dubbed the Arizona Fair Lending Act, describe auto title loans as payday loans by another name and a loophole predatory lenders found to get around voters’ intentions. Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said she’s watched “sweet little businesses” in her district replaced with title loan providers and urban blight.

“The title loan people somehow found a loophole in what was passed, and they’ve been going at it ever since, trapping people in a cycle of poverty that is just shameful,” Alston said.

The initiative she backs would cap title loans at 36 percent annual interest, the same rate charged for other loans. That’s still nearly twice the average credit card interest rate, which financial websites and the Federal Reserve calculate as somewhere between 15 and 19 percent.

Matt Benson, a spokesman for the effort opposing the initiative, said capping interest rates would kill the title loan industry and take away a line of credit for borrowers who lack the cash to cover an emergency and the credit to borrow money from traditional sources, such as banks.

He pointed to a 2018 Federal Reserve Board survey that found that almost 40 percent of American adults aren’t able to pay for a $400 emergency without having to borrow money or sell off belongings.

“If the initiative was successful, you would see this entire line of financing dry up,” Benson said. “You would see these families pushed to online overseas lenders that operate beyond the reach of state and federal law.”

A dueling initiative has not yet been filed, but Benson said every option is on the table.

Payday loans, which are illegal in four other states and the District of Columbia, are short-term loans typically for small amounts. Borrowers give the lender access to their bank account or write a post-dated check to the lender to cash on their next payday.

Arizona lawmakers first voted to allow payday loans in 2000, with the understanding that the law would sunset in 10 years. In 2008, the payday lending industry backed an initiative to eliminate the sunset; it failed on a 3-2 margin and payday loans became illegal on June 30, 2010.

Title loans, meanwhile, are short-term loans that use a vehicle title as collateral. If the borrower doesn’t repay the loan, the lender can repossess the car.

Some Arizona title lenders boast that they’ll offer title loans without a title. Arizona law allows title lenders to offer registration loans to borrowers who have a vehicle registered in the state but don’t own it outright. The initiative also would prohibit this practice.

State law allows title lenders to charge interest of up to 17 percent per month, or 204 percent per year — far more than the 36 percent allowed other lenders but less than the 400 percent annual interest payday lenders could charge.

Payday lenders transitioned into title loans, said Kelly Griffith, executive director of the Southwest Center for Economic Integrity. The center produced a 2016 report, which it plans to update this summer, that found that the number of licensed title loan companies ballooned after the sunset of the state’s payday loan law.

The center also found that most people using title loans aren’t using them for a one-time financial emergency, paying them back and moving on, Griffith said. Instead, most borrowers face ongoing cash flow issues and don’t have the money to cover existing expenses, let alone pay interest on a loan.

“If you don’t have enough money to meet your basic expenses at the end of the month or the end of your pay period, how in the world are you going to have enough money left over to pay off this loan that you just took out at 204 percent interest? The answer is slim to none,” Griffith said. “That’s the beginning of the trap.”

Former state Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, a longtime opponent of payday loans, sponsored legislation several years in a row aimed at title loans. Those bills went nowhere. Instead, the Legislature considered, but ultimately didn’t pass, bills in 2015, 2016 and 2017 that would give lenders other opportunities to charge fees that effectively added up to triple-digit interest rates.

Changes to title loan regulations won’t pass at the Legislature, McCune Davis said. During the 2008 campaign against payday loans, though, it was clear that voters didn’t like the idea of loans with high interest rates, she said.

“They continue to falsely tell people that their loans are easy to pay back,” she said. “They target working-class families, and it is time for the public to have another chance to put the cap on in a way that makes a difference.”

Ducey plays starring role at RGA conference

Gov. Doug Ducey hosts a panel of Republicans at the Republican Governor’s Association conference November 18, 2021, at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. (Photo by Nick Phillips/Arizona Capitol Times)

Doug Ducey was one of the stars of the Republican Governor’s Association show last week at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. 

He kicked off the RGA’s annual conference with Mike Pence on November 16 at an event closed to the press, fielded the majority of questions at a November 17 news conference, and hosted a panel discussion on Nov. 18. A news release sent by the governor’s office said RGA governors “discussed policy wins and ideas, the strategies their states have taken to recover, and the importance of electing conservative leaders across the nation this coming election.”  

But attendees hoping for more than the usual talking points left disappointed. At least during the public portions of the event, the governors spent a lot of time asking and applauding each other’s answers to variations on the question: “How badly has Biden failed” in different areas.  

There were plenty of digs at the president and notably few references to Donald Trump. Ducey got plenty of compliments, direct and indirect. Pete Ricketts, the RGA’s co-chair with Ducey, hosted a panel on Wednesday and namedropped Ducey’s Border Strike Force during a discussion about Republican governors leading on border issues. And a group of six governors at the November 17 news conference largely deferred to Ducey when asked questions about RGA strategy in various races around the country.  

The event underscored Ducey’s continued high stature in the rarefied circles of Republican politicos, something that was clearly bolstered by Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia and Jack Ciatarelli’s stronger-than-expected showing in New Jersey earlier this month, two races that were frequently discussed at the Biltmore. Matt Benson, a GOP consultant working for gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson’s campaign, tweeted that Ducey “held court” at the conference. But the governor’s popularity among conference hob-nobbers won’t do much to change the sense that he’s not as well-liked by average Arizonans.  

Poll results released by Morning Consult on November 18 showed Ducey has the second-worst approval rating in his own state among all governors, besting only Kate Brown, the Democratic governor in Oregon. Comments from the governors during the event also seemed to confirm that the RGA is betting on the Youngkin formula for winning elections: don’t alienate the Trump base, but keep the former president at an arm’s length.  

GOP schools platform: parents, curriculum

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake takes the stage at a “Stand for Freedom” rally in Scottsdale on July 5, 2021. Lake and other GOP candidates have embraced a new focus on parent influence at schools and curriculum, pushing their stances ahead of traditional education policy issues like school choice or funding. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/STAR NEWS NETWORK

Earlier this month, Republican candidates in the governor’s race turned up at a school board meeting in Scottsdale.  

In October, a group of Republicans launched what’s effectively a conservative alternative to the Arizona School Boards Association.  

At a policy rollout in November, Democratic governor candidate Katie Hobbs chose her words carefully when she said that parents are needed “partners” in schools. 

Heading into the 2022 governor’s race, the political fault lines surrounding education are moving quickly, with a new focus on parent influence in schools and curriculum items like “critical race theory.” Many Republican candidates are pushing their stances on curriculum ahead of traditional policy questions like school choice and funding for public education. 

“I will stop the ‘woke’ curriculum overtaking our schools, and ensure our kids are given the tools they need to grow and be successful in every phase of life,” states the website for Kari Lake, the GOP primary frontrunner. 

It all amounts to a “pretty large shift” in the conversation about education policy, said Matt Simon, vice president for advocacy and government affairs at Great Leaders, Strong Schools, a pro-school choice group. 

And it has emboldened Republican candidates to emphasize their stances on education, an issue that’s historically been a bigger talking point for Democrats. Chuck Coughlin, a consultant with GOP firm HighGround, told Arizona Capitol Times earlier this month that education is the top issue for Democrats, with immigration the most important for Republicans. 

The candidates might be taking cues from a gubernatorial race across the country. Many analysts think that an eleventh-hour comment by Democrat Terry McAuliffe – “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” – helped Republican Glenn Youngkin beat him in the Virginia governor’s race. 

The conservative message on education ties together a mix of issues ranging from pandemic restrictions on learning to questions about curriculum content. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson speaks with people in attendance at an event hosted by the Defend America Foundation at the Scottsdale Gun Club in Scottsdale on September 11, 2021. Robson other GOP candidates are pushing a new education platform that focuses on parental influence at schools and curriculum ahead of traditional public-school policy issues. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/STAR NEWS NETWORK

“It’s more important than ever that we empower Arizona parents and families at a time when we’ve seen teachers unions locking down schools; a rise of racialized, anti-America curriculum; school board members collecting dossiers on parents; and even the Department of Justice treating concerned moms and dads like domestic terrorists,” GOP candidate Karrin Taylor Robson said in an emailed statement.  

Simon said the pandemic has given parents a new view on education and led to “parents not only wanting to be invested in knowing that their students are achieving, but really being a participant in finding an instructional model that works for their child.” 

Robson and Matt Salmon, another GOP candidate, also mentioned familiar issues like support for school choice and, in Salmon’s case, opposition to the 2020 Proposition 208 tax hike. 

But some in Arizona education policy, particularly on the Democratic side, indicated frustration at the newfound focus on what they see as political issues at the expense of educational aims. 

“I think it’s distracted from what we should really be focusing on,” said David Lujan, a former Democratic legislator who helped organize the Proposition 208 ballot measure. Lujan pointed to high school graduation and third-grade literacy rates as concrete goals that should be the focus of education policy. 

“I think it’s great that parents are involved in the process, but I think they’re becoming almost political fights rather than what’s best for kids,” he said. 

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said districts should address teaching issues if they arise, but the current political environment has led to some ill-advised mixing of two separate things: funding and curriculum.  “It’s not good public policy to be combining those issues,” he said. 

There’s also a question of whether the emerging politics of parental involvement and school curricula are only political winners for Republicans. 

In a statement sent by his campaign, Democratic governor candidate Marco Lopez didn’t directly respond to questions about parent issues, but said the state needs to invest more in education to help drive the state’s economy.  

“Right now we’re almost dead last in the nation when it comes to investing in educating them and that’s simply unacceptable,” Lopez said in the statement. 

But Julie Erfle, a liberal consultant and commentator, said parent involvement schools fits with Democratic values and that parents who are invested in their children’s school might be more willing to agitate for more education funding. To make this messaging work, she said, Democrats need to separate parent participation and skepticism of schoolteachers.  

“You don’t have to embrace parent involvement and then make teachers the bad guy.” 

In her comments at the policy rollout on November 4, Hobbs said, “We absolutely need parents as partners in our education system.” (Hobbs’ and Aaron Lieberman’s campaigns didn’t respond to emails seeking comment for this story). 

Still, Erfle said that increasing funding as a means to improve educational attainment remains a principal goal for Democrats and is their best play for political support.  

“To me, that’s where Democrats should be focusing,” she said. “Do we want more tax cuts for the wealthy, or do we want more money in our classrooms?” 


Leadership styles, eras mark differences in outcomes of immigration measures

In this Aug. 26, 2014, photo, Gov. Jan Brewer, left, chides then State Treasurer Doug Ducey for beating her choice for governor in the GOP primary in 2014 gubernatorial race. (Associated Press)
In this Aug. 26, 2014, photo, Gov. Jan Brewer, left, ribs then State Treasurer Doug Ducey for beating her choice of candidate for governor in the GOP primary in the 2014 gubernatorial race. (Associated Press)

In one of the most enduring images of Gov. Jan Brewer, she stood on Jan. 26, 2012, on the Phoenix Sky Harbor runway and wagged her finger at President Obama as they discussed his challenge to SB1070, the immigration law she championed. Eight years later, when challenged, Ducey sat in the Executive Tower and sent his top aide to pull the plug on his similarly divisive immigration proposal and quell a growing uprising to it.

The differences in their leadership styles and the eras in which they have governed made for the divergent destinies of SB1070 and Ducey’s effort to put the state’s ban on sanctuary cities in the state Constitution. 

In the face of unprecedented, mounting economic and social pressures, Brewer signed the legislation and provided the model for other states to enact hardline immigration policy, although SB1070 was the last legislation of its kind for Arizona until Ducey’s proposal. 

SB1070, which aimed to control immigration locally, also galvanized an opposition movement that was ready to strike when Ducey said he wanted Arizona to vote to strengthen a key part of Brewer’s law. Ducey effectively ended the political storm that promised to match the intensity of the one that came with SB1070, which brought out throngs of protestors and a national spotlight. 

Although Ducey made it clear his effort to push sanctuary city legislation is dead, he may be tested again if HB2598 continues to move through the Legislature. The bill, which has yet to be debated on the House floor or gone to a vote, requires cities to comply with immigration detainers and allows a victim of a crime perpetrated by a person who lives here illegally to sue a sanctuary city that doesn’t comply with the detainer.

Brewer said while her signing SB1070 overshadowed the rest of her governorship, she knew it was going to be controversial, but it was necessary to do and she would have done it again.

Demonstrators hold signs to protest SB1070 on April 23, 2010. (File photo)
Demonstrators hold signs to protest SB1070 on April 23, 2010. (File photo)

“Once I make up my mind, I’m in for the fight, I’m in for the roll” Brewer said. “I think we did the right thing, it was handled appropriately and it made a difference in America, and out of it are results, I think, are yet to come.”

At the end of the day, it was about taking some kind of action in some direction and not continuing to stall on immigration.

Brewer said while she knows her place as a former governor, she still didn’t understand why Ducey was pushing his proposal. But regardless of his reasons, she said she wouldn’t have done the same thing as Ducey.

“Why would I? I already did it,” Brewer said. “Why create the chaos over again, when it’s already in law?”

Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato said lawmakers were unable to cobble together the votes to pass the proposal, which would have asked voters to determine whether the Arizona Constitution should prevent local jurisdictions from limiting their cooperation with federal immigration officials – effectively elevating a portion of SB1070, to the Constitution.

However, Scarpinato said that, had the governor continued to push for it, he would have got what he wanted: to put it on the ballot and see it passed overwhelmingly. But that would have distracted from the rest of the governor’s agenda – as Brewer allies said SB1070 distracted from her agenda – a chance the Governor’s Office wasn’t willing to take. 

 “Part of leadership is listening, and the governor listened and I think legislative leadership listened,” Scarpinato said.


In the decade since SB1070, activists who oppose hardline immigration measures are better organized, have earned more public support and refined their message. As the first and arguably most influential border state politician to take action, Brewer was a pioneer, in a sense, who led the legal fight against illegal immigration for states.

Being a pioneer isn’t easy, and Ducey likely learned from Brewer’s experience.

Veridus lobbyist Matt Benson, who became the communications director for Brewer months after she signed SB1070 into law, said the bill was “lightning in a bottle.” 

Matthew Benson
Matthew Benson

“We didn’t know what that was going to become, nobody did. Nobody understood the way that was going to take off as the dominant election issue that was going to, in many ways, characterize her governorship,” Benson said.

The bill’s passage was bittersweet as it came on the heels of Proposition 100, a state sales tax increase dedicated mostly to education, that splintered Republicans so badly that some walked out of Brewer’s 2010 State of the State Address, Benson said. 

SB1070 united Republicans, but immediately changed the state’s reputation nationally and with the Hispanic and business communities – perhaps giving a clear example of what Ducey should avoid,  Benson said.

Benson said there are two immediate differences between 2010 and now. 

The sanctuary city provision was “the least controversial aspect” of SB 1070 and activists and, in many cases, the media unfairly compared and overly conflated Ducey’s sanctuary city proposal with it.

Secondly, activists were quicker to establish and capitalize on a narrative this time around, Benson said.

“They said the language in this referendum was SB1070 at large. And yes, it was part of SB1070, but it was the least troublesome, the least politically toxic aspect of it,”  Benson said. “That was the downfall of the referendum – it never got a chance to take hold with the larger Arizona electorate.”

The greater contexts surrounding the 2010 legislation and this year’s are near-polar opposites.

Longtime lobbyist and former Brewer political advisor Chuck Coughlin said the two pieces of legislation can’t be compared, because the immigration and economic environments are vastly different. Before SB1070, the border was not as secure as it is today, Coughlin said. 

Obama wasn’t as supportive of hardline immigration policies as President Donald Trump is. In fact, SB 1070 fertilized the ground for expanding on strong state immigration measures in Arizona and across the country, Coughlin said.

However, after watching SB1070 play out, Ducey and his team “could have easily anticipated” that would happen again, Coughlin said.

Meanwhile, Ducey’s staff fully expected the measure to pass, but when reactions flooded in, they adjusted accordingly. 

“They clearly calculated that it wasn’t worth the political risk at this time,” Benson said, adding that the Governor’s Office may have concluded that it was politically toxic for Republicans in an election year.

Brewer owned the label she earned after signing SB1070 into law and tried to move on, but it became her legacy and overshadowed anything else she did as governor, and she’s accepted that.

In this April 23, 2010, photo, Kate Dionne, 34. Phoenix, demonstrates at the Capitol. Dionne said she was happy Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB1070. (File Photo)
In this April 23, 2010, photo, Kate Dionne, 34. Phoenix, demonstrates at the Capitol. Dionne said she was happy Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB1070. (File Photo)

“My mother told me a long time ago, ‘doing the right thing almost always means doing the hard thing,” Brewer said. “I was raised that way, and I was a fighter, I was a scrapper and I did what I thought was right for the people of Arizona.”

Brewer said there were consequences that are still trickling, but, above all, border security has improved and that’s what she and her team wanted.

After the “great pain” Arizona experienced after the law passed, like a temporary boycott and a stained national reputation, Ducey worked hard to ensure relations improved, especially with the Arizona-Mexico Commission, Benson said.

Coughlin said people at an Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Black and White Ball were standing up and screaming at Brewer.

“I can’t imagine them doing that to Ducey today.”

The biggest regret of Brewer’s administration was that SB1070 overshadowed the other important, bipartisan work it did – perhaps something Ducey and his staff recognized and wanted to avoid, Coughlin said.

After Ducey’s withdrawal, which caught Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, his hand-picked sponsor, off-guard, Ducey’s closest aides didn’t want to ponder what it meant. 

After killing what they called a “distraction,” they quickly attempted to pivot to talking about his long list of policy priorities – a handful of which are now struggling to earn support.

To them, this swift rescission was an example of “listening,” a key part of leadership. Anything else is speculation.

“I’m going to leave the kind of how all of this played out to the pundits and to you guys,” Scarpinato said. But one thing he didn’t leave to the pundits was how to interpret the measure’s failure.

“Anyone declaring victory — there is no victory for those who want sanctuary cities, sanctuary cities are not allowed,” Scarpinato said, adding that he saw their failure as a victory.

“We wanted to make the law stronger and more enshrined, but 95 to 98 percent of what we want, that’s pretty good. We can live with that,” he said.

Lobbyists navigate lawmakers’ bad behavior, professional relationships


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

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

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

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

Tory Roberg
Tory Roberg

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

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

Mental math

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blurred lines

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

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

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

Barry Aarons
Barry Aarons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pence policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lela Alston
Lela Alston

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

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

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

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

Masks become symbol of person’s politics, virtue

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, delivers a speech in the state Senate on May 8 as Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, listens. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, delivers a speech in the state Senate on May 8 as Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, listens. PHOTO BY ANDREW NICLA/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

On most days, a stranger visiting the Arizona House or Senate with no prior knowledge of state politics could identify Democrats and Republicans easily: just look for the donkey or elephant baubles on their desks.

COVID-19 has provided a new form of party shorthand – look for the masks.

Every Senate Democrat wore a mask during their first floor session since recessing in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and every Senate Republican left their faces uncovered except the chair and vice chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and a Republican committee member who owns a medical supply business.

The Senate served as a microcosm of the nation, where wearing a mask — or not wearing one — has become a political symbol for many. Largely conservative protesters who eschew facial coverings deride masks as virtue signaling, the 2020 version of the safety pins white liberals donned after the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election. And those who wear masks shame those who don’t as not caring about their fellow human beings.

 A partially masked Democratic state Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, decries the lack of personal responsibility he sees demonstrated by Republican colleagues who aren’t wearing masks on the floor of state Senate on May. 8. PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A partially masked Democratic state Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, decries the lack of personal responsibility he sees demonstrated by Republican colleagues who aren’t wearing masks on the floor of state Senate on May. 8. PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In an animated floor speech that caused his own mask to repeatedly fall below his nose, Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, decried the lack of personal responsibility he saw demonstrated by Republican colleagues who weren’t wearing masks. Quezada, who has Type 1 diabetes, is at high risk for a serious case of COVID-19 if he contracts it, and his desk on the Senate floor is surrounded by Republicans.

“Any one of you may have been exposed on your way over here, stopping for coffee in the morning, filling up your gas,” Quezada said. “You could have been exposed, and now you’ve impacted me. You could have impacted my elderly father who is filling up at the gas tank next to you. You could have impacted my nieces and nephews who are young children, anybody else who’s suffering from cancer who has a compromised immune system.”

Sen. Victoria Steele, the other Democrat who sits surrounded by Republican lawmakers, said she has to assume her colleagues took a cue from President Trump, who has notably refused to wear a mask, and Gov. Doug Ducey, who tells Arizonans to wear masks but has only worn one in public once. Bare faces seem to be a way for conservative men to assert that they’re big and strong and brave, the Tucson Democrat said.

“For them, the mask seems to be symbolic, a symbol of their liberty and their rights,” Steele said. “But what about everyone else’s rights?”

Veteran GOP consultant Matt Benson, likewise, pins the politicization of masks on Trump. This week, after several White House employees — including a former spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Martha McSally — tested positive for COVID-19, the Trump administration began requiring all staff members to wear masks. But the president still refuses to wear one.

“With the masks, it is going to be a voluntary thing,” the president said during a White House press briefing in late April announcing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance on face coverings. “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”

Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., greets President Donald Trump as he arrives at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., greets President Donald Trump as he arrives at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Conflicting messaging from the CDC and the World Health Organization, both of which spent several weeks telling people not to bother with masks because they were ineffective before reversing course and urging everyone to cover their faces to prevent asymptomatic carriers from spreading the disease to others, didn’t help matters, Benson said.

But wearing or not wearing a mask didn’t become controversial until Trump publicly declined to wear one, he said.

“It’s a sad commentary on our modern politics,” Benson said. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if the president would wear a mask even from time to time, but he clearly views it as a weakness. We should be able to find common cause on at least this.”

Benson said he personally wears a mask when going to grocery stores or The Home Depot, because the evidence is clear that rates of transmission are lower in places where face coverings are common. But he won’t put one on while he’s outside walking the dog or while driving, when he’s in the open air and away from others.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, uses similar calculations in deciding when to wear a face mask. She now carries one with her at all times, and decides whether to put it on based on the circumstances.

“If I’m in a situation where literally nobody’s around me, I don’t wear it. I would suffocate,” she said. “I always have it right there so that if I end up in a situation where I’m around other people and we can’t be at a safe distance, I have it.”

Gov. Doug Ducey waits to hear President Donald Trump speak after a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. From left behind Ducey are U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. and Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. PHOTO BY EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS.
Gov. Doug Ducey waits to hear President Donald Trump speak after a tour of a Honeywell International plant that manufactures personal protective equipment, Tuesday, May 5, 2020, in Phoenix. From left behind Ducey are U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz. and Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. PHOTO BY EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Presiding over the Senate, where she sits alone on a dais several feet above and away from everybody else, was a clear situation where Fann felt she didn’t need her mask. Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he felt similarly.

Mesnard wore a mask when he entered the Senate, and again when he left. He has kept his face covered whenever he goes out in public for weeks, starting earlier than most mask-wearers because his wife’s a nurse, and he swapped the Spiderman mask he’s been wearing for a plain one more fitting the staid Senate.

Mesnard said he considered keeping a mask on for the whole floor session, before deciding he was far enough away from other lawmakers and staff that it was safe to talk without one.

Masks overall seem like they do more good than harm, he said. When it comes to their politicization, Mesnard said it probably behooves Democrats for the virus to appear as bad as possible to help their electoral chances in

“There’s a bit of an interest in the Democratic Party in making sure COVID-19 is perceived to be as serious as possible,” he said.

Other maskless Republican senators said they will cover their faces when out in public in other circumstances, but stressed their own personal strength while doing so.

“I have no personal fear of COVID-19,” said Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert. “It’s part of life. If I get sick, I get sick. But when I go out and I go to stores, I wear a mask and I wear gloves. Why? Because I’m trying to be a good citizen.”

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, the Phoenix Republican who chairs the Health and Human Services committee, said her decision to keep her face covered was made out of consideration and respect for her colleagues.

“We’re still finding out about this disease,” Brophy McGee said. “I would feel terrible if I were an asymptomatic carrier and infected a colleague.”

Masks have provided a way for people to make political statements, longtime GOP consultant Stan Barnes said.

“It’s proving to us all that in the year 2020 everything is political, even a global pandemic,” he said. “The mask has become a bit of a symbol. It seems to me it’s some sort of Rorschach test for the public.”

Barnes, who does not wear a mask, said he knows people who have been verbally attacked at stores for wearing one, and people who have been attacked for not wearing one.

He didn’t think of his own choice not to mask up before going into stores in political terms, and he imagines many other Arizonans who choose to wear or not wear masks aren’t thinking about political signaling. It’s a decision based on a variety of reasons, including their perspective on the risks of COVID-19.

But at some point, the knowledge that they will be judged by others for choosing to wear or not wear a facial covering seeps in, thrusting the idea of a mask as a political statement on people who didn’t think of their decision in partisan terms, he said.

“Everybody feels self-righteous about wearing one or not wearing one,” Barnes said.

Money pours into campaigns for, against renewable energy ballot measure

(Deposit Photos/Ras-Slava)
(Deposit Photos/Ras-Slava)

The fight over whether Arizonans get to vote on a renewable energy measure has turned into the clash of the financial titans.

New reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office shows that Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona has collected nearly $8.3 million. And with the exception of $4.88 put in by a Phoenix educator, every penny of that has come from NextGen Climate Action, the political action committee set up by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

The report drew the expected criticism from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, the group that is fighting the measure.

“Steyer will spare no expense in his shameless bid to buy this election and force his costly, California-style energy regulations down the throats of Arizona families,” he said in a prepared statement. By contrast, Benson said the measure is opposed by a “coalition of community leaders, business groups, taxpayer advocates and champions of the working poor.”

But what Benson did not say is that has group has amassed more than $11 million for the fight. And all that money comes from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service which would have to live with the new regulations should voters adopt them in November.

That’s more than an academic exercise. Benson claims that if the measure is approved it could force the shutdown of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, managed by APS; that contention is disputed by initiative backers.

Current Arizona Corporation Commission regulations require most utilities to obtain 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

The initiative, which will be Proposition 127 if legal challenges by Pinnacle West to keep if off the ballot fail, sets that goal at 50 percent by 2030. And it does not include nuclear in its definition of “renewable.”

Some of the other ballot measures also are drawing big dollars. But the funding is nowhere near as balanced as the renewable energy measure.

For example, the Arizona Association of Realtors and its national organization already have put $6.1 million into an extensive media campaign for Proposition 126. That measure would put a provision into the Arizona Constitution to forever forbid lawmakers from even considering sales taxes on services, even if it was part of a compromise to lower the overall sales tax rate from the current 5.6 percent.

Its commercials, however, suggest there are forces who are secretly conspiring to raise taxes, warning people that they could end up paying $1,500 a year or more on things like veterinary service for their pets and daycare for their children.

What it also would bar are taxes on many expenses that are less common for individuals, like financial advice, legal help, advertising and public relations.

There is no such effort underway at the Republican-controlled Legislature. But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, while saying he opposes higher taxes, said he does not think it’s a good idea to hobble future lawmakers who may want to revamp the tax system.

There is no organized opposition to the measure.

Proposition 207 to raise income taxes on the state’s most wealthy has found supporters outraising foes.

The Invest in Ed committee lists $2.3 million in donations, including $1.4 million from the National Education Association. By contrast, the opposition organized under the banner of Arizonans for Great Schools and Strong Economy has raised $1.2 million, with $900,000 of that from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

That measure, if approved, would raise $690 million a year for education, all of it coming from individuals who earn more than $250,000 a year and couples with incomes greater than $500,000.

The campaign to ban anonymous political donations, which will be on the ballot as Proposition 128 if it survives legal challenges, has so far collected $1 million in its effort to put a “right-to-know” provision in the Arizona Constitution, forcing disclosure of all donations of at least $2,500.

Officials from several groups that have made “dark money” donations in the past have gone to court to keep the measure off the ballot. But the Secretary of State’s Office reports no actual campaign committee has been formed to fight the initiative.


Supreme Court upholds ruling to allow energy measure to go to ballot


Arizonans are going to get a chance to decide whether they want to require utilities in the state to produce more of their power from renewable sources.

The Arizona Supreme Court late Wednesday rejected various claims by attorneys for Arizona Public Service that the initiative sponsored by California billionaire Tom Steyer lacks sufficient valid signatures to go to voters in November. The justices provided no details about what they found wanting in the APS legal briefs, promising an explanation later.

Wednesday’s ruling comes just two days after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley said he found no evidence that initiative supporters had somehow tricked people into signing the initiative petitions. And Kiley rebuffed various efforts by APS to have him disqualify other signatures.

The decision drew fire from Matthew Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, the group that has been financed with more than $11 million from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS. He said both Kiley and the justices got it wrong.

But with the Supreme Court having the last word, Benson said the group now will focus on trying to convince voters that approval of the Proposition 127 will increase their electric bills, a contention disputed by initiative organizers.

Tom Steyer is interviewed on Cheddar on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, April 2, 2018. Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund magnate-turned-liberal activist, has committed at least $31 million this year to what is believed to be the largest youth vote organizing effort in American history. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Tom Steyer . (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Most Arizona utilities already are under orders from the Arizona Corporation Commission to produce 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

This measure would boost that mandate to 50 percent, with a requirement to get there by 2030. And it would put that requirement into the Arizona Constitution.

Proponents of what is known as the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona say they want to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels which pump pollutants into the air. There also is a separate concern about the carbon dioxide produced which has been linked to climate change.

One of the arguments made by APS attorneys was that the initiative would mislead voters with its claim that it was promoting “clean” energy.

APS takes the position that nuclear power, which has no smokestack emissions, also is clean energy. But the initiative would not count nuclear power toward that 50 percent goal, something the utility’s lawyers argued is not made clear in the description of the initiative.

In his ruling — the one the Supreme Court upheld Wednesday —  Kiley said it is not up to judges to decide what is “clean” energy. But he rejected the contention that anyone was fooled.

Benson, in reacting to the ruling, said the initiative is not about clean energy.

“Everyone supports clean energy,” he said. “The question is whether Arizona voters are willing to double their electric bills in order to approve Prop 127.”

APS and its supporters have produced studies to back their claim of higher electric rates. But initiative backers and their allies have responded with their own reports insisting that increased use of solar power, abundant in Arizona, would result in smaller bills.

Even if voters approve the constitutional amendment, it is an open question whether utilities will comply.

In anticipation of the initiative, APS got the Republican-controlled Legislature to approve a measure which says that utilities that violate the renewable energy standard would be subject to a penalty of no more than $5,000 — and potentially as little as $100 — potentially making it cheaper to ignore the mandate and pay the fine, even if they have to do it each day.

Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who sponsored the measure, said during hearings that the intent of the law, which was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, was to ensure that it would not matter if voters side with initiative organizers. He said it is the responsibility of lawmakers to protect Arizona residents from out-of-state interests, specifically referring to Steyer.

Utility files suit to halt renewable energy ballot measure

The parent company of the state’s largest electric utility filed suit Thursday in a bid to block voters from deciding if they want to impose new renewable energy mandates on power companies.

In a 48-page complaint, attorneys hired by Arizonans for Affordable Energy, funded by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., claim a series of legal flaws with the petitions submitted by Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona seeking to amend the Arizona Constitution to require 50 percent of electricity generated by most power companies in Arizona come from renewable sources by 2030.

Initiative backers submitted more than 480,000 signatures. They need for 225,963 to be found valid to get the issue on the November ballot.

But attorney Brett Johnson, in the legal papers filed in Maricopa Couny Stuperior Court, claims more than 195,000 of the names are from people who are not registered to vote in Arizona, and that nearly 75,000 signatures were submitted on petitions where there was a missing or improper notarization, something required by law.

Other issues include signatures that do not match and petitions that were circulated before initiative backers got the proper registration number from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Matthew Benson
Matthew Benson

“There are a laundry list of issues,” said Matt Benson, spokesman for the utility-financed effort to quash the initiative. “But the point is, even all of those issues aside, obvious blatant deficiencies account for more than 300,000 signatures and push them well below the minimum threshold.”

Pinnacle West and its wholly owned Arizona Public Service subsidiary, however, are not counting solely on trying to disqualify some signatures in their bid to show that there are not enough valid names left to put the issue to voters. Johnson has a laundry list of reasons that he says would entitle asking Judge Daniel Kiley to void the entire petition drive, arguing that signers did not know what they were supporting.

For example, he noted that the measure is titled the “Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Amendment.” But Johnson pointed out that the mandate for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 specifically excludes nuclear energy, a particular issue for Arizona Public Service, which is the major owner of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix. He said that fails to acknowledge that nuclear energy generates about 20 percent of power in the United States with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

And Johnson said the wording fails to inform people that the initiative would apply only to investor-owned utilities and cooperatives — and not to Salt River Project which is a “municipal corporation” and the second largest electric company in the state.

Rod McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, acknowledged that not every signature submitted ultimately will be found valid.

“The reason we handed in more than double the required amount is because we understand … that you’re going to have a certain number of them that come up wrong,” he said. “There’s always going to be mistakes,” McLeod continued.

That, he said, is the purpose behind the “cushion.”

“We are confident we have more valid signatures than the law requires and regard this lawsuit as foolish,” McLeod said. He called it “a desperate attempt to deny choice on what kind of energy we want to have in the future.”

McLeod also took a jab at Benson who had issued press releases and posted claims on social media that the campaign had hired “men with felony convictions for kidnapping, domestic violence, aggravated vehicular homicide, burglary, forgery and more” and had these circulators on street corners, in front of public libraries and other places where “violent felons” should not be hanging out.

Despite all that publicity, it turns out that even after the review of petitions by the utility-financed campaign, it was able to identify just 168 signatures on sheets circulated by what the lawsuit claims were 85 felons, or fewer than two signatures gathered per alleged felon.

“The people making this claim have no credibility whatsoever,” McLeod said.

One issue that could ultimately affect whether the initiative gets on the ballot is what Arizona courts rule is the proper standard for determining if they comply with the law.

Until last year courts have interpreted the Arizona Constitution to allow voter-proposed laws and constitutional amendments to proceed if there is “substantial compliance” with the statutes. But the Republican-controlled Legislature, at the behest of business interests, enacted a provision requiring “strict compliance.”

That could prove crucial as some of the errors cited by the utility and its lawyers involve things like the date that the initiative effort, financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, first hired paid circulators and whether that was too early. There also is a claim of “inconsistent circulator signatures” and petition sheets which had an “incorrect, incomplete, or misplaced serial number.”

In a separate lawsuit, a trial judge threw out a challenge to the strict compliance standard, ruling the plaintiffs in that case did not have standing because they did not have an actual ballot measure whose future was threatened by the new law. This case could provide that legal standing.

On paper, the lawsuit is not being brought in the name of either Pinnacle West nor APS. Instead, the plaintiffs include several supporters of the utility, including Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, and Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Scottsdale, who tried on behalf of the utility earlier this year to put a competing measure on the November ballot.

Also listed as plaintiffs are Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels, Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck and Mesa Mayor John Giles.

Kiley has scheduled a hearing on the issue for this coming week.

Utility’s parent company spends millions to sway elections


The state’s largest electric utility already has set aside close to $11 million to make elections this year come out the way it wants.

New campaign finance reports show Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of Arizona Public Service, has put $7.53 million in its bid to keep voters from approving a ballot measure which would require half of all power generated in the state come from renewable sources by 2030. That compares with nearly $4.5 million put into the issue by California billionaire Tom Steyer who is pushing the change.

Matt Benson, spokesman for Arizonans for Affordable Electricity, the campaign committee set up by Pinnacle West, said it makes sense for the company, whose income is generated by ratepayers, to spend that kind of money. He said the effort is to tell voters that what Steyer wants would lead to sharply higher energy costs.

But much of what Pinnacle West has spent so far has nothing to do with voter education but to keep the issue off the ballot entirely. It has paid $5.9 million to Arizona Petition Partners, part of what Benson said is an effort to go through the signatures submitted by Steyer’s group and see how many can be disqualified.

That $7.53 million to quash the ballot measure is only part of what Pinnacle West has set aside for this year’s election. It already has a war chest of another $3.2 million for “independent expenditures” on political races, essentially commercials it will run on behalf of candidates it favors and against those it does not want elected.

And that’s aside from what the company’s own political action committee contributes directly to candidates, like the $10,200 it already gave to help incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey win another term.

Pinnacle West is no stranger to putting big money into political issues.

Two years ago the company spent $4.2 million to ensure that Republicans Andy Tobin, Boyd Dunn and Bob Burns won seats on the five-member commission.

The utility also has refused to confirm or deny that it was the source of $3.2 million from anonymous donors spent in 2014 to secure the election of Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little.

Little has since quit to take a job in the Trump administration. He was replaced by Justin Olson who according to campaign finance records already has raised $60,259.

But that pales in comparison with the $591,306 that Forese lists in contributions directly to his campaign to keep his seat for another four years.

Not far behind is Democrat-turned-Republican Rodney Glassman whose $514,684 includes $100,000 of his own money.

Eric Sloan has raised $23,025 in his bid to be one of two Republican nominees, with Jim O’Connor hoping to get public funds for his campaign.

All three Democrats in the hunt already have obtained sufficient $5 donations to qualify for the $108,779 in public dollars.

Benson defended the spending by Pinnacle West, particularly in its bid to quash the renewable energy initiative.

Current commission rules require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. Company officials have contended that a requirement to have 50 percent mandate by 2030 makes no sense, saying it will lead to costlier power as the utility could end up with the expense of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station but an inability to use all of its power.

“Every dime we’ve spent this last six months is aimed at defeating this ballot measure before it increases electricity rates,” Benson said.

It starts with all the money spent on a company that normally circulates petitions.

“It’s not cheap exposing the initiative’s use of felon petition circulators and uncovering their rampant fraud,” Benson said.

Arizona law prohibits convicted felons circulating petitions. And if a review of the petitions actually finds them, any signatures they gathered will be thrown out.

But it is less clear whether that prohibition applies to felons who have had their civil rights restored.

There also are allegations that at least some of the petitions contain obviously forged signatures, something else that would be caught in the screening process by state and county election officials.

Anyway, Benson said, that $7.53 million that Pinnacle West has spent so far needs to be put in context with the $4.46 million spent by NextGen Climate Action, the political action committee formed by Steyer to put the measure on the ballot.

“We’re up against a California billionaire who’s indicated he’ll spend any amount to cram this initiative down the throats of Arizona families,” he said.

The initiative has the backing of not only solar advocates but also some public health groups who say Arizona needs to move away from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. And they say that while nuclear power emits no carbon pollutants, there are health effects from mining coal plus the need for water to drive the turbines and cool the fuel rods.

By contrast, a wide variety of business and community groups have come out in opposition amid concerns that power costs will go up.

Voters put forth arguments on 2018 ballot measures

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

Arizona voters will be inundated with nearly 500 arguments about why they should support or oppose the seven different measures that will be on the November ballot.

But the raw number of submissions to the Secretary of State’s Office for the pamphlet that will be mailed to the homes of 3.6 million registered voters may be a little misleading.

It is true that there were 133 separate comments urging voters to reject a proposal to require Arizona utilities to generate half their power from renewable sources by 2030.

But 91 of these, each of which cost $75, were paid for by the committee financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service, which is leading the charge.

This isn’t a one-way street.

Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, financed by California billionaire Tom Steyer, picked up the tab for 33 of the 52 arguments in support.

The situation is even more pronounced on a ballot measure seeking to curb the authority of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

There, 31 of the 33 arguments in favor of it were financed by Stop Taxpayer Money for Political Parties Committee. That, in turn, is being run by Scott Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, an organization that seeks to keep anonymous who is financing its efforts to affect elections, one of the powers the commission says it has the ability to enforce.

Matt Benson, spokesman for the Pinnacle West-financed effort to quash the proposed renewable energy standard, said having his organization pay for so many arguments is not an effort to mislead the voters who will be reading them.

“They’re still their arguments,” he said of the individuals whose names are attached to each of them. “They’re standing behind their own words.”

And Benson dismissed questions about whether those who are making the arguments were not sufficiently motivated to pony up their own $75 to put them in the pamphlet.

Rod McLeod, spokesman for the initiative, echoed the sentiment.

“All these people have opinions and have shared them,” he said. “I don’t think the way democracy works is you have to have money to have a voice.”

Some of the arguments on the seven ballot measures were pointed in their comments, perhaps none more so than in opposition to a plan to impose an income tax surcharge on the highest wage earners to raise $690 million for public education.

“This Socialist so-called education funding scheme will do nothing to improve our already failing, broken, and bloated government schools who are almost exclusively focused on social justice education sprinkled with a little algebra,” wrote Scottsdale resident Kristen Williamson. And Eric Smaltz of Surprise described the measure as “pushed through by striking teachers holding parents and students hostage.”

Supporters like Dianne Post of the National Organization for Women Arizona, had a different take.

“Taxes are the dues you pay to live in a civilized society,” she wrote. “Taxes are an investment not an expense.”

The arguments on whether voters should approve expansion of who can get vouchers, while also relating to education, are a bit different — and, in some ways, a bit more confusing.

At issue is the 2017 decision by the Republican-controlled Legislature to remove any conditions from who is entitled to get taxpayer dollars to attend private or parochial schools. That overrode prior law which limited what are formally called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to those in certain groups, like students with special needs, foster children and youngsters attending schools rated D or F.

But Save Our Schools Arizona gathered enough signatures to block the law from taking effect until voters get the last word.

What’s important is that Save Our Schools, while having put the issue on the ballot as Proposition 305, wants people to vote “no” — rejecting the legislative change — to prevent opening up vouchers to all students, regardless of qualifications; it takes a “yes” vote to support what lawmakers have approved.

The statements in support include testimonials from parents who say that their children were floundering in traditional public schools. Gilbert mother Christine Accurso said the voucher dollars enabled her to pay for a private school.

“He has been thriving for the past four years thanks to the ESA scholarship,” she wrote. “As a parent, I know what is best for my child.”

There also was the broader argument of “school choice,” espoused by the state’s three Catholic bishops who operate their own parochial schools.

But Susan Edwards, who uses vouchers for her two children on the autism spectrum, said there is no reason to expand the program to all. She said the children who are getting voucher help — help that will not change if Proposition 305 is defeated — were “paraded around as the justification for voucher expansion for those seeking private religious education.”

A measure to constitutionally bar new sales taxes on services collected 18 statements in support, all but two of which paid for by the the Arizona Association of Realtors.

But among the four in opposition was one of particular interest: Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group founded by libertarian billionaire David Koch, the same organization that sued unsuccessfully last year to keep Proposition 305 off the November ballot. Andrew Clark, the organization’s state director, said exempting some business from taxes throws an impediment in the path of “a flat, low rate that treats every business the same way and allows us as consumers to be in charge.”

The campaign for a constitutional amendment to require disclosure of anonymous sources of money to influence campaigns also drew less than the energy and education measures, with 27 comments in support — none paid for by the campaign committee — and just four in opposition, all paid for by interests who have made such expenditures.

And way below the radar is a proposed constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to change pension benefits for retired correctional officers and elected officials. Virtually every legislator signed a statement in support; only Eric Hahn, a retired Pima County county corrections officer, urged voters to reject it, calling it “unfair” to change the rules for those who were hired under old rules.